Under: karate
26 Jun 2011


Since I’ve started this self defense website I have written about many topics of martial arts. Today I am going to tell you a bit about the school I came from and highlight it’s new website http://mmakenpokarate.com/.


I have also added a Recommended Dojos link off to the right sided of this post. This is a personal recommendation based on my 36 years with this school. If you live or work near American Kenpo Karate, Kick Boxing & Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, check this school out if you are considering martial arts training!


Our lineage almost spans 800 years starting with Zenko Yoshida in the thirteenth century. Quoting from the Tracy’s Family Tree here, “This would establish the Yoshida clan’s tie to the Renzai sect of Zen and Kenpo/Kempo/Kosho.”


The reins were passed to the 21st Grand Master, James M. Mitose in the mid-twentieth centry. Ed Parker, one of Mitose and Chow’s students brought Kenpo over to the mainland in the 1950’s. 


As a teenager I remember watching Tracy’s Kenpo Karate commercials during the Kung Fu tv series. I found one old commercial for your perusal.


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While this was not the same commercial I saw in the early 1970’s, it does show how Tracy’s Karate Schools advertised in that era. You see commercialism was a diversion from the oriental model. After the World War II and the Korean wars, many service men came home with some martial arts experience. There was a real hunger for knowledge of martial arts – stateside.


Many have argued that something was lost from karate when instructors in the United States started businesses that taught students for money (like any other business) and that the Tracy’s organization lost something in the translation by teaching karate to the masses.


I would argue that Tracy’s followed Mitose’s example in Hawaii (he started teaching to non-Japanese students – at a time when that was not done) and by making karate training easily available to soccer mom’s kids by putting schools in malls – the caliber of student has actually increased! Karate was no longer shackled (my words) by tradition!


One of my instructor’s (Dick Willett) favorite sayings was, “The proof is in the pudding.” Meaning in this case – judging if someone knew karate or not had nothing to do with the lineage or if the classes were conducted in the traditional language but more to do if it worked or not.


Tracy’s Karate and the American Kenpo Karate, Kick Boxing & Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools has stood the test of time and met all challenges head on. The school is over 40 years old and still to this day is the oasis for those in need of learning self defense training as well as a martial art. 


Our recent liniage started with James M. Mitose. Mitose taught students in Hawaii (click here for some history), He and Chow taught Ed Parker, who brought Kenpo to Main Street USA.




Al and Jim Tracy were one of Ed Parker’s first students and they created the Tracy’s organization. Dick Willett started taking lessons in the early 1960’s and started a Tracy’s school in San Diego in 1968.


The Tracy’s organization in the 1970’s were thought to be the world’s largest schools of self defense. Since that time many including Dick Willett have gone on to create their own organization. We continue to collaborate with the Tracy’s organization with seminars and many (including the past and present owners of the San Diego school) have been inducted in the Tracy’s Hall of Fame.


Dick Willett retired in the mid-1980’s and sold the karate school to Todd McElhinney who continues to operate the school today. Todd was trained by Dick and has successfully competed in Sport karate including kickboxing and point karate.  Master Todd McElhinney holds a eighth degree black belt in Kenpo and a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.


Another one of Dick’s black belts, Dr. Mick Leone holds a ninth degree black belt in Kenpo and a second degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from Fabio Santos. Mick oversees the Jiu-Jitsu training for the school.


As far as the other instructors, board of directors and black belts that have trained at the school – it is almost too many to enumerate here. Dick Willett’s family tree includes over 50 black belts (here). Suffice it to say no matter what area of martial arts you are interested in, you can probably find an expert at this school.


Now let me tell you about the school. What you get is a mixture of traditional kenpo including the 240 self defense techniques, 17 kata, basics, sparring and additionally included now in the curriculum is jiu-jitsu training.


For those that are interested, one can additionally train for sport karate including point and full contact as well as boxing, mma and self defense applications. Why interestingly enough when I was a brown belt, one of the black belts even dabbled in wrestling. While some martial arts are not specifically offered – many students will incorporate additional disciplines as needed.


One example is when I was training for kick boxing, I added boxing into my workout routines. You see many martial arts are complementary to each other. I have always said fighting is fighting – meaning that although the methods may vary – the way one goes about doing it is the same.


In today’s environment one has to include jiu-jitsu if he is going fight in mma. Even if he does not want to ground fight – he will have to fend off ground attacks.


American Kenpo Karate, Kick Boxing & Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is associated wtih Joe Lewis, the former world heavy weight full-contact champion. Joe used to train Tracy’s backbelts in tournament fighting and continues to be a world renowned fighting expert and running many seminars every year.


I’ll close out with a video of some of our our guys associated wtih Team Twisted and Amercian Kenpo Karate practitioners that train at United Martial Arts in Hemet. Joe Scarafone has helped train these guys and I really enjoyed some of these fight videos.


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12 Responses to “American Kenpo Karate, Kick Boxing & Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu!”

  1. Matt Klein Says:

    It is gratifying to see my sensei’s school is evolving. Brazilian Jiu jitsu, MMA, kickboxing, Kenpo, it’s all good. Have learned so much from that great studio on El Cajon Blvd.

    I’m with you on boxing, John. Extremely valuable for self defence. We are teaching more and more of it down here in Oz.
    Matt Klein recently posted..Take a ChanceMy Profile

  2. Dr. J Says:

    I was already a first dan when I walked through the doorway of that new karate school in town, Tracy’s! It was run by two high ranking black belts from San Jose who were in the Midwest seeking to spread their art and make a living. They tested me then welcomed me to learn from them. It was the best decision in the martial arts that I ever made. Sure we joked about how the Tracy symbol on our sleeve looked like a dollar symbol, but what they instilled in me with both technique and dedication made me better than I ever thought I could be and stays with me to this day! I’m proud to say that I have both Al and Jim’s signatures on my Tracy diploma!
    Thank you, John!
    Dr. J recently posted..Lab Notes: Medicare Pays for Avastin for Breast Cancer; RBC Membranes Help Nanoparticles Fight CancerMy Profile

  3. Luke Says:

    Hi guys ! I know this could be a recurring question and you heard it few times probably, but…what should i learn to be able to simply protect me and my girlfriend when we go out ?

    I don’t want to be a master in everything, and look pro – i just want to be efficient.

    Thanks in advance.
    Luke recently posted..What degree should i getMy Profile

  4. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Matt,

    I read with interest your BJJ training. I guess one has to evolve… I know back in my fighting days it was evolve or loose some effectiveness.

    Hi Dr J,

    It is good to see a fellow Tracy’s black belt do well… funny about the dollar symbol but Al always had a good business sense. He was wise enough to get a good business system as well as having a good fighting system. :)

    Hi Luke,

    Take a look at what is being offered around you and try to find something you are comfortable learning. Some of the schools will be to formal and some maybe no discipline. What I am trying to say is you are the buyer and have to like, respect and think the practitioners are good at what they do as well as they need to be good teachers.

    When you pick one school… let them know it is for a limited time – maybe 3 to 6 months to see if it is a good fit. You as a beginner don’t really know what you like or where you excel yet. Letting the instructor know you are starting on a trial basis might help them know you expect good value for your money.

    weather you pick boxing, karate, kung fu, muay thai, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, or whatever is not as important as it being a good fit and meeting your goals.

    If you goal is self defense, most any school should be able to do that but my bias would be one that teaches some light contact sparring too… not so you become a great sport fighter or so you can try everything out but rather so you get the feeling of what it takes in an altercation to succeed.

    In reality a street fight will be short and you will win fast so long as you are properly trained.

    I chose Tracy’s (now American Kenpo Karate, Kick Boxing and Jiu-Jitsu) because when I talked to the instructor about my frustrations while trying other schools… and mentioned I already know how to kick and punch but I cannot seem to connect constantly… Dick Willett was able to tell me and demonstrate distance, initial movement and timing he would be teaching me to actually connect with my strikes… that I did not learn in some of the other schools I tried.

    I’d guess that half or more of what is out there is mediocre. But the rest of the schools (of whatever style or martial art) are no nonsense good fighting schools that teach excellent self defense moves.

    Good luck finding a school that meets your needs and don’t worry about having to change schools if one does not seem to be teaching you what you are doing in addition to basics…

    If you are in San Diego or Australia, I have a couple of Dojo Recommendations of schools I personally vouch for…

    Good Luck Luke!

  5. John T Says:

    I always have a question to ask if all these are learnt can we remember to use these really at the most difficult tim to achieve the goal of learning.
    John T recently posted..Propiedades del alpiste.My Profile

  6. John W. Zimmer Says:

    John T., the training is worth it considering the alternative.

  7. Zara Says:

    @Luke: for self defense you need something that can be learned quickly, is effective and prepares you for a wide variety of situations. I’d recommend something along the lines of krav maga, kenpo or jujutsu (provided it’s non-classical). I’d steer clear of martial sports and purely traditional arts since they either don’t adequately prepare you for dangerous situations or they tend to have a long learning curve. It all depends on what your situation is and what sort of risks you expect: ideally you should have a competent teacher write up a program that is suited to your particular needs (you probably won’t need a lot of what is taught at a typical martial arts school and a lot of techniques are mostly taught for other reasons than pure self defense although they usually can be used as such with enough training) and prepares you through one-on-one training. Unfortunately such training (at least of sufficient high quality) is hard to find and expensive since most teachers are eiter not willing to teach just one student or they don’t have the necessary skills or flexibility to adequately develop basic self defense skills in a short timeframe. If you’re young and in good health it might be worth taking a few months of boxing or thaiboxing lessons: you’ll develop decent punches and kicks and it’s still one of the fastest ways of learning to defend yourself realistically. The downside of course is that boxing/kickboxing doesn’t prepare you for holds, weapons or ground. For that the above mentioned arts are very good so it’s worth taking a look and maybe combine two arts if you have the time. Hope this helps.

  8. Terrence Says:

    Hey thats pretty cool. I just started martial arts and you are very knowledgeable let me know what you think of the school. http://www.sifuoch.com

  9. Matt Klein Says:

    I am in agreement with Zara that boxing or Thai kickboxing is very effective and also simple for a beginner to learn. What attracted me to Todd’s school was the fact that we sparred in both point and kickboxing styles. We had a lot of guys from different backgrounds come in and have a go on sparring night–boxers, kickboxers, TKD, Kung Fu, and even a few street-fighters, so we were exposed to a lot. It really helped us develop a good defense against all kinds of fighters.

    Also agree that some form of grappling, whether it be BJJ, judo, wrestling, or submission wrestling would be very beneficial for self defense.
    Matt Klein recently posted..A White Belt Again | Brazilian Jiu-JitsuMy Profile

  10. Zara Says:

    @Terrence: of course the question was directed at John but I’m going to be presumpteous and give my own opinion. First of all it’s hard if not impossible to properly judge a school without having seen it and trained with them but it looks good and I like the combination of WC (very good striking style for SD) and jujutsu (for any decent SD program you need to be able to deal with an attacker on the ground). If it has weapon defenses too you’re pretty much set. In our style (a blend of Japanese jujutsu combined with elements from JKD, Kali-escrima, some BJJ/shootfighting and the previous experience of my sensei in karate en judo) we solely use boxing/kickboxing defenses and WC entries against strikes and kicks (the karate stuff is usually way too stiff or slow) followed up with boxing and/or karate type strikes (handsword, hammerfist…) ending in grappling range where locks and throws play a role, finishing or controlling the opponent on the ground. We also train defenses on the ground (including some ground sparring BJJ style) and weapon defenses and usage (knife, stick and pistol mainly although we don’t teach shooting) at the higher belts. As John said in a previous post: the style doesn’t matter all that much aslong as it’s effective and you’re comfortable with it.

  11. Joshua stiens Says:

    I think a ground game is the most effective. Kempo covers it all

  12. Steve Doss Says:

    I had the honor of meeting and spending time with both Al Tracy and Ed Parker. Even though I wasn’t a Kenpo practitioner, they both couldn’t have been more friendly and open with me.

    I first met Al Tracy when I called him from a newsletter about martial arts business practices he wrote. He was very smart and of course experienced on the subject, and spent time teaching and helping me. When I finally met him several years later, he clearly remembered our discussions and couldn’t have been more friendly and cordial. It is great men like these that are the roots and foundation of the martial arts in America.