McLaren's Kenpo Karate & Yoga Studio 

“I come to you with only karate, empty hands.  I have no weapons, but should I be forced to defend myself, my principles or my honor; should it be a matter of life or death, of right or wrong; then here are my weapons, karate, my empty hands.” 

Senior Grand Master Ed Parker – March, 1957 

The Basics of Kenpo Karate

by Rich Hale’s


In the same way the English language is based on an alphabet, Kenpo is also based on an alphabet.  Each individual move, whether used offensively or defensively, is considered to be a single letter of the Kenpo alphabet. These individual moves (letters) are also known as basics.  A combination of letters (basics) using the same arm or foot form words of motion.  A combination letters (basics) using both hands and/or feet can be combined to create self-defense techniques, which are considered to be sentences of motion.

Combining sentences of motion (techniques) together form paragraphs of motion, which can be more sophisticated techniques, sets, or short forms.  Paragraphs of motion when logically combined are used to create or more sophisticated sets and forms, which are also referred to as short stories of motion.

These combinations can create an almost infinite number of alternatives, and the more versed a martial artist is in the available alternatives, the more fluent his response will be to a physical confrontation.  In time the Kenpoist will learn a fairly sizable number of techniques, forms and sets. Many think that it is these techniques, forms and sets that make them a good martial artist, but in truth all they do is provide the martial artist many varied ways to master their basics.


"Simplified moves that comprise the fundamentals of Kenpo. They are divided into: Stances, Maneuvers, Blocks, Strikes (Punches, Kicks, Finger Techniques, Parries), Specialized Moves and Methods. Each basic move constitutes an alphabet of motion that can be combined to form words, sentences, and paragraphs of motion."   

Ed Parker 


It should go without saying that no letter, of either alphabet, is more important than any other letter and in relation to the English alphabet it really does go without saying, but in regard to the Kenpo alphabet it must be continually emphasized and reinforced. For example, I have never met anyone who, seriously, suggested that we eliminate the letters x, y, and z from the English alphabet because, in their opinion, eliminating these (unnecessary) letters would make the alphabet less “unnecessary” letters 

form the Kenpo alphabet as well as words, sentences and entire paragraphs from the language of Kenpo.  With adequate training and time in the art, any serious student of Kenpo will eventually see the value of being familiar with as much of our Kenpo alphabet as possible. As we gain knowledge and experience, previously unused letters, words, and paragraphs, of motion, will reveal their value and find their rightful place.  Traditional martial arts schools tend to spend a considerable amount of time practicing basics in either in stationary stances or practicing forms (katas). Whereas the Kenpo stylist will not only practice the basics stationary and in the forms, but will additionally incorporate the practice of their basics into a series of self-defense te

chniques.   This way the basics can be practiced while simultaneously learning and practicing useful self-defense techniques.

What is American Kenpo?

American Kenpo or Kenpo Karate is a system of martial art created by the late Ed Parker, characterized by the use of quick moves in rapid-fire succession intended to overwhelm an opponent. It derived from traditional Southern Chinese kung fu and other martial arts found in the cultural melting pot of Hawaii.

Mr. Parker introduced significant modifications in his art, including principles, theories, and concepts of motion as well as terminology, throughout his life. He left behind a large number of instructors who teach many different versions of American Kenpo.

Origins of American Kenpo:

The modern history of American Kenpo began in the 1940s, when Great Grandmaster James Mitose (1916-1981) started teaching his ancestral Japanese martial art, Koshu Ryu Kenpo, in Hawaii.  Mitoses’ art, later called Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu traditionally traces its origin to Shaolin Kenpo and Bodhidharma.   Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu emphasizes punching, striking, kicking, locking, and throwing.     Mr. Mitoses’ art was linear, lacking the circular motions in American Kenpo.

William K. S. Chow studied Kenpo under James Mitose, eventually earning a first-degree black belt.   He had also studied Chinese Kung Fu from his father.   Chow began teaching an art, which he called Kenpo Karate, which blended the circular movements he had learned from his father with the system he had learned from Mitose.   Chow experimented and modified his art, adapting it to meet the needs of American students.

Ed Parker learned Kenpo Karate from William Chow, eventually earning a black belt, though Chow was later to claim Parker had only earned a purple belt.   Others have claimed Parker had only earned a brown belt from Chow, possibly because this was his rank when he started teaching in Utah in 1955   Al Tracy claims that Chow promoted Parker to sandan (3rd-degree black belt) in December 1961.

Ed Parker as a successor to Mr. Chows’ art developed the system known as American Kenpo.  Mr. Parker revised older methods to work in modern day fighting scenarios.   He heavily restructured American Kenpo's forms and techniques during this period. He moved away from methods that were recognizably descended from other arts (such as forms that were familiar within Hung Gar) and established a more definitive relationship between forms and the self-defense technique curriculum of American Kenpo. Parker also eschewed esoteric Eastern concepts (e.g. qi.) and sought to express the art in terms of scientific principles and western metaphors.

Ed Parker introduced significant modifications in his art, including principles, theories, and concepts of motion as well as terminology, throughout his life.  He left behind a large number of instructors who teach many different versions of American Kenpo as Ed Parker died before he named a successor to his art.

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