Senior Grandmaster Edmund Kealoha Parker
Founder Of American Kenpo
March 19, 1931 - December 15, 1990
Parker was born in Hawaii, and raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He began his training in the martial arts at a young age in judo and later boxing. Some time in the 1940s, Ed Parker was first introduced to Kenpo by Frank Chow. Frank Chow introduced Ed Parker to William Chow, who trained Parker while serving in the Coast Guard and attending Brigham Young University. In 1953 he was promoted to the rank of black belt. Parker, seeing that modern times posed new situations that were not addressed in Kempo, adapted the art to make it more easily applicable to the streets of America and called his style, American Kenpo Karate.
Parker opened the first commercial karate school in the western United States in Provo, Utah in 1954. By 1956, Parker opened his Dojo in Pasadena, California. His first black belt student was Charles Beeder. There is controversy over whether Beeder received the first black belt awarded by Parker. The other black belts in chronological order up to 1962 were: James Ibrao, Rich Montgomery, Rick Flores, Al and Jim Tracy of Tracy Kenpo, Chuck Sullivan, John McSweeney, and Dave Hebler. In 1962, John McSweeney opened a school in Ireland, which prompted Parker to change the name of his organization from the Kenpo Karate Association of America to the International Kenpo Karate Association.
Parker was well known for his business creativity and helped many martial artists open their own dojos. He was also well known in Hollywood where he trained a great many stunt men and celebrities; most notable was Elvis Presley, to whom he awarded a black belt in Kenpo. He also left behind a few grand masters who are known around the world to this day such as Frank Trejo who runs a school in California. He also helped Bruce Lee gain national attention by introducing him at his International Karate Championships. He served as Elvis Presley's bodyguard during the singer's final years, did movie stunt-work and acting, and was one of the Kenpo instructors of martial arts action movie actor Jeff Speakman. He is best known to Kenpoists as the founder of American Kenpo and is referred to fondly as the "Father of American Karate". He is formally referred to as Senior Grand Master of American Kenpo. Parker can be seen with Elvis Presley in the opening sequence of the 1977 TV special "Elvis in concert". Ed also wrote a book about his time with Elvis on the road.
Parker had a minor career as a Hollywood actor and stunt man. His most notable film was Kill the Golden Goose. In this film, he co-stars with Hapkido master Bong Soo Han. His acting work included the (uncredited) role of Mr. Chong in student Blake Edwards' Revenge of the Pink Panther.
Edmund K. Parker died in Honolulu of a heart attack on December 15, 1990. His widow Leilani Parker died on June 12, 2006. Of their four surviving children, only his son, Ed Parker Jr., remains active in the system his father created.