History of American Kenpo

The history of American Kenpo Karate begins with founder Senior Grandmaster Edmund Kilaloha Parker (1931-1990). Mr. Parker was born in Hawaii and began training at a young age in judo and later boxing. Sometime in the 1940s, Ed Parker was first introduced to Kenpō. He was promoted to the rank of black belt in 1953.

It was during this period that Japanese and Okinawan interpretations of kenpo prevalent in Hawaii began to significantly influence Mr. Parker’s style. Seeing that modern times posed new situations that traditional Kenpo did not address, he adapted the art to make it more applicable to the streets of America and called his style American Kenpo Karate. Parker’s Book Kenpo Karate, published in 1961, shows the many hard linear movements, albeit with modifications, that set his interpretations apart.

Ed Parker opened the first “Americanized” karate school in the western United States in Provo, Utah in 1954, and in 1956 opened a dojo in Pasadena, California. Among his early students was Mills Crenshaw, authorized by Ed Parker to open the school that would later became the birthplace of the International Kenpo Karate Association, or IKKA.

He was well known in Hollywood where he trained a great many stunt men and celebrities; most notable was Elvis Presley, for whom he served as a bodyguard in Presley’s later years. He also helped Bruce Lee gain national attention by introducing him at his International Karate Championships.

Ed Parker had a minor career as a Hollywood actor and stunt man. His most notable film was Kill the Golden Goose, in which he co-starred with Hapkido master Bong Soo Han (best known for his work as Tom Laughlin’s hapkido instructor and fighting double for the film Billy Jack). His other work included Blake Edwards’ Revenge of the Pink Panther and Curse of the Pink Panther (Edwards was also a student of Parker’s). Mr. Parker also helped with the fight choreography martial arts film The Perfect Weapon, starring his student Jeff Speakman, shortly before his death on December 15, 1990.