The Original Kings of Karate: Luis Solis
By Luis Solis, Kenpo Karate
One fine Southern California day a friend of mine invited me to tag along with him for a visit to Ed Parkers original Kenpo Karate School in Pasadena. The year was 1959.
I was immediately impressed by the goings on in there and soon after enrolled in my very first Self Defense classes under Mr. Parker’s guidance. In an attempt to “break the ice”, I jokingly asked Ed if I’d be good enough after the next ten years of training to challenge him directly to a fight? He laughed and seemed to get my joke. Ed and I laughed a lot together over the years.
I really enjoyed training there and excelled as much as possible. We all did. Ed Parker was an innovative teacher and a good person. Around that time many of the original students of American Kenpo were there too. Known names like Dan Rodarte, Larry Hartsell, Frank Trejo, Steve Golden, Pete Jacobs, Jerry Poteet, Bob Bremer, & Dan Inosanto seemed to stand out among the rest of my fellow students.
Inosanto, a neighbor of mine, and I soon became close friends and frequent training partners during that period. Dan was always an avid cross-trainer who would sometimes visit other studios. I began to accompany him during those visits in order to experience aspects of different systems and other martial arts styles. It made for great experiences. I became one of the senior students and often taught class at the studio. Those were good times to say the least.
Approximately six years later I actually received my Black Belt from Ed in 1968. That was a proud day for me!
At the very first Ed Parker International Karate Competition at the Long Beach Convention Center in California during the mid 1960’s, I witnessed a then unknown young Bruce Lee perform a fantastic martial
We were all astounded as Bruce performed his now infamous 1” punch, amazing two-fingered pushups using only one arm and some other truly remarkable and even exotic techniques. He impressed us all that day with his incredible physical abilities! Days later Bruce stopped by the studio to visit with Ed during a class I happened to be conducting. After which Ed called me into his office and formally introduced me to Bruce. I shook his hand. I recognized him from the Long Beach Convention Center and felt a little nervous in his presence.
Bruce again visited Parker’s studio later that week and approached me about assisting him during an upcoming martial arts demonstration he’d scheduled in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. I hesitated and pointed towards my fellow Black Belts saying they may make better candidates? Bruce said, “No. I want you because you’re my kind of people.” I was too flattered to refuse.
I met Bruce at his hotel to discuss his plan and he proceeded to explain what he wanted me to do. He actually taught me a new approach towards self-defense, which complemented what I was already accustomed to doing. It was an exciting discovery!
It was to be the first such demonstration I’d ever done and boy was I nervous at the thought of performing in front of a crowd. Bruce noticed my hands shaking and found my anxiety amusing. He allowed me to perform a few Kata forms to open the occasion then repeated much of what I’d seen him do at Parker’s earlier event this time including me in some of it.
Bruce Lee again amazed the entire room with his groundbreaking physical feats!
After it was over we laughed and he teased me over my prior concerns. He loved a good laugh.
Bruce was satisfied that his demonstration went well despite my nerves and afterwards invited a few of us out for dinner on him.
At the table Bruce and his other guests ordered up some tea to drink. I was ready for a beer. When the waitress brought it to the table I began to pour it into the glass she’d provided me. As its foam settled I looked up and saw Bruce’s other guests were staring at my beer in disbelief.
One of them asked if I was really going to drink it in front of Bruce? I replied, “Yes, of course. Why not?” I didn’t understand and casually shrugged it off. He said Bruce didn’t drink and I realized they were trying to show him their respect by not ordering any alcohol. As I began to take my first drink one of the others said, “Well, if he’s gonna have one so will I!”They all began to order beers while Bruce laughed to himself as he continued sipping his tea.
Weeks later Steve Golden and I assisted with another of Bruce’s demonstrations in Chinatown. This time I was much less nervous and it went very well to all our delight.
Bruce Lee continued to occasionally pay visits to Ed’s Kenpo studio in Pasadena. One time a somewhat “cocky” fellow student of mine openly debated a particular technique that Bruce was discussing with some of us and foolishly attempted to physically counter his approach. Lee executed a lightning fast straight punch to the fool’s chest, which violently knocked him on his back to the mat! I feel fortunate to have known Bruce Lee. What I learned from him during that short period has forever changed the way I approach my own martial arts training.
Years later while on a well deserved lunch break at my day job, my co-workers attempted to test my self-defense skills. A new guy was said to be a knife-fighter of sorts from South America who had been informed about of my extensive experience in the martial arts.
A challenge was soon issued without my prior knowledge. A group of my fellow employees had arranged it so that I’d be corralled into one of the larger restrooms on the premises. I hadn’t noticed what they were up to as they led me along the way. When I entered, the South American was waiting with his trusty knife in hand. Somehow, I unwittingly found myself walking into an unwelcome fight with this new guy!
He began to flash his blade in an intimidating manner trying to impress us all with his handling. His proper form suggested he’d been practicing his knife-fighting skills for some time.
He was obviously very good with a knife and it was unsettling to find myself in such a position in close quarters!
After he completed his motions and squared off in front of me I noticed he looked a bit nervous and realized our fellow workers must’ve pressured him into this challenge. This was definitely not an average day at work.
He again started to flash his blade around in a threatening manner as I observed his movement and handling from my guard position. I tracked his timing for a few moments then was fortunate enough to execute a well-timed left hand chop to his knife hand, which sent the blade flying away.
The crowded lavatory was stunned in disbelief. After a moment they all began to cheer. I was glad it ended so quickly without anyone getting seriously hurt. I was thankful to be alive!
My opponent and I looked at each other with a sense of relief. He said, “Wow, I’m glad that’s over!” I agreed with him. It turns out he was just as nervous as I was. We started talking and realized it was a case of pure peer pressure that led him into our fight. We both laughed. As time went by we became friends and did some training together for a while until he ended up returning to his home in Brazil. I never held any grudge against him for the way we met.
I am very grateful to have lived a good long life full of lasting experiences. I remain thankful to have met so many interesting people who have helped me to develop and enhance the values of life I hold so dearly! I’m now well advanced in years and have been living in fabulous Las Vegas with my lovely second wife for over a decade.
Remember to train hard and stay healthy ALWAYS!
Sensei Luis R. Solis