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Kenpo Karate Setting History Right 1962-1964

by
Will Tracy
3/8/97
(revised 1/11/98)
(second revision 8/8/99) (updated 06/16/2009)

The period between 1962 and 1964 saw more visible changes in Kenpo than any other time. Not only did brown tips go to the colored belt system that has become almost universal, but the naming of techniques also changed. Except for the "Dance of Death" and "Leap of Death" the techniques were identified by names like defenses against a "two hand lapel grab" and as many as ten variations given as a, b, c, etc. and 1, 2, 3, etc.; and "two hand lapel grab 2" etc. Some like the "Orchard", were named after an advanced students favorite techniques. Gary Orchard liked elbow techniques and hence the name "Orchard".
The order in which the techniques were taught was haphazard, and Ed was arbitrary in awarding belts. Al had talked Ed into using the 62 techniques that would be in Ed's book, Kenpo Karate, for the First Brown Tip back in 1959, but Ed didn't stick to this.
Ed Parker would sometimes award a brown tip to a student who had fewer than half the required number, and fail to award a tip to another student who knew as many as 150 techniques. The first thing we did in the San Francisco studio was set a technique standard for each belt, giving us just under 700 techniques for Sandan (3rd degree black belt).
My brothers and I had copied the techniques on 3x5 index cards with the attack and the description of the defense. We learned this from Ed Parker who kept a card file with all the techniques in his desk drawer. My two brothers and I copied his complete card file by hand, as there were no copy machines back then.
Shortly before going to the colored belt system we began the process of reorganizing the techniques into a standard belt system. 62 techniques had been required for 1 brown tip under the 2 tip system. However, when the four brown tip system was adopted, the standard changed because Jimmy Wing Woo began adding forms. But the number of techniques was to 40 techniques per belt which covered the 700 plus Kenpo techniques and variations. The problem was, Ed Parker reduced that number, and changed the requirements several times from 1960 to 1964, but the Tracy brother kept the 40 technique requirement. The number would change when Yellow Belt was added, and be reduced in 1966 to 30 techniques per belt making the total number of techniques and variations 600 through 5th degree black (Godan) where it has remained since then.
Al and I were accustomed to Chinese names from Tai chi, but coming up with unique names for over 400 techniques proved challenging. We first divided the index cards into stacks according to the difficulty of the techniques. Then we made stacks of 40 techniques that would give a wide range of attack defenses for each belt. That set the standard for each belt. Next we gave somewhat arbitrary names to techniques, and some kept the common name, such as "Full Nelson". Some of the technique names would later be changed to make them less arbitrary.
We were getting ready to open the second school in Sacraments, but Ed Parker needed me because both his La Cienega and Santa Monica studio were failing. Santa Monica had gone from over 80 students when I left to less than 30 students, and John McSweeney was going to Ireland, so he would not be able to teach the two night a week he had been teaching. I returned to Pasadena in February 1963 to help Ed use the same system we had developed in San Francisco. Ed was an excellent teacher, and developed several teaching techniques for Kenpo. The problem was, 90% of his students quit in less than a month, while my brothers retained over 50% of our students for over three months.
Ed hadn't changed the way he was teaching from when I went to San Francisco, nor had he organized the order in which the techniques were taught. The classes were Monday/Wednesday, and Tuesday/Thursday, with one technique taught on Monday and a second taught on Wednesday. However, the Tuesday/Thursday classes might be taught two entirely different techniques, and the only time techniques were reviewed was in working the line. But most of Ed's classes were devoted to teaching forms - the same form over, and over, and over, and changed some detail of the form almost every week.

Ed had promoted a black belt that the KKAA had refused to approve, as well as several brown belts who had not even been submitted at the KKAA Board meeting, and he had given them KKAA certificated. This was the first break Ed had with the KKAA Board and was the prelude for what was to come. Ed close the La Cienega school shortly after that and I put the Santa Monica school in the black right away and it was really the first the only other successful studio Ed ever had.
NOTE: I had first met Terry Hunt in 1957 when Ed would have him and Audie Murphy private lessons and I would Uki (be the punching bag). Terry had a body building studio in West Los Angeles, and in 1962 Ed had me teach Terry private lessons. We became friends, and Terry's best friend, Audie Murphy, would often join us. Terry owned a building on Santa Monica Blvd. across the street from the off ramp of the newly opened Santa Monica Freeway. The building was small, but it was close to UCLA, and I knew it would be perfect for a studio. The La Cienega building had a year left on the lease as did Terry's building and Terry agreed to lease it to Ed Parker when it became available. Ed wasn't interested at the time, because he though the La Cienega school would be a big money maker. La Cienega, however, was losing money. Ed sent me there to run the business during the day, but after a week when no one called and no one came in, I told him it was a losing cause. I mentioned the problem to Terry, and as fortune would have it, The person who had leased his Santa Monica Blvd. building had filed for bankruptcy and when the lease was up (about two weeks later) Terry offered rent at far below the market, even though he had another offer. So I told Ed to take a one year lease with a five year option. This would be the best business decision Ed Parker ever made, but what he did with it would be disastrous for him. Ed didn't want to have another studio fail, so he didn't tell anyone except John McSweeney about it, and John helped me get the building ready for classes. I put off going to San Francisco until I got the studio up and making money. I opened the doors two weeks after we got the building and it brought in $1,500 the first week, and it never went under $1,000 a week until I left to join my brothers in San Francisco in June, at which time the school had grossed over $18,000.

I lived in the Santa Monica studio when I was in Los Angeles, and Bronislaw Kaper, whom I had met when I first began training with Ed in 1957 came to the studio to work out with me. Bronie was an Academy Award winning composer, and in his youth had been the Polish Junior Saber Champion. He had stopped training with Ed Parker in 1963 when Ed Parker taught him the Staff Set. Bronie recognized the strength of Kenpo when he first saw it, but as he told me, the Staff Set, which was created by one of Ed Parker's brown belts (for which Ed awarded him a black belt - not Shodan - in 1962) was "pure crap."

The Santa Monica studio had been an immediate success, and when I returned it became a success again as I was signing up two and three new students a day. Shortly after I opened my own school in 1965, Terry Hunt got an offer from an oil company to buy the property so they could put a gas station there. Ed would have to move his school, so I flew down to Los Angeles and worked out a deal with Terry. The oil company would purchase the property, and the property across the street where they would build Terry Hunt a large office building (as well as give him a good deal of money). Terry would then give Ed Parker the front of the ground floor rent free for twenty (20) years - Ed paid $1 a year rent, in one up front payment of $20.

Twenty years of free rent was great for Ed Parker in the short run, but it was devastating for advancing his business. Ed believed his Santa Monica studio was doing great - much better than it actually was. Except for utilities, it was all money in the bank. The problem was, if the studio had to pay rent (that is what the large studio rent should have been), it would have gone under in less than six months.
There is an inevitability with all time - it passes, and after 20 years Ed Parker was suddenly faced with having to pay rent on a building he could not afford. The school closed, and Ed moved the studio to a cheaper, nearby building off Santa Monica Blvd. Location, location, location was forgotten, and that studio failed.

With the Santa Monica studio bringing in over $5,000 a month, Ed open another school at 7413 Crenshaw Blvd. I warned him that the school was not in the right location, but Ed wanted to have more schools than my brother because Jim Tracy had opened the second school in Sacramento as part of Ed's "Kenpo Karate Studios in America," which Ed was promoting as his "STUDIOS IN SAN FRANCISCO AREA."

John McSweeney had taken Kenpo Karate Association of America certificates with him to Ireland, but did not want to use them because of the resentment the Irish had towards an American organization. Ed decided to create an international organization so Kenpo could be accepted around the world. In June 1963 Ed asked me to visit karate schools around the United States to test the idea he had been working on since 1959 for forming a karate federation. His new idea was an International Karate Federation, of which Kenpo, represented by the KKAA, would be one of the many karate styles, and Ed would be one of the founding members. Ed hoped to have this coincide with the first national karate tournament held in Chicago by Robert Trias.
I found the karate schools I visited to be friendly to me, but hostile to any organization other than their own. I presented this to Ed in Chicago. Mills Crenshaw, who had trained with Ed Parker for about 5 months at BYU in 1956 was present, as was Ralph Castro, whom Ed had promoted to Shodan in 1958. This meeting was the first time the concept of an "International Kenpo Association" was discussed, but neither Ralph Castro nor I have any recollection of the discussion being more than ideas. This was the first time I, or any of Ed's students in California had heard of Mills Crenshaw.
Recently Mills Crenshaw has made some rather outlandish claims which are contrary to what my brothers and I remember, and which are contradicted by Ed Parker's writings and Brigham Young University documents. Most of his claims are detailed in Ed Parker BYU Judo Dojo which refutes inter alaia that, Mills Crenshaw's claim that he began training with Ed Parker in 1954, that Ed did not know Judo, and Ed taught forms at BYU.
It was not until December 1963 that the "International Kenpo Karate Association" (IKKA) was mentioned.
The IKKA concept was sound in theory, but flawed by human reality. Originally, the KKAA would be the governing body for Kenpo Karate in the United States and be under the umbrella of the IKKA, while John McSweeney would have an Irish association, and another association was being formed in Canada. There were no dues or fees charged by the KKAA, and certificates were given without charge. The IKKA, on the other hand would charge $35 a year for membership. That is over $240 in today's money. Ed estimated that a "Karate" organization would have about 3,000 students, giving him $100,000 a year in cash (over $700,000) today; so there was an urgency to getting the International Karate Federation formed. When that fell apart, Ed scaled back and put his attention on the existing Kenpo schools. The problem was, neither Ralph Castro nor my brothers were interested in paying any money for the Kenpo Karate Association of America, and Ed was not a salesman.
After talking with Ralph Casto and my brother's on the events leading up to their joining the IKKA, I have revised this somewhat, as Ralph remember that I came to Daly City and signed him up for the IKKA shortly after Christmas, 1963.
In late December Ed told me about the new International Kenpo Karate Association, but he was worried because only Mills Crenshaw had signed on. It was not apparent for about 6 months that Mills had in fact been instrumental in creating the IKKA. And while there was no Kenpo Karate Association of America record of Mills Crenshaw ever having been promoted to any rank, he, had promoted Ed Parker to Godan, and himself to Sandan.
Ed had called Ralph Castor and my brother, Al Tracy, and they had turned him down flat. Ed couldn't even sell the idea to his own students. As I said, Ed was not a salesman at that time. That's was my job. Ed didn't like asking people for money, and his students didn't want to pay $35 (about $240 in today's money), to join the IKKA.
So at the end of December, Ed asked me to talk to some of his students. I signed up all the students in the college classes (those who were home on college break) in one day, and presented Ed with over $1,500. With this success, Ed sent me to San Francisco to sell the IKKA to Ralph Castro and my brothers. It was an easy sell, and while I only brought about $500 in IKKA fees back with me, (December is a dead month for Karate) by the end of January, the three Tracy studios had signed up nearly 500 students and had brought in over $17,000 (nearly $120,000 in today's money). By the end of 1964, Tracy's had over 1,200 students in the IKKA.
The success (money) of the IKKA was what Ed needed, and at a board meeting of the KKAA in February 1964, Ed told us that he was withdrawing from the KKAA and turning it over to my brothers and me, so he could run the IKKA.
The first IKKA certificates did not appear until January. Mills Crenshaw didn't know that Ed did not own the KKAA emblem and put it on the IKKA certificates. Ed, however had been working on a new emblem which never gained much interest. Ed then sent me to San Francisco to get Ralph Castro and my brothers support for his planned "International Karate Tournament" which would be held in Long Beach that summer. The Internationals were only possible because of the money the IKKA was bringing in. Ed knew it was a gamble, but all he could possibly lose would be IKKA money he never had before.
After Ralph and my brothers had committed to having all their students attend the Internationals Ed then asked me to go around the country to promote his Internationals with the schools I had visited the year before. I first went to Robert Trias in Arizona, but got a very cold reception. He didn't like the idea of anyone taking the tournament idea from him. I then went to a dozen California schools and got enthusiastic receptions, before going to Salt Lake City, where on my first day there (June) I was in a motorcycle accident.
I was going to be laid up for at least two weeks with my right leg, and Mills Crenshaw graciously allowed me to stay at his karate school. One of the first things I saw at his school was his IKKA black belt certificate that promoted Mills to Sandan (3rd degree black belt). I was dumbfounded because at that time Ed Parker was a Sandan and the IKKA certificate had him as a Godan (5th degree black belt).
I didn't say anything, as I wanted to ask Ed Parker in person about the promotion and belt ranks. I left for New York later in June, and didn't see Ed until after the Internationals, but he was too busy to talk about business. Two days later I met with Ed and asked him about the Sandan promotion and how he was promoted to Godan. Ed told me the IKKA was making all promotions and he would personally be testing all Black Belts (with a belt testing fee) and awarding IKKA certificates. Ed had lost his aversion to asking for money and had become a salesman.
This was not what we had agreed to when my brothers and I took over the KKAA. I withdrew from the IKKA at that time, and opened my own school in Portland, Oregon. Chow was furious when he heard what rank Ed Parker was claiming, and where there were hard feeling between Professor Chow and Ed Parker in the past, this was the thing that divided them completely. Chow refused to recognize Ed Parker's Godan rank and refused to ever promote Ed Parker again.
NOTE: One of Mills Crenshaw's students, Doctor Ray Showery, went to San Jose in the fall, 1964 and told my brothers about Mills Crenshaw being a Sandan. A year later Mills Crenshaw called a meeting with Ed Parker and my brothers, and they promoted Ed to Shichidan (7th degree black belt) and Al, Jim and Mills were promoted to Sandan, with their certificates backdated to December 1964. That of course was almost a year after Mills Crenshaw got an IKKA Sandan certificate.

The backdating of belt certificates was a standard procedure for Ed Parker after the IKKA was created. The John Mc Sweeney IKKA Shodan certificate is dated September 27, 1962, which is a month after the date the KKAA met and approved John for Shodan. However, the IKKA was not even in existence in September 1962:

  1. No one in the KKAA (except Ed Parker) had ever heard of Mills Crenshaw at that time in 1962.
  2. Ed Parker was only a Sandan at that time, yet he is listed with the rank of Godan under his signature.
  3. There was no Yudanshai International at that time, the Kenpo Yuudansha was founded on November 10, 1961 and was never part of the later IKKA.
  4. There was no Board of Regents in 1962, and when I asked Ed Parker in 1964 who was on the Board of Regents besides Mills Crenshaw, he didn't know.
The IKKA would drop both the Board of Regents and the Yudanshai from its later certificates.

After the Internationals in August 1964, many of Ed Parker's high ranking students left him to train with Bruce Lee whom Ed, my brothers and I had met at Ralph Castor's 1962 Daily City, Autumn Moon Festival. With this new student defection, Ed vowed he would never loose a students to another Kung Fu system. He would, instead, draw students from other schools. To do this, he adopted the color belt system established by Al Tracy two years before, and again changed Chinese Kenpo to the new "Ed Parker System".
The one thing Ed Parker found would attract students from other Kenpo schools was to offer them higher belt rank. As I said, Ed had become a salesman.
The total number of techniques in Ed's new system was cut to under 200, and the variations were either eliminated or made into techniques. Instead of 40 techniques (and variations) per belt, Ed only required 25 with no variations. Those were replaced by forms; and Ed would lower the number of techniques required for each belt even further.

©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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