By Joe Hyams
Taken from his book
'ZEN IN THE MARTIAL ARTS'
I first met with Kenpo Karate master Ed Parker in 1952 in a Beverly Hills gym where he rented space. A handsome, six-foot-tall Hawaiian with a thick thatch of black hair, Parker reminded me of a huge tree, with arms like powerful boughs and bare feet rooted firmly on the canvas mat (despite his size, he is a whirlwind in motion). He was wearing an old, loose-fitting GI, a two-piece cotton uniform worn by most martial artists. The GI, like his black belt, was white in places from fraying and repeated launderings. His face was serene and peaceful, as though he had just completed meditating.
I will remember one of my initial sessions at his dojo in Los Angeles where I was practising Kumite (sparring) with a more skilful opponent. To make up for my lack of knowledge and experience, I tried deceptive, tricky moves that were readily countered. I was outclassed, and Parker watched me get roundly trounced. When the match was over I was dejected. Parker invited me into his small office; a small sparsely furnished room with only a scarred desk and battered chairs. "Why are you so upset? " he asked. "Because I couldn't score." Parker got up from behind the desk and with a piece of chalk drew a line on the floor about five feet long. "How can you make this line shorter?" he asked. "I studied the line and gave him several answers, including cutting the line in many pieces. He shook his head and drew a second line, longer than the first. "Now how does the first line look? "Shorter,'' I said. Parker nodded. "It is always better to improve and strengthen your own line or knowledge than to try and cut your opponent's line." He accompanied me to the door and added, "Think about what I have just said." I did think about it and studied hard for the next several months, developing greater skills, increasing my knowledge and ability. The next time I went on the mat with the same opponent, he, too, had improved. But I fared far better than I had previously because I had raised my level of knowledge as well as developing my skills.
Not long after, I realised I could apply the principal Parker had taught me to my tennis game. An avid weekend tennis player, I frequently found myself pitted against better players, and when things started to go badly for me on the court I often resorted to trickery - slicing the ball, trying to hit it with a spin, attempting difficult drop shots. Invariably I lost and was frustrated. Instead of trying to better my game I was trying to "cut their line.'' I recognised that I had to play to my best ability rather than to try to worsen my opponent's play. Keeping Parker's advice in my mind, my game soon improved. It has been nearly three decades since then, and in the intervening years Parker has taught his art to thousands of students. Even long after their training they think of him as a good friend - and as a wise and gentle sifu who embodies the martial arts spirit and philosophy.