Memories of my First Teacher:
By John Doty
My return to my martial arts roots, Kenpo, was the direct result of a spark of continuous hunger for spirituality through fighting arts. I have always regarded Kenpo in the highest esteem. My father introduced me to the art in 1966. I was thirteen years old. As a consequence of initiation I met another man, Ed Parker, whom I looked to sort of as an “alternate father” figure.
At the time of my initiation to Kenpo, the art was still in its infancy. Simple, yet deadly- Kenpo had it’s basic movements, kata and techniques applicable to most situations, but allowing for individualization, innovation and growth. Boxing moves and footwork were incorporated into the art. Kenpo was indeed expanding, much like Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do. The Kenpo I knew was a style, which had no style. There was no ceiling, the only dogma was innovation. In Kenpo, I was introduced to other systems like; Wing Chun, We were encouraged to play with variations in techniques. Mr. Parker always smiled and silently watched us on Saturday afternoons as a handful of us teenage boys played with the basics we had been given, staged “mass attacks” and modified the tools to forge defenses and offenses for use in spontaneous situations. To me, a true Kenpoist was an innovator. Fighting styles, which followed strict dogma, were joked about.
In full gi, Mr. Parker, Roger Meadows and Richard Steele would occasionally walk with us from the Pasadena dojo to Bob’s Bigboy, by Pasadena City College. I recall one instance where we were jaywalking across the street. Mr. Parker acted as though he were crippled and feeling compassion, cars would stop. Upon reaching the other side, he would resume normal walking and wave to the stopped cars.
He told me a parable about having “cried and cried because he had no shoes as a youth, until he met a man who had no feet.” A humble man, he associated with and trained celebrities such as Elvis Presley, but never flaunted it.
In Kenpo, I was introduced to a slight, but strangely powerful man named Bruce Lee. We all would watch in awe, as Sigung Bruce would “fool around” with Mr. Parker. On one occasion Sigung Bruce kicked a heavy bag with such ease, the bag almost hit the rafters of the Dojo. I witnessed Mr. Parker and Sigung Bruce spar. Their combined spiritual intensity was a witness of pure holiness. I recall Mr. Parker saying, backed by Sigung Bruce, that it does not matter what color belt one wears around their waist, it is what is held in the head and spirit which is the mark of a true martial artist.
Father of American Karate
I kept in occasional contact with Mr. Parker after joining the Air Force, as the Vietnam War was winding down. In the early 1980’s, as a private investigator, I helped Mr. Parker with a very “sensitive” threat to the art of Kenpo. Little did I know that “sensitive” matter would become the first real split, actually a tear in the cloth he had woven with such great love. That first tear, that seemingly benign incident by one whose ego had been smashed and distorted by the jungles north of Saigon, is now whispered about in the Kenpo Dojos.
A dirty secret, like an alcoholic uncle no one wished to discuss.
Although I hold a 3rd degree brown belt and have not kept up to date with modern Kenpo, I still feel blessed and truly “chosen” to have witnessed the art in its infancy. In tradition to what I was taught by Mr. Parker, I went on to study and pursue the fighting arts and journey to know and understand my own spiritual destiny. I studied boxing, Filipino Arts, Kali, Panatuken, Panamut, Dumog, Silat, Muay Thai, weapons, Wing Chun, Gung Fu, Jeet Kune Do and grappling. I am continually amazed that the more I learn; the more I learn and the less I know. That, in itself, reflects the paradox of life. While unacquainted with the new techniques of modern Kenpo, I am able to address situations, life situations, with efficiency and power, drawing up all of my growing knowledge. To me, that is Kenpo.
I cried when I learned of Mr. Parker’s passing. I mourned silently among the multitude of followers and sages alike, touched by this man. But then the memories of him and his mark on my life are the reasons I tattooed the Kenpo crest on my arm. The tattoo is not complete and never will be. There is no boundary around the tiger and dragon, because, to me, there is no boundary to Kenpo. Life’s boundaries, like spiritual boundaries are self imposed. My thirst to grow and expand is not based in ego, but in the spirit of watching that enlightened man smile as we children formed his vision. I was sad to hear of the recent passing of Mrs. Parker, a great lady whom I also have fond memories of.