American Kenpo or Kenpo Karate is a system of martial arts created by Ed Parker, characterized by the use of quick moves in rapid-fire succession intended to overwhelm an opponent. It is largely marketed as a self-defense system, and is derived from traditional Japanese martial arts including Kenpo, Karate, Jiu-Jitsu and Judo, as well as some other martial arts influence, such as Southern Chinese kung fu, found in the cultural melting pot of Hawaii.
Mr. Parker introduced significant modifications in his art, including principles, theories, and concepts of motion as well as terminology, throughout his life. He left behind a large number of instructors who teach many different versions of American Kenpo as Ed Parker died before he named a successor to his art.
The modern history of American Kenpo began in the 1940s, when Great Grandmaster James Mitose(1916-1981) started teaching his ancestral Japanese martial art, Kosho-Ryu Kenpo, in Hawaii. Mitose’s art, later called Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu, traditionally traces its origin to Shaolin Kung Fu and Bodhidharma. Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu emphasizes punching, striking, kicking, locking, and throwing. Mitose’s art was very linear, lacking the circular motions found in American Kenpo.
William K. S. Chow studied Kenpo under James Mitose, eventually earning his black belt. He had also studied Chinese Kung Fu from his father. Chow began teaching an art, which he called Kenpo Karate, that blended the circular movements he had learned from his father with the system he had learned from Mitose. Chow experimented and modified his art, adapting it to meet the needs of American students.
Ed Parker learned Kenpo Karate from William Chow, earning his black belt. The system known as American Kenpo was developed by Ed Parker as a successor to Chow’s art. Parker revised older methods to work in modern day fighting scenarios. He heavily restructured American Kenpo’s forms and techniques during this period. He moved away from methods that were recognizably descended from other arts (such as forms that were familiar within Hung Gar) and established a more definitive relationship between forms and the self-defense technique curriculum of American Kenpo. Parker also eschewed esoteric Eastern concepts (e.g. Ki, Chi, Qi) and sought to express the art in terms of scientific principles and western metaphors.
The evolution of Kenpo Karate has been continued by many, including Paul Mills. Paul Mills was a direct and private student of Ed Parker’s for over ten years. Mr. Mills received his black belt from one of Mr. Parker’s first generation black belts then became a direct and private student of Grandmaster Edmund K. Parker in 1980. Mr. Parker promoted Mr. Mills up through his fifth degree black belt. Mr. Mills is well known for his phenomenal speed and power, and his unique methods of generating both. Paul Mills is now the President and founder of the American Kenpo Karate International (AKKI) association and holds the rank of 10th degree black belt. He serves as the Chief Examiner at all international tests and is the Chairman of the AKKI’s Board of Directors. He has been consistently training in the art of American Kenpo since 1966.