Kenpo Karate Setting History Right
(second revision 8/8/99)
Ed Parker kept his promise to Professor Chow and opened another school about twenty miles south of Pasadena in early 1960, but it was a complete failure, and closed before April of that same year. Ed made another big mistake in early 1960 when he told his black belts he had taught them everything he knew. That didn't have an immediate effect, but sometime in June 1960, several of Lao Boon's San Francisco Kung Fu students came to Pasadena and stayed with Ed Parker for a few days. One of those was Jimmy Wing Woo. But Woo was more than a student. He had trained with Lao Boon for over 20 years, and was one of the most respected Tai Chi men in China Town.
I returned to Pasadena for one day in early April 1960, and that is the first time Ed Parker told me he had opened and closed the southern school. I don't believe he would have waited a year to tell me that.
Chuck Sullivan claims he began training at the "Southern School" in February 1959. I was training with Ed Parker in Pasadena until March 1959, and Ed Parker and I made the first trip to San Francisco, shortly before I went to train with Professor Chow in Hawaii, and Ed never mentioned anything to me about a second school at that time.
Sullivan states that after the southern school closed, he drove over 20 miles to Pasadena to attend classes. My brother, Jim Tracy, taught the beginning class in Pasadena from mid 1958 to mid 1961 and doesn't remember Chuck Sullivan coming to the beginning class until early 1960. My brother, Al Tracy, taught the intermediate class from late 1958 to April 1961, and he doesn't remember even seeing Chuck Sullivan until mid 1961 when he was either a one or two tip white belt. What they do remember is that Chuck Sullivan was a two tip (out of 4 tips) white belt when the split happened in April 1961.
This is just another case where someone who doesn't have an event to give a date, gives a date that is one year prior to when he began training.
Ed Parker told me he was impressed with Woo's knowledge of Chinese martial arts history, and Ed asked Woo to stay in Pasadena and help write his new book. Woo agreed, but needed to go back to San Francisco first. When he returned he lived with Ed Parker and taught the advanced students at Ed's studio.
The summer of 1960 marked the beginning of the end of "Original Kenpo Karate" at Ed Parker's schools; and, it marked the beginning of what would later become know as "Traditional Kenpo". The new Traditional Kenpo was a major change in Ed Parker's Kenpo. All of the mat work (grappling) and most of the falls were eventually replaced with Kung Fu forms, Tiger and Crane, Tom Tui and Book Set (Panther Set) and new Kenpo forms.
NOTE: The Book Set was not from a book on as some claim. It was a two man set for Ed Parker's book - hence the Book Set. However, Ed Parker only learned a part of one side of the set before he and Woo parted company, and the Black Belt Set was used in the book instead.
Terry Robinson arranged a demonstration for Ed at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on December 17, 1960. It was a Saturday, and Ed took Al Tracy to do the breaking, along with Jimmy Ibrao, Rich Montgomery, Rick Flores, Chuck Pranke, Ike Roman, Gary Orchard and others. What they told me about the encounter, only differs from Ed's rendition in that Elvis did not know about the demonstration. And the importance of this demonstration has been grossly exagurated.
The demonstration took place about 10 AM (not in the afternoon) in the courtyard and about 30 people were present. Al Tracy had just broken a stack of boards and got a loud response. Elvis Presley apparently heard the commotion and came out of the room wearing a bathrobe. When Elvis saw what was going on he went back in his room and came out putting his pants on and hopping on one foot putting on a shoe as his other shoe was thrown at him by the screaming girl who was in his room. He climbed over some shrubs to get to where the demonstration was being held.
The girl he was with was irritated to say the least and screamed at him. Nearly all of Ed's students were more interested in the girl, who was then, and probably still is today, one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood.
NOTE: I asked Chuck Pranke what he thought of Elvis Presley, and he told me the only thing he remembered about the demonstration was the girl Elvis left for the demonstration.
Another change at this time was in the KKAA Emblem. The Kenpo Karate club patch had a round black background with a silver right fist, (seen on the gis of Ed Parker and some of his advanced students) while the KKAA emblem was the "Overhead Club", but that was never made into a patch.
Dick Tercell began training with Ed Parker before Woo came to Pasadena and was greatly influenced by what Woo taught. On his own Tercell created a design for a new Kenpo Karate patch and presented it to Ed who liked the concept and encouraged Dick to finish the design. When it was done, Ed didn't like the Yin Yang symbol Tercell had in the center with the tiger and dragon circling it. As a Mormon, Ed Parker didn't want a religious symbol on the patch, and since Ed was working on this 'Universal Design" he up with the Chinese ten and put eight directions in the circle. The result was what became know at the "Kenpo Emblem" and it was first used on the KKAA belt certificates before Ed had uniform patches made.
NOTE: Ed Parker would later claim it was his brother who designed the patch. But anyone who looks at the drawings Ed claimed were the original for the patch can see they only slightly resemble Tercell's design.
NOTE: When Tercell left Ed Parker to train with Woo, he refused to sign his rights to the design over to Ed Parker.
SEE Tercell Kenpo Karate Emblem
The Walnut Street Putsch
Kenpo is a technique based style, while Kung Fu is form based. That is Kung Fu stresses forms, and the proper form movement over technique; and, Kung Fu forms develop the mind and body in ways techniques by themselves do not; and further, forms and techniques together make the techniques more powerful. It was for this reason, and the fact that all Ed's top students knew he had taught everything he knew, that Jimmy Wing Woo found fertile grounds for teaching the Chinese forms.
Ed Parker had the astounding ability to see moves, techniques and forms as concepts. Ed never forgot a technique, a person or his name, but he was not good at memorizing forms. He was however, superb at analyzing the moves within the forms.
Ed Parker's Southern school failed about two months after it opened in 1960, but Ed was training his students to run schools for him and the failure was a learning experience. The school was in the wrong area. So later that year, after Woo arrive, Ed opened another school on La Cienega Blvd. This was to be the school he and Chow shared, and it was in the perfect location - or so Ed Parker thought.
Ed was a fantastic martial artist, and a great teacher, but he had no understanding of how to make teaching Kenpo Karate into a successful business. He rightly believed that if you were good enough, and made enough contacts, people would come to your school. The problem was, not enough people would come to make the school a real success. Ed simply did not understand the three principle of any business in the 50's and 60's, location, location, location.
The main street in Pasadena is Colorado Blvd. Walnut Street was a minor business back street. Just across the street from Ed's first studio at 1840 E. Walnut, was a contractors lumber yard. None of the business depended on walk-ins' or drive by's. The two advantages to the school was, the rent was cheap, and it was close to Pasadena City College. When Ed moved his studio across the street to 1713 Walnut, this imporved the visability of the sign which featured the Overhead Club Technique. The building was larger, and Ed would eventually rent both 1713 and the connecting 1715 which was a single building. When Ed bought the land immediately West of this building, and built his own studio in 1961, he kept a portion of 1713 as an office and an adjunct studio.
La Cienega Blvd. had traffic, was next to Beverly Hills, and Ed it would attract wealthy Beverly Hills students. What Ed didn't realize is, although he made his living teaching private lessons to the wealthy Hollywood sect, none of them came to the group sessions in Pasadena. Nor did they go to group lesson at his La Cienega studio. They would have paid hundreds of dollars for private lessons, but all the school offered was group lessons, and Ed Parker taught all his private lessons at the celebrity's home. As a consequence the school never made money.
Another major problem with the La Cienega school at that time was the instructors really didn't know how to teach, nor did they want to teach. They were Kenpo students turned Kung Fu students and they wanted to learn Kung Fu, not teach Kenpo.
Less than a year after Jimmy Wing Woo came to Pasadena, Ed had learned everything he needed from him. Ed had told me he was impressed with Woo's knowledge of Kung Fu history when they first met. But Ed also told me that after seeing all that Woo was teaching, he knew he needed much more for his book than Woo had.
Jimmy Wing Woo was very secretive about where he trained in China. Ed told me Woo had trained in China for 12 years, but Woo was in China for 10 years from 1928 until 1938. No big deal, but this is a correction that should be noted.
Ed Parker and James Wing Woo went their separate ways in April, 1961, but Woo gained more from Ed Parker than Ed Parker gained from Woo. Woo would tell people, that Ed Parker got the book, but he got the students. All of Ed's black belts and all his brown belts, except Al and Jim Tracy went with Woo in what was called the Walnut Street Putsch; and within a few weeks Woo had opened his own Kung Fu school in Hollywood.
Just what style Woo taught is another mystery. When Al and I visited Woo at his Kung Fu school on Hollywood Blvd, in late 1961 some of Ed Parker's former students were practicing different forms. One student was doing Tai Chi, and I could tell by how he shifted weight from substantial to insubstantial that there was "Tung" influence. Woo saw me watching another student, and asked what I thought of the form. I told him it looked like the Family Set and asked if he studied with Tung Ying Chieh. I could tell Woo didn't like my question, and he changed the subject. It appeared to me that Woo was teaching forms from many different styles and made them his own.
While there were no forms (katas) in Kenpo Karate, Mitose's Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu had 4 forms, Nihanchi 1 &2, the Bear Kata and Old Man Kata. I was not in Pasadena when the first Traditional Kenpo forms were created, but I had demonstrated the four Kenpo forms for Ed when I returned in late 1961, and Ed said they were too Japanese for his new Chinese Kenpo.
Al and I knew Ed wanted to create forms as early as 1958 when he came to the studio and saw Al and me practicing the Tai Chi set we had learned from our youth. Ed didn't care for the slow Tai Chi moves, but he was intrigued by what were obviously Kenpo techniques hidden in the Yang Form.
When I was in the Far East I had trained with Tai Chi Master Tung Ying Chieh, and after demonstrating the Yang Cheng-Fu's Tai Chi form I had learned, Tung taught me his version of the set. Tung's Fast Set did not impress Ed either, but he stated many times that seeing the Tai Chi form opened his eyes to what Chinese Kung Fu held. It would be nearly two years after that Ed went to San Francisco to gain Chinese forms.
NOTE: One of Ed Parker's white belts at the time of the split was promoted to First Degree Black Belt 18 months later by Ed Parker and claims that while he was not privy to what was going on, he could sense something was happening for some time before the split. My brothers, who were at the studio every day didn't know anything was "happening", and I talked with several of the students who left Ed Parker, and they all told me the split came as a complete surprise to them. They said they were all planning on opening schools under the Parker/Woo banner and had no idea that Parker and Woo were about to part, until it happened.
Ed Tibayan (mispelled Tibian) had been promoted as Ed Parker's fourth Shodan the year before (January 1960), and at the time of the split, Al and Jim Tracy were to be promoted to black belt at the next meeting of the KKAA, but only Ed, Al and Jim showed up. Ed was dumbfounded, and as soon as he realized that Woo had taken all his top students, he accused my brothers of siding with Woo by not telling him what was going on. The fact was, my brothers didn't know anything about it. Ed didn't believe it, and the next day Ed told some of his students, that not only were my brothers not going to be promoted to Shodan, but he was stripping them of their brown belts. That evening, Al and Jim came in and threw their brown belts on Ed desk, telling him he could have them. Then they left. Ed realized he had made a big mistake, and the next day, asked them to come back.
From what I pieced together, it appears that Ed's top students only found out that Parker/Woo split when other students called to tell them what happened; and given the circumstances they chose to go with Woo.
Jim Tracy continued teaching for Ed, but Al Tracy refused to teach because he had taken a job on the other side of Los Angeles and he didn't want Ed Parker to think he was pirating students for Woo. Jim was facing the draft so Jerry Myers got him into the National Guard and Jim left for six months training in June 1961. That left Ed without an ranking students.
When my brother Al and I met with James Wing Woo in 1997, I told James Wing Woo what Ed Parker had told me about how they parted. Woo said it didn't happen to him; he had heard about Ed doing that to another Woo but it was not him. Woo remembered things quite differently. But then what I had previously written was what Ed Parker had told me, and it placed Woo in a subservient, servile, position to Ed Parker. And I see no reason to repeat the details here.
According to Woo the reason he and Parker parted company is because Parker did not have a publisher for his book. The fact is, Ed had a publisher before he began writing the book. A Vice President at Prentice Hall was a Mormon and close friend of Ed Parker. The book deal was set from the beginning. Ed told me in April 1960 that he had a deal with Prentice Hall to write a book on Chinese Karate. That was two months before Ed Parker met Woo. Now, whether Ed Parker told Woo about the book deal is another matter.
James Wing Woo, also says he opened his school in 1962, but my brothers, Al and Jim Tracy went to see him at his school on Hollywood Blvd. shortly after the split with Parker in 1961, and Al and I went to see him at his school when I returned to California in late 1961.
Ed Parker told me he told Woo on a Wednesday that he was out. He said this was a surprise to Woo. Woo called one of Ed's black belts who came and got him. All of the black belts met that night along with most of the brown belts and high ranking white belts. None of Ed's Mormon students were knew anything about it. Ed's students decided in that meeting they would find a place for Woo to teach, and they would support him. The next day, Thursday, was a meeting of the promotion committee, on which Al and Jim (Ikkyus) were members. They were the only ones who showed up for the meeting, and Ed told them they would be promoted to Shodan in the next senior advanced class (which would be the following Tuesday). Neither they nor Ed had any idea as to why the other black belts did not come. It was not until the following week that Ed discovered that all his high ranking belts (except Al and Jim) had left him.
Everything appears to have happened in just one or two days. Woo was probably planning on staying with Ed for another year or at least a few months and then taking the students with him, along with the new schools Parker and Woo had planned on opening. There were no whispers, no secret looks - nothing. James Ibrao, who had gone on tour with the Harlem Globetrotters just the week before, didn't even know about the split until he returned from tour several weeks later. As far as I know, no one ever discussed the split before it happened.
After Jim Tracy went on active duty with the National Guard, Ed promoted white belts who didn't know the techniques or any of the forms to brown belt. But there was more. Losing his students hurt Ed and he wanted to change Kenpo completely and eliminate the Japanese aspects. This was similar to what Professor Chow had done with Kenpo Karate when his top students left him. The difference is, Chow continued teaching Kenpo Karate.
Ed had changed his system to what he called "Chinese Kenpo" which had emphasized forms over techniques. My first disagreement with Ed came when I taught the advanced class and found only five of the students were qualified to be there. His new Sankyu's (3rd brown belt) were not even to the standard of a two tip white belt - and there were 4 tips at that time. Al came to the studio with me a few times after I returned in late 1961, but there was nothing new for him to learn, and the long trip from the other side of Los Angeles only allowed him to be there once ever week or two.
1962 marked the end of Kenpo Karate at Ed Parker's studios. The new Chinese Kenpo bore the trappings of the Chow/Parker style, but out of the original 700+ techniques and their variations, only about 400 remained, and fewer than 250 were being taught. Techniques that had 5-7 moves were broken into two techniques, where the second half was only taught for brown or black belts ranks; and, some variations were turned into techniques.
Al and Jim Tracy received their "Kenpo Karate Association of America" (KKAA) Shodan from Ed Parker on January 7, 1962, making them Ed Parker's fifth and sixth Shodans. Ed and I were the only officers of the KKAA until Al and Jim were promoted, and this gave Ed a strong governing body again. The problem was, Ed was using a lower belt standard than the KKAA had established. Additionally, Ed was not willing to promote his four senior black belts who had left him to higher ranks when the black belt ranks went from 3 to 5 Dans in November 1961.
Do Not Think Dishonestly
Ed Parker gave an interview with Karate International magazine that was not published until after his death in December 1990, in which he stated that the Tracy brothers were "brown belts" when they left. As I stated (supra) that is patently false.
Here are the facts and documents:
When I returned to Pasadena in mid Octover 1961, Al and I told Ed that when Jim got out of the National Guard, we would were going to college in San Francisco. We had told Ed back in 1959 about our college plans, and Ed had always planned on us opening a school there.
When Jim was released from the National Guard he first went to San Francisco to spend the holiday with our family and looked for a building for the Karate studio. He returned to Pasadena just after New Year and Al, who worked for the California Workers Compensation Board, was promoted to supervisor and transferred a hundred miles away to Orange County.
January 7th was a Sunday and while Ed usually did not do business on Sunday, we met at his house after church as this was the only day my two brothers and I could be together Ed Parker's. The Kenpo Karate Association of America promotion committee (Ed and I) agreed to the long overdue promotion of Al and Jim to Shodan. However because it was a Sunday, Ed did not make out the certificates at the time, but gave them to me about month weeks later to give to my brothers.
Jim opened the San Francisco studio the first of February, and Al transferred to San Francisco in April. I had only committed to stay with Ed until March, but Ed kept asking me to stay for another week or two, which kept being another week or two, until I finally left in May 1962. Ed asked me to have the Certificates framed and Ed came to San Francisco about two weeks later and made a ceremony of personally hanging the framed Shodan Certificates on the wall. Al and Jim opened the San Francisco school as brown belts, even though they had been promoted to Shodan, and refused to wear black belts until the had their Shodan certificates.
My brothers planned their first belt promotion for Ed's arrival, and introduced the colored belts at that time, with Orange belts and two Purple belts being awarded.
Ed Parker did not like the color belt system and stayed with the four brown tip system until 1965.
None of us left Ed Parker. The San Francisco school was part of Ed Parker's Kenpo Karate. In January, 1963 my brother Jim opened a second school in Sacramento and Ed Parker printed a Kenpo Karate pamphlet for his studios in the San Francisco Area, which were part of Ed's "Kenpo Karate Studios in America".
We lived above the studio and Ed stayed with us there for three days. The following February we moved the studio across the street to a larger building at 1422 Ocean Avenue.
The floor of the studio was covered with sawdust with a canvas cover. Ed Parker showed us how to make this type mat, and he only did that for his inner circle. I have never found any of Ed's later students who were given this knowledge.
Our martial arts supplier had a new mat material called Judotek, when we opened the 1422 Ocean Avenue school, and we were the first to use it in the United States.
Ed never had a belt certificate hung on his studio walls until the IKKA was formed.
Now let us return to Ed Parker's interview in Karate Illustrated, where he said the Tracy brothers were brown belts when they left him.
The fact is, the Tracy brothers never left Ed Parker. They remained faithful to Kenpo Karate. It was Ed Parker who left Kenpo, and the Tracy brothers, myself included, refused to go with him in his new styles.
- Al and Jim Tracy were promoted to Shodan on January 7, 1962 (SEE Al Tracy's Shodan Certificate)
- Ed Parker printed a pamphlet in 1963 with his studios in the San Francisco Area. Those were Tracy schools. This was a year after my brothers opened their first school.
- In 1982, Ed Parker's Infinite Insights into Kenpo : Mental Stimulation cane out with a large foldout entitled "ED PARKER'S KENPO FAMILY TREE OF BLACK BELTS" in which Al and Jim Tracy and their students are listed.
NOTE: The four senior Ed Parker black belts were, James Ibrao (1957), Rich Montgomery (1959), Rick Flores (1960) and Ed Tibayan (mispelled Tibian) (1961); but none were active in Kenpo after mid 1961 as all four were training with Jimmy Wing Woo. It should be noted that when Al and I met with (now) James Wing Woo in 1997, all four of these Kenpo Shodans were still training with Woo.
When my brothers opened their first school in San Francisco in the spring of 1962, as part of Ed Parker's "Kenpo Karate Studios of America", the 1422 Ocean Avenue studio was an immediate success, and Ed came to San Francisco (a second time) in August of that year with a list of students for promotion in the KKAA. My brothers were requiring 40 techniques and their variations for each belt at that time, and we assumed that Ed was requiring the same, as he said he would when I had left in May. I knew Ed's standards were lower, but he had not promoted any of the students I taught while I was with him in Pasadena, so I didn't know his requirements were as low as what he presented at the KKAA meeting. The only Shodan approved during that meeting was John McSweeney, who would open a school in Ireland. But the most important thing to come out of the San Francisco KKAA Board meeting was the change in white Kyu (white belt) grades for schools to have the option of using the color belt system Al Tracy had established in June.
Shodan was the only Kenpo Dan (black belt) rank in 1961. That was changed by the Kenpo Yudansha (Yuudansha) in Hawaii to 5 Dan ranks beginning in November 1961. This followed what the Japanese systems had done recently in making 10 Degree the highest rank with 5th (Godan) the highest awarded rank, and the rest honorary ranks. Prior to that, the most any Japanese system had was 8 Dan ranks, with all ranks above 5th Dan being honorary red belts. However, like Kenpo, most Japanese styles only had 5 Dan earned ranks prior to the 1950's. Kenpo later made seven degrees its highest earned rank, then later Hachidan (8th degree) and in 1967 Judan (10th degree) was made the highest rank. There were, however, seven Kyu grades in the Japanese styles, the top three being brown belt; but no one in Kenpo at the time cared much about the lower white belt grades.
Al Tracy, more than anyone at the time, understood the importance of awarding students for their accomplishments, and when he opened the San Francisco school, he knew students were not impressed with brown tips, so he decided to award colored belts in place of tips. Prior to this time the Judogi had been worn by all of Ed's students. This was an absolute necessity for grappling where you grabbed the gi, but with most of Jiujitsu removed from Traditional Kenpo the heavy Judogi top was no longer necessary. Al Tracy saw a market in supplying the new lighter weight karategi and started an import business that he ran out of the San Francisco studio. His largest market was not to the Kenpo students, but to the other karate schools and clubs in the Bay Area. Al Tracy began stocking the colored belts used by other systems, and he knew colored belts would be much better than the Kenpo brown tips. The problem was, there were only three colored belts (not including black and red) being manufactured at the time. They were blue, green and purple. No martial arts system used more than two of these belts, and most only used one. In May 1962, Al Tracy got a call from a supplier who had ordered 10,000 red belts which was the Korean equivalent of brown belt. The die was wrong and the belts came out orange. There was no market for the belts and the supplier offered the whole lot for 10 cents each, FOB Hong Kong. This was exactly what Al Tracy needed and he set the belt grading system at Orange, Purple, Blue and Green. Two weeks later the belts were in stock and Orange Belts were awarded to half a dozen Tracy students, along with two Purple Belts.
Ed didn't care for the new colored belts, but he was out numbered by the three Tracy brothers, and agreed that the KKAA would award either colored belts or brown tips.