Reflecting on Irvin Gill’s Key Principles and Rules of American Kenpo Karate

Gill, Irvin B. American Kenpo Karate: The Key Principles and Rules of American Kenpo Karate. Spring House, PA: Tambuli Media, 2019.

Irvin Gill was on a journey. In discussions with various Kenpo masters, founders and high-ranking practitioners in Filipino-based martial arts, and an aikido fifth dan, he found the blueprints to his answers. The blueprints he found demonstrated what made American Kenpo Karate distinctively Kenpo to him. It was not solely the techniques that defined and differentiated Kenpo from other martial arts, as he knew there are many similarities and variations across all styles and systems. Exploring Kenpo further, he understood that five main principles of Kenpo, laid out by the founder Edmund Parker himself, are what defined Kenpo. Gill evaluates and rediscovers the five key principles of Kenpo – Proper Awareness, Proper Structure, Proper Energy and Force, Proper Movement, and Proper Strategy and Tactics – to better understand what makes Kenpo unique in an ocean of martial arts.

The book is divided into five main chapters, each aligning with one of the key principles. Proper Awareness is to focus not just on the person one could be fighting, but the environment around them; making sure one does not trip or slip on anything, keeping an eye out for a crude weapon, or noticing the physical movements and tells of the people around – if they are neutral or foe. Gill mentions that this focus is what Parker said was “Black Dot Focus” (focus on surroundings), as opposed to “White Dot Focus” (focus on one person or thing). Proper Structure comes from the structure or posture of one’s body in conjunction with a movement or strike. This comes from aligning everything to reduce the amount of damage one receives. Gill compares this principle with a truck and plow analogy: The plow is connected to the truck. To use the plow in the most effective and efficient way possible, the truck must be behind the plow. Just using the plow does not create the necessary displacement or force as would both the truck and plow would produce. Hence the alignment between both the truck and plow creates the desired effect.

Gill continues on with Proper Energy and Force, explaining that there are three main uses of energy and force – horizontal, linear, and rotational torque – and the accuracy and precision of these strikes originates from the correct alignment of both mind and body. This is the first implicit connection Gill makes between Kenpo’s principles. Next, Proper Movement is a combination of two concepts: point of origin and economy of motion. With the former, there is no wind up before any given movement, which leads to the latter, where one uses minimal movement to not only conserve energy but to create and achieve better positioning. A better position leads one to Proper Strategy and Tactics. Here, Gill asserts that to overcome an opponent, one must be ahead of the opponent’s OODA process, defined as the Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act process. To achieve such prowess, one must utilize Proper Strategy and Tactics in combination with the four other principles. Gill makes the following connection: without Proper Structure, one cannot have Proper Movement, Proper Awareness, Proper Strategy and Tactics, or Proper Energy and Force; without Proper Awareness, one cannot have each of the other four principles and so on.

These principles do not exist in a vacuum to where each principle is compartmentalized and separated from the others. Throughout Gill’s book, there are plenty of connections between each of the five key principles, implicit or otherwise. He furthers the idea that one principle does not stand on its own without support from the others. It is this combination, connection, and culmination of the five Kenpo principles that Gill feels is what makes Kenpo unique. From his conclusion, Gill also infers that any Kenpo practitioner that implements and utilizes these principles simultaneously can actively demonstrate Kenpo’s uniqueness to the larger world.

Own a copy here.


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