Ed Parker was born in Hawaii and began his training in the martial arts at a young age in judo and later boxing.
One day in the 1940s, Ed Parker was first introduced to Kenpo by Frank Chow. Frank Chow introduced Ed Parker to William Chow, a student of James Mitose 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 Kenpo, 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 “Americanized” karate school in the western United States in Provo, Utah in 1954. By 1956, Parker opened a Dojo in Pasadena, California. His first brown belt student was Charles Beeder. There is controversy over whether Beeder received the first black belt awarded by Parker. Beeder’s son has stated for the record that his father’s black belt came after Ed Parker had moved to California.
The other black belts in chronological order up to 1962 were: Rich Montgomery, James Ibrao, Mills Crenshaw, authorized by Ed Parker to open a school in Salt Lake City, UT in late 1958 (That school later became the birthplace of the International Kenpo Karate Association; or IKKA.), 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 give control of the Kenpo Karate Association of America to the Tracy Brothers and form a new organization, the International Kenpo Karate Association.
Parker was well known for his business creativity and helped many martial artists open their own dojos. He was well known in Hollywood where he trained a great many stunt men and celebrities; most notable was Elvis Presley, to whom he eventually awarded an eighth degree black belt in Kenpo. He left behind a few grand masters who are known around the world to this day such as Al Tracy, head of the world’s largest system of kenpo, Frank Trejo who runs a school in California.
He helped Bruce Lee gain national attention by introducing him at his International Karate Championships. He served as one of 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 Kenpo”. 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”. He wrote a book about his time with Elvis on the road.
Mr. 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.