Why I Gave up Kenpo Karate


And What I Did to Get Kenpo Karate Back

In 1967 I was an instructor at the Rod Martin Kenpo Karate school. I had written the school training manual, and I was pretty darned dedicated in my training.

One night a coworker and friend of mine took me to meet his brother, the purpose of the meeting to discuss martial arts. It wasn’t until we drove up to a rather shabby house in Sunnyvale that I was told that the brother, who I will call T, was a Hell’s Angel.

kenpo karate training manualT was friendly enough, and we entered into a conversation, and it wasn’t long before he said something to the effect of, “Let’s find out if it works,” and grabbed me by the shirt front.

“Go on, do that technique, the one you learned in the first few lessons.”

I was 19, and he was in his late twenties. I was a college kid with no experience. He had been in more fights than you could shake a stick at.

In the arena of fighting, I was simply outclassed.

Still, I tried.

I clamped my hands over his fists and locked his arms in place. He grinned. I brought my forearm up against his elbows to break them. It was like hitting oak branches. I brought my chop down on his radial nerves to paralyze them, and…he threw me through a wall.

Not just a dent in the wall, but all the way through it, to land on my butt on the other side.

He laughed and offered a hand to help me up.

His brother was sitting on the sofa, doubled in laughter.

“Okay, let me show you how we do it at our school. Go on and grab me.”

As I said, I tried. I grabbed his shirt front and tightened my hands and…he simply punched over my arm, down across my forearms and into my chest. Fortunately, he pulled his punch, changed his punch into a push, and I was propelled through the wall. To land on my butt. Again.

We spent several hours talking that night. And there was quite a bit more demonstration, and i learned he could be as gentle as well as hard. And though I kept taking Kenpo for a few more months, to all extents and purposes, that was the night I gave it up.

Now, a few things to be made clear.

First, I am not bad mouthing Kenpo. T had more experience, both in life and the martial arts, and I deserved to lose. He was a better martial artist than me.

But, that doesn’t mean the kenpo art is bad, it just means that I was bad, that i didn’t know how to make Kenpo work, and I have tried to fix that inadequacy over the last 45 years.

First, I collected several different styles of Kenpo, examined them for workability.

Second, I found that many kenpo techniques that worked in other arts.

Third, I found many other arts that worked better when they included certain Kenpo techniques and concepts.

The fact of the matter is that the good martial artists don’t tie themselves to one system. They are well experienced, well rounded, and educated in many martial arts.

Bruce Lee researched some 26 martial arts on the way to his formulation of Jeet Kune Do.

Kenpo was originally said to be a combination of Okinawan Karate and Japanese Jujitsu, and Ed Parker is said to have studied MANY different martial arts as he evolved his way through Kenpo.

So my Kenpo failed. That is not important. What is important is what I did with that failure. After all, a man learns a little from success, he learns a lot from his mistakes. And the truth of the matter is that I have obsessed on Kenpo on many ways since that night, and tried to fix it, and to fix the mistakes that I made.

About the author: Al Case began martial arts in 1967, became a writer for the magazines in 1981, had his own column in Inside Karate in the 90s, and is the webmaster of MonsterMartialrts.com. He has written a three volume set of books on Kenpo, ‘How to Create Kenpo Karate,’ which is available on Amazon. It includes some history and concepts, but the majority of the work is aimed at scientifically analyzing 150 Kenpo techniques. You can read an interesting article of his, ‘The Man Who Killed Kenpo,’ at Kenponow.wordpress.com

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