By Ed. Downey
When American Karate pioneer Ed Parker left Hawaii in 1951 and began propagating his art of Kenpo Karate on the American mainland, the crest he wore bore little or no resemblance to today's patches and badges that are widely available and instantly recognisable throughout the world. Parker founded the first commercial Karate school on the west coast of America in Provo, Utah in 1954. His first crest was a simple affair consisting of a clenched first with the words 'Kenpo Karate' beneath it. It's basic symbolism was to reflect the translation of the word 'Kenpo' which means 'the Law of the fist' or 'Fist Law'. This emblem used extensively during the 1950s and early l960s by Parker and his students - is still used today by San Francisco-based Ralph Castro, a 10th degree Kenpo master who studied with both Parker and his (Parker's) instructor, Professor William K. S. Chow.
Parker's brother David helped him to design what is called, and recognised worldwide as, the 'Parker patch'. This design, because of its unique style and shape, came to represent the Kenpo art form more than any other. The Parker patch was designed in 1960 for the Kenpo Karate Association of America (KKAA), the forerunner of the International Kenpo Karate Association (IKKA). Parker would have liked to have copyrighted this crest but because it was not solely his own design he decided to work upon a new emblem to represent his own unique Karate system.
Later, using his own concepts and theories, he came up with the 'Perpetual Flame' patch, basing its design on the three stages of learning and advancement in the art. This patch didn't generate the same interest he had hoped for, and so, Parker decided that he'd launch the emblem at his first annual International Karate Championships in Long Beach, California in 1964. Around that time Parker also began experimenting with various patterns and shapes and some time later produced what he called the 'Universal' patch - a design expanded on his original compass shape contained in the centre of the original Parker patch. The compass - seen in the centre of the Parker patch with the dragon atop and the tiger at the bottom left - was Parker's original idea and by adding new lines and circles he created a third emblem (the universal symbol) for which he could retain copyright. This new Universal design was a circle with lines curves and further circles contained inside it. It is representative of the directions of movement contained in the American Karate system.
The Universal Patch is a one-dimensional geometrical symbol which, when viewed with Kenpo concepts, has another nine planes. Parker eventually used this emblem as a side arm patch and frequently used it to illustrate the paths and lines of action utilised in his system's techniques and forms. The Universal pattern holds the key to Kenpo forms and techniques and I can remember on many occasions Parker using the patch on my uniform to illustrate and conceptualise the ideas he was trying to communicate at a class or seminar.
The Parker patch has become so widely available, and copied, that it's no longer a guide for distinguishing Parker's students from the general and varied Kenpo communities, many of which have adopted the famous emblem as their badge of recognition.
World respected Kenpo Master Professor John Sepulveda has also designed his own patch with the help and artistic skill of Ed Parker's son, Edmund Junior. The Professor's new Kenpo emblem retains all the meaning of the famous Parker patch; the new design also adds a unique three-dimensional image to the classical patch. Many of Professor Sepulveda's students contributed to the design of the new patch including Edward Downey and Scott Johnston. The new patch reflects the growth of the Kenpo art and gives a new identity for students who wish to continue to learn and promote the teachings of our late Grandmaster Ed Parker.
The design and make up of the original Parker patch can be explained as follows:
The Shape - The top of the crest is like a roof which gives shelter to all who come under it while the sides are curved conversely like the roof of a Chinese home to send back evil to where it came from. Look at the bottom of the crest and you will notice the shape of an axe. This represents an executioner, symbolising that should a member shame the Kenpo style or be influenced by evil ideas and thoughts contrary to the style's philosophy, he will be cut off - never to co-exist with members again.
The Tiger - Represents the earthly strength derived through the early stages of learning. This is the stage where the individual is more impressed with his own physical prowess.
The Dragon - Represents spiritual strength which comes with seasoning. This mental attitude is attained during the individual's latter years of training. It is placed above earthly strength - as seen on the patch - since the individual at this stage has learned to develop humility and self-restraint.
The Circle - This is symbolic of several things. It depicts life itself; a continuous cycle with no beginning or end just like the art of Kenpo which is also a cycle of unending and perpetual movement and motion. Techniques follow a cycle just as the various movements. Physical prowess, humility and self-restraint are no more than components of a progressive learning cycle. The circle is the base from which our alphabet stems; all moves evolve from a circle whether they are defensive or offensive. The circle also represents the bond of friendship that should continuously exist among association members.
The Oriental writing - This is a reminder of the originators of the art - the Chinese. It offers respect to them but doesn't denote that we serve them. The Chinese characters on the right say 'Law of the Fist and Empty hand' while the writing on the left - 'Spirit of the Dragon and the Tiger' - are a constant reminder that we should strive to attain a spiritual level and that the physical level is only a stepping Stone or vehicle to reach a higher, spiritual level.
The Dividing Lines - In the circle they represent the original 18 hand movements and directions in which the hands can travel. They are the angles from which you or an opponent can attack or defend, and they also form the pattern in which the feet can travel.
The 'K' -This stands for Kenpo.
The Colours - The white background is significant of the many beginners who form the base of the art. The yellow or orange represents the first level of proficiency - the mechanical, dangerous stage of learning. This is a time when the student it more impressed with the physical and thinks he knows all the answers. The circle is grey symbolising the brain, the brain of the association - remember that the brain it often referred to as 'grey matter'. The other colours represent proficiency, achievement and authority. Brown - the colour of the tiger's eyes - represent the advanced students though not great in number. Also at this level the student becomes more observant. His eyes, like that of the tiger, are keen and ever so watchful and critical, always looking up to the higher levels of proficiency; striving for perfection and preparing for the day he bears the label of 'expert'. This level of expert proficiency is represented by the colour black, while red is that of professorship over and above black belt. But yet, as indicated by the colours of the dragon, there are still traces white in the eyeball; yellow or orange on his fins; brown in the iris of the eyeball and black in the pupils. These colours are there to remind even the 'professor' that he should always be humble and able to return to any level. He should also be able to perform the things that he expects others at various levels to do and always be conscious of never demanding too much of his students.
Edward Downey is a professional martial arts instructor and the European representative of Professor Sepulveda's organization, he is also the director of the European Kenpo Karate Association. Professor Downey teaches in his full-time studio the International Kenpo Karate Academy in Celbridge, Co. Kildare, Ireland.