American Kenpo Legacy
Kenpo Never Changes . . .
by Kevin Lamkin
In the late 1980's, I was fortunate to have several encounters with Ed Parker concerning American Kenpo. After attending several seminars with various Kenpo "masters" I had the conclusion that everyone was teaching American Kenpo their own way, yet claiming that it was the way Ed Parker taught them. This prompted me to call Ed Parker and inquire as to which method of Kenpo was correct. Ed Parker seemed to have a photographic memory. He began our conversation asking about my progress since our last encounter. This impressed me because he remembered so much about me in spite of the numerous people that contacted him daily.
I asked Mr. Parker (he preferred to be called 'Ed') why the American Kenpo in his own organization had so much variance between schools. He seemed agitated about this question, yet I went further to inform him that the instructor who had hosted a recent seminar stated that this was because Ed Parker is always changing the system. Before I could complete my sentence, Mr. Parker interrupted and firmly stated,
"Kenpo Never Changes, it Perpetually Refines Itself."
He added, "Very few instructors understand this parable. What it refers to is this; My system should be taught from the base system, The Ideal Phase of each technique. I will be starting a limited franchise of schools next year (1988). Each school will teach, as all should, the techniques, basics and forms identically. What the instructor is charged to do is to "tailor" the technique - after the Ideal Phase is understood.
In this way, Kenpo remains the same and is refined perpetually for the student."
He went further saying, "What has happened is because my organization is so large, a few self-serving individuals have disenfranchised themselves from the whole of the organization. They then began to teach their what was tailored for themselves. After a couple of generations of this, then the art is lost."
I asked him why anyone would be arrogant enough to change his system and then to state the Ed Parker was doing American Kenpo wrong ( he excommunicated a few individuals for this). He asked me, "Do you remember an article about my system in Inside Karate in the 1970's in which I gave the example of how my black belts are trained to be independent thinkers?"
I told him, "Yes, in fact I have a special file that contains all of your magazine articles and interviews all the way back to Time (1964).
"Well", he said, "What I said was that you can take 10 of my black belts and ask each one of them to perform the same technique and you would observe the technique performed 10 different ways."
"Now, many of these guys took this as license to do their own thing, but it wasn't. Everyone should tailor the art to themselves, but instructors should always teach the system the same. This way, when you take lessons from different instructors, you will get quality instruction. Tailoring from the same base Ideal Phase of a technique can then be a rewarding and personal experience for the student. The advanced student will then be able to understand the pinnacle of the Kenpo system, the Family Grouping of Kenpo. With the family groupings you will be able to reduce all the Kenpo techniques into 18 categories with one defense for each category. For instance, there is basically only one defense for a straight-on wrist grab. It is how the equation formula is applied that makes up the individual characteristics for each technique. You can add a move in the beginning, middle, or the end and several other things to tailor a Master Key move to a specific attack."
The Family Groupings and Master Key moves were of special interest to me. I spent the next two years in these topics for my 5th degree black belt thesis. It has since been refined to completion.
Ed Parker went on to make it clear that I understood that "Kenpo Never Changes, It Perpetually Refines Itself." He concluded our discussion by announcing that he will begin his video tape system in 1988 and that franchise rights will be offered to teach his system to those who became sponsors for his video tape series. It was very expensive but wit it he gave credits at the end of the videos to those who sponsored him. You will find the names of Kevin Lamkin, Eric Lamkin and five others listed in the credits of his only two completed tapes, Advanced Concepts and Principles of Kenpo. He also send other tapes of his complete system, "performed exactly as they should be taught."
It is because of these clarifications that the American Kenpo Legacy Association is dedicated to teach American Kenpo Karate as it existed before Ed Parker's death.
I hope that these ideas will bring illumination to you as it has to me. Keep Ed Parker's vision of Kenpo alive!
Kevin Lamkin 7-19-98