I walked into my first American Kenpo Karate dojo back in 1967. This was the Rod Martin variation of Tracys Kenpo, which was an offshoot of Ed Parker Kenpo Karate. Therein is the first problem with American Kenpo.
It grew too fast. In the orient teachers didn’t teach until they had a minimum of a decade of experience, had studied under a variety of teachers and had learned a variety of martial arts styles. We were borning senseis every three years, which is how long it took to make a black belt back then.
Of course, there is also the problem of which kenpo is the true kenpo? Ed Parker, you see, developed five different kenpos. If you learned an earlier version, is it now considered…less than kenpo?
And, this bring us to the fact that there are variations on the variations. There are people who have evolved combat kenpo and tournament kenpo and MMA kenpo, and so on. It seems there are as many kenpos as there are people studying it.
I first became aware of this problem, too many variations, while putting together Monkey Boxing, which, in one sense, is my version of kenpo, or at least as close as I can come to a kenpo. I had studied the version of a version of it way back when, then I picked up Larry Tatum Kenpo, and I had some of the kenpo connection material, then I came across rather massive instruction manuals on Olympic kenpo, and I believe I had two other versions of the art.
As I went through the endless techniques I saw how the changes were sometimes small, and sometimes large, but always unique to the person making the changes. Now, to be sure, every art should be an expression of the individual, and kenpo does seem suited to this. Still, it would be nice to have a specific set of concepts, and maybe a list of techniques that would standardize the kenpo field before individual martial arts masters expanded it with their own variations.
In the end, I boiled the techniques of five complete arts, with a couple or three partial arts, down to forty techniques. I am sure there will be some who shake their heads at this. After all, how can one summate over 500 techniques, and all the evolutions thereof, with but 40 techniques?
Well, I offer no excuse, I merely invite you to try your own hand at collecting sufficient variations that you might have a complete overview of the art. Then, start organizing the data. It will be difficult, definitely a number nine headache, but you might find yourself a true master of American Kenpo Karate.
If you are interested in seeing what I did with Chinese American Kenpo Karate, take a look at the Monkey Boxing Page at Monster Martial Arts. And make sure you pick up the free book on the home page.