Martial Arts

What Is Kenpo Karate

Kenpo karate is a martial art that was derived from traditional Kenpo by Ed Parker. Distinguishable due to it’s rapid powerful hand strikes and fast adaptation to different stances while also employing kicks, blocks and barehanded unarming armed attackers. Kenpo karate is also sometimes referred to as American Kenpo, this is the same martial art developed by Ed Parker and there is no difference between both martial arts.

What Is Kenpo Karate

Kenpo karate is divided into 3 major divisions which are Basics, Self-Defence and Free-Style, each major division is then further divided into subdivisions.

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Kenpo karate basics are the foundation of this martial art, these techniques can be used for both offence and defence and give you a great grasp of what to expect from this martial art. These techniques alone are significantly efficient for street fighting but will not be sufficient for high end competition, not to mention that certain of these techniques are illegal in martial art sports.

The Basics will aid in the development of a student’s mind and physical body for the preparation to become a fighter. As karate kenpo founder Ed Parker said think of the basics as your first words you can communicate with them such as toddlers do but further practise of using these single words will lead you to full sentences, and that’s the purpose of the basics they will start as single block’s or attacks but further practise develops us to combine these single moves into a fast and deadly sequence, the basics will be an intro to :

Kenpo Karate Temple
“One becomes great when he comes to the realization that what he knows is very little.”-Ed Parker
  • Engaging
  • Clinching
  • Distancing
  • Fainting
  • Dislocating
  • Fracturing
  • Maneuvering
  • Locks
  • Throws


Even though Karate Kenpo can be used both for attack and defense, Karate Kenpo is mainly a self-defence martial arts.  Ed Parker significantly altered the concepts of the original Kenpo when it came to self-defence prioritising it as the most important principal in karate kenpo changing it to focusing on multiple scenarios. Such as when facing multiple opponents, opponents from different martial arts and armed opponents.

Ed Parker created what’s called Forms these are basically the basic techniques but in a fluent motion the purpose of these sequences is so that you learn to properly combine these techniques these forms are widely criticized by other martial artists as they ‘Do not work in real fights’. Which to them I would say that they are right if they were designed for that purpose but forms as we discussed earlier in the basics are the sentences of words and only by learning sentences can we truly create paragraphs. By practising these sequences it creates a sort of an instinct within your mind where you don’t go okay I blocked know what that millisecond of thought would be your opportunity to knock out, escape or block your opponent/ opponents.

Unlike some other martial arts that mock these techniques looking at you MMA fighters Karate Kenpo wasn’t meant to be used in a ring with floors made out of shock absorbing paddings multiple illegal rules and just in case something might go a bit far there’s a professional fighter as a referee to stop the fight if it gets too aggressive so let that sink in. No hate on you guys mma is an amazing fighting style just a small part of the community that’s ignorant.

Ed Parker created 11 forms for Kenpo karate but he also encouraged his students to imagine different scenarios for each form what if your opponent did this instead, how would you react the forms are simply the skeleton of the sequence which the students further build on. These were the forms Ed Parker left for Kenpo karate.

  • Short Form 1

    Ed Parker Founder Of Kenpo Karate
    “The man who knows how will always be the student, but the man who knows why will continue to be the instructor.”-Ed Parker
  • Long Form 1
  • Short Form 2
  • Long Form 2
  • Short Form 3
  • Long Form 3
  • Long Form 4
  • Long Form 5 (Surprise Attacks)
  • Long Form 6 (Bare Hands vs. Weapons)
  • Long Form 7 (Twin Clubs)
  • Long Form 8 (Twin Knives)


Kenpo karate free-style is what’s commonly known by other martial arts as sparring, both the basics and self-defence divisions ultimately transcend into the free-style division of karate kenpo. The difference in sparring between kenpo karate and other martial arts is that kenpo karate trains you not in just 1 on 1 bare handed combat but also in:

  • 1 vs Multiple opponents / vice versa
  • Barehanded vs Armed / vice versa
  • Multiple partners vs Multiple opponents
  • Armed Vs Armed / Same weapons / Different weapons
  • Using the environment for your advantage

1 VS 1 Kenpo Karate FreeStyle Sparring

Kenpo karate 1 on 1 fighting style aims to defeat the opponent as quickly as possible prioritising the use of punches more than kicks aiming in the lower section of the opponent. The reasoning behind this is so that you can get close to your target fast with the least amount of mistakes as using attacks such as high kicks take more time to execute than a low kick and disrupt your balance far greater if your opponent is skillful by blocking, dodging or even grabbing hold of your leg. Though high kicks are not excluded from the kenpo karate technique list but rather taught to advanced practitioners.

In fact it’s quite hard to know what techniques practitioners of this art got in their sleeve, Kenpo karate has more kicks than Tae Kwon Do, more punches than Western Boxing, more throws than Judo and more elbow/knee strikes than Muay Thai. There are many techniques because Ed Parker believes than each student should see what works for him and tailor those techniques to his/her build and style this makes a 1 vs 1 with kenpo karate fighters quite unpredictable.

1 vs Multiple Opponents Kenpo Karate FreeStyle Sparring

Kenpo karate 1 vs multiple opponents fighting style aims to teach you a more realistic fight scenario in an everyday life situation. Lets be realistic here ever seen a bully come pick a fight alone I think not, if you are ever forced in the unfortunate situation of having to fight the odds of the fight being 1 on 1 are slim.

This is where the form’s come really handy as you are going to have attackers from all directions coming at you, being able to block and dodge multiple opponents will give you the time to realise how many people are going to be attacking you, evaluating their skill and making an informed decision whether you can take them on, negotiate something or run away. This style of sparring also has a what if scenario for advanced students such as having a toddler/elderly/’untrained person’ with you which forces you to protect something making it harder to escape and having to think outside the box to win. This makes kenpo karate one of best functional martial art.

Being on the multiple side vs 1 target although does not require as much skill can still teach you about cooperating with your fellow colleagues, when fighting against one if you do not cooperate your efficiency will significantly drop.

Barehanded vs Armed Kenpo Karate FreeStyle Sparring

Kenpo karate barehanded vs armed fighting style aims to teaching the student how to safely disarm an opponent with various blocks that distance you from the attacker and when the attacker slips up and does specific attacks the practitioner can grab hold of the attacker and disarm the attacker.

When the roles are changed and you have the weapon you learn what moves are bad to use how to hold the weapon for best use and techniques specifically used by that weapon, this helps when you are fighting outside the dojo and happen to find any object that can be used to aid you in a fight this doesn’t have to be a typical knife things simple such as a bottle, rock, piece of metal, etc. Fighting barehanded against a trained person with a weapon is extremely hard but that makes it better when fighting an untrained person which is usually the typical scenario you will face in a real life treating situation.

Multiple partners vs Multiple opponents Kenpo Karate FreeStyle Sparring

Kenpo karate multiple partners vs multiple opponents fighting style aims to teach teamwork, coordination and mental preparation. This style of fighting requires you and your team to create a strategy when facing lesser amounts, greater amounts or equal amounts of opponents. This has somewhat the same principal as 1 vs multiple opponents, but requires better coordination between your colleges. This training has its ups and downs as it is unlikely that you will be encountering a real life fight while you are with your kenpo karate friends, but if it was the case 2 guys that have good team work together can easily take down 3 good martial artists that have no experience in teamwork fighting.

Armed Vs Armed Kenpo Karate FreeStyle Sparring

Kenpo karate armed vs armed fighting style aims to teach you how to use various weapons against other weapons (your weapon and your opponent’s weapon don’t have to be the same). This gets you coordinated with various advantages and disadvantages each type of weapon has to offer, and could potentially help you in a fight maybe hes got a knife having a pocket knife (or whatever’s legal in your country) and being well experienced with it can turn the tide on a fight.

Using The Environment For Your Advantage

This is more scenario theory mental preparation exercise where you are forced to solve problems related to certain places where the purpose is to remove the person from potentially dangerous situation by utilizing the environment to your favour. To give you some examples if your on a sandy beach you can use the sand to blind your opponent, If your opponent is fat running will most probably outrun him, Knowing close places where police are stationed can stop the attacker unless he can significantly outrun you.

 Kenpo Family Tree

Kenpo Karate
Infographic Information was taken from I just made it look pretty 😀

Kenpo Karate History

The great story of kenpo karate goes back to 700 years ago, when the original kenpo (First Law) was first brought to Japan from China by the Yoshida Clan, the Komatsu Clan where amazed with the style and adopted it for their own use. It was quite advanced for it’s time and well suited to defend against the Japanese martial arts of that era. In fact in the 700 years that went by the Japanese barley changed anything from the style and it was still relevant with the other new japanese martial arts that were forming. Though in china Kenpo was extremely altered into many other fighting styles.

Fast forward to 1940 when James Mitose and William Chow started a club together where William Chow taught and did live presentations and James Mitose advertised there club. Somewhere along the line I believe though not certain (would love if someone from the comments section verified) William Chow and James Mitose had a disagreement and went their separate ways.

William Chow was a well known martial artist in hawaii he had studied various martial arts and than decided to start his own martial art named Kenpo Karate, which was designed to counter the various Hawaiian martial arts. This was the birth of kenpo karate but was merely a shadow of the kenpo karate that Ed Parker would eventually restructure.

Ed Parker was born in hawaii and started training at a very young age judo and boxing, and forming his own style from those 2 martial arts, eventually he met William Chow and started learning Kenpo Karate from him. This further increased his martial art knowledge which was shaping his own martial art style.

In December 1961 Ed Parker was promoted to 3rd dan in Karate Kenpo by William Chow while teaching in the United States. Somewhere along that time {Edit found the time it was in August 1964) Ed Parker organised the biggest martial arts tournament called  The Long Beach Internationals which is still held to this day. This tournament has had an effect on the martial arts community it has granted great fighters there belt promotion these include people like  Chuck Norris, Mike Stone, Joe Lewis, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, Billy Blanks, and “Superfoot” Bill Wallace. This is also the place where Bruce Lee was introduced to the martial arts community in August 1964. The reason for Ed Parker to start this tournament was so that he could study the attending martial artists and further add to his skill set, that alone shows how determined Ed Parker was in becoming a great martial artist starting a national tournament so you could study other styles simply amazing and genius. It was at this time that Ed Parker decided to establish his own Kenpo association called International Kenpo Karate Association (IKKA).

Due to his increased knowledged in the Chinese martial arts and implementing it into his own style he decided to changed the name of his style to Chinese Kenpo, though this did not last much. He eventually got interested into more modern techniques and started dropping a lot of outdated techniques, also dropped most of the asian traditions and altering them to appeal more to the American’s which he than named American Kenpo.

But that wasn’t the evolutionary halt for American Kenpo, In fact he was always modifying his style which lead to multiple versions due to students becoming master’s and going their separate ways leaving those masters with the previous versions of american kenpo. What made Ed Parker more fascinating was that he encouraged this behaviour as he believed that as long as that art is working for you than its good, he never wanted for his students to become replicas of him instead he wanted them to form their own style of american kenpo that best suites their build and purpose.

Kenpo Karate Belt Rankings

Kenpo Karate has a graded colored belt system consisting of white, yellow, orange, purple, blue, green, 3rd degree brown, 2nd degree brown, 1st degree brown and 1st till 10th rank black. The black belt ranks are shown by adding half-inch red patches for each rank until the 4th rank, Once the 5th rank is achieved the patches are removed and replaced by a 5 inch red patch. Black belt ranks from 6th to 9th rank add half-inch red patches again to indicate there rank, once the 10th rank is achieved those half inch red patches get removed again and replaced with another 5 inch red strip. The two 5 inch patches should have half an inch of space between them. Note not all kenpo karate schools follow this exact belt ranking system but generally each promotion requires the same techniques in each kenpo karate even if the belt color is different.

Kenpo Karate Etiquette

Being a member of a kenpo karate community requires you to learn certain rules called ‘Kenpo Karate Etiquette’, learning these rules improves your discipline, make you look more professional and shows respect to your teacher and fellow colleagues. Etiquettes are more important than the techniques in order to surpass your first promotion to the yellow belt, which makes sense you can’t have high ranking students not respecting certain rules as it lowers the quality of that dojo. These are the standard etiquettes most clubs have, although they might have more or less.

  • Bow when entering the dojo or leaving the dojo
  • No smoking in the dojo
  • Be properly  groomed and clean (hair tied, fingernails cut, clean clothes)
  • Arrive 10-15 minutes early
  • Turn off cell phones when inside the dojo, with the exception if you are waiting for an emergency call inform your teacher if this is the case
  • Strictly no jewelry
  • Bring all the equipment requested by your teacher the previous lesson
  • Treat your colleagues and teacher with respect
  • Help out with taking out the mats sweeping and other things to set up the dojo
  • If you arrive late wait at the entrance in the front position till the teacher instructs you to enter
  • No food in the dojo but bring something to drink
  • Take off shoes in the entrance
  • If ill or can’t make it the lesson for any reason make sure to inform your teacher as fast as possible
  • If you think you injured yourself while training alert your teacher
  • Always maintain a good posture, no leaning against the wall
  • If you have to go earlier than the lesson lasts, inform your teacher
Got the Information/picture about the IKKA crest from

Kenpo Karate Crest

The International Kenpo Karate Association (IKKA) crest was designed to represent a more modern style of art, but as you can notice it has an asian element to it. This was done to honor the previous generations that formed the kenpo martial arts in the japanese and chinese cultures, this represents the chain of progress where the elder teaches the new generation. The new generation alters the martial art to suite the times better eventually becoming the elder and passing on that information to the new generation quite a beautiful concept when you think about it, the reason we are on top of the food chain is cause we have the ability to pass on new information to the newer generation. The International Kenpo Karate Association (IKKA) crest was finished in 1958 when the art was going viral around the world.

Kenpo Karate Syllabus

Most Kenpo Karate schools follow the 24 techniques per belt system including Ed Parker’s IKKA schools but there are other schools that use a 16 techniques or 20 techniques per belt system. I am not certain of this (would love if someone from the comments section verified) a friend of mine who practices Kenpo Karate told me that Ed Parker told his closest companions that he wished to change the system to 16 techniques per belt. The reasoning was that its better to master 16 techniques than having 24 techniques that are sloppy. Which I agree fully with this ideology as bruce lee once said ”I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”


I hope all your questions about Kenpo Karate have been answered, Don’t be shy though if you have more questions drop a comment down bellow. If you think I forgot something or there’s inaccurate information criticize to your heart’s content I won’t get offended. If you liked the article I’d be tickled pink if you shared it.

Sources :
Images have been taken from pixabay, myself, wikipedia and black belt forums.

What Is Kenpo Karate
Article Name
What Is Kenpo Karate
All you need to know [In-Depth] about Kenpo Karate/American Kenpo [Covering] History, Fighting Style, Belt Colors, Etiquette & Crest's Design
Publisher Name
Martial Arts Nerd
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2 thoughts on “What Is Kenpo Karate

  1. Hi,
    This was so informative, thank you! I wanted to know if there was any spiritual or meditative aspect to Kenpo.
    Thank you!

  2. Hey, this is a really good article. However, for someone doing research, this is poorly written. Punctuation can make or break an article, and if I didn’t have experience piecing together writings like this then I would have no idea what you are saying about a third of the time. I would strongly recommend having someone read over this and edit it so it is easier for others to understand. Also, if someone is choosing to do research on this martial arts style, they would be unable to use this article because of how much clear bias is in there. I love that you express your opinion, but that’s not good for people trying to find good sources for their material. If this was a blog (which I’m honestly not sure if it is. If it is, then ignore the bias comment), then such bias would be understandable and even expected. Also, could you site your sources? How you came across this information? That would add to the credibility of everything you’re saying.
    Thank you for the article, it was very informative, I just have to see if I can verify any of the information or I can’t use it. But it’s a good jumping point anyway. Thank you again!

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