MY FRIEND, ED PARKER
Those Close to Him Remember the "Father of American Karate"
Compiled by William K. Beaver
(Reprinted from Black Belt magazine, April 1991.)
When kenpo karate master and martial arts pioneer Ed Parker died on December 18, 1990, so did a particular era in the history of American martial arts. Black Belt thought it would be appropriate to give some of his friends and students a chance to tell others about the Ed Parker they knew. Following are their often-humorous and always-fond remembrances of the "father of American kenpo karate." -Editor
I first met Ed in 1954 while we were in Coast Guard training in Alameda, California. I found out about him because he was a local boy from Hawaii like me, so we used to get together and play the ukulele. We passed the time away by entertaining ourselves and our friends. I didn't know at that time that he knew karate.
The year after my discharge from the service, I went back to Hawaii to train with Professor William Chow. Professor Chow had some pictures, and I recognized Ed Parker, who was a brown belt at that time. I said "My God, I know this man very well. We served together in the service." When I left Professor Chow to come to the mainland, I contacted Ed.
I joined his association and he helped me with my business. I also received my first black belt from Ed Parker, and I treated him as my senior, since I could no longer train with Professor Chow. I received rank promotions from him until the later years, when I was recognized by Professor Chow, who promoted me to the rank that I am.
My first encounter with Ed Parker at karate championships was in 1963 when we went to Chicago for a tournament put on by Robert Trias. Ed and I did a kenpo demonstration and got a standing ovation.
During my years with Ed, I participated with him at his Long Beach (California) Internationals. We also put on the California Karate Championships. We had a very close relationship, like brothers. When I last talked to him, he told me about his school burning down, and the strong emotions he had for the movie fight scenes he was choreographing for one of his students (Jeff Speakman). That was the last time I talked to him.
I have some old photographs of Ed Parker and James Lee and Bruce Lee and me--the four of us together. I look at those sadly now because three of the four are gone, and it's just me left. But I have good memories of each and every one of them.
I first met Ed many, many years ago. I was doing a film and I had been involved with judo for about a year at that time. I had a sequence in the film that I had originally written to take place in a judo dojo (training hall). I don't quite remember how I got interested in karate, but I decided to change the judo sequence to a karate sequence. Someone put me on to a couple of Ed's black belts, and we did the sequence. One of the black belts introduced me to Ed, and I began to take lessons from him.
He later did several of the sequences in the Pink Panther movies. I used him in Curse of the Pink Panther and Revenge of the Pink Panther. He did a number of things for me as a technical man on a series pilot I did years ago called Johnny Dollar When- ever I had a light sequence where I wanted to use martial arts, I called on Ed. I did a movie called Peter Gunn, and he worked on that with me.
I remember I went with him to the first Long Beach tournament that he put together, when he had Bruce Lee there, and that's where he introduced me to Bruce. Ed and I go back a long way, and we really liked each other a lot. He was always so warm and he seemed to have a soft spot for my family. He loved my wife, Julie (Andrews), and she loved him. When I told her what happened to Ed, she just couldn't believe it. I guess we all have to go sooner or later, it's just that with men like him, you never expect them to go.
I just wish I had the words. I'm supposed to be a good writer, but I can't come up with anything that comes close to expressing how I felt about Ed. It's really hard to believe he's gone--a man who always seemed to be so completely indestructible.
Ed and I knew each other for 20 years. I started competing at his tournament in the 70s and we became good friends. We traveled together many times to Hawaii and other places. During the 1970s, he took me, some of my students, and Tadashi Yamashita to Chile to do some martial arts demonstrations.
We also liked to go to (Los Angeles) Chinatown a lot to eat at our favorite Chinese restaurant. Every time we got together we would crack each other up with jokes. Both of us liked to tell jokes, so every time we saw each other, we would exchange our new jokes.
He would invite me to his house to show me things. He bought a glass case for some sunglasses that were given to him by Elvis Presley, and he was very proud of his knife collection.
I will remember him as one of the most organized men in martial arts. He had a lot of charisma and many, many black belts under his banner. There was much more to this man than most people know. He was the kind of person who either liked you or did not like you. Either way, he would tell you. He was also a good role model for many people. He liked to share, and every time he would see you, he would say, "Hey, let me show you this (martial arts technique or maneuver)."
We're all going to miss Ed Parker. He was a giant. The guy was largely responsible for bringing karate to the West Coast from Hawaii. He was Elvis Presley's instructor, and I think he had a lot to do with Elvis helping to popularize the arts.
I first met Ed at Aaron Banks' Oriental World of Self-Defense at Madison Square Garden, back when my Kung Fu show was still on television. We were sitting together at ringside, and at the end of the event, the aisles were full of people. And there were people heading toward us. He said "David, you gotta get out of here."
The exits were all the way at the back of the arena, and there was no way to get through the people. The place was full, a capacity crowd, and we would have been there for a week and had a bunch of fights just to get out. I started climbing over the seats, trying to make my way to the exit. I couldn't believe it, but there's Ed running across the seat tops right with me. He was really light on his feet, and was running interference for me.
Ed Parker and I grew up in the same district of Honolulu. I first started jujitsu back in 1935, and Ed was maybe three or four years old. I lived about a mile away from his family at the time. I didn't really know him, but I knew his brother Arthur, because he was about my age. His sister, Francis and I would dance together, and I knew his mother and father. His older sister is related to my wife by marriage.
When Ed graduated from high school and was on his way to college at Brigham Young University, Professor (William) Chow asked him to stop and pay his respects to me. He did, and that's when I really met him for the first time as an adult.
After he graduated from college, he opened his school in Pasadena, California, and I said to him "You're teaching martial arts. Did you go to college for that?" He said, "No, I went to college so I could talk to people, on any level." He was so determined and really smart; he knew how to use analogies all the time.
We grew up in the Kalihi district of Honolulu, and a few years ago, when one of our best friends from the same district died, we flew home for the funeral and that was the first time I saw Ed cry. He couldn't contain himself. He was really in tears. He spoke at the funeral and I really felt it. We were so proud that all three of us were Kalihi boys.
In a way, I'm glad Ed went fast and didn't have to suffer. I don't think he's the kind of man who would want that. He was so independent. He was a Kalihi boy.
I first met Mr. Parker 23 years ago. My mom said 'Frank, there's an ad here and they need karate instructors." He was starting an instructor's program, and the ad said, "karate instructors needed, no experience necessary." What they would do is accept applicants and you would tryout--go through a three-or four-week program--and at the end you were given a test of all the material you had learned. They would test you on how well you could teach a basic technique. They would teach you how to teach other people. I was one of the people selected to train to become a junior instructor. I walked in when I was 16 years old, saw Mr. Parker training his people, and knew I was going to do this for the rest of my life.
He trained a lot of people and helped put martial arts out where people could see it. We choreographed some of the moves that David Lee Roth used in the Van Halen rock video for their song "Jump," because David was a student of Mr. Parker.
I had a real close relationship, like father and son, with Mr. Parker. When we would do demonstrations, I used to introduce him as my father or "With no further adieu, my dad." He created this father image for himself and tried to bring everyone together as a family, which was probably one of the greatest things about learning and training with him.
Ed was an intelligent man, a good businessman, and a good martial artist. I first met him in the 50s, when he trained with me for about two weeks, and then he went under Professor (William) Chow. When Ed came to the mainland to go to Brigham Young University, he found out there were no schools of martial arts. He wrote to Professor Chow that he wanted to open a school on the mainland. Professor Chow called me and asked me what I thought of the idea. After I read the letter, I said "Why not? There's no martial arts schools over there and he has the opportunity to open the first kenpo karate school in Los Angeles."
I used to travel around with him to visit his chain of schools. A lot of my black belt instructors, like Tony Ramos and others, stayed with him a couple of times, helped him teach, and then established themselves also in California. Ed was a successful man, especially with his Long Beach tournament, and as a matter of fact, this past year at his tournament, I was his honored guest.
I remember one story about him, when he was playing music to support himself and his pregnant wife, Leilani. She came to meet him, and three men tried to molest her. He went outside when he found out and just put those three guys away--just like that. That's when he discovered that it was good to open a martial arts school.
I have to credit Ed for getting me started in martial arts in California. After I was discharged from the army in 1965, I spent a few months on the beach, but I got bored with that. I had met Ed back east at Jhoon Rhee's tournament. He told me if I ever wanted to teach karate, I should come to California and he would get me set up. So I decided I should do something with my martial arts experience. I came to California and started teaching at his Pasadena school. I taught there four or five months, and then decided to open up my own school in Los Alamitos, California.
Ed and I worked together in movies later on. We used to laugh about an incident that happened on one particular movie. In 1968 or '69, we worked together on a film with Dean Martin, Elke Sommers, Sharon Tate and Nancy Kwan called The Wrecking Crew. Bruce Lee was the stunt coordinator, and he held auditions for quite a few people--mostly martial artists--at the Columbia Pictures sound stages. To sift through them more quickly, Bruce had me and Chuck Norris get up on the stage and demonstrate some one-step sparring techniques. When these guys saw us, half of them got up and left. They figured if they had to do it at that level of ability, they had better forget about the audition. After it was over, there were Ed, myself, Chuck, Joe Lewis and a bunch of other really talented martial artists who ended up on the film.
I started training with Mr. Parker in 1963. I had taken some martial arts in the military, and ran across a guy who said that if I really wanted to learn the martial arts, I should go to Ed Parker's school in Santa Monica. I went over there and saw his students, who were very impressive. But when I saw Mr. Parker, I was amazed because I'd never seen anyone who could move the way he did.
I have never seen a better (martial arts) system than the one that came out of the mind of Mr. Parker. I believe that I looked into his mind and saw what he perceived kenpo to be. I tried to teach according to his perceptions of what kenpo was.
He set up his system in such a way that you could take it and develop it in the way you perceived it to be, but I think he is the only one who can do his system the way it is supposed to be done. That system was Mr. Parker.