Back in the Beginning of Kenpo…
I began studying Kenpo in 1967.
It was so unknown that it was called Kenpo Karate so it could be identified with the art of Karate. Not that that many people knew what karate was.
Kenpo was born in Japan. There are many lineages, but the specific Kenpo that is so widely known these days came from James Mitose, Thunderbolt Chow, Ed Parker, and finally, an instructor near you.
Martial Arts were not studied widely at the time, and usually it was fellows who were tough, who looked forward to the street fight, who studied them.
Kenpo came from Okinawan Karate and Japanese Jujitsu. There were other sourcss, many and varied, but the American style Kenpo you might study was likely based, at least in the beginning, on these arts.
Right from the outset Americans realized that Kenpo could be marketed more easily through tournaments, so we studied our freestyle rabidly, and we looked forward to the weekend trips.
For such a violent art, the participants at these tournaments proved to be a polite bunch. Schools were located a distance apart and there wasn’t much competition. Instructors actually looked forward to seeing each other, to comparing notes, and even learning a ‘secret’ technique or two.
And, outside of school, fights did happen. Proud warriors, Kenpo stylists, all martial artists, were happy to step up to a challenge, take umbrage at a veiled insult, trade fists with a goon.
We were more rabid back then. We didn’t do ten or twenty kicks and think we were done, we would do a couple of hundred and chide ourselves for being lazy. We would do forms by the hour. See if we could do 60 forms in an hour.
In short, we would exhaust ourselves. We would go for a run, do some weightlifting, and then freestyle for a couple of hours in class, and know that we were doing it right.
Mistakes? We made a ton of them. But over time we fixed them; the martial arts tend to be self fixing; the turn of the foot, the line of the wrist, the physics of the universe corrected us and were out teachers.
And now, near fifty years later, all we wish is one thing: to do it all again. To do Karate and Kenpo, to throw and kick and punch to our hearts content.
And we feel sorry for all those people who quit early, or who were born too late, or who were just too lax in their training to really find the truth: You are what you do, that is your measure, and that is your worth.
If you want a REALLY good book on Kenpo, consider ‘How to Create Kenpo’ by Al Case. It has the real history, the one you don’t hear much about, plus a section on how to do forms, plus 150 kenpo techniques, thoroughly analyzed so that you can be the best Kenpoka you can be. That’s How to Create Kenpo, available on Amazon. The hard work is up to you.
Here’s a fascinating bit of history: The Man Who Killed Kenpo.
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This is what it was like…