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

5 thoughts on “Why I Gave up Kenpo Karate

  1. Anonymous

    (Talking about Al Case) In 1967 I trained at Rod Martin’s studio in Mountain View and instructed in 1968, I don’t remember you at all. and there was no training manual. Is this the studio you trained at. Mr Martin only had two others, one in San Jose and one in Seattle. Jeff Williams was a friend of mine. Larry Robbins was my student among others.

    1. aganzul Post author

      Hi Anonymous. A fellow named Corey (don’t remember last name, been a long time) ran the studio in San Jose. Seattle was run by Rex (again, don’t remember last name). Both were instructors of mine, and occasionally Rod would teach me. These were the privates, I had all three, plus Ralph (state champ) and Benny Castellanos.I went to Los Altos High School with Jeff Williams, same grade. We were best friends, but we were what I would consider pretty good friends. I used to go over to his house, which was located almost catty corner to the high school. I had hand written notes on all the techniques in a small spiral ring notebook. One day I noticed a fellow reading big spiral ring folder, and he told me it was the instruction manual. I found my notes xeroxed in them. I went to Rod and he said he found my book in the changing room on my folded clothes and was so impressed he decided to make it the official manual. I was honored. I was an instructor, but left when I was drafted. When I came back I elected to go to a school in San Jose, Kang Duk Won. But I remember the friends and good times I had at Rod’s school very well. Is it surprising that you don’t remember me? No. There were a lot of people, I might have been in the process of leaving when you were starting, we might have taught on different nights, who knows? But, memories or not, if you went to the freestyle class there is a pretty good chance we crossed fists. But whether we knew each other or not, good hearing from you. It was great times back then. Have a great work out! Al Case

  2. Anonymous

    Thank you for your reply Mr Case, I must say that with all your experience with the various martial arts and all the people you must have been associated with through out the years you have an excellent memory of that particular time. I started at Rod Martin’s about mid 1967 and my first introductory (5 lessons I believe) was with Rex Blain, (he was a brown belt at the time) and after that first technique where he stopped a chop within an inch of my throat with lightning speed, I was hooked and knew this was for me! Anyway, after that I had Dan Lee for an instructor for a short while, then Ben Castellanos (a brown belt at the time) for about a year or so, then finally I went to San Jose for my lessons with Bob Cori. I still taught at Mountain View. I started teaching there later on in 1968. I got drafted in March of 69 thus ending my short career in Karate, forever a 1st brown belt. But those years were some of my fondest memories. Rod Martin had a banquet for all the members and instructors and family sometime in late 68 where Ben gave a demonstration and then after that demo Rod went up and awarded him his black belt. Rod said I was the second fastest to progress through the ranks and the only one faster was an instructor (maybe that was you, I never knew his name). I probably saw you there but I didn’t know everyone by name. I’m thinking you may have been there before me and left by the time I started to get more involved with the school. By the way, Bob Cori had a small part in a kung fu movie back in 76 called Death Machines. I found it in one of my searches. Thanks again and take care Sensei Case!
    Roger I.

    1. aganzul Post author

      Ah, thank you for those last names. I started in nov of 67. We were definitely there at the same time, and probably talked and freestyled. It was a big school, though, a lot of people.
      I remember Bob Cori well. Big guy, nice personality. I’ll have to look for his movie. Interestingly, I was drafted in 69. Durned army. Anyway, have a great work out! Al


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