Grandmaster Ed Parker

Grandmaster Edmund Kealoha Parker, 10th Degree Black Belt, is the undisputed father of American Kenpo with the greatest modern day influence on the spread of Kenpo around the world. He has often been referred to as a “genius of motion” and has made an incomprehensible contribution to the martial arts world.

Black Belt in Judo,

He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii on 19th March, 1931. At age 16, already a Black Belt in Judo, he had his first introduction to the art of Kenpo through Frank Chow. Parker quickly learned everything Frank could teach him, and Frank soon arranged for his more experienced brother, William Chow, to help Parker reach a higher level.

In 1949, Parker enrolled at Brigham Young University in Utah. After two years, he was drafted into the Korean War and luckily managed to be stationed in Hawaii for most of his three year term with the US Coast Guard. This allowed him to continue his training with Chow on a full-time basis. The art, system and science of Kenpo intrigued him and his desire to introduce it to the United States grew.

Discharged from the military

After he was discharged from the military in mid-1954, Parker returned to Brigham Young to continue his university education and began a Kenpo class on the campus. Teaching helped him develop the art. In December of 1954, during the intermission of a basketball game, Ed Parker put on a Kenpo demonstration. In attendance were some Utah law enforcement personnel, and the university soon began issuing credit for them to take the martial arts class. Within a week, Parker began teaching commercially.

After graduating in 1956 with a degree in Psychology and Sociology, Parker moved to California and began teaching Kenpo at a health club. Shortly after, the health centre was bought out and Parker found himself unemployed. Undeterred, Parker opened his own school in Pasadena later that same year, which is still in business to this day.

Ed Parker & Elvis

The Perfect Weapon

Early on in his career, Parker met Terry Robinson, a World War II combat instructor who was impressed with Kenpo. It was through this association with Robinson that Parker began teaching celebrities including Elvis Presley (who Parker toured with as a member of Elvis’s security group) and Steve McQueen. This allowed Parker to introduce Kenpo to the world of television and movies as an actor and stunt coordinator. Easily the most impressive movie featuring Kenpo, from which Parker worked behind the scenes, is The Perfect Weapon starring Jeff Speakman.

Ed Parker & Bruce Lee

International Karate Championships” (IKC)

In 1964, Ed Parker held his first “International Karate Championships” (IKC) in Long Beach, California, which became the largest Martial Arts tournament in the US for many years. The IKC brought out some of the best martial artists from around the world. It was around this time that Ed Parker had met and become friends with Bruce Lee.  The two had trained together and exchanged ideas on how innovation should be applied to the traditional martial arts.  By Parker’s invitation, Bruce Lee was given centre stage at the IKC tournament and provided his first demonstration of skills to the American public, which obtained him the role of Kato in the “Green Hornet” television series. That role later propelled him to stardom.

Throughout his life, Parker was featured in national and international magazines such as: TimeStrength and HealthShow Business IllustratedIron ManBlack Belt magazineKarate IllustratedInside Kung Fu and others, as well as appearing in newspapers nationwide and articles in the World Encyclopaedia. He authored a number of books including: Infinite Insights into Kenpo (Volumes 1-5), The Women’s Guide to Self DefenceSecrets of Chinese Karate and The Zen Of Kenpo.

Parker’s uniqueness comes from his continuous efforts to challenge the traditional restrictions that bind progressive thinking. He is quoted as saying:

An ounce of logic can be worth more than a ton of tradition that has become obsolete through the weathering of time.

He was a creative genius with an incredible ability to discover the problems within the practice and teachings of the martial arts, and applied a unique and innovative approach to address them.

Artwork used with permission from Ed Parker Jr.

Before his untimely death in 1990, Grandmaster Ed Parker did not name a successor. This caused the Kenpo community to become fragmented without one figurehead leader. Different associations have since taken varied approaches to advancing KENPO – WAY OF THE FIST. Ed Parker wrote the following in one his Infinite Insights books regarding the future of the art:

“When I am gone, I hope that people won’t try to traditionalise my Art. I want you to always remember that Kenpo will always be the Art of Perpetual Change. If you remember this, then the Art will never become obsolete because it will change with the times. While the ignorant refuse to study and the intelligent never stop, we should always be mindful of the fact that our reward in life is proportionate with the contributions we make. A true Martial Artist is not one who fears change, but one who causes it to happen. To live is to change, and to obtain perfection is to have changed often.”