A discussion with American Kenpo Master Bryan Hawkins
IL In Part 1 of “Why American Kenpo,” you mentioned Master Parker asking you to take over operations of the West LA School which you now own. What’s it like to take over a school with such a rich history?
BH When Ed Parker asked if I would take over that school, I knew it was a decision that would change the direction of my life. But there was absolutely no hesitation, and I accepted immediately. A few years prior, around 22 years of age, I started a limousine and bodyguard service. I regularly employed friends of mine from the karate school like Big Jim Diggs, Jeff Speakman and Steve Moore. All the while, I continued to train Kenpo as much as I could. But I realized if I wanted to achieve a level of expertise in Kenpo, I needed to sell the limo service to put more time into my training. I sold the company to the Bel-Air hotel with the agreement that I would work for them when they had celebrities that requested bodyguards.
So, at the time Ed Parker asked me to take over the West LA dojo, I was living quite an exciting life bodyguarding many famous people and making more money than any other 26-year-old I knew. But, despite working with and rubbing shoulders with some of the most famous entertainers, Ed Parker to me was still the biggest celebrity I could think of. So, I jumped at the opportunity to become his right-hand man.
IL You mentioned bodyguarding celebrities. That seems to happen a lot with Marital Artists. Who was one of your most notable clients?
BH I would say Don Johnson from Miami Vice. At the time, he was one of my primary clients. What is really interesting is how I got the contract and how it circled back to Ed Parker and Kenpo. I got a call for a meeting, and they butchered his name, telling me I was in consideration to protect a client named “Doctor Johnson.” The whole time before the meeting, I had no idea who the hell Doctor Johnson was and why he needed a bodyguard.
I was directed to the most expensive luxury guest house at the Bel-Air hotel, and when I walked in, I came face to face with Don Johnson, the actor, not to be confused with a random doctor at Cedars-Sinai.
His manager conducted the first ten minutes of the interview as he had for 20 other guys that interviewed before me. Then Don Johnson excitedly took over the questioning. He already knew of my Kenpo training, so he asked me if I knew Ed Parker personally. I, of course, said, “Yes.”
Now, here’s where it gets good. His face lit up. He says, “Ed Parker was Elvis Presley’s instructor as well, right?” I again said, “Yes.” And then he said, “Ed Parker is Elvis Presley’s instructor and he’s your instructor too?” I said yes again. Don stood up, smiled, shook my hand, and walked into the other room. His manager then looked to me with a big grin on his face and said, “You’re hired.”
Had I not been in Kenpo or known Ed Parker I never would have had Don Johnson as a very lucrative client.
IL Isn’t that ironic? He helped get you into a great paying gig building your business and then gave you the very opportunity that took you out of it.
BH Well, actually, about that time I was planning on continuing my bodyguard work but also starting my own dojo. I happened to mention this plan to Frank Trejo and Diane Tanaka casually and said of course I’ll have to get Master Parker’s blessing before leaving. Unbeknownst to me, they mentioned it to Ed Parker, knowing that he was looking for someone to take over the West LA dojo. A couple days later, he called me up to his house, and everything fell into place from there.
IL If people want to learn more about you or your schools where can they find you?
BH They can go to our site bryanhawkinskenpo.com.
IL Great. Before we let you go, is there a story from your time working alongside Ed Parker that gives us a glimpse of the man that may not be common knowledge?
BH Over the years, I met and came to know many of Master Parker’s early students from the 50’s and 60’s. Many of them are famous in their own professions, such as movie director Blake Edwards, physical fitness pioneer Terry Robinson, Hollywood columnist and screenwriter Joe Hyams. And all of them spoke of Master Parker and even referred to him as a father or older brother figure. He had a wisdom about him that seemed to be timeless. Some would describe him as an old soul.
Master Parker was known for his physical side. His dynamic movement. A brutal adversary. The speed and precision, but what was really the most important part of his contributions to the arts was his mind, not his physicality. He developed a system of self-defense that made sense. Years ago, one of my early instructors Howard Silva, asked Ed Parker if he could sum up Kenpo in one word, what would it be? Without missing a beat, Mr. Parker replied, “logic.” To me, that’s really the beauty of American Kenpo. It is a sophisticated, comprehensive, and effective form of self-defense based on the logic of thought and action.
IL Thanks again for taking the time to share your some of your experiences in the arts and for giving us a glimpse into your time with Grandmaster Ed Parker.
BH Thank you.