Philosophy of American Kenpo

By Alex Haddox

Every martial art has its own distinctiveness in the marketplace. For example, Taekwondo is known for kicks, Aikido is recognized for throws and Jujitsu is known for holds. To the outsider, American Kenpo is recognized for the speed and power of strikes.

From within our art, we have our own identity. To us, American Kenpo is about motion and inclusion. When a Kenpoist critiques a fellow martial artist we do not refer to how well the individual can punch, how fast his or her kicks are or how high. We always refer to how well the person moves.

The founder of our art, Senior Grand Master Ed Parker was often hailed in international publications as, "The Magician of Motion." In his early critical analysis of multiple martial arts, he discovered that the core of any style was motion. Motion drives every action from the starting position through the execution to the ending position. The motion is what gives us our speed that combines with the force our bodies generate which then terminates with power in the blow delivered. Without proper motion, speed is lost. Without proper motion force generated by the mechanics of the body is lost. Without proper motion all power is lost.

Another key philosophy of American Kenpo is that the world is not perfect and within those imperfections are immeasurable variations. No two people are built in exactly the same way, not even identical twins. Due to the complexity and biological distinctions that make us who we are, not everyone is capable of doing the splits, kicking above their heads or performing the perfect punch. In some styles, if you cannot perform to some arbitrary ideal you fail and cannot advance. They will tell you that their art is not for you and to seek out something else.

American Kenpo is inclusionary rather than exclusionary. Senior Grand Master Parker often said, "Like a custom tailor who fits a suit to an individual, so should the Art fit the individual." That is not to say that just any performance or effort is accepted in training. We begin with a solid base built upon the ideal. We teach the fundamentals of the perfect stance, the perfect punch and the perfect kick acknowledging that most will never achieve textbook perfection. We work with every individual to achieve their personal perfection of the move. Two American Kenpoists may move similarly, but not identically.

The same philosophy applies to our self defense techniques. We train in the ideal phase of the attack and defense recognizing full well it will never happen just as we practice in the real world. All of our techniques, from white belt to black belt, are designed to work in conjunction with each other. On the street, you may start out using one technique, but finish the altercation with another. The systems flexibility allows the spontaneous grafting of combinations to accommodate a nearly infinite number of situations.

By the time you reach higher ranks, you are conditioned to instinctually move in response to constantly changing attacks. There is no slow thought process of, "Here comes a left hooking punch, so I am supposed to..." Your training takes over and you respond swiftly and confidently. You may unconsciously graft three or four different techniques together to address the threat. The last thing you want in a crisis is to freeze because you can not remember the next step in the technique or because your attacker does something different from the sequence you trained for. The key to survival is to react appropriately and keep moving.

At its core, the philosophy of American Kenpo is adaptive motion: From a foundation of the ideal, adapt the Art to the individual so that the individual can adapt the Art to the situation.