In the early on of Kenpo history…
Link to the PDF file: http://ukkanm.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/early-on-kenpo-history.pdf
Karate Expansion (1915-1944)
After the occupation of the Okinawan and Ryukyu Islands by the Japanese, the secret study of the Okinawan Te was publicly allowed and a great popularization of Karate followed. Gichin Funakoshi and Knewa Mabuni (Okinawan Te Stylists) exported a form of sport karate to Japan in 1916. This was the Show Era in Japan. A great proliferation of martial arts and introduction of styles to the public occurred. By 1936 the term “Kara-Te” was utilized by the principal martial arts leaders of Okinawa.
Choki Motobu (1871-1944)
Motobu was an eccentric Okinawan Karate master. He is responsible for secretly translating the Ch’uan Fa elements of Okinawan Shorin-Ryu (“Shaolin Way”) into the current basic structure now known as Shorei-Ryu Karate. Choki Motobu is associated with the rise of Kempo in Hawaii because of a publicized visit in 1933 as well as a mysterious link with James Mitose and the development of modern Kosho-Ryu Kempo [Corcoran, 1984].
Dr. James Mitose (1915-1981)
Mitose is a great grand master of Hawaiian/U.S. Kempo, and we can trace part of our lineage to him. At the age of 5, Mitose was sent to Japan to study the Mitose family tradition of Ch’uan Fa (or “Kempo” in Japanese) at the Mt. Akenkai Kosho-Shorei temple. As stated previously, the Ch’uan Fa tradition had already been modified by successive Mitose masters until it became known as Kosho-Shorei Kempo (Old Pine Tree Style). After fifteen years of training in his family’s temple in Japan, Mitose returned to Hawaii. Following World War II, he opened the Official Self-Defense Club to begin teaching his family’s wartime art of Kosho-Ryu Kempo to the general public. During the next fifteen years of teaching, Grand Master Mitose awarded black belts to only six of his students: Giro Nakamura, Thomas Young, Paul Yamaguchi, Arthur Keawe, Edward Lowe and William K.S. Chow [Corcoran, 1984].
William Kwai Sun Chow (1914-1987)
Before studying under Grand Master Mitose, Master Chow had studied Boxing, Wrestling, Jujitsu and Karate. However, his main course of martial arts training was Chinese Shaolin Ch’uan Fa under the guidance of his father (Hoon Chow). Hoon Chow was a Buddhist Priest from Shanghai, China. Just prior to the Chinese Boxer Rebellion, Hoon Chow immigrated to Hawaii for a safer and more prosperous lifestyle. While living in Hawaii, Hoon Chow continued to practice the Shaolin Ch’uan Fa of Southeastern China (Kwangtung and Fukien). This is the style he taught his son, William K.S. Chow. Master William Chow incorporated many of the things his father had taught him into what he would be the first to call “Kenpo” (Fist Law) Karate. William K.S. Chow, a short man (approx. 5’1″), was raised in an Hawaiian culture where size, strength, and street fighting ability were highly regarded. In order to survive on an island of giants, Master Chow began to alter Shaolin Ch’uan Fa to make it faster, more powerful, and oriented around street fighting situations. Master Chow began the transformation by shortening the circular motions and flowing movements of Shaolin Ch’uan Fa. He continued by incorporating the linear movements, joint locks and takedowns learned in boxing, karate and jujitsu. Finally, he placed a major emphasis on the availability and targeting of vital parts of the human anatomy [Master Sam Kuoho, Interview]. William K.S. Chow’s Hawaiian Kenpo system (Kara-Ho Kenpo) was unusual for the time because it incorporated other martial arts techniques; Mitose had never associated his Kosho-Ryu Kempo with any other system. One of the most famous students under Chow’s tutelage was Ed Parker.
Edmund K. Parker (1931-1990):
Master Parker is a native of Hawaii and student of Master Chow, revised the traditional methods of coping with modern fighting situations and brought the art to mainland U.S.A. Master Parker developed the modern Kenpo style by analyzing combative predicaments from the viewpoints of the attacker, the defender, and the bystander or spectator. Through his observations, Master Parker disproved many theories and concepts that had previously been considered as combat effective. Ed Parker systematized and categorized all the basic Kenpo elements into a logical order of progress for step-by-step instruction. Master Parker placed the Kenpo basics into eight categories: stances, blocks, parries, punches, strikes, finger techniques, kicks, and foot maneuvers. Master Parker also divided the Kenpo system into three major divisions: basics (including forms), self-defense techniques, and sparring (tournament and street). This innovative restructuring made the martial arts much easier to learn, understand, and master [Corcoran, 1984]. A recognized first generation student of Master Parker was Tomas Connor. Ed Parker and Tomas Connor were the founders of the Chinese Martial Arts Association.
James Wing Woo (1922 – Present)
During the early 1960’s Ed Parker collaborated with several Chinese Kung Fu masters, one of which was James “Jimmy” Wing Woo. Woo was a young Chinese-American Kung Fu master who worked closely with Ed Parker. According to multiple sources, he helped Mr. Parker teach the advanced students for a time during their partnership. It is said, but cannot be confirmed, that Mr. Woo helped Ed Parker in the creating of Forms 1 through 4, short and long included. At the minimum, Mr. Woo is responsible for bringing Bookset (Panther Set), and Tiger and Crane into our system, which at one time were the only forms that were taught before the introduction of the numbered forms. Mr. Woo can also be considered one of the sources of many of the Chinese elements present within the Kenpo system.
Tomas Connor sr. (1929-1989):
Master Connor began martial arts training at the age of 7 years in the local Wing Chun and Hung Gar schools located in Newark, NJ and New York City. He studied continually until the age of 15 years at which time he enlisted in the U.S. Army by falsifying his age to fight in World War II. At the end of the war he returned to the United States to study linguistics. During this educational period, he honed his fighting skills and proceeded to win a series of Golden Gloves awards. Being a World War II veteran, a linguistics expert and having extensive knowledge of the fighting arts, Master Connor was the ideal candidate for intelligence work. From approximately 1950 to 1959, Master Connor worked for the U.S. Government as an operative in Central America and Mexico. As an agent for the U.S., Master Connor was able to broaden his martial arts training to include Jujitsu. In 1960, an exhausted Thomas Connor moved to Mexico with his young family to retire.
With time to meditate on life, Master Connor decided to return to the United States to begin teaching the martial arts. By 1965, Master Connor was running a very successful self-defense school and dance studio in San Jose, California. That same year, Master Connor formed a partnership (COPAR Kenpo) with Ed Parker and the two proceeded to open a series of Kenpo schools in San Jose, San Francisco, and Phoenix, Arizona. Within a short period of time, Master Connor’s extensive knowledge and skill earned him the title of master in Ed Parker’s original Kenpo system. It was during his time in California that Master Connor continued his involvement and training in Chinese Wushu or “Martial Arts”. Master Connor frequently visited Chinatown in San Francisco to meet and train with other Wushu practitioners. It was in Chinatown that master Connor learned how to use the two-headed chain and many other Chinese weapons. By the early 1970’s, the partnership between Master Connor and Master Parker had expanded to include the Tracy Brothers (TRACOPAR Kenpo).
Master Connor’s interests has also expanded to include bodybuilding (Master Connor won numerous bodybuilding including the Master’s Division Mr. America). However, by the late 1970’s the partnership has dissolved and Master Connor remained as owner of a great many Kenpo Schools (TRACO International) [Tom Connor II, Interview]. Tom Connor’s mastery of Chinese Martial Arts, boxing, Jujitsu, and professional bodybuilding were incorporated into what was to become a very strong, yet highly artful form of American Kenpo. This unique system would later be named “American Kenpo Karate Association” by Bill Packer, one of Master Connor’s original students.
Bill Packer, (1946-2005), President A.K.K.A. Karate USA, Ltd.
William (Bill) Packer was born on January 18, 1946 in Columbus, Ohio. Three months later his family moved to Tucson, Arizona, where, later in life and after many moves he would begin studying Kenpo Karate. His father was a career military man and was transferred to Fairchild AFB in Spokane, Washington in 1953. Later, after a short stop in Ohio, the military sent the family to Puerto Rico. It was here that Mr. Packer was first introduced to Boxing and Judo. Bill also majored in baseball, basketball, and swimming while on the island. Another military transfer moved the family to Springfield, Massachusetts where Mr. Packer resumed boxing around his first passion – baseball. The Vietnam War stalled extended efforts in baseball as Mr. Packer entered the military. Before and during the military, Mr. Packer had confined and limited experience in Okinawa-Te, Wing Chun, Tai Chi, and Tae Kwon Do. Boxing, however, was his most extensive prior training. After completing the military tour, Mr. Packer moved back to Tucson, Arizona and began training with Jay Huff, Sr., at TRACO International Schools for self-defense. Motivated and dedicated, Mr. Packer moved toward career training and became manager of the TRACO So. 6th Street school in Tucson. After a short stop at the Tucson Headquarters School, working directly under Mr. Huff, Mr. Packer was transferred to Globe, Arizona to open and manage that location and start direct training with Mr. Connor. Quick success moved Mr. Packer to greater opportunity in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Another success promoted him to Regional Director in the TRACO Organization. After opening another school in Flagstaff, Arizona, TRACO transferred Bill to Glendale, Arizona. The Glendale School became his home office as Regional Director for TRACO. As Southwest Regional Director, he interacted with a great number of schools, including managers, instructors and students. This gave him invaluable experience and insight as both a teacher of Karate and of the business at every level.
After establishing AKKA, Mr. Packer resolved to broaden the scope of his system. Early on, Mr. Packer was well aware of a variety of principles common to all Martial Arts (mind set, pressing, pushing, skill enhancement techniques, physical training, etc). Although the physical level seemed superior, he felt inadequate in that part beyond the physical. Mr. Packer started by researching the history, philosophy, and meaning of the animals, elements and colors associated with Kenpo. He incorporated the various beliefs, according to belt, into the system. To insure the incorporation of traditional Chinese and Japanese ideas, Mr. Packer had a notable professor of Chinese Philosophy teach Martial Arts Philosophy classes to his instructors and student body. Most of AKKA’s findings and developments can be found in the original AKKA manual.
Concurrently, with the advancement of the system was the outburst of AKKA Kickboxing. After viewing the first World Karate Association (WKA) Championships, Mr. Packer knew, at that time and with prior boxing experience, the missing link was conditioning. In 1974, with these thoughts in mind, he moved forward to build AKKA Bad Company Fighting Team. Together they accomplished the following:
- 136 World Rated Fighters
- 20 World Titles
- 9 North American Titles
- 10 U.S. Titles
- Premier Inductee of International Instructors Hall of Fame
- 1982 International Kickboxing Trainer of the Year
In 1978, Bill Packer and Master Tomas Connor agreed the system could be even more balanced by integrating more Wushu elements of circularity and continual motion, movement chains, theory, concept, principle, iron palm, and seizing and striking the vital areas of the body. This constituted the following new and advanced forms annexed into the system: Tiger Hunt, Monkey, Leopard, Advanced Staff, Whispering Winds, and Enter the Temple. Forms not listed are appended in the same frame.
Master Packer passed away on August 19th, 2005 after a long fight with cancer. U.K.K.A (United Kenpo Karate Academy) was originally known as AKKA Karate USA “Wild Wild West” that he set up in September 2004. He is truly missed by all who knew him.
Grand Master Lee A.W. Sprague (1960-2014), Founder of Practical Concepts, Inc.
Lee A. W. Sprague with a nick name of “Lethal” or LAWS, he was a consummate warrior; his technical abilities, tactics and combat mindset were unmatched in his field. What stands far above and beyond however, was his uniqueness ability to draw the very best out of his students. He had a way of leaving out his presence with you long after the lesson was over.
Master Sprague’s teachings have made all the difference and saved the lives of his student in countless moments of crisis. He was not only our karate instructor for many years but also a loving and caring “second father” to my son, John Phan that side by side with me, he had helped to raise John to become a very good and competitive martial artist and a very successful individual as well.
It’s a tremendous honor and privilege that myself and my family in particular, and United Kenpo Karate Academy in general, were in debt for his overall non-compensation service as the school’s instructor, a program master councilor and a true friend.
He is surely missed!
Canzonieri, Salvatore. “The Story of Traditional Martial Arts,” Han Wei’s Wushu Issue No. 21, February, 1996.
Canzonieri, Salvatore. “The Story of Traditional Martial Arts,” Han Wei’s Wushu Issue No. 22, March, 1996.
Corcoran, John, et al. The Original Martial Arts Encyclopedia: Tradition, History, Pioneers. Los Angeles: Pro-Action Publishing, 1984.
Golub, Arnold M. “The History of Kenpo,” 10th Anniversary Edition-Black Belt Magazine. Kuoho, Sam. Current President of and 10th Degree Black Belt in Kara-Ho Kenpo, Interview, May, 1996.
Man, Yip. “Wing Chun History-The Origin of Wing Chun,” http://www.wingchun.org/~danlucas/history.html, June, 1996.
Mitose, J.M. What Is Self-Defense? California State University, 1980. Parker, Edmund. Secrets of Chinese Karate. 1963.
Tindall, Dr. James A. “History of American Kenpo,” May, 1996.
Thank you for all the hard work and research by many members of AKKA Karate USA that compiled this history.