What is American Kenpo?

Photo by Adkins Photography


American Kenpo is a fascinating art that is designed to be tailored to each individual. Therefore, anyone can do it – size, strength, athletic ability, and age do not play a factor.  It was designed by the legendary Ed Parker, who began teaching it in 1954 and revised it several times up until his untimely death in December of 1990.

Parker grew up on rough streets in Hawaii and had to protect himself on the streets often.  He found that traditional martial arts were outdated and not working so he designed a modern system of self-defense, which included a mix of the boxing, judo, jiu-jitsu, and the Kenpo he had learned utilizing Chinese and Japanese movements, with modern logical concepts and principles to create a scientific art governed by the analytical study of motion/movement and laws of the universe (primarily physics and geometry).

American Kenpo is a street devastating system (designed for the street), but has also been effective in the tournament setting. It works off a multiple striking principle that incorporates both circles and lines. Therefore, it is a mixture of soft and hard movements, giving you the ultimate benefit of adapting to each situation. It focuses on defenses from all ranges and a multitude of common street attacks.

Kenpo is known for its explosive speed and power. Since it is based on practical application of self-defense techniques, principles and strategies, it is designed to work. In a physical street confrontation it is critical to dispense of the attacker as quickly as possible. In order to achieve this, you need a martial art that is, not only, fast and powerful, but one that offers effective self-defense techniques as well—American Kenpo.

Photo by Adkins Photography

Kenpo works off of natural movement and appropriate body mechanics. In Kenpo you do not engrain bad habits that could actually hinder you from protecting yourself.  Everything is based on logic and reason, which means reality.

The system adapts to the student allowing the student to create a style that works for him/her.  All people are different and everyone has a unique learning style and has had different experiences.  In Kenpo you take those experiences and learn to create opportunities as well as evaluate, adapt and act appropriately in confrontations.

The physical aspect of Kenpo is divided into four areas of study: Basic Fundamentals, Self-Defense, Forms and Sets, and Freestyle. Basics are the foundation of the system which form the “alphabet of motion” from which can create “words,” then “sentences,” and finally “paragraphs” of motion. Basic Fundamentals are originally learned phonetically through individual movements such as stances, blocks, parries, punches, strikes, finger techniques, kicks and foot maneuvers. These basics are then combined into increasingly sophisticated sequences of movement called “forms” and “sets.” Self-defense techniques, which are also composed of basics, give definition and meaning to the fundamentals. They provide the manner of applying the basics for maximum effectiveness in a variety of pre-defined fighting situations. Lastly, there is freestyle training which allows for extemporaneous use of the basics in a manner which emphasizes maneuverability, accuracy, timing, and the maintenance of proper distance.

In Kenpo you understand that every situation is different. Therefore, the combinations you are taught for certain self-defense situations can be altered instantly to fit the situation. They do not have to follow a set pattern. Chances of panic in a real situation is very low due to the fact that you are taught how to cope with our modern day methods of fighting realistically, logically, systematically, and effectively. Kenpo blends with encounters as they occur and is designed to gear you for subconsciously choosing the move that best fits the situation. Kenpo also teaches you how to shift gears from striking to grappling.

As exercise, Kenpo gives the body and overall healthful tone. It develops agility, balance, coordination, flexibility, quick reflexes and more—all of which enhances our daily mode of living. It’s an excellent method of relieving stress as well.

As you learn the concepts and principles within the “Ideal” phase self-defense techniques you will realize that each technique was only an idea, not a law. What is more important is how you can rearrange the pattern of technique to fit the situation. This will prevent you from “freezing up” in combat.

In Kenpo you conserve motion/time. You learn to eliminate the “and then.” Instead of blocking “and then” striking, the defense and offense are done simultaneously. In other words, you strike “with” your block. You will also remove unnecessary cocking or winding up motions so that you can get to the target much quicker. You move from what is called “point of origin.” Many strikes can be placed into one basic motion so that combinations can be much quicker.

Photo by Adkins Photography


American Kenpo can be compared to the English language in many ways. When you first begin to write you learn block lettering by using all straight lines. Once you have accomplished that you begin to write in script, or cursive, which also incorporates angular and circular flowing motions. Kenpo is taught in that premise. You will learn how to establish a foundation first by learning the block lettering format before you learn the script part of the art, which is to move fluidly while incorporating circles and lines.

During the early stages, a substantial amount of time is given to pre-set sequences. This will develop your coordination and will build your confidence. At the advanced stages you will be able to express yourself extemporaneously by altering the technique sequence at will. The outcome is the development of a martial artist who is fast, powerful, and capable of defending himself.