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CONTACT: Kenpo

Ed Parker's First Shodan

by
Will Tracy
3/8/97
3/1/1997
revised 8/27/1999 - 9/1/1999


The controversy over who was Ed Parker's first black belt did not surfice until after Ed Parker's death. Some say it was Charles Beeder who trained with Ed Parker at Brigham Young University in 1956. To my knowledge, Charles Beeder never claimed to have been promoted by Ed Parker when Ed was at BYU. Ed Parker often mentioned Charles Beeder as being his assistant instructor in a college course Ed Parker taught at BYU for law enforcement officers, and Ed mentioned Beeder as being his Utah brown belt. However, the Kenpo Karate Association of America records I have shows James Ibrao as Ed Parker's first Shodan, and I was at the Pasadena Studio when Jimmy Ibrao came in wearing a black belt, and Ed told the class that Ibrao was his first black belt.

There will always be those who claim Ed Parker taught them in secret, but that just didn't happen. Ed Parker taught private lessons, but he never had a secret student that no one else knew about at the time. These people have only come forward after Ed Parker's death to claim training and rank Ed Parker never gave them.

That aside, Ed Parker never promoted anyone to black belt while he was at BYU. Ed Parker had students there, and it may well be that Charles Beeder might have been Ed Parker's first student, but Beeder was not promoted to black belt or Shodan at any time prior to the founding of the International Kenpo Karate Association. Here is why:

Ed Parker attended Brigham Young University between Fall 1949 and August 1951, when he joined the Coast Guard. He returned to BYU three years later in the Fall of 1954. Ed and four other Hawaiians began practicing together in the BYU Polyneasian cultural hall from about mid November 1954 until mid May 1955 when Ed Parker formed the "BYU Kenpo Club." There were seven original members, Ed Parker, Tom Loura, Kip Kiphunna, Frank Mohoui, Ralph Mohoui, Mark Kalima and John Kalima, and Ed Parker got permission to use the wrestling room in the BYU Smith Fieldhouse for practice at the beginning of the 1955 Spring Quarter.

This was not an official BYU club because it was closed to all but Hawaiians with previous martial arts training. Tom Loura was a Thomas Young brown belt, Kip Kiphunna had trained with Sonny Emperado, Frank Mohoui and his brother Ralph, were Mitose brown belts, Mark and John Kalima were Judo Black Belts. The Kalima brothers were from Ed Parker's Church Ward in Hawaii, and had learned Judo at the same dojo where Ed Parker trained until 1949 when Ed went away to college. Ed Parker was their senior wanted to learn Kenpo from the others.

This was not an homogonous group, and they often disagreed with Ed Parker who lead the group. They challenged Ed Parker on every move and technique. This forced Ed to perfect what he knew and eventually develop a method of teaching that answered all the questions in a logical order. Members of the Club came and went as the school terms ended, and in the Fall 1955, Stan Watts, the legendary BYU Basketball Head Coach, asked Ed Parker if his group would put on a demonstration for the first game of the 1955-56 season.

The Club had put on half a dozen demonstrations for Church groups, but this was entirely different. Everyone in the Club knew all eyes would be on them, and the reputation of Hawaii was at stake. Not only that, but Coach Watts had told Ed Parker the entire BYU administration would be there, and Coach Watts had arranged for Ed to teach a college course for law enforcement. He wanted the demonstration to be spectacular. From that time on the Island Boys spent all their time in the wrestling room devoted completely to practice for the demonstration. Practice intensified, slacking off only for study for Mid terms and Finals which were near the time of the demonstration, and Ed Parker gained not only the respect, but the admiration of all the Club members as a truely gifted Kenpo instructor. Ed Parker worked tirelessly devoting every spare moment to practicing for the demonstration and that took place on December 2, 1955.

The demonstration was a complete success, not just in the response the Island Boys got but also for Ed Parker who began teaching the law enformement class right after that. It was the financial boost Ed needed.

One of Ed Parker's students in the BYU law enforcement class was Charles Beeder, who became Ed's assistant instructor and Ed Parker graduated from BYU six months later on June 2, 1956. Ed Parker never promoted any of the Hawaiian Club members while at BYU, and none of them went on to teach Kenpo or any martial arts. But six months is not enough time for Charles Beeder or anyone to have been promoted to black belt.

Ed Parker moved to Pasadena, California after graduation. In September 1956 Ed Parker founded the Kenpo Karate Association of America (KKAA) and began teaching Kenpo at Bert Goodrich's Pasadena gym, and in February 1957 he opened his first Kenpo Karate Studio on Walnut Street in Pasadena California. The KKAA records show that Ben Otake was Ed Parker's first brown belt, with James Ibrao being his second brown belt, and Ed Parker's first black belt.

There is no doubt that Ed Parker may have owed his very existence as a martial arts master in no small part to the support that Charles Beeder gave him. But Ed Parker never promoted Charles Beeder in the KKAA to black belt or Shodan.

Charles Beeder's son came forward to say that his father did not get his Shodan until 1963, so to the best of my knowledge Ed Parker officially promoted Charles Beeder and some of his other former BYU students to black belt after the IKKA was formed in late 1963 but they would have been given IKKA certificates. It can rightfully be said that Charles Beeder was the first one Ed trained for black belt, but the honor of Ed's first black belt goes to James Ibrao, and there were five other Shodans promoted in the KKAA before the first IKKA certificate was ever issued.

WAS JAMES IBRAO ED PARKER'S FIRST PASADENA BLACK BELT?

I've tried to avoid the dissension that has racked American Kenpo. I have tried to remain out of the controversy that has sprung up around my brother, Al Tracy.

The following pictures were taken in 1957 at Ed Parker's original studio, located at 1840 E. Walnut Street. This studio was a store front on Walnut Street with an entrance on the side. The studio was closed in 1958 when Ed Parker moved across the street and down a block to 1713 E. Walnut Street to a larger building. The second studio building was next to where Ed Parker would build his own Studio not long after that at 1703 E. Walnut Street. The new (1713) studio was entirely different. The original building had a makiwara in that building, and there was none in the second building. The walls of the original school had tatamis placed along the walls to prevent the walls from damage. There were only tatamis on the floor of the second building, and the lighting fixtures, walls, etc. were all different.

The photograph clearly shows James Ibrao with a dark belt, kicking Ed Parker. At this time there were only white, brown and black belts in Ed Parker's system. Color belts were not added until after 1964. It is not important whether Sifu Ibrao is wearing a black belt in the photograph. What is obvious is that he is not wearing a white belt in any of the photographs.
This photograph was taken in early 1957, when James Ibrao was a brown belt.

Now it should be obvious to any reasonable person that if the old studio was closed in 1958, any photographs taken there had to have been taken prior to its closing. (This may seem oversimplified, but it is beyond the comprehension of those who claim Sifu Ibrao was a white belt in 1960.) And it is also obvious that a photograph taken prior to 1958, is older than one taken in 1960; and it should also be obvious that if Sifu Ibrao was a brown belt in the old studio, then he was certainly not a white belt in 1960. I belabor this point because Chuck Sullivan, who might not have even been a student until 1960, and his followers are claiming that Ed Parker didn't have any black belts in 1960. And he claims that he was Ed Parker's fourth black belt. However Ed Parker's family tree lists four black belts who left Ed Parker in 1961 to go with Jimmy Wing Woo. The truth is, the first ten black belts were all Shodan, and Chuck Sullivan was promoted to "black belt" by Ed Parker, and not Shodan.

This group photograph, taken in 1958 shows James Ibrao (Ed Parker's right side) and Ben Otake (Ed Parker's left side) as brown belts. (Ben Otake left Ed Parker to train with Oshima before Ed opened his new school.) Rich Montgomery is kneeling on the left (Ed Parker's right) and is wearing a white belt, as are all those kneeling, including Gary Orchard. And for the record, Sifu Ibrao was promoted to black belt not long after this photo was taken.


(Added by Roarke Tracy)
There is this picture of some of Ed Parker's students that is being used on the web to "prove" there were no black belts in the country at that time. My Dad and Uncles tell me that Paul Pung was a Kenpo black belt and had Paul's Karate in San Francisco.

Correction: My father gave me a picture I though was the same as the one above so I didn't scan it. We asked for the picture back, but I couldn't find it and made a copy of the one above. He said it is not the same. The one he gave me has him standing next to Ed Parker. Dad said it was taken about the same time, and had most of the same people in it and all but one on the front row. I'll put it up for comparrison when I find it. His picture was taken on either April, 11-12, 1960 when my father, went to Pasadena on his way from Salt Lake City to Honolulu. The picture shown was taken, give or take a week from then. In both pictures my Uncle, Jim Tracy, is seated in the front row far right. The person next to him is different in the two pictures, but they looked the same to me.

Uncle Jim's belt shows 3 brown tips. Both he and my father say one brown tip is covered by Uncle Jim's leg. My uncles didn't have three brown tips because they were "two tippers" when Ed Parker added two brown tips. So my uncles went from two brown tips to four tips. My father tells me this was a group picture of the students who were there, and not the advanced class. He says he got in when the beginning class was closing, and Ed Parker had him put on a gi and Ed Parker had my dad kumite with the advanced students.

Dad said Chuck Sullivan was only a beginner at the time and he and the orther beginners left after the picture, because only intermediate and advanced students were allowed.

The picture was taken at the 1703 E. Walnut Street studio. Rich Montgomery is seated to the far left and James Ibrao is seated 3rd from left. They were both black belts at the time. The picture doesn't show any belts because they are covered by Gis. The woman (center row, behind Rich Montgomery, was a brown belt. She was not one of Ed Parker's students, and my Dad and Uncles say she was a friend of Ed Tobian and liked to fight, take Ed Parker's students down and choke them out.

My father and uncles tell me the picture of James Ibrao chopping Ben Otake was taken at Ed Parker's original studio before October 1958 because October is when the Ed Parker moved from 1840 E. Walnut to 1703 E. Walnut. There is a makiwara in the background, and my Dad and Uncles said the makiwara was outside in the back of the 1840 studio. You can also see the tatami mats protecting the walls, but there are none in the other picture.

I've read Ed Parker's book, Kenpo Karate, printed in 1960. Uncle Al and Jim tell me all the pictures for that book were taken in August and September 1959. Rich Montgomery has a brown belt in all the pictures, and it doesn't make sense that he would be a brown belt in 1959, and then be a white belt in the 1960 picture, because you can't see his belt. And it is even more strange that my Uncle Jim would have four brown tips and Rich Montgomery, who was his senior would only be a white belt.

The picture was taken in April and Master Woo came to the studio in June, and people are trying to say there were no black belts before Master Woo arrived. Like my father says, the picture doesn't show anything except that people who say there were no black belts in 1960 don't know what they are talking about.

My Dad and uncles tell me they never knew much about Chuck Sullivan before 1962. My Uncle Al can't remember ever seeing Chuck Sullivan in the advanced class, and he says he never was paired off against him in free style.

Dad told me that Chuck Sullivan must have been a beginning student in April 1960, because he was not allowed to stay for Kumite. My father and Uncle Al said, if Chuck Sullivan began training with Ed Parker in February 1959, then he was still a beginning student 14 months later in April 1960.


I hope if any of Ralph Castor's students read this they will convey my apology to him, and tell him I meant no disrespect.
©1996, 1999, 2006, 2015 by W. Tracy. All rights reserved. No portion may be reproduced without permission. The Law Offices of Michael Tracy.