The essentials of Kenpo training are in its techniques. Kenpo Karate, as with Kenpo Jujitsu, has over 700 distinct self-defense techniques, in addition to blocks (originally strikes) and 72 kicks. But it is not just the number of techniques, it's how they are taught that defines Kenpo.
About two weeks after my brother Jim and I began training with Ed Parker, Ed started an afternoon class, with Jim and me as his only students. The class never had more than four students at any one time, so it was like having a semi-private lesson each day with Ed. This allowed us to move quickly in the evening class from beginning to intermediate and advanced class.
One of the first things I learned was the "What if?" rule. It went like this: Ed would teach a technique and we would practice it. But the technique was always limited. "What if" the attacker grabbed you slightly differently? Or "What if" he grabbed with a different hand? Or what if, whatever. Ed would then show you a variation to the technique with lightening speed and a devastating power that sent you reeling and bruised for a week; and, if you were smart, you never asked "What if?" again. But, if you were really smart, you would get a new student to ask "What if?". You learned that for every technique there are numerous variations which would eventually be taught to cover each variations of the attack. Both Oshita and Chow emphasized that there were many ways and variations to the techniques used to defend against each attack.
At the time (1957-59) many of the Japanese Karate systems had a very limited number of moves, with a right punch being one move, a left punch being a second move, right and left punch being a third move, a block a fourth move, a block and punch a fifth move, a block and two punches a sixth move, and a block with a different hand another move, etc.; and, those styles required each move to be mastered before the next move was taught. Chow, Oshita and Parker all stressed the importance of learning many moves over mastering a single move. Ed Parker was 6' and 195#, Chow was 5'6" and 150# of solid muscle, Oshita was slightly over 5' and weighed about 100# (you never ask a woman Kenpo master her height or weight). What was best for one, was not best for the other, and all three emphasized, what was easy for one student might be difficult for another. One student might have fast hands, another fast feet, another student both and another student, neither; but each student would seek his level of ability.
How Kenpo is taught was put best by Oshita who told me another style would make me master one move at a time, one move a week, and in ten years I would have mastered 500 moves. But she would teach me ten, twenty, thirty or more moves a day, and I would not be very good at most of these when a new move was taught, but in a year I would master 1,000 moves. What's more, the moves I would master would not be the same as another student who had been taught the same moves. Each student would master what his mind and body found easiest. It was for this reason that there was no brown belt test at that time. For brown belt you had to know all the moves, but only be a master of most. The instructor would know when a student had progressed from Kyu to Dan, and each student would be different. But more importantly, a move that was difficult, or even impossible for the student when it is first taught, would become easier as he developed his Kenpo skills. When a student had mastered all the techniques, he would then become an Instructor. (Chow had no instructor rank and never used instructor on any of his certificates.)
I remember in April 1960, when I was an Ikkyu (1st degree brown belt) I flew to California where I showed Ed Parker what I had learned from both Chow and Oshita, and related some of the insight I had gained in how to practice the different techniques. Ed told me he had learned the same thing from Chow, and had not thought about it in years. He called the training method, "50 Ways to Sunday," meaning that a student would practice each techniques 50 Ways to Sunday - so many different ways that it would become natural.
Kenpo teaches that no one defense will work all the time, but the variations are the defense. In addition, as Oshita told me, you can practice a technique a thousand time, and it will only work for one attack; it is better to practice ten variations 100 times, so the mind and body can repeat the same move many different ways. The Way of Kenpo is in training, and one must not deviate from that Way.
A technique, like the 2-hand lapel grab (Kimono Grab), requires you to step back with your left foot when the opponent's arms are extended. But when his arms are bent, it's a different technique and you step forward, using different weapons. So "what if" the arms are bent and you can't straighten them as you step back and strike? Simple. You use a different weapon, striking a different target. Your left foot may have to step slightly to the side, or even directly to the right side. Your right upward strike can change to an asp strike, or go between the arms and twist the opponents arms. You might step back with the right foot and use the left hand defense, or any one of a number of variations - 50 Ways to Sunday.
Because of the numerous variations, the defenses against a "Two Hand Lapel Grab" became different techniques, depending on the foot movement and hand weapons used, with the three major defenses being the Kimono Grab, Swinging Gate and Striking Asp. Of course when Kenpo Karate was originally taught, these names were not used - my brothers and I created the names starting in 1964. But in 1959 the techniques were simply known as defense against "Two Hand Lapel Grabs" technique one (and variations); Technique 2, etc. Swinging Gate and Striking Asp are shown under the title of "COUNTERING A TWO HAND LAPEL GRAB FROM THE FRONT" in Ed Parker's "Kenpo Karate" (1960 Iron Man Industries) pages 78-81)
The basic technique is, however, the Kimono Grab, in which you pin the attacker's hands with you left arm (hand) as you step back and use a right upward strike against the attackers elbows. The right hand then swings down and around to strike the radial nerve of the attacker's forearm, followed by a right chop to the attacker's throat. In Swinging Gate, the first two moves are the same, but on the third move, the left foot swings counter clockwise so you are on a 45° angle, the right hand pulls back and strikes the attacker to the mid section, followed by the right hand swinging around to chop the attacker's forearms, followed by a chop to the attacker's throat.
But "What if" the attacker pulled you forward? That technique is the Striking Asp.
But "What if" you didn't straighten the arms with the first strike. You could use the variation of a right reverse elbow strike to the attacker's left elbow, followed by a strike to the attacker's forearm.
But "What if" the Elbow Strike didn't work? You could use the variation of a Back Knuckle rack across the bridge of the nose, etc.
But "What if" his head was turned? Then you would use a hammer fist to the side of his head, or back of his neck.
But "What if"???? You could use any of the 22 Variations to this attack, Fifty Ways to Sunday in any number of combinations to disable your attacker.
The basic Kimono Grab technique, has its "follow ups" which include an elbow strike to the attacker's jaw and hammer fist to the groin and the further follow up of a right heel hook, foot stomp or rear kick; or, an elbow strike followed by a right back knuckle to the right side of the attacker's head and a chop to the left side of the attacker's neck, or a reverse hand sword to the groin; or .... 50 Ways to Sunday
Starting in 1963, Ed Parker began calling the second set of Follow Ups (heel hook, foot stomp, rear kick, etc) "Extensions". Then about 1965 he began calling all the follow ups, "extensions" so that, by 1980, everything after the basic moves was an extension, and the techniques themselves became little more than simple blocks. This was no longer Kenpo, but rather Ed Parker's own style which he continued to call Kenpo as American Kenpo. But Ed Parker had stopped teaching Kenpo Karate by 1962.
Kenpo techniques are complete techniques. They are taught one move at a time, but the technique is never broken down as being one technique as the beginnings, a second technique as the middle and a third technique as the end as many would-be Kenpo styles are teaching today. But the Way of Kenpo is in training. In Kenpo Karate a technique is a technique. It is complete in and of itself from beginning to end; and further, no technique is ever broken down as a beginning and advanced technique. There are variations to techniques, but those variations are, like the techniques, complete in and of themselves, and because of the sheer number, some are not taught of necessity until the student is more advanced. In other words, a techniques like the "5 Count Chop" [5 Swords] is a single techniques with five moves using only the right hand, and with an elbow, hammer fist, heel hook and/or rear kick follow ups. In Kenpo Karate this technique is never broken down as a block and chop as a technique with so called extensions to compete the five moves. (However, the block and chop is, by itself a technique - and is the beginning of numerous other techniques.) The "7 Count Chop" [7 Swords] is, however a similar techniques which also uses the left hand. The variations to these techniques have the same moves, with different weapons. For example a variation to the first two moves, block and chop, block and hand sword [Eye of the Tiger], Gifted Palm instead of Cutting Palm, etc.
Put simply, any instructor who does not teach Kenpo Karate as it was originally taught, is not teaching "Kenpo Karate". They may call it Kenpo Karate, but it is not Kenpo Karate. That is not to say they are not teaching some form of Kenpo, but they are not teaching Kenpo Karate.
Kenpo Karate was only taught by Professor Chow and Ed Parker up to 1962, and Al Tracy and his students from 1962 to the present; and, since Ralph Castro who now teaches Shaolin Kenpo, Sam Kuoha, who taught Kara Ho Kenpo, and I are the only living "Kenpo Karate" students of Professor Chow; and Al Tracy and I are the only living Ed Parker "Kenpo Karate" student who still know the complete system of "Kenpo Karate", there are no other authorities to say what Kenpo Karate is.
James Ibrao, who learned "Kenpo Karate" under Ed Parker, has modified his system, making it a 5 form system, which, while related to Kenpo, is no longer "Kenpo Karate".
When Sam Kuoha came to the mainland in the 1970, Professor Chow told him the only ones teaching Kenpo Karate on the Mainland were the Tracy brothers, and Sam went to San Diego where he taught at the Tracy's Karate school.
None of the BYU "Club" members teaches Kenpo Karate, and while there may be some Utah students Ed Parker taught while he was at BYU, none of those students ever trained with Ed Parker for more than six months, and none attained the rank of black belt until after Ed Parker began teaching Chinese Kenpo.