The Business of Kenpo Karate
1965 and Beyond
(second revision 8/8/99)
Al and Jim Tracy quietly withdrew from the KKAA in 1965 to create the "Tracy's International Schools of Self-Defense" which would never charge for a belt test. With my brothers out of the KKAA I became its sole director, and withdrew the KKAA from the IKKA when Ed began charging a belt testing fee for all belts. The primary reason for withdrawing from the KKAA was, however, my brothers had developed a business system that was changing the way the martial arts was run. Their business system worked not only for Kenpo but for other karate systems and they began taking schools into their new organization that taught Japanese and Korean styles of karate. I opened my own Tracy's Kenpo Karate Studio in March that yearand remained close to Ed.
When karate began its rise to popularity in the mid 1960s, Tracy's dominated the tournament scene and over the years nearly 80% of the world-class Kenpo fighters had trained under the Tracy system. Because of this, and the practicality of Kenpo in real fights, Kenpo developed such a reputation that many martial artists, including Tae Kwon Do instructors, would claim they teach Kenpo, even though they do not.
Ed Parker saw how successful Tracy's was becoming and tried to copy us. The Tracy business system was built on the same principles proved in other service/sales businesses and successfully used by Arthur Murray Dance Studios. One of the San Jose student, Tom Connor, who would eventually gaining a Green Belt, was a former Arthur Murray's instructor, and introduced their system to Tracy's sales for Kenpo.
The program was simple. A prospective student would have an interview with the head instructor who would then sign the student up for five 1/2 hour private lessons for $19.95. An instructor, called a Junior (not because the instructor was junior, but because the process was called junioring). (Carolyn Mitchell was Arthur Murray's most famious "Junior" and a close friend, and where Nick Hilton had taught me that business success was location, location, location, she showed me it was location, location, attraction. Hotel lodging, beautiful dancing, and self-defense were the attraction.) The "Junior" would teach the new student basic self-defense techniques for three sessions. On the fourth session the head instructor would test the student and determine how well he had learned in the three sessions. The student would then be given a program for training that included both private and group instruction, and the head instructor would "close" the sale or a program that would last between six months and a year or more.
The problem was, no one could duplicate Connor's sales method or close the sale; and Tracy's parted company with him. The true architect of the Tracy's Sales Program was Hal Bowen, who was the top sales closer at Arthur Murray. In his first meeting with the Tracy's managers he said, "I'm here to put myself out of work. I'll train you so you won't need me because you will be better than me." Bowen did just that. The studio managers not only learned his sales approach but the system was duplicated over an over again by Jim Tracy, who established "Tracy's Central Training" on the East Coast.
Tom Connor quickly went to Ed Parker who was impressed with what he believed Connor had done for Tracy's, promoted him to Third Degree Black Belt and opened several "CoPar" (Connor/Parker) Kenpo schools. Ed bragged to me how he had stolen Connor from my brothers, and how he would be opening schools all across the country with the new sales approach. I tried to tell Ed that Connor would never teach anyone how to close the sales, but Ed was sure Connor was the reason we were successful. Connor kept the close a secret secret and he was the only one in Ed's system who could make the sales.
The "close" however, was not the secret to our success. Hal Bowen had drilled into all of us that anyone could close if the student was prepared and really wanted to learn Kenpo. All the closer had to do was budget the students training program. What was revolutionary about the new program was private lessons for every student. Al Tracy coined the Tracy moto: "Private Lessons at Group Rates", (the attraction) and not only did the students flock to Tracy's but they stayed.
CoPar on the other hand was a financial disaster for Ed. Not only didn't the schools never make money, but they put Ed deeply in debt and sullied his reputation. To dig his way out, Ed went into business with his Mormon friends who took his money and ran. He started a martial arts magazine and his partners took the money and ran.
Kenpo for Self-Defense - Tai Chi for Life
In 1967 my brother, Al Tracy, asked me to come to San Jose for his birthday because he had something he wanted to discuss. We had both been practicing Yang Style Tai Chi for 25 years at the time, and Al wanted to teach Tai Chi to some of his women and older students. They problem was, the Yang Tai Chi form we learned was far to long and the postures too expansive for Kenpo. I had trained under four Yang style masters at the time, and had also picked up Cheng Man Ching's forms. I taught Al Cheng Man Ching's two forms, and together we founded "Kenpo for Self-Defense! Tai Chi for Life!"
I preferred the original Yang Cheng-fu Style, but found no real public interest for Tai Chi at that time. Al on the other hand taught a few students each year. In 1997 Al was in Southern California for a seminar and told me we were ahead of our time on Tai Chi for Life; that neither Kenpo nor Tai Chi would change, but the people would change. It took 30 years for them to get old enough for Tai Chi.
How Kenpo Changed
Ed on the other hand made constant changes to Kenpo. When I talked with him in 1975 he told me he was changing Kenpo to be more American. Elvis Presley was greatly impressed with what Ed was teaching him, and together they were working on a new American Kenpo. But Elvis was busy taking care of business and when Elvis died two years later Ed realized he would not have the popularity of the King to help promote his new system. It can rightfully be said that after 1977, there was so little remaining in Ed Parker's system that it could not be called Kenpo. However, unlike Professor Chow, Sonny Emperado and the others who had gone before, and changed the name of their systems, Ed continued to call his system Kenpo.
In 1975, Al Tracy changed the "Tracy's International Schools of Self-Defense" by requiring all his schools to teach the "Tracy's System of Kenpo"; which was adding the Bak Fu sets, I had learned from Du Wai, and then Al learned after I brought Wai from Canada to teach Al. Tracy's System of Kenpo was a "system" of modified Kenpo, to a much lesser extent than Ed had modified Kenpo as Chinese Kenpo. I was the only one still teaching Original Kenpo Karate and Traditional Kenpo Karate.
Ed Parker called me one day in 1980 to tell me that he had eliminated all the old Kenpo from his system. He would later tell me and others that his new American Kenpo was less than 10% Kenpo. The history of Kenpo Karate as related to Ed Parker completely ended in 1980.
In 1997 Al asked me to look at taking over several of his Southern California schools that were failing. I went with him on his seminars (and introduced him to "El Pollo Loco"). The instructor were so far from Original Kenpo that I wasn't interested. I aske Jimmy Ebrao if he would be interested in taking one of the schools near Pasadena, where he could teach his style, but the school had no beginning students, and the advance students were not paying. Why would they. They were being taught what Kenpo never was.
Nearly ten years after Ed Parker's death there are still those claiming to teach Kenpo Karate, when in fact they are teaching their own version of American Kenpo. This may be due to the use of the "International Kenpo Karate Association", but whatever the reason, none teach Kenpo Karate. They teach moves, but there is far more to Kenpo than its moves.
There is, however, the disturbing choice of name Ed Parker gave to his new system, American Kenpo. I asked Ed about this several times, but he never gave a satisfactory answer.
The Ugly American was a common theme throughout the world in 1963, and the International Kenpo Karate Association eliminated that hostility. Why then, did Ed Parker chose the name American Kenpo at a time when many in other nations were still angry with America over the Vietnam War? I remember when Ed came to my house in 1984, the Olympics were being held in Los Angeles, and I told Ed I had a fantastic new Kenpo style that would sweep America. I called it French Kenpo Karate. It was a joke, but Ed didn't get it. He wanted to know what the new style was. A few weeks later I had just completing a Tai Chi set when Ed Parker dropped by and I told him I had a great new style, California Kenpo, it would go over great in New York and Florida. I don't think Ed ever got it.
Ed's reasoning was the IKKA would issue the certificates. But the question remained, why would the rest of the world accept American Kenpo? The answer is, it doesn't?
True Kenpo develops an intuitive sense. When Ed Parker came to Hawaii in 1959 I introduce him to Fusae Oshita. I could tell he didn't think much of her, but Ed was polite and as they talked about size and speed, Professor Oshita told Ed to throw a punch. Now Ed Parker was fast. Perhaps the only one I had seen who was faster with his hands at the time was Professor Chow. Ed threw a punch, or rather started to throw a back knuckle, and before his hand moved more than a few inches, Oshita put her hand on his fist and said, "No, use the other hand." The only other time I ever saw Ed Parker impressed as much as he was that day is when Tai Chi Master Yin held a bird in his open hand and the bird could not lift off because it's force was neutralized by Chi. Needless to say, Ed declined to throw a punch for Oshita with his other hand.
One final point on the history of Kenpo Karate. There are many in American Kenpo who claim the Professor Chow trained with his father. He did not. Professor Chow's father didn't know Kenpo or any martial art. I don't know when this idea came about, but it may have something to do with Professor Chow's father being called Hoon Chow. But anyone who knew Professor Chow when I did, knew that the Kenpo Instructor, Hoon Chow was not Professor Chow's father.
I trained with the Kenpo instructor called Hoon Chow, and he was famous in Hawaii. He was not Professor Chow's father, though his father was related to Hoon Chow.