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CONTACT: Kenpo

Kenpo Karate - Setting History Right 1949-1954

by
Will Tracy
3/8/97
(revised 1/11/98)
(second revision 8/8/99)


Kenpo Karate today owes its very existence to Ed Parker, as it was Ed Parker who brought Kenpo Karate to the mainland from Hawaii and made it world famous. Ed Parker had a brilliant mind. He never forgot a name, and he could simply look at a martial arts technique and know its application; and, that may be the reason so little was known about Ed Parker's early martial arts training. This lack of knowledge about Ed Parker led most of us to accept that he had years of training because no one could be as good a martial artists as he was without years of training.

When I wrote about Ed Parker's early training, or lack thereof, many in American Kenpo said I had a hidden agenda, and they presented what they considered "evidence" in an attempt to prove I me wrong. Most of this so-called "evidence" was nothing more than garbage, myopic interpretations of photographs by people with little or no knowledge, or who weren't even in Kenpo at the time. This led me to reexamine what I wrote to make sure I was correct, and in doing so I began asking questions of those I have known from the early days - questions I had never thought of asking. It is axiomatic that if you don't know what questions to ask, you can't ask them. Asking those questions shed a whole new light on Ed Parker's early years.

Another problem with Kenpo history is the regurgitation of absolute nonsense or outright false information about Ed Parker, some of which Ed himself had made. One of the biggest fallacies still prevalent is the assumption that Ed Parker was heir to the famous Hawaiian Parker Ranch estate and that his family was wealthy. Neither could be further from the truth.

Ed Parker's father, Arthur Kapewaokeao Parker Waipa, legally changed his last name to Parker in 1933. This was two years after Edmund Kealoha Parker Waipa was born on March 21, 1931. Thus, Ed Parker was born Edmund Waipa.

Ed's father was a carpenter, and worked for the Mormon Church on many projects, including being a construction supervisor for the Church College in Hawaii that opened in 1955. This in no way takes from the nobility of Ed Parker's father. I knew him to be an honest, forthright, intelligent and humble man. When he came to the Mainland to visit in 1959, it was Ed Parker who paid his way and expenses because his father did not have the money for the visit. One of the first things Ed's father told my brothers and me was his family had nothing to do with the Parker Ranch; and he told us he had changed his name because Waipa was of royal linage, and he didn't want people to associate him or his family with royalty. As a devout Mormon, earthly royalty meant nothing. A look at Arthur Parker's genealogy will show what he meant. Ed's father was a carpenter, and worked for the Mormon Church on many projects, including being a construction supervisor for the Church College in Hawaii that opened in 1955. This in no way takes from the nobility of Ed Parker's father. I knew him to be an honest, forthright, intelligent and humble man. When he came to the Mainland to visit in 1959, it was Ed Parker who paid his way and expenses because his father did not have the money for the visit. One of the first things Ed's father told my brothers and me was his family had nothing to do with the Parker Ranch; and he told us he had changed his name because Waipa was of royal linage, and he didn't want people to associate him or his family with royalty. As a devout Mormon, earthly royalty meant nothing. A look at Arthur Parker's genealogy will show what he meant.
The founder of the Parker Ranch was John Palmer Parker, whose married (Rachel) Kipikane the granddaughter of King Kamehameha. They had two sons, and a daughter, Mary Ann Kaulalani Parker. Mary Ann married Kameeiamoku Waipa (a first cousin of King Kamehameha). Some of their children carried the Parker name, while Ed's direct ancestor carried the Waipa name. Ed's grandfather used Waipa, and Ed's father, Arthur Kapewaokeao Parker Waipa, changed his name to Parker, as did all his children. This is common practice in Hawaii. So, Ed Parker's family was from this royal line, but inheritance of the Parker Ranch fortune came through a different line - John Parker's two sons, John II and Ebenezer. The founder of the Parker Ranch was John Palmer Parker, whose married (Rachel) Kipikane the granddaughter of King Kamehameha. They had two sons, and a daughter, Mary Ann Kaulalani Parker. Mary Ann married Kameeiamoku Waipa (a first cousin of King Kamehameha). Some of their children carried the Parker name, while Ed's direct ancestor carried the Waipa name. Ed's grandfather used Waipa, and Ed's father, Arthur Kapewaokeao Parker Waipa, changed his name to Parker, as did all his children. This is common practice in Hawaii. So, Ed Parker's family was from this royal line, but inheritance of the Parker Ranch fortune came through a different line - John Parker's two sons, John II and Ebenezer.
NOTE: John Palmer Parker died in 1868, and his estate was divided between his son, John Parker II and Sam Parker, the son of Ebenezer Parker. Mismanagement forced the ranch into a trust that took control from the Parker family in 1887. John Parker III, the son of John Parker the II married Elizabeth Jane Lanakila Dowsett, but died shortly after his daughter, Annie Thelma Parker, was born and his half of the estate was put in trust for their daughter, Thelma.
Colonel Sam Parker tried to take control of the ranch and the court battles that followed went all the way the Supreme Court. However, in 1906, Sam Parker sold his interest to Thelma Parker's trust, and she became to sole heir to the Parker Ranch.

Thelm Parker married Henry Gaillard Smart when she was eighteen and had one child, Richard Smart, who survived her (a daughter died young). Both Thelma and Henry Smart died before Richard was two years old, and in 1924 their son, Richard Smart, became the sole heir to the Parker Ranch estate. Richard Smart died in 1992 and he (Richard Smart) was the sole heir to the Parker estates during Ed Parker's entire life.

NOTE: The Parker ranch began in 1847 when King Kamehameha III gave a land grant of two (2) acres to John Parker for $10. His wife, Kipikane (Rachel) had a dowery of 640 acres, and John Parker bought 1,000 more acres the following year for 75 cents per acre. He then bought more land and created the famous Parker Ranch. His daughter, Mary Ann, married Kameeiamoku Waipa, and she received her inheritance as a dowry and no part of the Parker Ranch passed to her when her father died. It was through Mary Ann's line that Ed Parker's family descended. Mary Ann's dowery dissipated with her nine children, and no wealth passed to or through her children. Further, from the note above, it should be clear that neither Ed Parker nor his family had any claim to the Parker Ranch trust.

As for Ed' martial arts training, he had told my brothers and me that he was a Judo Shodan. Ed Parker's father added that he had enrolled Ed in Judo classes when Ed was twelve - the week Ed was ordained a Deacon in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), and that Ed got his Shodan the week before Ed graduated high school. That was in 1949, and Ed was 18 years old. However, I learned from two of his fellow students at the Hawaiian Judo club that Ed had been promoted to Nidan while in the military; and, I also spoke with Dr. Wayne Wright, who had been Ed Parker's faculty advisor Brigham Young Judo club (Y Judo Dojo) that Ed had been promoted to a Judo Sandan at BYU where Ed headed the Judo team.
NOTE: My brother Jim and I began training with Ed Parker in 1957 and my brother Al Tracy began in 1958 after he was discharged from the Air Force. I first met Ed's father in Hawaii in early 1959, and he and I took the same flight to Los Angeles later in 1959. My brothers and I showed Ed's father around Los Angeles and we developed a close relationship. One of Ed Parker's, Jim Nessy, was a bull fighter, and we took Ed and his father to the bullfights in Tijuana, Mexico.
In 1957 we all knew that Ed Parker did not begin training in Kenpo Karate until after he graduated from high school, which was in June 1949. That's what Ed told us, and Professor Chow told me Ed came to study with him after he (Chow) had left James Mitose and opened his club, and call his style Kenpo Karate. That was after May, 1949.

I had written earlier what Ed had told my brothers and me about his early training, namely that he had gone to BYU after training first with Sonny Emperado and then with Professor Chow. We assumed this was in the fall of 1949, because that is when Ed began his first year at BYU. Was I wrong? I asked questions, and I discovered that I was obviously wrong.

Sonny Emperado did not open his own school (club) until late 1950, when Ed Parker was already at B.Y.U. Ed would later change this to say Joe and Sonny Emperado were classmates with him at Professor Chow's. However, Sonny Emperado has unequivocally stated that the first time he met Ed Parker was when Ed was in the Coast Guard and trained with him for two weeks in 1952 before Ed Parker went to train with Professor Chow.

There were also problems with the events Ed would later claim as being formative in his training. Back in 1957-59 Ed often told us Sonny Emperado introduced him to Kenpo, that he had never trained with Mitose; and that Mitose was no longer teaching when he began training in Kenpo. However, Ed's original version of how he was introduced to Kenpo changed sometime after Ed created what he called Chinese Kenpo.

I'm not sure just when Ed Parker began crediting Frank Chow, the brother of Professor Chow, with being his first Kenpo instructor. He certainly had never mentioned this, nor the name of Frank Chow at any time prior to my leaving to open my own school in 1964; and, I was completely surprised when I read for the first time about Frank Chow in Ed Parker's 1982 Infinite Insights into Kenpo : Mental Stimulation (P. 23)

But even Ed Parker's later account of how he came to study with Frank Chow is puzzling. Ed wrote that he was sixteen at the time Frank Chow began teaching him Kenpo. That would have been in 1947. Ed wrote that he was impressed that Frank Chow had defeated a much larger bully.

The problem with that is, Ed Parker started training in Judo when he was twelve years old. That's what Ed told us, and that's what Ed's father told us, and Ed was a Judo Shodan when he graduated from high school at the age of 18 in 1949. Ed was probably a Judo brown belt when he was 16, but no matter what his Judo rank at that time, it's hard to believe that anyone who trained in Judo would be surprised that a smaller man could defeat a larger man. Judo players were famous for defeating larger men, and according to Ed's father, the reason he had Ed study Judo in the first place was so Ed could defend himself against larger boys and bullies who made fun of him being a Mormon.
NOTE: When I went to Hawaii in 1959, Ed Parker gave me a list of Kenpo men for me to look up. Frank Chow was not one of them. He had never mentioned anything about Professor Chow having a brother, and Professor Chow never mentioned his brother to me either. Likewise, Ed's father talked about Professor Chow, and many of Ed's fellow students, but during the entire time I was in Hawaii, he never once mentioned Frank Chow.

There are some who say Ed Parker never studied Judo. Ed Parker in Infinite Insights into Kenpo : Mental Stimulation (p. 23) Ed wrote: "Having learned Judo, I could see that handeling two or more men was not a problem utalizing the Kenpo methods taught me." And it should be noted Ed does not say he "trained," or "studied" Judo, but the "learned Judo."

One thing everyone seems to agree on is Ed Parker worked in a pineapple cannery to finance his trip to BYU. This cannery was owned by the Mormon Church, and what he did not earn there, the Church lent him, as the air fare was over $600.
NOTE: I went to Hawaii in 1959 on the Matson cruise ship, SS Luriline. One of my Army buddies was the Communications Officer, and I was given free passage. However, I had been the manager for the Pasadena American Health Studio, and I filled in as a trainer at the ships gym. That saved me from having to join the union where I would have had to wait in line for two years to get that job.
Ed Parker told me he would never go on a Matson ship because of something they did when he was going to BYU. The local Matson agent had agreed to have Ed work for his passage, but at the last minute said he couldn't do it. That meant all the money Ed had earned at the pineapple cannery went for airfare. Ed had to borrow money from the Church to fly to Los Angeles, and Ed wasn't able to begin paying the Church back until he was in the Coast Guard, when he was able to pay about half the money back; and it wasn't until I was going to Hawaii that he finally was able to pay the rest of the money.

NOTE: Leilani Parker would later claim that Ed Parker came back to Hawaii during the summer after he went to BYU. He did not, and I doubt that she wants to try to prove me wrong, as I know the family Ed Parker lived with at Provo, Utah from 1949 to 1951, who said Ed Parker worked in Provo during the summer of 1950. So suffice it to say that once Ed Parker left for BYU in 1949, he did not return to Hawaii until after he was in the Coast Guard.

Ed was a full-time student, but only carried the minimum 12 hours per quarter so he could work and earn money to pay his way. He lived with a family after the first quarter and didn't have to pay rent, but needed money for tuition and other expenses. This also meant he had to go to school during the summer quarter to make up for the courses he did not take during the first three quarters.

The Korean war broke out in June, 1950, but Ed was exempt from the draft. That was an exemption, meaning he could not be drafted. It was not a deferment, as many of the Mormon young men got to go on missions or attend college. But Ed lost that exemption in 1951 and got a draft notice. It was at that time Ed Parker "enlisted in the Coast Guard rather than be drafted into the Army...."

Ed Parker states in Infinite Insights into Kenpo : Mental Stimulation (p.25)"After two years at the Brigham Young University in Provo Utah, I was drafted into the Korean War in 1951 and managed to be stationed in Hawaii for two and a half years of my three year hitch with the U.S. Coast Guard...."

I told Ed in 1984 that he was changing history. We both knew he wasn't drafted, he enlisted. But Ed said it wasn't important. The fact is, this has been repeated by the American Kenpo, and it is false.

The Coast Guard was never part of the Military Draft; and during the Korean War, you didn't just join the Coast Guard for three years. The minimum enlistment was four years; and, you had to have connections for anything under four years. The family Ed had lived with had those connections. They not only got Ed into the Coast Guard, but pulled strings for his ship assignments.

Ed met Ralph Castro while they were at Coast Guard Boot Camp in Alameda (San Francisco Bay area) together in the fall of 1951. The two men became close friends, and they played the ukulele together, but Ed never mentioned anything about training in Kenpo.

NOTE: Castro was released in 1955 after serving four years in the Coast Guard, and began training with Professor Chow in Hawaii after that. At that time (1955) Castro learned that Ed Parker was one of Professor Chow's brown belts.
Ed Parker's first ship assignment was not with the Coast Guard, but a TDY (Temporary Duty) assignment on a Navy transport ship that sailed to Yokohama, Japan, where the family he had lived with in Provo was with the United States Diplomatic Corps (in Tokyo). On his return, Ed was assigned to a Coast Guard ship that had its home port in Honolulu.

Ed had not been back to Hawaii since leaving for BYU in 1949, and he began training with Sonny Emperado in early 1952. He trained for two weeks, and then his ship left port on a training mission. When the ship returned, Ed sought out Professor Chow, and quickly became one of his best students.

Ed shipped out often, not always with the Coast Guard, but also with Navy ships that went to the Far East. America was at war in Korea, and the Navy was always happy to get anyone for their crew, and Ed's diplomatic friends in Japan arrange his TDY on ships that had Japan as a port of call. Whenever he was in Hawaii, Ed would train with Professor Chow, and after a year and a half, even though Ed had learned all the Kenpo Karate techniques, Professor Chow did not want to promote him to Shodan, because all Chow's other students had trained much longer, either with Chow or another instructor, before getting their Shodan. After all, Masaichi Oshiro had been one of Mitose's early (1947) students, and did not receive his Shodan from Professor Chow until 1953.

Leaving Frank Chow out of the picture, or even assuming that Ed Parker had some training with Frank Chow, it's certain that Ed Parker took his first Kenpo lessons with Sonny Emperado, and Ed Parker was in the Coast Guard at the time.

Sonny Emperado stated (and is on record as saying) that Ed Parker was in the Coast Guard when Ed trained with him for two weeks in the 1952. Emperado wrote a tribute to Ed Parker in Leilani Parker's Memories of Ed Parker "I first met him in the early years when he trained with me for a couple of weeks and then went under Professor Chow." (p. 169) Professor Chow also stated that Ed Parker began training with Sonny Emperado first and then with him when Ed was in the Coast Guard.

Contrast that with what Ed Parker wrote in 1982 Infinite Insights into Kenpo : Mental Stimulation (P. 24), "Adriano (Sonny) and Joe Emperado were senior students at the time of my acceptance as a student by William K.S. Chow.... It wasn't too long after that the two Emperado brothers opened their own school at the Palama Settlement in Honolulu... It was Adriano (Sonny) who, after his brother Joe's death, formed his system of Kajukenbo...."

This was a rewrite of Kenpo history, and I told Ed in 1984 that he was playing fast and loose with those events. I knew the order in which the Emperado brothers had trained and opened their school, and Professor Chow had told me that Ed had first trained with Sonny Emperado. What I didn't know, because I didn't think about it at the time, were the dates these things took place; and, it wasn't until the Gathering of Eagles in February 1999, that I realized those dates were all wrong.

First, Sonny and Joe Emperado opened their own school after they had already formed Kajukenbo. They had been secretly developing the style along with Frank Ordonez, P.Y.Y. Choo, Joe Holck and Clarence Changhis while they were still with Chow. They called themselves the "Black Belt Society". They opened their club right after they got their black belts in 1950. That means they did not form their club until after Ed Parker had gone to BYU in the fall, 1949.
NOTE: In 1965 (less than a year after Ed Parker's first International Tournament in 1964) Sonny Emperado put on a demonstration at a Kajukenbo tournament in the San Francisco Bay area. Ed Parker was an invited guest of honor, and my brother Al and I were there. After Emperado told the audience that he had been Ed Parker's first instructor, Sonny gave Ed a certificate, awarding him 5th degree black belt. Ed graciously accepted the certificate and made a few remarks about what a tough instructor Emperado had been, and how Emperado opened his (Ed's) eyes to what Kenpo was.
To repeat, the fallacy in Ed's account is, Sonny Emperado did not begin teaching until 1950, and Ed Parker was at BYU from the fall of 1949 until summer, 1951. After that Ed was at Coast Guard Basic Training at Alameda, California until the beginning of 1952, and his ship did not arrive in Hawaii until later in 1952.
This account of Ed Parker's training is different from what I had written before, because my brothers and I went by what Ed told us. He never gave dates for his training, only events, and we (wrongly) assumed that Ed began teaching the B.Y.U. Island boys when he first went to B.Y.U. in 1949. Ed never said that, we just assumed it because he had told us he had trained with Emperado and Chow before going to BYU - which of course he had - but not until 1954 when Ed went back to BYU after his discharge from the Coast Guard in August 1954.

Another reason we assumed this is because Ed said he was a brown belt at that time he was teaching the Island Boys.

NOTE: There is a printed black belt certificate some are claiming Professor Chow gave Ed Parker in 1953. Professor Chow never gave a printed certificate. All his belt promotions were either given in Mitose's book, or on a common certificate that could be purchased at any 5 & dime or stationary store. A student filled out the certificate and Professor Chow would sign it. This was the kind of certificate Professor Chow signed for Masaichi Oshiro in 1953, which incidentally was after the date on the Ed Parker certificate.

Ed returned to BYU in the fall of 1954 where he taught Kenpo to a closed group of Island boys first at the Polynesian Ward (which served as the Polynesian Cultural Center at the time) and later at the BYU Smith Fieldhouse wrestling room, and Ed did not begin teaching Haolies (whites) until January, 1956.
NOTE: Dates in Kenpo are sometimes wrong because events, not dates, stick in our minds. What many, including myself, remember as happening in one year, actually occurred either before or after that time. I had once written that I had been with Professor Chow in the summer of 1960 when Chow went on a four-day drinking binge. I was off by one year. The drinking binge actually took place on August 21, 1959. I know the exact date because it began the day Hawaii was admitted as the 50th State, and it was the event, not the year that stuck in my mind.

Ed Parker also confused the date of some events. I brought these to Ed's attention and he simply stated it wasn't important. At the time it didn't seem important, but looking back, those dates of those events have become the "lies upon which American Kenpo exists."

This confusion of dates is common not only in kenpo, but throughout the martial arts. Dave Hebler told me he was promoted to Shodan after John McSweeney in 1962, and I am in the picture at that promotion. The problem with this is I was in San Francisco from June 1962 until early 1963. The year of Dave's promotion was actually 1963, as Dave stated in his biography given to Black Belt Magazine.
Added by Roarke Tracy: Larry Tatum, makes an unusual claim in the "history" part of his website, stating "Larry Tatum began his study of Kenpo Karate in Pasadena, California in 1966, and has become one of this style's most prominent figures." This may be, but he is selling a 1975 video interview with Ed Parker, which was recorded "...right after he received his first degree black belt." That means it took Larry Tatum nine years (from 1966 to 1975) to get his black belt. My father told me the 1975 date is correct for Larry Tatum's black belt, and that Frank Trejo and Tatum got their black belts at the same time.


Another problem is transposing names, events or people. This is usually a simple mistake that is not caught in editing, and most often accounts for inconsistent dates, where a time or date is given and then a different date or time is given for the same event. These are simply writing errors and are easily corrected in addendum's or subsequent writings, and no one should fault Ed Parker or anyone for this.
Not being like Woodward and Bernstine, I never thought to follow the events and not just assume every date in Kenpo history was correct.
©1996, 1999, 2006 by W. Tracy. All rights reserved. No portion may be reproduced without permission. The Law Offices of Michael Tracy.

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