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Thread: Ed Parker’s Chinese Influences

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    Default Ed Parker’s Chinese Influences

    Ed Parker’s Chinese Influences
    Ron Chapél, Ph.D.

    The migration and evolution of Kenpo in the Parker Lineage is not a simple direct line as some feel, but one of significant complexities. The assumption that it “started at A, and ends at Z,” ignores some basic realities.

    Although the lineage has many eras, diversions, and off-shoots, clearly the most significant in terms of influences on everything that followed it is the “Chinese Kenpo” era of the sixties.

    Initially at its roots, what was called “Kenpo Karate” in Hawaii by Kwai Sun Chow, was like most non-traditional arts of the time. That is, it was a mixture of philosophies, physical methodologies, and diverse cultural influences.

    Arguably a mixture of cultural arts, (like Lua), with a heavy infusion of Japanese Cultural Arts, (like Seishiro Okazaki’s Dan Zan Ryu Jiu-jitsu), mixed with the Chinese Arts, and the gutsy street fight shrewdness of its creator, it defied many labels and its diversity was reflected in its name. Some would suggest that the term “Kenpo-karate” is itself a cultural contradiction.

    At any rate, the over-riding themes promoted by Chow, and picked up by Ed Parker, was about personal self-defense in the modern culture, and anything that didn’t support that philosophy was jettisoned. Ed Parker always gave his only Kenpo teacher credit for this driving philosophy in all of his many approaches and interpretations of “Kenpo.”

    The most important thing, however, is the acceptance that, where we as individuals stand in our own Kenpo evolution is not necessarily a straight line from Chow to what we do, no matter how much we would like it to be so. We all would like to feel that Parker’s evolution culminated at our own feet, (or at least at our teachers), and therefore there is no better “interpretation” of Kenpo than our own. This belies the migration of students to other styles to "fill the gaps" in their Kenpo teachers knowledge.

    Those who routinely speak of what Kenpo does or does not have would be better served to speak in personal terms rather than what someone else's Kenpo of whom they have no knowledge, does or does not contain.

    However, where we stand is influenced by such a plethora of factors. Consider Parker never stood pat at any level or versions of his many Kenpo(s) and created off-shoot diversions of his own interpretations every time he taught someone something different from another. This, in turn, created another lineage branch no less valid than any other did philosophically, if not practically.

    Parker began in judo and made black belt. He dabbled in western boxing before he found the Chow Brothers, and started Chow’s Kenpo-Karate. He was also proficient at elements of and ultimately received his black belt in jiu-jitsu and Karate-do.

    Once arriving on the mainland, Parker began his own interpretation of Chow’s teaching and began a codification process that Chow never had when he was under his tutelage. This was the original Kenpo-Karate as depicted in Parker’s first book on the subject, in 1961.

    Innovative and unlike any of its “karate-do” influence, it was more jiu-jitsu than Karate, but even then the lines were blurred. Most cultural arts contained elements of other arts of the same culture, and some even crossed cultural lines philosophically, (like Kenpo), so this was not at all unusual.

    The distinctions made today about elements of various styles virtually didn’t exist then. The martial arts world was more homogenous, and most openly shared with each other with cross-pollination being the rule rather than the exception. Except that is, for the sophisticated aspects of the Chinese Arts. Held culturally close even today, this aspect of the arts always remained shrouded in mystery and skepticism of the effectiveness of its unusual methodologies.

    Still, on American Soil, all methodologies on some level will fall to means testing or cultural proclivities for artistic sake. Some have chosen to be partially means tested, while ignoring volumes of other information.

    Having been a student of one of Mr. Parker’s teachers as well as "The Kahuna" (One of many Parker nicknames), himself, gives me a unique perspective of some information, and its interpretations from various sources. Obviously, I found Ed Parker’s interpretations and teachings for me, invaluable and infinitely informative to this day and continue them religiously, means testing as I go as he mandated.

    Mr. Parker’s association with my former teacher, Xifu Ark Yuey Wong had a significant influence. Arguably, as much as Ed Parker was the "Father of American Karate," Sifu Ark Wong was the "Father of American Kung Fu," and arguably was the first to open his doors to non-Chinese like the Polynesian Parker. Xifu Wong's influences were immense. So much so that by the time Parker wrote his second book for publication in 1963 (the year I met him), Parker had completely abandoned the Japanese Influences of his birthplace in favor of the now Chinese Methods and Sciences.

    Others, such as Lao Bun, and James Wing Woo also had a significant impact. Lao Bun, to a much lesser extent because he was based out of Northern California and that placed him geographically consistently unavailable. James (Jimmy) Wing Woo was more influential. What Xifu Woo did, however, is spend time teaching with Parker in Pasadena, bringing Taiji to the school, and contributing the bulk of the historical information for Parker’s book, “Secrets of Chinese Karate.”

    This for many was no small matter, and as Parker continued his evolution, Xifu Woo took some of Parker’s early black belts with him when they parted ways. As much as this may sound negative, this was not at all unusual. Everyone bounced around from school-to-school in those days, picking up different philosophies and techniques while still calling Kenpo their primary "style." I know I did, picking up other black belts while a Parker student.

    Parker actually encouraged it, and in the process, sometimes often lost students. Although this may sound somewhat impressive, in those days getting a black belt in a year or so was about average in this country, or for Americans studying in Asian Countries. While in the Chinese Arts, it took about three plus years to gain a black sash from Xifu Wong. That proportionality hasn't really changed much over the years, even with commercial influences.

    Guru Dan Inosanto also studied with Xifu Ark Wong, left to be with Parker, and then left with Bruce Lee. Prior to studying with Ark Wong, Danny studied his own traditional Filipino Arts and came to Xifu Wong to expand his knowledge.

    Over the years, most of Parker’s black belts left him. If not in practice, in actuality as he changed things continually and students searched for a more stable atmosphere and had no desire to revisit “basics” while Parker refined them, or transitioned to a commercial system he settled on as a business.

    Those who stayed in business with him and remained loyal were promoted even though they didn't follow him in his quest. He justified it by saying they got the rank for "What they are doing, not for potential."

    However, the biggest influence on Ed Parker, in my opinion, was the little known Haumea Lefiti. A student at Ark Wong’s as well (and one of the primary founders of Limalama), Parker saw several things in him that he ultimately adopted in some form in all of his own arts.

    Xifu Lefiti was Samoan, and culturally that made him Parker’s "island boy cousin." “Tiny,” as he was affectionately called, was a much bigger version of Ed Parker. At about 6’6”, he was actually bigger and faster than Parker. Wrap your mind around that for a moment. Most importantly, Xifu Lefiti brought a methodology to the forefront in the school that had not previously been taught by Xifu Wong. That methodology was Mok Gar.

    Xifu Wong was well versed in the method but had chosen to not teach it until “Tiny” Lefiti showed up at the school with a Mok Gar Black Sash, and a written recommendation, after a stint in the Marine Corps and studying in Taiwan.

    It’s important you understand why I call it a “methodology” and not a style. Historically, depending on whom you talk to, Mok Gar was used specifically by especially chosen and trained guards, that was reputed to be “down and dirty,” and taught without the cultural restraints found in the traditional teachings of the Chinese Arts. Think of it as the “street Kenpo” of its day. Stripped of cultural impediments and whose only purpose was to maim, blind, incapacitate and literally destroy the adversary as quickly as possible.

    Much like my own “American Chúan-Fa” is Kenpo, but the methodology has multiple components and different levels of instruction. Many of Parker’s early Black Belts before he adopted his Business Model Motion Concept, teach their own interpretations of Kenpo as Mr. Parker wanted, but that doesn’t change the style. Identifying the methodology simply identifies the First Generation Lineage of what you do. I teach two separate levels of instruction. Tactical American Kenpo where the basics are learned and tested, and American Chúan-Fa where the more sophisticated aspects of the art begin to be realized.

    However, those that were born in the commercial era of the seventies were dictated a singular methodology that allowed for individual interpretations without the necessity of a Lineage Identifier. Those that stick to the “motion mandate” are restricted on one hand by the concept, but mitigate that through tailoring and the ability to interpret their lessons and understandings as they desire, to the level of their own sophistication and intellect.

    This interpretation is based on “motion” and had its singular objective adopted by Parker from Mok Gar — also called Splashing Hands by one of Xifu Lefiti’s lower rank students. It contains all of the of the slashing, ripping, gouges, and stomping of downed attackers found in Mok Gar, taught with a motion-based theme to effect quick self-defense skills for commercial viability.

    It works and left the morality of its use to the teacher and their students. This is where the bulk of the Ed Parker lineage students reside today, and Mok Gar is the primary methodology influence on what they have learned.

    Discussions about different style influences are valid, but more so outside of the Chinese Arts. Because of the base science aspect, I was always taught the Chinese Arts are “all the same,” and only methodologies differ to reach essentially similar objectives.

    Other arts are not necessarily based on science, but cultural philosophies and creator personal preferences. I know all of my Chinese Teachers felt this way, and for that reason, they usually only made references to methodologies, rather than styles.

    The issue of “styles” was promoted by the more traditional arts. Some, created for various reasons other than “fighting,” promoted a particular “way” over practical applications.

    These, including the Chinese, can be heavily culturally influenced to purposely elongate the process of learning artificially as a lifelong experience and endeavor. While all arts are a “lifelong” journey, some artificially withhold effective methods while waiting to build character and show “worthiness” for the knowledge.

    Today many argue about style sometimes because of personal identity issues, and/or a need to distinguish oneself from others, while in the past it was only to establish methodology parameters in training, not identity. This is why today in the Chinese Arts, in particular, some vehemently defend their "style" distinctions as if it really mattered in reality.

    The reason the arts are studied will determine where you sit, but from the catbird seat, means testing is a far more important place to put one's energy.

    So in answer to the question, "What Chinese Arts contributed to Mr. Parker's Kenpo-Karate?" it would be primarily Mok Gar, Five Animal, Hung Gar, Sil Lum for some, plus every practical aspect of every other art that Parker ever came into contact with.
    "Nothing is more dangerous than the conscientiously ignorant, or the sincerely stupid." - Martin Luther King Jr.

    "Knowledge speaks but wisdom listens." - Ed Parker Sr.

    "It's much easier to quote, than to know." - Ron Chapél

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    Default Re: Ed Parker’s Chinese Influences

    Thank you Doc for leaving us a kenpo.heritage that surpasses our dreams! I'm printing what you have written to give to others who are our future brothers and sisters. I was raised on n the street kenpo of the 1960's. I've passed on much of what I know to my son Alex. He works a club in Minneapolis and does security. Last night he evicted a patron through a set of double doors with one movement. I told him to watch his back! We love doing for you Doc and greatly appreciate what you are doing for us all!

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    Default Re: Ed Parker’s Chinese Influences

    Good stuff. Thank you.
    Clear mind, clear movement. Mastery of the Arts is mastery over the Self. That in this moment, this motion, the thoughts, memories, impulses and passions that cloud the mind must yield to the clarity of purpose, and purity of motion.

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