Interview with Jeff Speakman -- Part 2
By Don Smith
Fighting Systems: It's been a few years since Ed Parker's passing. What changes have you seen take place in the kenpo community since then?
Jeff Speakman: Personally, it has been more of what I have become aware of in the course of the last four years, then how the kenpo community has changed. When mister Parker was alive, I think many people were ignorant of the actual state of affairs of the kenpo hierarchy. Mr. Parker was this pivotal key person that we all tied ourselves to either directly or indirectly. When he passed on, I began to seek out and came upon a variety of different people.
I became painfully aware of the egos and problems and things that Mr. Parker kept at bay, which he was no longer around to do, so it became very chaotic. That chaos has continued to flourish and grow throughout the years. So I think that is what has happened in the terms of changes in kenpo. I think that people like myself and many others have become much more aware of the things and problems that have always existed, but were never allowed to come to the forefront.
FS: What is your most vivid memory of Ed Parker, as a man, and as a martial artist?
JS: I think my most vivid memories, because they are so overwhelmingly positive, were on the set of the "Perfect Weapon." I knew him, as a mentor, instructor, and father image, but most importantly someone I would refer to as a friend. We had a pretty close relationship. When I saw him on the set of the Perfect Weapon, he was ecstatic almost all the time. He was the happiest I've ever seen him and many people have shared perhaps the happiest they have ever seen him in several decades.
The thing I miss most about Mister Parker is that he was a loving, caring, touching human being. He wasn't bound by that male testosterone, ego, kind of over blown macho attitude. Whenever we saw him , we would bow, shake hands and then hug one another. It's kind of the thing in the kenpo world for those of us who know each other. That's the thing that he started, and is probably the thing I miss the most.
My most fond memory on the set of the Perfect Weapon, we were shooting nights. This was in the warehouse fight scene that just preceded the Tanaka fight scene. You show up when the sun goes down, and when the sun comes up you go home. It was a very difficult shooting schedule. He was with me every day when doing martial arts on the set. He was there to couch me. He used my trailer as his home, which is the way I wanted it.
Once he had a couple of friends visit. He was sitting in my trailer and they were talking. As they left, I was walking back to my trailer and didn't realize he was just coming out of my trailer. So it was a happen stance meeting. He just evidently been very moved in a positive way. We came around the corner, and all of a sudden he was there in front of me. He did something to me I have noticed he always did with his grand kids. We never said a word to one other, we walked around the corner and were at close range, he grabbed my face with those great big bear paw hands as I've seen him do with his grand kids. He kissed me, hugged me, and then he walked away. There wasn't a word said. They represent those kinds of feelings in the movies where something happens and then a big wind comes by and your hair moves and it feels as a spirit moves through you. That is the most fond memory I have. His love for me is so overwhelmingly evident at that moment that it gave me as it always had a great deal of confidence at what I was doing.
FS: In the first issue of Fighting Systems, you mentioned an organization called the AKKS. Can you tell us a little more about it?
JS: Yes, I am the founder of this organization and act as the senior technical advisor. We have been around for about only a year and a half. We call it the American Kenpo Karate Systems. The home base is out of New York. It has been an extraordinary experience. I will tell you, this is the first time since mister Parker died, I have had a good time in kenpo. It is because of this organization and most importantly the people who are in it. It is only going to be as positive, or only going to grow as big as the people that are in the supporting foundation of it. Not just the leader or teacher or your head, that is not the most important roll.
We have Burt Randio who is in Albany New York. He is our managing director, and Brian Heins who is our east coast director. Both guys have been dear friends of mine for many years and big supporters. It is because of the two of them that I went ahead and made this new organization. They are the ones that really convinced me that was still a good positive core of kenpo people out there. I have been through some horrific, difficult, challenging, depressing times. Those times ultimately lead to the end of several friendships that I never thought would end. I guess that's all just a part of growing up. So I was ready to pitch the whole organization concept and idea and maybe teach seminars and just do the movies. These guys brought me back in, and I am very indebted to them because it has been a very positive experience.
Now John Sepulveda is in as our national director and he has a great lineage with mister Parker starting in 1964 in kenpo. He is one of the very few people I know that was with mister Parker in the very beginning a was close to him all the way through to the end. He is an accurate representation of the evolution, changes and modifications of kenpo. I found that mister Sepulveda and I talked almost exactly the same. I was able to ask him questions about the evolution of techniques and the about the reasons why they changed. Those are the kinds of things mister Sepulveda has shared with me which has helped me understand kenpo. Now that he is the national director it gives a tremendous amount of credibility to us. The organization has grown enormously. We have more than 40 schools in the US we have six in Europe and it is growing exponentially and we haven't even advertised yet.
FS: Your motto for the organization is "lead by example, follow by choice." Where did this saying originate and what does it mean to you?
JS: It originated from me. I'm the one who came up with that axiom, and use the word axiom because it indicates that is the pivotal center and structure. It is the philosophical center and structure of what we are doing. That originated by in large because of these extraordinarily negative experiences I have had in kenpo. This is what I became painfully aware of.
People who were in authoritative positions, or were climbing to authoritative positions were not the people represented by the stripes around their waist. In other words, if you wear a black belt, 3rd black, 5th black, or 7th black, all of those are important. They all represent different things in terms of the hierarchy. When you accept higher rank, along with that comes a variety you could call a code of morality for the martial artist. What was very disappointing to me is that these people wearing these very high ranks that were immoral, irresponsible, and people who didn't live up to what they were wearing around their waist. That's okay if you're going to behave that way or be immature, or be an unethical person, but don't put on the stripes. Don't tell me your one thing and behave another way.
That radical conflict was something I've experienced in everything in life, not just in karate. If I'm going to be one of the leaders in this organization, I must lead by example. In other words I will never ask people do things that I would not do, or haven't done, or am not trying to do currently. So the "do as I say, not as I do" thing never did work, it doesn't work today, and it doesn't promote a very positive learning experience for everyone. That is the lead by example part.
Follow by choice is a philosophical decision that I made from my personal experiences in life. That is to be a leader and to evoke change. The only way to evoke change is to set an example for the way to be and people will catch that positive energy and by their own choice they will come over and be a part of that positive energy. Anything other then that is coercion and manipulation, and I'm not interested in that. If you want to be a part of what we are doing, then come on. You're more then welcome, it's open to everyone, but the price of admission is integrity. If you're not a person that has that kind of integrity and morality, then don't join our organization because you will be very short lived if you have that kind of attitude.
FS: What direction will we see kenpo take in the future?
JS: I think the only healthy positive supportive direction kenpo can take in the future is founded under the idea of being extremely opened minded. There are people that are teaching what you would call the original kenpo. Some are teaching the most updated version, and some that are somewhere in between. What we need to understand is that everyone is important. This is an art that is really odd in relation to other arts in that its basis and nature are evolution and change.
As time went on, mister Parker grew and changed, so did the art. You will find these varying wide variety of aspects of the art related to different people who trained with him at different areas of his life. You can see students, teachers, and black belts who left mister Parker 20 years before he died, 10 years before he died, and right up to his death. That does not have to be an intimidating thing, although it's seen that way by a lot of people. There are seniors that only teach the older ways of kenpo and insisted that is correct way. Some of the seniors want to learn the newer versions of kenpo. Then there are a few of them that actually know the old and the new, like John Sepulveda.
What was shocking to me, was that right after mister Parker's death, I found that there were people who were close to him at the end who were also equally arrogant about their information, saying something similar to this is the most updated version so this is the real kenpo. That's just as arrogant as saying this is the original kenpo, and this is what he wanted taught. There is no what he wanted taught. He wanted us all to explore. Now that we have explored and developed in our own areas, we should share the knowledge that we both got from him and that we have all developed ourselves.
What we need is a non intrusive format so that people can accomplish that communication. That's what I think the future is and that's what I'm trying to be a part of. I'll tell you frankly, if this endeavor I'm into right now, if this doesn't work, than I give up. I have been there, done that, and have seen the insanity. If this kind of thing doesn't work and people don't participate and support this, then they can have it, because in my opinion, it will be lost forever. It will be a sad day, because there was too much wonderful information, and too many great people all throughout the world, not just in the United States, that learned directly from mister Parker for many years and have a lot to share.
FS: We've heard about some recent developments in the art such as "Sub-Level Four."
JS: There are four depth zones we refer to in the art of kenpo, which refers to the distance away from your opponent. The closest of those four zones is contact manipulation. This is where we are in a grappling mode. I've been studying from a man named Ron Chapel. What mister Chapel has developed though the instruction of mister Parker for more than 20 years, is another level called "Sub-Level Four." This is another stage to contact manipulation we call control manipulation. Although it is quite complex, a simplistic view is more the Jiu Jitsu side of the kenpo Jiu Jitsu, that it originally was. It employs a lot more grappling, ground techniques along with nerve strikes, cavity presses, and a variety of some very close contact fighting. This structure falls within the framework of our techniques in kenpo.
It is fascinating and has opened my eyes. I've just started my studying with mister Chapel. It's like, and I'm sure you've experienced this yourself, another aspect of kenpo that I was ignorant to. I'm very excited about learning yet something else. This is yet another example of the value behind the open sharing concept.
FS: Is there anything else you would like to add?
JS: I think that what is very important today and in the future of kenpo, is to demand and supply, an open-minded forum for us to get together and share our knowledge. We will never get together and share this diverse knowledge and information if we continue to segment ourselves and put up our walls of defense in these different areas of the country, and different parts of the world. Something truly sad will happen. The total energy that Ed Parker started will be lost in our generation if we don't start communicating in an open brotherly loving family kind of a way. Instructors know that. It is the students who need to become aware of that and demand that kind of openness from their instructors.