American Kenpo is a form of Martial Art (more specifically, Karate), which has many borrowed elements from Chinese Kenpo. It was invented by Ed Parker in the late 1950s.

American Kenpo is different than most styles of Martial Arts in that it allows for simultaneous moves on a larger scale than most styles (for example, doing an upward-thrusting knee to someone's groin while striking them upwards to the chin with the palm). I also has a Chinese-derived circular motion that most of the moves follow, and partially because of that the moves are smoother and flow into each other readily (much like other Chinese styles, such as Kung Fu).

At the Karate School I attend, the curriculum is divided into over five sections (not counting the "Youth" and "Adult" subdivisions of each):

  • Division 1: White and Yellow belts, each divided into two sub-ranks, the typical (it really does not have a name) and "Advanced".
  • Division 2: Orange and Purple belts, each divided as above.
  • Division 3: Blue and Green belts, each divided as above.
  • Division 4: Brown Belt, divided into six subsections: Sankyu, Nikyu, and Ikyu (which each have a -ho suffix first; for example, Sankyu-ho, Sankyu, Nikyu-ho, etc.).
  • Division 5 and onward: Black Belt, which has several ranks, ranging from "Student" to "Grand Master".

Some schools have more or less of divisions, sections, belts, etc. than my school, but apparently this division is relatively common.

Every time a student is tested on the material of his section and passes, he is promoted to the next rank. For example, Yellow Belt to Advanced Yellow Belt, Nikyu-ho to Nikyu, or Ikyu to Student Black Belt.

Each "Division" is divided into three "Sections", which each have several new moves to learn (one stops learning new moves as part of the curriculum beginning with Brown Belt, although some new ones will crop up in other forms and are practiced), one "Kata," two "Sets," six "Techniques," and one "Sparring Technique". Beginning with Brown Belt, one also has to do one "Thesis," and at Black Belt, one has to do two per rank. Therefore, one Division looks thus:


  • (Moves A, B, C...)
  • Kata (there is one section that has two Katas)
  • Set A, B (there is one section with three sets)
  • Technique A, B, C, D, E, F (there is a section with seven techniques)
  • Sparring Technique
  • (Thesis A, B)

The individual moves are taught by drills reinforced each day of practice at the beginning, with alternating hands or feet (depending on the move). There are many kinds of moves, such as Special Techniques (movements that neither strike nor defend), Stances, Parries (redirecting a blow), Blocks (stopping a blow), Punches, Kicks, Strikes (offensive moves that do not fit under punches or kicks, such as chops), and several others.

A Kata is a large set of moves, divided into several techniques, that seamlessly move into each other, creating one large, let's say, "supertechnique". Katas are performed slower than techniques, and are not meant for self-defense. These usually take about a week to learn.

Sets are practice drills divided into technique-like sections that usually repeat, commonly in segments of two or four with each repetition switching direction of the dominant side (from left to right, or right to left). They are not meant for self-defense either, but are used to reinforce ideas taught in the rest of the curriculum. These take about two days to learn.

Techniques are a short set of moves that are meant to be used in a self-defense setting, sometimes modified slightly. Sometimes (especially in the higher ranks) we practice them with alternating dominant sides (if the technique starts out with a left punch, start it with a right, for example). They are relatively easy to learn, with some of them short enough to learn two in a day.

A sparring technique (or sometimes theory, known as a "Principle") is a move that is useful in Kumite, or sparring (in Karate, sparring is a bout of practice fighting, usually with pads). For example, how to string parries smoothly to deflect enemy strikes. Principles are theories, such as "Speed," "Force," "Torque," or "Borrowed Force," which are used to improve knowledge of the art of Karate.

Theses are large, usually about ten-paged, reports that are written to show our knowledge of the art. We start writing them with the Brown Belt rank, and usually we invent a technique, set, or kata and elaborate on the moves and the principles used therein. Theses include pictures and a description of each move.

Our Kenpo curriculum is supplemented with Katas from Tae Kwon Do (a Korean form) and Shotokan (which is Japanese), which replace the katas in some of the sections. We also do grappling techniques, which are supplemented from Ju-Jutsu and Judo, and usually involve a throw (commonly and "Osoto Gari" throw) followed by a hold (a holding of an opponent's arm, leg, or neck that includes pressure and/or torque in such a way to inflict pain but most often as little damage as possible).

We also commonly have tournaments, that include Kata competitions, Kumite, Ju-Jutsu sparring, rock climbing (Oh, how I love my Karate school!), and numerous other competitions. The injury total is surprisingly low, with someone being knocked unconsious about a uear ago, and a couple broken arms not too long ago, but the risk comes with the sport.

Unfortunately, actually showing moves is difficult (as well as being a somewhat "bad" thing for me to do, as I am not authorized to teach), so I apologize for lack of extra examples in this writeup.

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