There are now a number of videos on the market showing the teaching of Grandmaster Edmund Parker. These are no doubt historic documentaries and show Parker at his best: making jokes, expounding key points, developing analogies that force practitioners to re-think basic concepts. But we’d like to address the issues surrounding the man, not the videos.

First there is a simmering controversy about the exact nature of Kenpo. To put our prejudices squarely up front we consider Kenpo to be a respectable part of the general Kung Fu picture. Some teachers disagree. Some agree strongly. We can nonetheless evaluate Edmund Parker’s contributions to the martial arts. Many people think of him as an expert self-defense teacher and practitioner. Some as a strong anti-traditionalist. To our mind, his greatest strength was his creation of a vocabulary of motion.

This was a true break with normal methods of martial training where Asian were generally used to designate traditional moves. While good in itself, this often led to incomplete understanding of the movements. Parker succeeded in the creation of a western vocabulary that was accurate not as a translation of ideas but as a set of working terms with meaning in a Western context.

Parker KenpoFor example, his “contouring” actions, which follow the contour of one’s own or the opponent’s body are precisely the type of movement one finds in Kung Fu. Yet this skill termed Shih or “shape” was rarely if ever taught to students. Parker developed this and dozens of other words that clearly designated important principles of martial theory. In some cases he gave form to concepts that were rarely designated even in the original languages.

Unlike so many who dealt with martial arts like a “dead language,” Parker thought long and hard about the components of movement and brought to light ideas that were vague – if even recognized. This informal seminar shows him as he worked: inspired, creative and innovative. A brilliant American contributor to our understand of movement and meaning.

But, to be honest, there’s more to the story which – one day – we will expound. Parker might also be thought of as a top notch promoter. What many Kenpo practitioners are sadly unaware of is that many of Parker’s concepts are not – shall we say – entirely his own. Parker was a promoter, first and foremost. When people assumed every word from his mouth was his exclusive idea he did not always bend over to correct them. His rise to fame came at a time of many people competing with one another and cross-pollinating ideas. A number of people come to mind who were strongly influential on this thing we presently call Kenpo. We think, as time passes, that the record will correct itself and what seems to many to be “Parker Kenpo” will be revealed to represent, as always, the entire community.

Though this is hardly a biting criticism we expect reactions to this (though it’s a commonly shared thought in the general Kenpo community) because, unfortunatley, Parker fame has somewhat come to obscure the man. Whatever his real contribution his followers have placed him high and themselves almost in the area of “cult”. How many times have I hung around with Kenpo pracitioners who-frankly- have almost no appreciation for anything in the martial arts outside “techniques” and their immediate self-defense concerns. Admitedly, Kenpo was a back alley style, born in Asian ghettos and practiced often by people who didn’t “fit” into any particular world. And, admittedly, some of the kindest and best people we’ve met in the art have been Kenpo practitioners. But, in the interests of the first rule of martial arts – sincerity- we have to admit there’s a streak of self-satisfaction and arrogance in this self-proclaimed “ultimate self-defense”. Now is the time to stop with the separate Kenpo divisions at tournaments and rejoing the rest of a community far too fractured already.

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