Tag Archives: kenpo karate techniques

The Messed Up History of Kenpo Karate

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.

kenpo karate training manual

What really happened with Mitose, Chow and 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.

bruce lee kenpo training

How to shift your forms for maximum potentials

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.

lop sau rolling fists freestyle drill

the last third of 150 Kenpo techniques scientifically analyzed

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.

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