The Rear Bow Controversy

By Dennis Lawson
Published on Nov 30th, 2011

During our recent trip to Dublin in October, I had the honor of teaching a class on the history and development of Mr. Parker’s Kenpo. I attempted to convey a sense of how the Art had progressed from its modern revelation in Hawaii during World War II to the present day. I was lucky enough to be joined by fellow instructors, Professors Richard Matthews, Diane Wheeler, and Kieran Fitzpatrick, who knew and had lessons with Mr. Parker. The vast majority of participants knew Mr. Parker’s Art only through his writing and their contemporary study. Publishing the notes on this class, without the movement and music that accompanied it, would not have been an accurate representation of the learning experience we enjoyed together. Instead, I have chosen to re-publish an article originally printed in the I.K.K.A. newsletter around 1994. I hope by publishing this old article that newer students and instructors will gain greater perspective on the Art we share.

The Rear Bow Controversy

“Kenpo never changes, it is perpetually refined” Ed Parker

I was reminded of the above saying when I read the discussion of the rear bow in a (prior I.K.K.A.) newsletter. This seems and opportune time to relate some of Mr. Parker’s thoughts concerning the rear bow which he chose to share with me, Keith See, and others at my home in New Orleans around 1987.

Prior to the publication of Infinite Insights Into Kenpo (Volume 2) Physical Analyzation 1, Mr. Parker decided that the emphasis on the rear bow in such techniques as Thrusting Lance or Returning Storm was “unuseful” (his words). Introducing a different stance added unnecessary complexity to techniques (defenses against weapons) that were “case studies” of life threatening situations. He considered the rear bow or Kokutsu dachi (Japanese term) as he called this stance during our discussion, a vestige or hangover from more classical movement. Mr. Parker felt it increased target exposure (lower body) and limited the practitioner’s Margin for Error.

Mr. Parker stated that many students and instructors did not adequately understand the function of the neutral bow in terms of:

  • The value of neutrality in multiple attacks or situations against weapons
  • The advantage of the neutral bow in maintaining both a physiological and psychological state of engagement
  • How neutrality increases perceptual speed in an encounter, and
  • The advantages of the neutral bow in accessing other dimensional stages of action

The continued inclusion of the rear bow was counterproductive in developing this kind of “kinesthetic experience” of the neutral bow. This discussion serves as an example of many of the present (circa 1994) problems of our system --- The Ed Parker System.

Before his death, Mr. Parker established concrete requirements for Black Belt ranks from first to eight degree in the Ed Parker System. Now we see black belts with advanced degrees in Kenpo everywhere. How many are inspired by Mr. Parker’s tireless commitment to excellence, his enthusiasm for a new point of view, his true and honest humility in the face of all he had accomplished?

Remember: Students became instructors and left Mr. Parker in 1968 saying, “I know Ed Parker’s art.” Mr. Parker refined his art. Students became instructors and left Mr. Parker in 1976 saying, “I know Ed Parker’s art.” Mr. Parker adapted and sophisticated his art. Students became instructors and left Mr. Parker in 1986 saying, “I know Ed Parker’s art.”, and Mr. Parker continued his work, and so it goes on to the present day …

Mr. Parker often referred to himself as a “student” of the art (Admittedly, a very advanced student). My question then is where are the “students” who will continue his passion for excellence in the art of Kenpo?

“Although belt colors show, they are no proof that you know” Ed Parker

Dennis Lawson
Regional Representative
Region 3
New Orleans, LA

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.

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