Q&A: Bruce Lee, Ark Wong, and Ed Parker

Here is another round of questions answered by three people. Ron Chapél answers the bulk. Ed Parker Jr (Paxtial Arts) answers a question about himself. Finally, Guru Dan Inosanto (Inosanto Academy) answers a simple question about Bruce Lee. 

Ark Wong

Did Ark Wong have children's classes? Did Ark Wong awarded Black Sash to students who were not adults yet? Did he have a minimum age requirement for Black Sash?  

A: Ron Chapél: First, I didn't stop training when I met Mr. Parker, and there was no such thing as a "children's class" in those days. Everyone, everywhere trained the same. Many would not take children, but my personal association with my oldest friend inthe arts, Douglas Wong didn't hurt. You trained and earned what you got. Later, Most adopted an age limit of 16 years old for black belt, but the commercial explosion of Taekwondo blew that out of the water. The business of teaching was over run by children, and Mr. Parker recognized that fact was coming, and had me write my thesis for my 7th based on how to deal with the rank structure of young people without destroying the integrity of the art. It was never implemented. 

Ed Parker

At what point did Ed Parker start teaching the basics? In what order did he teach those basics? How codified was Ed Parker's basic training?  

A: Ron Chapél From the beginning, we engaged in a process where we examined the Classic Chinese Basics and attempted to refine them to his idea of what he wanted his "American Kenpo" to be. It was an ongoing project. He made many changes and altered directions as often as necessary to get where he wanted to go. It was an intense process, requiring flexibility. You might work on something for a period, and just when you think you have it down, he would change it to something he felt was better. It was a process where you had to keep up with him on whatever he wanted to work on at the time. 

Did Mr. Parker teach anyone the category of basics known as Specialized Moves and Methods (i.e. the grappling side of Kenpo) if yes who?  

A: Ron Chapél In the early days, Mr. Parker taught grappling and concentrated heavily on Dan Zan Ryu Jiu-jitsu Techniques as a part of his regular teaching when he was in the school. He later predicted the grappling craze would return, and leaned on his good friend, training buddy, and World Wrestling Champion Gene LeBell to help him promote the art. Mr. Parker set up the fight between LeBell and the boxer Milo Savage. Gene won that in the first round, closing the distance and choking him to submission. Gene could choke anything that breathed, and still can. Mr. Parker described him as, "The toughest man I ever met." 

However, the creation of Ed Parker's Kenpo Karate and Mr. Parker switching from strict basics to conceptual teaching through “one-night stands” all over the world pushed all of that training aside, because of its physicality, and a lack of Mr. Parker’s availability to teach it. All of the original groups had jiu-jitsu knowledge as a regular part of training. 

However, there was no room for that in Ed Parker’s Kenpo Karate. While Mr. Parker “suggested” its existence through many of the techniques, so-called teachers dropped the ball and never explored the material as they were supposed to. System techniques like, “Twisted Twig” had a “wrist-flex takedown or throw” as the attack. Everyone concentrated on the defense, when they were supposed to learn and understand how to perform a wrist-flex takedown first, and then work on a defense for it and create an Ideal technique. 

Did Mr. Parker share any of his knife information with you and what did it consist of... was it also broken down like the unarmed system with its own unique vocabulary and category of basics etc. 

Mr. Parker gave me all the information he said I needed on the blade work. He gave me all of the vocabulary and demonstrated it to me. If you follow his philosophy of the weapon being an extension of your own mechanics, it's simple and straight-forward. Not much to it, other than a few no-no's because you have an edged weapon in your hand, and you don't want to cut yourself because of your very active off hand.

The "double blade" stuff drifted into performance competition exhibition. Using a double blade on the street is not only impractical it would probably get you locked up. I tend to stay away from the fantasy stuff he created for tournament competition. This includes all the forms after Short Form Three.


Whom did Mr. Parker consider as his key protégé and who did he identify as sharing the full scope of his knowledge with? 

A: Ron Chapél The only protégé's Mr. Parker had were "business protégé's." He touted a couple of guys in the magazines as protégés but in truth, he didn't have any. He was “puffing” guys, because it was business. A good example of that was Larry Tatum. Larry ran the only Ed Parker owned school that made any money. Larry turned out the greatest quantity of his best black belts in his new system, all under Larry. Most of have declared Ed Parker as their teacher, and ignored the fact that Larry primarily taught them and signed their diplomas on the "instructor" line, not Ed Parker.

However technically, Ed Parker always co-promoted all of the black belts in his lineage when he was alive. I always tell people if you want to know the truth, look at their diplomas. As an example on my 7th Degree Diploma, Mr. Parker signed on both sides. On the left, as the president of the IKKA, and on the right as My Instructor, with Ed Parker Jr. signing as the witness.

When the magazine article came out on Larry, Mr. Parker got blow back from guys who had been around a lot longer than Larry. Larry was essentially a “newbie” but making money running the school for him, as the only actual full time employee of the IKKA that was not his family. Mr. Parker cleaned it up by saying, "Well yeah, Larry is protégé, but he's not the ONLY protégé. I have lots of them!" It was just business puffing, but everyone took it so seriously.

There is no way Mr. Parker shared the "full scope" of his knowledge with anyone. It simply wasn’t possible. Mr. Parker was evolving as a martial artist everyday. He was growing and figuring out what he wanted to do, as he expanded his own knowledge. But, he also had to keep his Ed Parker's Kenpo Karate running while he did it, because that's what made the money.

Keeping up with Mr. Parker was Impossible. If he shared something with you today, it might change over night, and if you weren't around for the changes the next day, you were already out of the loop. In many ways, this accounts for the great variations of information from different lineages, even before Ed Parker’s kenpo Karate and certainly even more so after it was created.

The process was so arduous most simply stayed with what they were taught and never upgraded their information, because it was too labor intensive, and impossible to do if you were running a school as a business to make a living. You had to settle on one way to do things and go with it or you would lose students, much like Mr. Parker himself. Once most got a belt and some rank, nobody wanted to reexamine their neutral bow, or how to do a drag-step reverse, with an inward block but that is what Mr. Parker was constantly doing

He shared many things specifically with me, but then some things he just pointed me in the right direction and trusted that I could work it out because of my Chinese background, and the history he and I shared. He always monitored what I was doing with my students, and gave his approval of the process I was engaged in with his help and guidance.

I took notes of his work, and codified as much as I could, considering its fluid nature. It was actually much more difficult when he was alive, because I had to work at his pace and on his timetable. Sometime he would call me up in the middle of the night and we'd talk until the sun came up. His mind was constantly on fire and he lit one in me as well.

I also received all his computer notes and files from Edmund after he passed.

During an interview while Mr. Parker was alive, Ed Parker Jr. was asked about Kenpo training and said he did not train in his father's art but rather was into graphic design. What made him suddenly change his mind and want to learn Kenpo?

A: Ron Chapél That is one of the greatest misunderstandings about Edmund. When he says he didn't study his father art, he's talking about “Ed Parker's kenpo Karate.” He’s not saying he didn’t study Kenpo with his father. Ed Parker’s Kenpo Karate is the only "defined" art that Mr. Parker had. Everything else was as I said before, works in progress.

What his father shared with him are the working concepts that I use myself, but it isn't really Kenpo as in the Kenpo era he grew up in would define it based on “motion.”

It is Kenpo, but only as defined our personal unique teaching perspectives. He and I both use a less aggressive and maiming style of Kenpo based on human anatomy and body mechanics. In my opinion, this is what’s missing from Ed Parker’s Kenpo Karate. But the Ed Parker's Kenpo Karate crowd is so large and vocal, if you do anything "different,", in a matter they don't understand, or if it isn’t in “Infinite Insights,” the first thing they do is shout, "that ain't Kenpo."

Trust me, it is a form of Kenpo, it's just not "Ed Parker's Kenpo Karate," and that's all they know. Many of them are shocked to hear that Kenpo existed in various forms before Ed Parker. Naturally, they want to define Kenpo by their own terms because that's where their rank has legitimacy, even though Mr. Parker had 4 or 5 different forms of Kenpo he taught to others, and all different from his Ed Parker's Kenpo Karate Business.

Edmund has used his deep understanding of human anatomy refined by his many years as a graphic illustrator of the human body, to define and add to his Kenpo in different terms as a defensive defusing method he calls the Paxtial Arts. I call what I teach SL-4 American Chúan Fa. Whatever you call it, the roots are the same; Ed Parker Sr. It is much easier to utilize one's own identity in a world of intolerant "kenpo" people who think there's only one way. So in my opinion, when Edmund says he doesn't know his father's art, he only talking about Ed Parker's Kenpo Karate Curriculum, nothing else.

A: Ed Parker (Jr): I also said I would never marry again. I also said I think the moon is made of cheese. We all say things based upon the perspective of the time. So in fact I did not want anything to do with Kenpo. What changed my mind was this: I was living in Hawaii, going to college pursuing a career in film and TV when I got a job on the TV show Magnum PI.  Then I got a call from my dad. He wanted me to come and help him finish his lifes work, because he said he had a dream or a vision that he was going to die. So I gave up my dreams to fulfill his.

I worked for him, with him, and in the end by him on his projects. The only way I could get his vision was to get in his head. So to illustrate what he wanted he had to teach me how to think like him and understand him. So my training went the Mr. Miyagi way. We worked some weeks 120 hours plus. He was obsessed driven like a mad man to get his works done. 

I was by his side for that process.

So I did learn Ed Parker, not his system, but him, the way he thought and why he thought that way. What made him come to those conclusions etc. 

After he died is when I wanted to learn the system. Yes I was taught privately. For years in fact. Protected from the outside world. Then after he died I studied with Ron (Chapél) because he stimulated my mind. He was one of my fathers closest friends and I wanted to get to know my dad better through the eyes of his students.

I consider myself an artist of motion.

Bruce Lee

Can you clarify about Lao Bun introducing Bruce Lee to Ed Parker? Was James Lee given credit to protect Lao Bun because he was still in the United States illegally. 

A: Ron Chapél

Those things were not on my personal radar, and Mr. Parker only spoke of those things in generalities. Who introduced who, when wasn’t that important to me, and Bruce Lee was impressive but wasn’t doing anything I hadn’t seen Sifu Wong, or Lefiti do.

A: Danny Inosanto

James Lee introduced Ed Parker to Bruce Lee.

How long did Bruce Lee and Ed Parker live together and how much if at all did Ed Parker borrow from Bruce Lee? 

Ed Parker and Bruce Lee did not "live together." There were a couple of times where Bruce was in town from Oakland and stayed with Mr. Parker at his house for a week or so. Mr. Parker did not "borrow" anything of significance from Bruce Lee. Mr. Parker was a seasoned martial artist who had trained in Western boxing, Judo, Jiu-jitsu, Karate, and Kenpo from the age of 10. When he met Bruce Lee, relatively speaking, Bruce was a young kid.  

Lee drew attention not from his knowledge of the arts but for his physical prowess, and the ability to physically learn things quickly. Most are unaware Bruce Lee only formally studied Wing Chun for about 2 years before he left Hong Kong to be a student of philosophy, at the university of Washington at the age of 19 when he enrolled. He dropped out of school and moved to Oakland, and opened up a gung fu school teaching what he knew. When he gave his famous demonstration at Mr. Parker's invite at the 2nd International Karate Championships in 1964, he was only 24 years. 

While the public had begun to embrace and understand the arts, it was primarily from the Japanese Perspective at the time. When Bruce displayed simple Chinese Concepts of fighting in 1964 at the Japanese dominated tournament, it blew everyone away. A look at that demo today would virtually put you to sleep. 



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