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If you will allow yourself to think this way for just a few moments we can trace the art of American Kenpo directly to the empty hand art of Wu Shu, called Chuan fa. That means this amazing art of “personal defense” or “escape patterns”, as it is originally referred to, was the art taught to the Bodhisattva Warriors, the protectors of Buddhism, in a way the original knights templar--and we are all their direct descendants. Although I have spent many years of my life researching and inquiring of many different religions and belief systems, I had only a cursory knowledge of Buddhism and this encounter opened the door for me to really plunge in.

Metaphorically Buddhism's journey of self discovery and self actualization mirrors the journey of the martial way. Not “the” path to discover who you are in all of this, but “a” path of discovery, a way to learn about yourself and celebrate the fact that you are here. You see, that is the point of the martial arts, and how it deviates from the various sport fighting systems of the day. There needs to be a real sense of grace, beauty and realization of the common good mixed in with the physical mastery to be a complete journey. A balance of the yang to go with the yin as it were, or as Nagaboshi Tomio points out in his book Bodhisattva Warriors, “non-spiritual physical arts practitioners may get attached to their own supposed virtues or attributes. Such an attitude closes the door of the path”. A concept that is lacking so much in the over-commercialization of the martial arts so prevalent in the United States and now other developed countries as well. That is why staying connected to the old school ways is so important to me, my students and many of my friends in the martial arts world. And that is why I have remained so closely connected to my original Goju-Ryu instructor Hanshi Lou Angel. You see, Mr. Angel tested for and received his third degree black belt directly from Gogen Yamagucci in Tokyo, Japan in 1963. It is with that sensibility that I was raised in the martial arts by Hanshi Angel and it is how I pass on the arts to my students.

Soon Mr. Sherman and I were called to the back stage area to prepare for the demo. Meeting other Chinese performers, none of which spoke any English and some had never seen a white boy other than in the movies, we stretched out and repeatedly walked through our demo. As the time went on so slowly I asked Mr. Sherman to join me in the tent for a brief moment to reflect on how we got here. We spoke of the history of our art and the sacrifices made by so many that have allowed us to be present at this moment. The depth of the emotions was very real and added much to the totality of the experience.
Perhaps Einstein was right and energy can never be created or destroyed, it just transfers from one event to the next; then maybe in some way my Kenpo teacher and mentor Mr. Ed Parker could feel this. Or maybe my recently deceased mother could feel pride in her son's accomplishment of such staggering proportions.

Then the time came for us to go next to the stage and get ready to perform. It was at this very moment that I felt the sun and the cool wind on my skin in a way I never felt before, so incredibly alive. I was so taken by the emotion of it all I had to consciously change my focus just to the physical performance now seconds away. I became concerned that my concentration would be so taken from me by these emotions that I might trip on the red carpet on my way up the stairs. The moment came, we entered stage and hit the demo with every expectation we could have imagined. Spontaneous applause from throughout the audience assured us that we were not the only people enjoying this display of violent poetry we call American Kenpo. In just a few minutes it was over, but only the physical part; we were changed forever.

After the demo the group returned to the fantastic hanging temple for a tour. And here we were, at one of the places where it all began. Full circle is what I thought, walking through the temple with all the feelings and emotions of the event just finished. There were so many moments where we felt a sense of completion, not just of the demo but of the many many years of study and sacrifice that Mr. Sherman and I have shared these past 10 years together and all the many years we have trained in the martial arts previously. Hence the motivation for this article, that feeling of closure that calls clearly to me as never before in my life.

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Read Jeff Speakman's full biography.
Jeff Speakman and Trever Sherman