American Kenpo – What’s Your Interpretation?

American Kenpo is a modern, practical martial arts system of combat taught through logic and reason.  It’s an analytical study of motion based off the laws of the universe. You learn the base system from a qualified instructor to understand the underlying principles and concepts that govern the system throughout the basics, self-defense techniques, forms, sets and freestyle. As you learn the system it will be tailored to you as an individual to ensure you can make it work for you. Ultimately through your personal interpretation of the art and your understanding of the art, you will produce your own personal style of Kenpo. Ed Parker, the founder of American Kenpo, once said, “Every Kenpo black belt is a style unto himself.”

American Kenpo is a system that evolves with time. It is not like most other martial arts styles that are locked into a set way forever (tradition). As times change, the art must also evolve to stay current with modern environments. Unfortunately, there are those out there who have traditionalized American Kenpo, which completely contradicts the reason it was developed and locks students into one way or method – a one dimensional view. American Kenpo is not designed to limit students. It’s supposed to teach students how to think and learn to create. They should analyze everything they are taught and understand the fundamental principles that lie within everything they are taught.

There is no one way to do or execute American Kenpo. You must understand that the basics are the key to making American Kenpo work for you, however. You must understand and be able to utilize power principles to ensure you are striking with authority and not falling into the Kenpo hummingbird slap trap. You must understand proper anatomical alignment to be able to use your mass effectively. Strong basics are a must beginning with the stances. The lower quadrant of the body steers the upper quadrant and, in my view, is the more important of the two. You must learn how to control the body by striking, grabbing or manipulating the hinges of the body that dictate action (shoulders, hips, knees, elbows, head) controlling the dimensions of the body, and remember that two dimensions equal a diagonal. A punch is steered by the shoulder, and the body follows the head.

If you look at the seniors of American Kenpo they all have their own flavor, which is why it is good to take seminars under as many as you can and as much as you can. Learning from just one instructor in American Kenpo limits you. You will have one primary instructor to take you through the base system, but try to learn from as many as you can outside of that. I have trained with many seniors on many occasions which has helped mold me and has played a crucial role in creating my personal style of Kenpo. I want the same for my students. Although I feel I am a good instructor and they get great training from me, I am only one person – one perspective. My perspective, of course, comes from many other perspectives combined.

If you are an American Kenpo student I challenge you to not get caught up in trying to mimic a senior. Do YOUR Kenpo not Frank Trejo’s. You are not Frank Trejo. There is only one Frank Trejo. Look at Frank Trejo and then look at Michael Robert Pick. Their Kenpo is entirely different, but are governed by the same principles. Although their Kenpo is different from one another, they can both ruin your day in a blink of an eye.  You do not want hit by either of those studs, trust me. Both are effective because they do it their OWN way that works for them. Work hard on your basics, be a good student, stay humble and enjoy the awesome journey.


About Michael Miller:

Michael Miller is an international martial arts, self-defense, personal protection, and anti-bullying expert who holds a 5th degree black belt in American Kenpo – a modern reality based street system of combat. He is the co-founder of the “Stomp the Bullying” program, where he takes an active approach to teaching children and parents all about bullying, how not to be a bully, how not to become a target, how to handle bullying situations, and more. The program is becoming world recognized with celebrity endorsements from actors Martin Kove (Sensei John Kreese in the Karate Kid Series) and Sean Kanan (Karate’s bad boy Mike Barnes in the Karate Kid III). Miller runs a full-time martial arts school in Bradford, Pa (Miller’s Kenpo Karate Dojo) and teaches American Kenpo, boxing, kickboxing, Joe Lewis Fighting Systems, Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu, and Modern Arnis. He worked for McKean County Children and Youth Services for three years certified by the state of Pennsylvania as a Direct Child Service Worker dealing with child development, child abuse and neglect. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh in writing with a minor in sociology. He is also a writer with several magazine feature articles published and one book. He can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 814-368-3725.


Mike Friedman, Rainer Schulte, Sean Kelley, Michael Miller, Rich Hale – Five Flavors of American Kenpo