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Kenpo Karate

By bzarnett | In Martial Arts | on November 25, 2016

What is Kenpo Karate?

Kenpo Karate is a modern martial art – a system of study that focuses on developing an individual with characteristics of a leader and an athlete. Its foundation is in practical self-defence with a continual recognition that a great warrior also needs to be a great person. Kenpo was developed as a multi-dimensional system that incorporated striking, grappling and the use of weapons in a manner that allows the potentially smaller and weaker individual to successfully stop the perceptually more dominant individual from hurting him (or others).

Kenpo Karate is a system that focuses on the use of scientific principles to overcome an opponent over physical exertion. It incorporates a fluidity of inter-related movements that, combined with principles of motion and those of self-defence; allow a practitioner to control a fight in a strategic approach. As an art, it tailors its exercises (forms, sets, and techniques) to the attributes of the practitioner promoting the concept of extemporaneous (action through just-in-time thought) action to meet the context of the conflict.

A Kenpo instructor focuses on sharing the art, stimulating the ability for each student to express themselves intelligently, following pragmatic formula incorporate attitude, logic, basics and fitness. It is an approach that builds the individual, the self to stages of self-empowerment, self-development, self-discipline and of course self-protection.


Kenpo is the root word of our system, the English representation of the characters 拳法 which mean Fist and Law accordingly. Fist (ken) refers to the focal point of using the hands to strike or manipulate while Law (po) is a broad term indicating not only a series of governing rules by denotes the application of ethics, logic, standard models, and rules. It is a concept that frequently arises in Taoist philosophy. When applied together, the term Kenpo can be used to mean the “philosophy, ethics, and logic of fighting with the hands.”

The term Karate (空手) meaning empty-hands was first used as a suffix to the term Kenpo in the 1920’s as a marketing maneuver to introduce a Hawaiian audience to the legendary Kenpo mastere Choki Motobu. It was later used by William K.S. Chow to differentiate his martial art approach from that of his teacher James Mitose.

Kenpo Karate should be considered as the “Karate method of Kenpo” or the Karate method of fighting with a clear definition of philosophy, ethics, and logic.


Foundations of the Art

Kenpo is a practice of self-protection first and foremost, built around the philosophy that our goal is to stop an opponent from hurting us in the least amount of time. It is a multi-disciplinary approach that incorporates striking, grappling and weapons from multiple positions. It is also in its nature, an approach to the development of an individual. Thus, an individual who is a martial artist in Kenpo demonstrates their art in every action they perform.

The foundation of Kenpo was outlined by Skip Hancock is his Kenpo-scope; a visual tool used to understand the priorities of the martial arts. These priorities are:

Attitude. The arrangement of our or our opponent’s body and mind in relationship to environment, situation, actions, events, each other or other people.

Basics. The fundamental building blocks of our art. Basics are grouped into five categories that are stances, strike, blocks, maneuvers and specialized moves and methods. Striking with the hands is our fundamental approach to combat with the importance of manipulating and specialized concepts being a series of sub-categories for study.

Logic. Logic is our ability to understand when any action is useful, un-useful or useless. It is the details that enhance our ability to perform an action in an appropriate and contextual manner.

Fitness. The qualities that either enhance or limit our ability to perform an action. In our study of Kenpo, we develop five types of fitness: spiritual, mental, emotional, perceptual and physical.

Forms, Sets, Techniques and various drills are exercises we use to develop, understand and improve our attitude, basics, logic and fitness.

Ed Parker and the Development of Modern Kenpo

Our martial system was formulated by Edmund K. Parker, a prolific author, teacher and practitioner of the martial arts. Mr. Parker was a student of boxing, Judo and Kenpo which he studied under the tutelage of William Chow (whose art is now known as Kara-ho Kenpo). Mr. Parker began his study of Kenpo in the 1940’s, earning his Black Belt in 1953. Ed Parker was also a 3rd degree black belt in Judo and captain of the 1956 Brigham Young University Judo club. Mr. Parker opened his first club in 1954 and opened his first professional location in 1956; establishing the first stage of development towards our modern Kenpo system.

Throughout the next several decades Mr. Parker would continually develop and refine his system of Kenpo into an art with its own unique characteristics and considerations. Mr. Parker would advance the art through his own experiences, those of his students and collaboration with other martial artist. Mr. Parker would employ numerous analogies, scientific principles, and illustrative concepts to help students better understand the art in addition to the refinement of effective self-defence and freestyle techniques.

A prolific educator through seminars, classes and magazine articles, Mr. Parker was frequently referred to as a key source in leading martial art magazines. Karate Kung-Fu Illustrated quotes Ed Parker’s Kenpo as being “America’s logical and unstoppable fighting system … Discovered in America, it’s Karate’s gold mine of motion” Inside Karate stated, “”You don’t become the father of American Karate by being second in line.  Universally acknowledged as the man who introduced Karate to America some twenty-nine years ago, Ed Parker has been one of the most innovative and successful influences in the development of the Art in the new environment” and Black Belt magazine stated, “Many Kenpo stylists refer to Ed Parker as the last word on the proper way to do their techniques.”


Prior to his death in 1990, Mr. Parker one of the most innovative and successful influences in the Martial Arts world. A pioneer of the modern martial art era, not only in the development of his own expression of the martial arts practiced by people around the world as well as a key figure in introducing the world to martial art legends such as Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris.

Focal Points of the Art

Striking with the Entire Body. Kenpo is first and foremost a striking art, further emphasized by the use of the term Karate. Student’s use all parts of the body to strike targets and vital areas on an attacker in order to stop the fight in the shortest time possible. Kenpo incorporates a variety of kicking techniques, strikes using the knees, and elbows but is well-known for its hand strikes. Kenpo, historically has been referenced as Chinese Boxing in historic documents.

Grappling while Standing or on the Ground. Kenpo is a multi-dimensional martial art that includes stand-up striking (kickboxing) in addition to grappling methods while standing or on the ground (similar to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu). These methods are collectively known as manipulations and include chokes, joint locks, leg locks, sweeps, buckles, and other close-in fighting methods found in arts such as Judo, Jujutsu and Chin Na.

Combative Weapons. Kenpo incorporates a variety of weapons as part of its teaching curriculum. Student’s learn how to use as well as defend against a variety of modern weapons. As student’s develop in the art they will be exposed to the use of clubs (or sticks), bladed weapons, staves, and nunchaku. Weapons training is both practical (how to use and defend against weapons in a street altercation) as well as a tool for positive development of non-weapon skills.

Problem Solving. Problem solving is an important aspect of the art. Students are provided a series of tools that help them understand, break apart and then resolve the problem (initially physical confrontations) in an effective and logical manner. As student’s advance in the art, the problem increase in complexity with the goal of having students solve problems just-in-time. Student’s explore problems in 8 areas: grabs and tackles, pushes, punches, kicks, holds and hugs, chokes and locks, weapons, and multiple attackers.

Applied Logic. Kenpo was developed by the late Ed Parker to be a martial art that followed scientific principles that could be used to implement practical actions in an intelligent and effortless manner. Kenpo recognizes the use of principles, concepts and theories to answer questions regarding who, what, how, why, when and where as applied to conflict as well as everyday activities. Kenpo is well known for its use of physics, geometry, bio-mechanics and other elements of logic in relationship to the martial arts.

Sayings, Stories and Analogies. Kenpo teachers use a vast collection of saying, stories and analogies to convey information in an educational and entertaining manner to help promote understanding and retention. A collection of sayings frequently used in our martial art was published in a book called “The Zen of Kenpo.”

Martial Art Lifestyle. Mr. Parker intended his system to develop great fighters that were also great people.  Training in the art includes lessons, exercises and ideas that help bridge the fighting aspects of the art to everyday activities.  We learn how the attitude, logic, basics and fitness are applied to help all aspects of our life including public speaking, goal setting, other physical activities and much more.

A Black Belt in Kenpo is…

Several years ago Mr. Parker, Frank Trejo, and Skip Hancock were flying to Mexico City for a seminar. Mr. Hancock had been writing the manuals for Mr. Parker for several years, when we finally reached the time to write the 1st Degree Black Belt Manual. One section that Mr. Hancock was interested in including in the manual was, “What it means to be an Ed Parker’s Black Belt!” As was his custom Mr. Parker told Skip to go ahead and write it himself. This time Mr. Hancock persisted that he really wanted Mr. Parker’s thoughts first. Without hesitation Mr. Parker looked at Skip and said, “Basics!,” and after a slight pause for effect, he added, “Logic.”




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