Hawaiian Roots

By Dennis Lawson
Published on Dec 16th, 2010

“I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within”

From In Memoriam Alfred, Lord Tennyson

By the spring of 2011, I will have taught Kenpo for 30 years. It’s time to reflect on some of my most significant influences as a martial artist. Keith See began studying Kenpo in the Territory of Hawaii about the year I was born. Enlisting in the Marine Corps after high school put him in Vietnam, and gave him an opportunity to study Okinawan Shorin Ryu. By 1964, Mr. See had achieved his 2nd degree (nidan) and had moved to Texas. He won the U.S. Championships that year, taking 1st place in forms and freestyle; during an era when you had to win both to be called “Grand Champion”. To take that title, he won against Allen Steen, a Texas “Blood & Guts Taekwondo” legend; and Ed Parker was the center ring referee. Years later (was it 1986?), I was thrilled to hear the story, once again, this time from Mr. Parker’s point of view, as Keith and I acted out the fight standing in my living room. Keith See began studying with Mr. Parker after their auspicious meeting in 1964. Following wining the All-American Championships in 1965, Mr. See retired from competition and began teaching professionally. From Sifu Keith See I learned:

  1. That the quality of my basics is the most important component of my Art
  2. To hit hard, with enthusiasm, and often
  3. To respect “What Works” in any and all of the Arts
  4. and that, as Mr. See would often quote, “A man who knows his Art is a difficult man to beat” Sijo Adriano Emperado
  5. And so much more...

The same year Keith See was beginning his study of the Martial Arts in Hawaii, Ed Parker opened the first commercial Karate studio on the mainland. Years later, Black Belt magazine would call him, “The Father of American Karate”. I will not list his many accomplishments here. If you are lucky enough to study the Martial Arts, I hope you will look deeper than many have, and study them as Mr. Parker did. Study his contributions, read his words, allow the Art to challenge your preconceptions each and every day. When Mr. Parker died, many of us believe that he had a premonition of his death. Thousands mourned his passing. The day of his funeral, I met Professor Wally Jay, the founder of Small Circle Jujitsu, as he helped Shirley Hancock and I stack folding chairs after the service. He spoke to us with tear-filled eyes of his friend, and how Mr. Parker had “opened the way” for him and men like Bruce Lee, to seek their own innovations in the Art and make their own contributions. It was also the last time I would see Keith See. Our differences would not allow us to come together again, despite our history and similarities.

In December of 1990, one day prior to his death, Ed Parker taught my friends Chris and Pattie Crews what would be his last lesson. As they sat together in his living room he said to them, “I hope when I’m gone that they won’t Traditionalize my Art…”

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and fame, … back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time … back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

From You Can’t Go Home Again Thomas Wolfe

Filed under Philosophy and Opinion

Author Bio :: Dennis Lawson

Dennis Lawson has trained for 4 decades in Ed Parker's Kenpo. During his varied career, Mr. Lawson has been an IKKA Regional Director for Region #3, has acted as Master of Ceremonies for the International Karate Championships, and has published numerous articles in publications for the International Kenpo Karate Association, The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC), and Kenpo 2000.

Mr. Lawson has had the opportunity to study other Martial Arts and holds advanced rank in Aikido and Takemusu Aiki Budo. Dennis taught, competed in, and promoted events in the New Orleans area for 20 years. Among his list of favorite achievements is choreographing and performing Kenpo for the Dance Council of New Orleans. His academic background in psychology and love of music allow Dennis to offer a unique and entertaining approach to tailoring "the Art" to the individual. Dennis has taught seminars in Ireland, Jersey Channel Islands, The Netherlands, Portugal, and throughout the United States.

Dennis holds a Sixth Degree Black Belt in Ed Parker's Kenpo and was awarded the title “Professor” under the auspices of The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC). Mr. Lawson was inducted into the International Black Belt Hall of Fame as Master Instructor of the Year for 2006.

Other Articles by Dennis Lawson

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