Kenpo History Sort of a Mess
Kenpo Karate is one of the most popular martial arts in the world, and the history is, to put it lightly, a mess.
There are three men who brought Kenpo to the streets of America. These are James Mitose, William ‘Thunderbolt Chow, and Ed Parker.
James Mitose learned the art at a temple in Japan. Except, there is no temple there. The area is the home of kosho sect of the Yoshida clan, so maybe. Except…when you think about it, would there be much significance if your instructor learned Karate at a Baptist church somewhere in Illinois?
Yes, there are differences in culture, and there is a potential zen aspect to it all, but churches are basically meeting places.
The second man in this lineage is William ‘Thunderbolt’ Chow. Professor Chow claimed that he originally learned martial arts from his father, a Buddhist priest. Except, there are no records of his father as a priest. And how does that tie in with the Kenpo he learned from James Mitose?
The third man in this saga is Edmund Parker.
Parker brought Karate to the mainland, began teaching martial arts while at Brigham Young University. Except, he is said to have taught his students all he knew – he was only a brown belt – and when he went home and tried to get more to teach…Professor Chow wouldn’t teach him anything because he had been instructing without permission!
Now, there are a lot more sordid details to this story. There are fights and arguments and people slandering one another, and the reader might think, at this point, the this writer is writing black headlines just to sell an article. Except…the real problem here is not the three men, it is the students learning their kenpo karate martial art.
People seem to need to bolster themselves up, to give themselves airs, to make themselves sound more important than they are.
So when Mitose says, in an offhanded remark, ‘Yes, my father used to show me tricks when I was a kid. We were living next to a church then, and we would roll around on the grass in the side yard. Lot of fun…’ the student bows deep and realizes that his instructor studied at a zen temple, was beaten with a bamboo rod for dozing, and had to go through rigamarole that would make Gordon Liu envious.
And when Thunderbolt Chow says, ‘Yes, my father had dreams of being a priest, talked about it often. Priests know really great martial arts, you know,’ the student holds his finger aloft as the lightening strikes him, and knows that he studying ancient and arcane mysteries written down in scrolls dating back to the time of Buddha.
And when Parker says, ‘My instructor didn’t have any more to teach me,’ the student catches his breath and claps his hands together, for obviously his instructor has surpassed his instructor, and the student is the real beneficiary of all this light and goodness.
Yes, there are people who spread rumor and prevarication to make themselves look good, but it is up to the student to be discerning and find out the real truth…and, there is a lesson to be learned here.
The lesson is that man learns best from his mistakes. He learns a little bit from doing something well, but he learns A LOT from messing up. And these three men, James Mitose, William ‘Thunderbolt’ Chow, and Ed Parker, they were human, and they messed up.
So, are we going to make them saints and pretend they made no mistakes? Or are we going to look extra hard at their mistakes and learn, truly learn, from them?
The author began studying Kenpo Karate in 1967. Check out the three volume set analyzing Kenpo Karate (see illustrations above for links). History, forms, and 150 techniques broken down and scientifically analyzed. This will forever change the way you look at and do Kenpo Karate.