Excerpts From the Diary of a “Mad” Kenpo Scientist
“Stripping the System?”
Stripping away at the system by implication, suggests that there exists a standard system from which you can perform this task. Unfortunately the “system” by which most understand it, is non-existent. One person may strip away something, only to discover it was never included in another’s understanding. One stripped, and the other didn’t, and they both theoretically arrive at the same place.
The system, as most want it to be, does not exist. It is NOT a set of codified movements of forms, sets, and techniques. Nor is it a systemized methodology to convey the aforementioned because a teacher must perform that task, influenced by his own ideas and experiences, gleaned from various points in time from the ever changing ideas of the system itself, and who taught them with the same limitations.
Because in reality it is only a series of ideas, many of which are open to extreme subjective interpretation, the “system” in Parker Lineage Kenpo-Karate, is different from teacher-to-teacher, and even student-to-student in the same school or organization. The teacher, specifically YOUR teacher IS the system, and that will change over time as the teacher matures, and gains experience and knowledge. Ed Parker’s ideas for Kenpo-Karate are a suggested open-ended training methodology, in many ways like JKD.
For those who seek definitive answers to definitive questions, that may be bad news but the reality is, the system was designed to do just as it does. It allows and encourages teachers and students alike to experiment and explore to the best of their abilities, whatever that might be. It is an open ended idea system that is devoid of hard codification. It is designed for the individual to get as much, or little out of it as they desire without the fear of structural invalidation in the process. (Street application is another review process)
It allows the casual housewife, child practitioner to exist side-by-side with the hard-core geeks, and lifers. Under any other circumstances this would be considered genius, and in fact, is. But, commerciality raises the specter of incentivizing the process for the purpose of student retention.
You have a distinct dichotomy of concepts. One method suggests that you “do you own thing” for your own personal reward and purposes, while the other seeks a standard measurement relative to others participating as well, when the only true standard is what your teacher accepts, along with your own acceptance of his standard FOR YOU.
There isn’t even an agreement on what it is. While some see it as strictly self defense, others view is as exercise with a martial component, while still others want to import the “artistic” aspect from other styles with weapons that they can’t even carry legally, or morally use, while still yet there is a group that only see it as a tournament competition venue to win trophies, and everybody wants a black belt so they can at least, feel they have accomplished something.
Examined under the light of the Dance School Business Model it was derived from, it makes perfect sense. Dance is one of the ultimate forms of personal physical expression, and any measure is subjective to the dancer, not those around him. If he is satisfied with his dancing ability, than it doesn’t matter. We’ve all seem them on the floor, and were tempted to call paramedics for what we were sure was some type of seizure. But the big difference is, no one who ever walked into a strip mall dance studio/school full of kids kicking and screaming and old ladies ever felt they were going to become “masters” of anything. They’d settle for adequate, or “non-embarrassing.” For some reasons Kenpo-Karate people think all the secrets of Ancient China Martial Disciplines can be had from a thirties-something guy with limited life skills and education, who has never left the state, teaching Kenpo as his occupation.
In the beginning of Mr. Parker’s modern commercial business model, he not only sought, but advertised for, and drew black belt instructors from other styles and disciplines, and allowed that they would take the body of work of which they were already familiar, utilize their experience in conjunction with Mr. Parker’s ideas to instruct, but that ultimately the student would make the final decision for him/herself as to what they would or would not actually use. This was necessary for several reasons; There was no hard curriculum, only suggestions outlined in a business guide; Mr. Parker was not even remotely available to students on a regular basis to teach and correct; and what was being instructed had to have broad commercial viability regardless of age or circumstance, outside of the sphere of Mr. Parker influence on a day-to-day basis.
Ed Parker’s Kenpo Karate is not being reduced to a series of individual systems, it IS a series of individual systems by design. Instead students have elevated it far beyond what it is. Practitioners once indoctrinated into the system’s norms of behavior and philosophical expectations, want to have it both ways. They want the flexibility to do their own thing, but the comfort, security and accolades of a traditional systems rank accomplishments.
The ideas are mutually exclusive, and practitioners tend to be very unforgiving in allowing other methodologies equal legitimacy, touting instead the superiority of this personal tailoring rearrangement method. What they fail to realize is most of the teachers they revere the most came from those traditional schools, and formed the basis of their abilities they used to teach the next generations from the very methods they look down upon.
Considering the lack of codification, and Mr. Parker’s own suggestion that you may insert, rearrange, prefix, suffix, add, and yes delete with impunity as long as you were satisfied with the results, each individual is creating his/her own system. And that system will insert, rearrange, prefix, suffix, add, and yes delete as long as they choose to practice it, with no fear of philosophical incorrectness. SHort fat people with stubby legs will never do some of the suggested kicks. Older more fragile people will shy away from break falls, even though they too, are suggested. Children, no matter how enthused and dedicated lack the intellectual capacity to comprehend most of Mr. Parker’s “suggestions.” None of this is bad or wrong, because once again, it is as designed. The problem is when you give all of these diverse people rankings, and all of them think, (or at least want to pretend) they’re all equal with the same rank, then you have a problem. No one wants to accept it for what it is. Mr. Parker knew what it was, and reminded students all the time, but they just paid the money laughed and piled on the stripes, while Mr. Parker admonished them, “Just because the red show, don’t mean that you know.”
In the Traditional Chinese method the singular System Teacher individualized instruction to the student to maximize their abilities, and it was the teacher who made the determination of what the student needed, or did not. The lack of retention issues or commerciality, with no external rank mechanisms made sense. Students were not casual practitioners, but serious participants who did not need motivating. The accomplished stood out for their ability, not for patches, belts, or other accouterments.
So the question is, “Where is the system we’re supposed to work from?” It doesn’t exist in form, only in philosophy. The physical manifestation is as numerous as there are practitioners – and all of them are on the right track, sort of.