Basic principles of kenpo karate

The creed

I come to you with only empty hands, I have no weapons, but should I be forced to defend myself, my principles or my honor, should it be a matter of life or death, of right or wrong; then here are my weapons, my empty hands.

The three stages of learning

  • Primitive or embryonic: you still don't know anything of kenpo and you are beginning to learn the basic movements that appears in techniques and forms.
  • Mechanic: You understand the mechanics involve in the execution of the techniques, but not necessarily the flow between techniques. You can neither react very instinctively to an attack, nor adapt the techniques to variations in the attacks (force of the attack, height and weight of the aggressor).
  • Spontaneous: You understand both the execution of the techniques and how they flow together. You react appropriately to an attack without stopping to think.

Basic rules

  • Establish your base: If you do not have a solidly based stance, you will easily lose balance and nothing will work correctly.
  • Keep distances: stay clear from the attacker and get off the line of attack.
  • Control, disarm and execute the technique: The priority in an attack is to control any weapon the aggressor may have and take care of it. Once this is done, we can run the technique to eliminate the threat of a new attack.
  • Strike and check: When we struck we must control and avoid, be it with an arm, hand or leg, the possible cons of our opponent. The check avoids vital areas to be exposed to the adversary.

Principles of force

Each technique of the Parker kenpo systemis based on one of these principles. Although often several of these principles are used in a technique, there's always one that stands out as the dominant force.
  • Marriage of Gravity: It's the force we apply when we go in favor of gravity, that is, in vertical and downwards. All the mass of the body is involved.
  • Back-up Mass: Like marriage of gravity, but when moving the body in a straight line in a horizontal plane.
  • Torque: It takes place when turning or rotating and provides a great force in a small space.
In fact, what we are doing is applying the physics formula F = m · a , being the acceleration in the torque angular instead of linear. In order to being able to take advantage of all the body mass we must correctly shift from stance to stance, making the trunk work as transmitting axis.

Principles of movement

  • Economy of movement: You may not squander energy with unnecessary movements and displacements.
  • Action-reaction: Each action of the opponent must be followed by a reaction from our side.
  • Instantaneous acceleration: You must be relaxed right until the moment of the impact, so that the power is maximum.

The crest

The crest that represents kenpo as we now know it was created by Dick Tercell in 1960, for the Ed Parker's kenpo association which with time turned into IKKA.

The tiger:  Represents earthly strength derived from the early stages of learning. This is the stage where the individual is more impressed with his own physical prowess.

The dragon:  Represents spiritual strength which comes with seasoning. This mental attitude is attained during the individuals later years of training. It is placed above earthly strength (as seen on the patch) since the individual at this stage has learned to develop humility and self restraint. It's the intelligence that commands earthly strenght.
The attitude of the Dragon is the ultimate goal of kenpo. Armed with this attitude an individual will not be afraid of the opponent but of what he can do to the opponent. Thus, he turns his back and walks away from an unwarrented conflict confident that he could have been the victor.

The circle: Is symbolic of several things:

  • It depicts life itself, a continuous cycle where there is no begining nor end. So is it with the art of KENPO, it too is a cycle of prepetual and unending movement or motion. Techiques follow a cycle, movements are a part of a cycle, physical prowess, humilty and self restraint are no more than components of a progressive learning cycle.
  • All moves evolve from a circle wheather they are offensive or defensive.
  • The circle represents the bond of friendship that should continuously exist among IKKA members.
  • The circle is the base from which our alphabet stems.

The circle dividing lines:

  • They represent the original eighteen hand movements, which are the directions in which the hands can travel.
  • They are the angles from which an opponent or you can attack or defend.
  • They form the pattern in which the feet can travel.
  • That is, is a simplified representation of the Universal Pattern.

The colors: Represent proficiency, achievement and authority.

  • The circle is gray because it is symbolic of the brain, since it has always been referred to as gray matter.
  • The white background is significant of the many beginners who form the base of the Art.
  • Yellow and orange represent the first level of proficiency, the dangerous mechanical stage in learning where the student is more impressed with the physical and thinks he knows all of the answers.
  • Brown, the color of the tiger's eyes, represents the advanced students though not in great number. Also at this level the student becomes more observant. His eyes, like that of the tiger, are keen, ever so watchful and critical, always looking up to the higher levels of proficiency, striving for perfection, preparing for the day he bares the level of an expert. This level of expert proficiency is represented by the color black.
  • Red is that of professorship over and above black but, as indicated by the colors of the dragon, there are still traces of white in the dragon's eyeball, yellow or orange on the dragon's fins, brown in the iris of the eyeball, and black in the pupils of the eyeball. This is to remind the Professor that even he should always be so humble and be able to go back to any level, whatever it might be, and perform the things that he expects of others at these levels so as never to demand too much of his students.

The oriental writing: Is a reminder of the originators of our Art: the Chinese. It is in respect to them but not that we serve them. The lettering to the right means Kenpo Karate, Law of the Fist and the Empty Hand, which is the art we practice. To the left it means Spirit of the Dragon and the Tiger, a constant reminder that we want to attain the spiritual level and that the physical level is only a vehicle we use to reach the higher level.

The shape:

  • The top of the crest is like a roof which gives shelter to all who are under it.
  • The sides are curved conversely because like the roof of a Chinese home it is to send evil back to where it came from, whenever it tries to descend.
  • The bottom forms the shape of an axe that represents the executioner. In the event a member is influenced by evil ideas and thoughts contrary to our philosophy, he is cut off never to co-exist with us again.
Another interpretation I've seen, which isn't described in Parker's books, is that the top would represent the world in which we live and the K at the bottom will be the whole of kenpo practitioners, the axe would then represent the protection kenpo offers to its students.

Infinite Insights, vol. 1, chapter 2, Ed Parker

The universal pattern

It has, same as the patch although more developed, the basic possibilities of movement in the space.
  • Direction: Forward-backward, right-left, up-down, as well as combinations of these.
  • Method: linear or circular.
  • Dimension: height, width and depth.
  • Angle. Sometimes expressed in degrees and other times as hours of a clock, being the 12:00 the area in front of us when beginning the movement or combination.


The terminology of kenpo, unlike what happens in many martial arts, is translated to the language of the martial artist to be easyly understood.

Some of the terms used come from traditional physics, others are shared with other martial arts and the rest is kenpo's alone. The definitions you usually find are a transcription from Parker "Infinite Insights Into Kenpo" and you may find them in many sites, such as Brian's kenpo site.



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