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A different point of view (long)

October 4 2007 at 8:55 AM
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Ian Rafferty  (Login Ian_Rafferty)
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Response to The Preservation and Integrity of Ed Parker's American Kenpo

Mr. Tache, thank you for taking the time to send out your thoughts and feelings about the art of Kenpo. I know many people out there will agree, but even those of us who don't can appreciate your heartfelt and earnest approach. I salute you for speaking your mind and signing your name to it.

What you have described here is absolutely the way that the martial ART of Ed Parker's American Kenpo Karate should be approached and taught... But what about the martial SCIENCE of Kenpo?

Your analogies of the English language and Shakespear are absolutely correct. But the principles and motions of Kenpo are derived from physics, and physics wasn't created by any artist or scientist. Over time and painstaking discovery, scientists defined the means by which the universe already worked. I view my Kenpo as a science. Sometimes, something comes along that shows a better "equation" or "proof" than what I had before. After empirical analysis and testing, if it passes muster, it is added to my Kenpo, sometimes pushing another "formula" out of circulation.


The ART of Kenpo is a beautifully intricte set of interwoven ideas and training methods, with something for everyone. It takes a raw beginner and molds them over years and years into an excellent practitioner and competent teacher of the art. It arms an individual with a library of conceptual information to help them understand and refine their art towards its ultimate - individual - perfection. A path one could follow for a lifetime or two.

But not every person who studies Kenpo needs or wants that.

Some people just want a bit of self-defense, and don't care to hone their attributes to a fine edge in order to have a shot. Some people are willing to invest many years in study, but have no interest in teaching the art or passing it on to others, and want only the parts that are immediately functional for them.

Blocking set is widely functional, but does someone uninterested in kicking need Kicking Set? Does someone looking for a quick self-defense method need Coordination Sets? Does someone morally opposed to all the eye gouging really need Finger Set?

Only a very, very small percentage of students who start in Kenpo will ever become brown or black belts, or run schools, or be phenomenal at the art. The martial ART of Kenpo serves the remaining 99% poorly. It places a high emphasis on skills development and set completion and conceptual understanding, and places a lower emphasis on immediately deployable tools that are synchronous with the statistical average of threats encountered in "street fighting".

About one third of attacks in the street come from weapons, particularly knives and guns.... and yet these tools are found in the later parts of the system. The multiple opponent techniques are also found later in the system, and are primarily vehicles for teaching advanced skill sets... but nearly half of all violent crime is a multiple-offender situation. The ART does little to address this in its earliest segments.

Kenpo is poorly organized for teaching law-enforcement. The majority of "dominant side forward" tactics shown in forms and techniques place their sidearm in a precarious position, and many of Kenpo's tactics are not permissible by law-enforcement agencies.

Clearly, a number of Kenpo practitioners feel that the ART has little to offer for dealing with the increasing prevalence of ground fighters. I know the art is supposed to contain a complete library of motion, but I don't recall seeing scissor sweeps, bridge rolls, triangles, or a slew of other important ground maneuvers in Kenpo. Sure the SCIENTIFIC principles are there, but the exact process of using them in this environment is not.

Its often been said that the art is designed for commercial schools. But if it weren't designed that way.... would it be structured differently? Is the earlier "60's" form less commercial in that sense? If it is less commercial, then is it "more" of something else?

Fights in the majority of situations are not an "on-off" process. There is a progression of social and physical elements that turns a non-violent situation into a dangerous one. Kenpo has few tools for dealing with this. Responses against pushes and handshakes have the same overall level of violent response as those against chokes and weapon attacks. Without modification, the art has little to offer in the way of tools to take physical control of a fight without necessitating the destruction of the opponent.

The old adage "you fight like you train" is as close to proven fact as it can possibly be. Every little quirk of motion that you train is exactly the sort of response your reflexes are likely to tap into, no matter how much you logically "know" a given action is "only here for set completion". If you had to choose only ten techniques that were your first line of defense against a violent threat, what would they be? Would they be the same techniques as someone likely to face similar threats? What about dissimilar threats? What if comparing those lists, five of the ten techniques named were the same for everyone? Would you place a higher emphasis on those techniques and their relevant motions? Or would you think this was an abberration and that it should be weeded out by de-emphasizing those techniques or forms or drills?


There are many great Kenpoists out there doing things a bit differently.

Having started in the Ed Parker system with years of prior martial arts training, and then switching over to the Paul Mills method, I already had a non-typical notion of what Kenpo was about. I was interested in studying Kenpo only for its functionality, and not at all for its other appealing qualities. My training has always been first and foremost a matter of form following function.

In the process of adding Zach Whitson's Counterpoint to my training, and some of Rick Fowler's Kali flows, and Angelo Collado's Karambit, and aspects of Jeff Speakman's Kenpo 5.0, a bit of Jim Rathbone's White Tiger Kenpo-Jujits, and some of David German's TAI, and Joseph Simonet's KI Fighting Concepts, and Eric and Kevin Lamkin's Elite Fighters materials, and the seminars shown on this site by James Hawkins.... well... I just had way too much Kenpo in my Kenpo. And the things that showed faster, more immediate results we taking precedence in my training, supplanting tools which completed categories or were designed for uncommon attack forms, or were redundant with other responses...

Over time I saw that some important skills were not being adequately addressed, and this meant returning back to the written ART... but not everything that disappeared was missed... And not everything that was added was willing to fade away quietly. Some things that were done only a very few times made a huge impression, both on the students, and apparently on our motor programming / muscle memory. And some of these additions were not even Kenpo (gasp!).

So here was the quandary: throw away functional material, banning it from class so as not to pollute our Kenpo with it.... or accept that maybe the artistic, architecturally magnificent system that Ed Parker made was no longer.... quite... what I actually wanted to train...

I made my choice. I asked my students to make theirs. Thankfully we all agreed on what should be done. I redesigned my curriculum to reflect that choice. When people approach me wanting to know what I do, Kenpo is the answer I give, with the caveat that my Kenpo is quite bastardized. Those who are looking for "Ed Parker's Kenpo" by name are directed to another local school.


I'm not saying everyone should change the system. I'm not saying that every change is a good one. I'm not saying "my way is right", or anything of the sort. What I am trying to do is set out an argument for ways of doing things that modify, alter (or even outright distort or corrupt) the ART while remaining true to the SCIENCE of Kenpo. Ed Parker asked that we not traditionalize his art. (Argue amongst yourselves as to what exactly "traditionalize" means.) Personally, I'm doing my level best to keep my Kenpo as radicalized and iconoclastic as possible.

I admire and appreciate those who have maintained the purity of their Kenpo and continue to plumb its depths for better ways to teach or understand it. You all have my respect for doing so. I also admire those who try to develop new functionality for the art, either in response to an increased understanding of their highly tailored personal form of the ART, or to address perceived problems with the method (even if the problems aren't really there).

We are all training in Kenpo. Some of us agree with the majority about what that means, while others do not.

Thanks very much for reading this very long-winded reply. If I have offered offense, you have my apologies in advance.

Salute to all Kenpoists
-- Ian Rafferty

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