Last Interview with Grand Master John McSweeney
was in no rush to have this interview printed on our web site, in fact I was
not going to release this for a while, but on February 26th, 2002 at 3:45pm
Grand Master John McSweeney passed away unexpectedly in his home in Florida
from a massive heart attack. He was seventy four years old and still teaching
to his last days.
I am a student of Master John McSweeney and trained with him back in the mid
1970's when he was teaching in The Bronx, New York. Since I had one of the
last interviews with him before his passing, on September 30, 2001,
I am now releasing that interview
for the benefit of all the Kenpo practitioners throughout the world.
Today the Kenpo world is in mourning over the lose of John Mc Sweeney, a Hall of
Fame Master who had dedicated his life to spreading the Chinese Kenpo
throughout world. Today we all mourn his loss and praise his accomplishments.
So here now are some of his last public thoughts about his training in Ed
Parker's Chinese Kenpo System, how he saw it and how he taught it.
Question one: Let me start by asking you how you came to pick Kenpo as your
chosen style. Also, what are your impressions of the late Master Ed Parker?
"I picked Kenpo after many years in Judo and then later Jujitsu. The man who
taught me Jujitsu was Gene Cones. However, both arts are grappling arts which
I liked, but it really was not what I favored. I wanted something with
striking. I asked Gene where could I go to learn a striking art and he said
to go see a guy named Ed Parker in Pasadena. This was perfect as I was living
in the L.A. area at the time. Gene told me Parker was teaching an art called
Kenpo Karate, which I had never heard of, but I went to see Parker anyway and
he took me on as his student. After years of study I became one of his
earliest black belts. I started with him in 1959 and left in the end of 1962.
"I consider him to be the greatest master I ever worked under. Explosive
hitting power, he really knew his art, not to mention he was a real
gentlemen. He had all I was looking for in a teacher so I stayed with him to
learn all I could. That's how I came to meet Parker and train with him."
Question two: I know you're a man of a very varied background in martial
arts. Can you tell us what other pugilistic arts you have studied?
"Well besides boxing I studied Chinese Kung Fu under masters like Jimmy Lee,
who was Bruce Lee's partner. I also trained with professor Lao and professor
Wang in the San Francisco Chinatown area. Bruce Lee visited this area a lot
and would often visit Jimmy Wu, who was my main instructor in kung fu. Jimmy
taught for Parker, so that was where I learned my kung fu."
Question three: We know Kenpo is indeed an effective style, but everyone says
that of their own chosen style. What advice do you have for those who are
looking for the so-called "best style."
"I would say there really is no best art, it depends on you."
"I would say there really is no best art, it depends on you. If you like to
kick, and you have the power in your legs and you want to be a kicker, then
go for something that is like the Korean Tae kwon Do. But the advantages of
Keno, as Parker used to say, is that you can fight in close quarters, like in
phone booth, whereas if you're in a kicking art, you can't fight in a phone
booth. Kenpo is essentially an in-close art, like boxing.
"Kenpo teaches you to move in on people with tremendous power, generated by
circles and the linear moves. Kenpo is an effective street fighting art, and
that's why I consider it to be one the best arts to learn. If you want to
know straight self-defense for street fighting circumstances Kenpo is it."
Question four: Could you enlighten the readers as to why Master Parker called
his system Kenpo Karate, and not Chinese Kenpo? There seems to be a bone of
contention as to why Master Parker used the word Karate instead of Kung Fu,
when in fact we know Kenpo comes from China. Would you please explain to us
your understanding of this matter?
"Parker got his training from Professor K. S. Chow in Hawaii. Chow was also
known as thunderbolt Chow, because he hit so hard. Professor Chow's
instructor was his father, who was also well-versed in the martial arts.
Parker also studied with James Mitosi, another fierce fighter. Since Chow and
Mitosi both came from Japan they called it karate, which is a Japanese word
meaning shell hand. They added the title of Kenpo, which means fist law, and
so Kenpo Karate was born there. Technically speaking, it is Chinese Kenpo, as
it all came from China originally."
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Question five: What do you feel makes Kenpo unique compared to other fighting
"I would say its basis in practical self defense. Most fighting styles
emphasize long distance kicking or linear strikes. Kenpo combines the linear
with circles. It mainly closes in on an opponent, again like boxing, it
moves in. Its kicks are normally low to the hip, the groin, the knee cap, the
shin, normally not high kicks. It uses a lot of elbow techniques, which are
close-in fighting techniques. It has numerous hand strikes which contain a
lot of power because they use the circular moves of the waist and the back.
It's practical, powerful and hard hitting that's why I consider it an
excellent self-defense and street fighting art."
Question six: No matter how good any style may be, each has its strong
points as well as its weak points. Having studied Kenpo for so long what
would you say its weak and strong points are?
"Kenpo uses all the other natural weapons of the body,
including head butting, all the elbow moves - forward, up, back, down."
"I'd say its weak point would be, in general, although there are many
exceptions in this rule, that high kicking is lacking. Sometimes high kicks
to the head with great power can be very important and effective for a quick
knockout. The best of both worlds is to know both high and low kicks. Now I'm
not a high kicker myself, so that doesn't bother me, but if someone is a high
kicker, that could bother them.
"Its strong point is that it uses all the other natural weapons of the body,
including head butting, all the elbow moves - forward, up, back, down. It
uses all the hand moves and sophisticated finger strikes, finger pokes. It
has many heel palm strikes, fist strikes, and the knee strikes, with a very
big emphasis on the knees. In my opinion it has more strong points than weak
points, however those lovers of high kicks might find Kenpo lacking there."
Question seven: Kenpo's history tells us originally Kenpo had very few
classical forms. We know Master Parker included six forms to this style
after he came to the United States. Could you tell us how Master Parker went
about creating his Kenpo forms and why he decided to add them to his system?
"When Parker came to America from Hawaii, he studied at Brigham Young where
he got his degree in 1957, and as soon as he got his degree, he went to
Pasadena, California and opened his school. He had not learned any forms and
sets from Chow. He learned strictly self-defense techniques and sparring, so
he was excellent in both. He created his short form one himself. Then he
created another form called the Book Form, which is in his first book,
"Secrets in Chinese Kenpo." It was a two-man form, that each man did
individually, then at the end, they combined to show what the moves were for.
"In 1961 I went to Phoenix, Arizona after I had been with Parker for a few
years. I was a brown belt. I trained with Bob Trias for a week because I was
there on business. Bob was a former marine who brought Japanese-style Karate
to America, even before Parker. Parker started Kenpo, but Trias, to my
knowledge, was the first American Karate man who brought it to America. He
started in Phoenix in 1955. He was a big fellow. About 6 foot 7, and 260
pounds. He was a hard hitter. Now with that kind of physique, you can
understand, he would be going for power. So when I trained with him, he said
my sparring was OK, and so was my self-defense. He had a high regard for the
"Hawaiian boy," which he called Parker.
"But he said 'one thing you don't
have, and tell Parker this, is that you don't have any forms'. So I went
back to Parker in the summer of 61, and I informed him of what Trias said,
and he looked at me, didn't say anything to me. The next day I was with him
before training class, he looked over to me and said, 'You know, I've been
thinking about what Trias told you, and he's right. I don't have any forms,
I don't have any sets. Just some simple stuff I created myself.'
"Then he said, 'I'm going to solve this problem.' And within a month he
brought down Jimmy Wu from San Francisco, who was a Kung Fu man, a specialist
in White Crane and Tai Chi, and other animal sets, but he especially loved
the internal arts. So, Jimmy Wu lived with Parker for a full 12 months.
Parker paid his room and board, but unfortunately, not any salary, and that's
why Jimmy Wu left us eventually, because he needed more money to survive and
Parker gave very little, not enough for his needs, so he left.
"But before he left, Jimmy Wu created our forms. I was there when he created
them, with the other belts like Al Tracy and Jimmy Ebrao and Rich Montgomery,
guys who were my seniors at Kenpo. I was in the group, and we learned these
forms together from Jimmy Wu. Parker learned the forms too, but then Parker
made his own adjustments, especially to form one, two and three. He made
more linear moves and some Kenpo moves in form two, but if you notice in
forms four, five and six, they have the Chinese influence exclusively.
"I would say there was 90% Jimmy Wu and 10% Parker in those forms, and forms
one through three would be half and half, Parker and Wu. But without Jimmy
Wu, we wouldn't have had forms one through six, a lot of people don't
realize that, and it's essentially Chinese and that's the basis of Parkers
Question eight: When I learned under you so many years back we had to learn
numerous techniques as well as the traditional forms. Do you still teach
this way and if not, why?
"When I left Parker and went to Ireland I taught strictly what he taught. But
in my own training I went over Parkers forms sets, and from them, I picked
out specific weapons, strikes that I liked and I worked on these strikes.
However, I still kept strictly to Parker's system of teaching.
"So when I came back to the states, the end of '64 or '65, I taught the
straight Parker system which you learned from me. Later, when I went to the
Midwest for a few years, I didn't teach because I was on the road basically
five days a week. I had no time to teach, so I worked myself reanalyzing the
strikes that I learned from Parker and Jimmy Woo. I emphasized how I could
get more power from these strikes. I worked on all the body mechanics using
the waist and the back to increase body power in my strikes.
"Parker used a double strike to the head and the groin, or a double strike to
the bladder or the kidney, but I found there was no torque power in these
strikes because using two hands like that just uses power from the shoulders.
I realized that was a weakness in some moves. I changed the double moves to
single moves. I changed the move striking using only one strike at a time
thereby bringing in the waist action which increased the power of each
However, the changes I made were only in the fine points of
technique. I did not change Parkers essential teaching. I emphasize power
now, especially in the wide circles of the white crane, which Parker didn't
believe in. He said, 'big circles, big trouble.' That's true in most cases,
but there are times when you can use a big circle for knockout power after a
minor strike or for a bigger flick or a short jab, or when you get the
opponent upset, and you can cock back and get the wide circle.
"I had essentially ended up going back to my boxing days, to keep it as
simple as possible, with emphasis on the power strikes, the four strikes of
the boxer, the jab, the cross, the hook, the upper cut, and how to get power
in them; to substitute the heel palm for the hook, the upswing for the
uppercut, because it was a 360 power strike instead of the 180 is all get out
of the upper cut, you get a 360 circle when you do an upswing with the fist
turned up. I realized this had much more power than the upper cut.
"As I continued
to analyze the Kenpo strikes I made more emphasis on each individual strike,
improved the strikes' optimum power."
"When I started teaching again openly in 1980 in Chicago I concentrated on
training people in these power strikes, and boxing techniques. The people I
was training were already black belts in Japanese systems, but they liked the
circular strikes they were seeing and felt the power in them. As I continued
to analyze the Kenpo strikes I made more emphasis on each individual strike,
improved the strikes' optimum power. I added some of my power strikes. I of
course incorporated many of Parkers techniques. I had no intention of
changing Parker's system. All I wanted was more emphasis on the power in each
strike. I created my own belt system and encouraged sparring to test the
stopping power of the strikes. Basically, that is the difference between
Parker and me.
"Some people emphasize self defense techniques the way thunderbolt Chow did.
Some people emphasize sets of kata the way Jimmy Wu did and most Chinese Kung
Fu people, but that's their emphasis. My emphasis was breaking down the sets
and the technique and getting the optimum power out of them using your
physique. Some people are going to hit harder than others. Some people are
tall, some lean, but they hit like dynamite because they use their leverage.
In essence we are all built differently, but if you use your physique
properly you can create tremendous hitting power. I guess that's what makes
me different from the traditional Kenpo system. I concentrate on getting the
most power from the human body potential."
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Question nine: Since the demise of Master Ed Parker numerous Kenpo
associations have arisen, including your own. Can you tell us why so many
new associations have come into existence rather than all of them being
associated with the International Kenpo Karate association which we know is
Ed Parker's association?
"When Ed died, unfortunately he didn't have a lineage of instructors to take
over his system. He didn't have somebody who would be number one or two or
three. So, his wife took it over, and although a very nice lady, she was not
skilled in his art. She never trained with him. She took over the business
end of it, and took some young fellows that were training under Ed in the
Pasadena school and made a committee out of them. I was still in his
association a year after he died, as were most people, but I was given orders
that I couldn't promote anybody to brown belt unless they flew out to L.A,
and was tested by a board of second, third or fourth degree black belts.
"This did not sit right with me as I was already a seventh degree black belt
under Parker. I was with him many years, one of his original black belts. I
thought it wasn't right to have someone who was promoted to brown belt be
sent to be tested by people who were ranked lower than I was. I have the
greatest respect for Parker wife, Lalani, but I thought she really shouldn't
be judging my people for brown belt. I should have done that. I talked to
other people in the association all around the country, and we all had the
same feeling. So we left one by one from his group.
"Jeff Speakman, one of his number-one boys, after he made that movie, "The
Perfect Weapon" stayed with Lalani Parker and worked with her for awhile, but
he too decided to get out and create his own system, as did many other
so-called 'old timers' for many of the same reasons. We have nothing against
the people running the organization now. It just did not fit well with the
older members of the association, so they left. Now I believe there are many
Kenpo groups. Many are run by these old timers in Kenpo."
Question ten: You have been a martial arts teacher for many years now and
taught numerous students. Could you tell us what you consider a good student
to be? Let me put you on the spot and ask: what if you were told you had to
pick and train one novice student to be the best Kenpo fighter your teachings
could provide? What attributes would you be looking for in your selection of
that one student?
"If you want to define what makes a student a good potential champion, then we can start with his physique."
"Of course every teacher is looking for the good students, without a good
student a teacher has nothing to offer. But, if you want to define what makes
a student a good potential champion, then we can start with his physique. Not
that physique is the end all because, it is not. History tells us there were
many who had less than perfect physiques and became great champions of the
art. There are many who have optimum physique, meaning the height and
weight, but can't use it to their advantage. I am only giving you general
idea what would help to become really great in the fighting arts.
"From my boxing background I can tell you that the best fighters in the
heavyweight ranks averaged about one hundred and ninety pounds and five feet
ten inches tall. This is the optimum size for developing striking power and
speed. The boxers who were bigger, taller and heavier usually couldn't
develop the same speed as these men. Of course people such as John L.
Sullivan, Jack Dempsey, or Marciano were exceptions to this general rule.
They were all less than six feet, tall and less than one hundred and ninety
pounds. In the boxing realm, they were considered the hardest hitters ever.
"Today because of weight lifting, boxers have gotten into it like they never
did before, you're getting bigger boxers, and they hit hard because they
train well, but in general you're going to find that as you extend the arms
from the body, you lose the strike speed. You have twitch muscles, and the
twitch muscles attenuate with length. The average length of a boxer's arms
in the heavy weight division is seventy-two inches. Today, you have 74, 75
inch boxers, and they're good. But a lot of them don't have good linear
power - they can't throw a powerful jab, or a powerful cross. Most of them,
like Tyson, or Foreman, depend on wide springs to get their power. And so
there is something to be said with size, so I would look for somebody
probably close to 6 feet, 200 pound size in their mid 20's.
"The 20's is usually the optimum for a male athlete. Most athletic coaches
search for people in their prime, a male in his twenties, anywhere from twenty to
thirty. There are always exceptions to the general rules. Some people are in
their thirties can be great and, on the other hand, even young men aged
seventeen and up can become great. I am only giving you the general
"The next consideration is the right motivation to train. Without proper
motivation there can never be progress no matter what physical
characteristics you have. Next is what we call the right heart, the best
fighters are not there simply to demolish people, they move from the heart,
they love their art form and train with the right attitudes. Usually good
fighters are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. They have nothing
to prove because they are already sure of themselves.
"An attitude of just wanting to
beat up people will eventually work against you. It takes a certain
temperament to be great."
"The last thing is what we call the spirit. This refers to a person who is
generally a good person and does not push his weight around trying to hurt
people unless they are in a ring with him. An attitude of just wanting to
beat up people will eventually work against you. It takes a certain
temperament to be great. As they always say in the Chinese martial arts you
need Mind, Body and Spirit development. Lacking any one of these attributes
will take away from your fighting skills. Trying to teach a person without a
cultivated mind, body and spirit is near impossible."
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Question eleven: With all that you just said, what would you say to the
people who don't have the physical attributes you have defined? Does this
mean they can never really be great in Kenpo?
"I would say you do the best with what you have. I never consider myself to
be the best at Kenpo. I just analyzed the art and figured out how to increase
the power of strikes and how to put them in combinations in a practical
street fighting situation. There will always be someone better than you no
matter how long or hard you train. No matter how big or strong you are, there
is always someone stronger and better.
"As I said before you must train for the right reasons, not to be the
toughest around, for nobody really is the toughest, there is always someone
in the wings ready to take you out. It is a foolish attitude to think you can
beat down everyone in world. If you train with sincerity you can overcome
many of your physical shortcomings. You can increase your strength and weight
to bring you up physically. All you need is to work at it. Kenpo has
something to offer to everybody big or small.
"You must have a realistic attitude in training. You can't change apples
into oranges. In the end you will be you, maybe a bit stronger and faster,
but still you. Even the so-called champion can't expect to beat everyone who
comes in front of him. We all have limitations. Learn to deal with them. This
is part of our training. I have trained woman who are only 120 pounds, 5 foot
5 inches and some of them are real good if you teach them the right strikes.
So, you vary the art to the individual. If you're a good instructor, you're
not to show them how great you are, you show them how great they can become,
or how much better they can become. So, you would say to the woman, 'don't
hit with a fisted punch, hit with the heel palm,' because I wouldn't want
her to break the fingers, or the small bones in the hands, so hit with the
heel palm. I teach them to use what works best for them such as knee strikes.
I wouldn't emphasize head butts to a woman, but I would emphasize elbows,
chops, heel strikes, palm strikes and groin strikes and such. So I say you
fit the art to the individual if you're a good instructor. Good training
brings out the best we can be and that is all you can really ask for."
Question twelve: We know that Kenpo is very good for hand technique but,
there is a lot of talk today about grappling technique and on-the-ground
moves. Does Kenpo emphasize that? If so, why don't people know about it and
if not, did you add it to the style?
"I added ground grappling to my style years ago because I had a heavy
background in Judo. It is my opinion that you need defense against grapplers
especially if you're thrown to the ground. In Kenpo which is an in-fighting
art, if you miss with a strike, or if you're not powerful enough to stop
something, they can grab you and immobilize you and throw you to the ground.
Then you have a major problem.
"My theory is to learn enough about ground fighting, for instance bridging
and escapes. If you're not a grappler don't try to become one. Stay with the
art you learned but, learn enough ground fighting to enable you to escape and
get back to your feet. I don't train people to be wrestlers because that's a
whole separate art, and to be a good wrestler takes years, just as it is to
be a good boxer or Kung Fu man. You don't do it overnight, it takes years of
training. It's also a whole different philosophy. The wrestler wants to grab
and hold you and choke you out or lock you into a submission hold. Kenpo people
e are taught to knock people out quickly.
"So to answer your question, Kenpo does not teach anything about grappling,
and it is a shortcoming of the art. But this is true of many of the hand
arts. Grapping is just not part of the systems. But, just as a good grappler
would want to learn a few good hand strikes, so too would a hand man want to
learn a few tricks from the ground. My students are taught ground work but
that is because of my background. I teach them enough to get a person off
them. A well-rounded instructor should be able to give you some instruction
in basic ground work. However, if your teacher is not a grappler, then I
suggest find a good teacher in Judo and learn the basics. This knowledge can
serve you well.
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Question thirteen: Assuming somebody went through all the training in Kenpo,
and you made him a qualified teacher, what advice would you give him or her
in starting out to teach the arts?
"The first thing is to take the time and sit down with your student and
discuss what your expectations are from them. Don't hold back, but state what
is on your mind and what you expect them to do or not do. More problems
emerge from new teachers not understanding fully what is expected from them
than anything else in the arts. Unfortunately, many leave their teachers and
major riffs begin and soon the relationship dies out. This is not the martial
"In actuality your teacher is your teacher the whole of your life, but many
forget this point when they go on their own."
"The relationships between student and teacher is a lifelong relationship. In
actuality your teacher is your teacher the whole of your life, but many
forget this point when they go on their own. Years of good relationships can
come to an abrupt end with one bad move. You, as the teacher, must set the
record straight, so there are no misunderstandings.
"We all come from a teacher. Nobody is really self-made, but many like to
think they are better then their own teacher. I have always shown respect to
my teachers and never had any disputes with any of them, including Parker. I
always stayed in touch and told him what I was doing. In this way there was
always a mutual respect. I have heard in the past students say they have gone
beyond their teacher and really don't need them anymore. This attitude is not
true martial arts. Even if you have gone beyond your teacher, it is because
your teacher gave you his all. You teacher is like your father and who can
say we have gone beyond respect for our fathers?
"A good policy is you open your school about 10 miles away from your
instructor's school. In that way you're not going to interfere with your
teacher's school, and you'll be spreading the arts to a wider area. Kenpo
is an art form based in traditions and good ethics; you must always keep that
fact in mind.
"My approach was always toward training the techniques and the art, more than
the business end. The key thing is talk to your instructor. Tell him where
you plan to go and get his opinion about your plans so a harmonious and
continued good relationship will exist between you and your teacher. That is
a key point we teach in the arts.
"Some instructors don't want anybody to teach, but if that's the case, he's
the head instructor and the student if a good one, will follow what the
teacher calls for. There is always a reason for this decision, and you should
make that reason known to potential teachers. If the student is really is a
good student they will understand and try to correct the problem.
"However, a teacher usually always welcomes a student who will dedicate his
or her life to spreading the arts. After all, isn't that what it is all
about? A good student will always look to be associated with his teacher so
as to promote the art to the fullest. So try to do that, and establish a
school with your instructor, because you have to be with somebody to go from
first black to second black and so on. You'll help him and he'll help you.
"Visit your teacher and teachers should visit the student's schools as well.
This kind of relationship can only help make all the schools stronger.
Remember, without your teacher's approval and support to teach, you lose the
entire heritage you have worked so hard to attain. Without a good
relationship with your teacher the battle will continue the whole of your
life. And it is usually the student that loses out, because he or she will be
cut off from the linage of past masters. We all have a responsibility toward
fostering our lineage, because without this connection we have lost out on
what we trained for so many years. I am happy to say I have very good
students, and have always enjoyed a good relationship with all of them; they
are indeed my extended family."
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Question fourteen: For our Kenpo Chi Kung lovers, I must ask you; I believe
you are now in your seventies yet your physical energy remains strong and
your speed and power looks much the same as they did thirty years ago when
you taught me. Do you attribute this good health and strength to your
martial arts or simply to good genes?
"I'd say it's basically genes, but it's also working out. I work out every
day. I work out my tiger moves, exercise system and my power strike system
for 15 to 25 minutes every day. That's everyday of my life. I'll be 74 next
month, and thank you for the compliment, but if I didn't work out, my body
wouldn't keep that muscle structure that keeps you in shape and that's the
connecting tissue as well as the muscle fibers.
"So, I work the tiger moves, which come from ancient kung fu tension
exercise, and the power strikes come out of Kenpo and kung fu. Without doing
that, I wouldn't have any striking power, and my body wouldn't be as strong.
I think good health just comes from the genes; no matter what we do, it is
our genes that determine the final outcome. Of course, we can help the body
in many ways to stay in its best possible shape. Eating right, resting, and
the practice of the martial arts is very effective way to keep what we have
in good working order.
"I am not a smoker but I do drink. For drinkers, if you're Irish, have a
drink. In general everything should be in balance for your body and mind to
be in balance. Life is meant to be lived as fully as possible, but keep in
mind nothing should be in excess and nothing should be lacking as well.
Finally, if you're happy in life and content with your life, this will also
help in your overall health."
Question fifteen: Kenpo is well known for its multitude of techniques. It
was that very fact that drew me to learn Kenpo. I had an extensive Shao-lin
background up till then, but Shao-lin put more stress on forms, chi power
rather than fighting techniques. Kenpo did open my eyes to a myriad of
techniques and helped me utilize my Shao-lin more fully. However, techniques
are not reality. Nobody can say what form of attack will be launched nor from
what angle or direction. In short, techniques are good tools for learning to
use movement. But what of real combat? How can learning technique help you
"Techniques, as you said are a training tool, just as form or kata are. What
you have to do is visualize attacks on yourself: Someone striking you with a
punch, pushing you, grabbing you in a head lock. And from that, you take from
the techniques that you learned in the Kenpo. This helps you to understand
use of movement and develop power in your strikes. This is why practicing
techniques can be extremely helpful to develop your quick responses to
"Techniques, as you said, can open your eyes to all kinds of
possibilities that mere Form training can't."
"You are right. Techniques are not reality and nobody is taught to think that
way either. But techniques, as you said, can open your eyes to all kinds of
possibilities that mere Form training can't. Over 90 percent of the students
I've trained over the years that have been in actual street fights have won,
because they have worked on so many techniques and focused on hitting power.
I always tell my students, 'don't think you're going to do the Dance of
Death on anyone in number order. The real world is not like that. But you may
find a point in time one where one of these strikes will end the situation.
In real fights, when you hit someone there is change and nobody really knows
from fight to fight what that change may be. Everybody reacts differently
when hit. You have to change as well, to compensate to those changes.
"I often tell my students to work like a boxer. A boxer thinks in triples,
basically, while some do doubles. But, I always train my students to do
triples when you're up against somebody. If you're up against a punch, roll
back, slide back, and get up into a defensive position, punch back against
his arms, punch against his head, then go low, go against his bladder. Again,
like a boxer, work the techniques until you can close in, then use elbows,
chops, and head butts.
"As I have said techniques are good training tools, but don't take them as
gospel. Make up your own system of fighting based on the techniques and
forms, this is called shadow boxing. This is a great way to be prepared for
change. Kenpo is a street fighting art: few forms and hundreds of techniques.
Forms are important for many other reasons that techniques cannot give. That
is why Parker added them. But Kenpo's real strengths lie in teaching numerous
techniques to acquaint the student with a world of possibilities in
"Few other styles offer such a wide variety of techniques as Kenpo does. It
is like you said, your Shao-lin failed to open your eyes to the world of
techniques hidden in classical form movement. Kenpo does the opposite - more
focus on techniques and less on classical forms. None of this is to put form
training down. Parker obviously thought form was needed to round off his
style. That's the reason we do have classical form in Kenpo. But it is the
techniques that make Kenpo what it is."
Question sixteen: It is well-known fact you are held in high esteem in the
Kenpo circles. What you say certainly interests all Kenpo enthusiasts around
the world. If you could only give one bit of advice what would you say to
practitioners of Kenpo to improve their Kenpo skills?
"I would say achieve a black belt in the system you're studying under,
unless there is something basically wrong with the instructor, or the way he
teaches. Try to stay away from the abusive teachers or those who have not
learned from a reliable source. But, if you have a competent instructor who
has learned Kenpo from a real Kenpo Master, then stay with him. All too many
people drop from training far too soon. You cannot expect to learn well, or
anything for that matter, if you don't take it to the top. Stay away from
those who learned out of the blue. You are only wasting your time. Learn all
you can, and when you do, you will see even deeper in to the martial arts; it
truly is limitless in scope.
"A good teacher can take you well above first-degree black belt. In reality
first-degree black belt only means you ready to really start learning. To
drop away then is to fail to see the true Kenpo.
"There are many good Kenpo teachers, of course it was Parker who started it
all here in the United States, but through his teachings he left behind many
great teachers such as Al Tracy, who is an expert and is going to give you
good Kenpo. Almost all the people who left after Parker died and started
their own organizations are good Kenpo people. So if you study from them, or
from some of their students, you're going to learn the real thing, and if the
instructor is good, stay with him that's my advice."
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Question seventeen: Those of us who are involved in the martial arts have a
serious love for the martial arts. We are steadfast in our training because
the art supplies us with something that makes us feel better about ourselves,
or fills a gap within us in some way. For each of us, this something is
different. Can you tell us what your 'something' is?
"Well, it's an ego statement, but I consider myself a warrior from a long
line of warriors. I won't go into the history of it, but my ancestors years
ago came from the Norwegian coast, and settled in Scotland, and then came to
Ireland as captains. They were Northern warriors, and they served as
bodyguards who protected the Irish barons. I feel a kinship to this clan in
my genes. So for me, when I'm in martial arts, and especially when I'm
around martial artists, I feel that warrior force coming out of me, because
martial arts people bring it out of me.
"Also, it lends substance to your personality. For instance, at 21 you're a
great college quarterback, but at 41 you're no longer playing football, so
you can tell people how you made the winning touchdown against Notre Dame,
and I'll say, 'is that right?, well
what are doing now? What's your claim to fame now Mr. big quarterback?'
The answer is: nothing. But, if you talk to same guy who is a true martial
artist, and still trains, at 41, he'll tell you that he hits harder than he
did at 21. 'I know more than I did at 21, so don't mess with me.'
"This is what training does for me even now at 74. I still feel the same. I
hit as hard as I ever did, and I know more. I am feeling like I am getting
better, not going down hill or becoming a has-been. At 74 I can still say,
'don't mess with me.' And that's the big difference in being a martial
artist. It's part of your personality. It's intrinsic to you. You're always
a martial artist as long as you train."
Question eighteen: The creation of a family tree is much like a last will and
testament of a teacher. As you know, a tree represents those people who the
teacher feels are worthy guardians of his/her art form. The family tree
contains a list of names of those people who can be trusted to pass the art
on to future enthusiasts intact, as it has been for generations. Most masters
have a family tree as did Master Parker. The question is, have you created
your own tree, and what are your standards for a student to be listed on your
"My people have
to know how to fight with a knife, with a club, with a handgun. So, it's not
just defense against weapons, but also how to use these modern weapons."
"Yes, I have created my own tree, for the reasons concerning why I left the
International Karate Association after Mr. Parker died. My standards are that
they have a black belt with me to get on my tree. They also have to be
training in the system actively to be eligible for my tree. Our black belt
requires at least four years of training and they have to know our kata, they
have to know our sparring methods and self-defense techniques. My people have
to know how to fight with a knife, with a club, with a handgun. So, it's not
just defense against weapons, but also how to use these modern weapons. So
all my people who are black belts are skilled in those weapons, or I wouldn't
make them black belts.
"My students from Ireland don't have much weapon training because they
didn't allow much in the way of weapons in Ireland. Parker didn't teach
weapons, he taught defense against them, but later I decided to teach how to
use a club, a knife, or how to use a stick. I taught a lot of bouncers, or
bartenders how to use a short stick. So if somebody grabbed you by the
shoulders, you knew how to use the short stick shoved in their ribs or
kidney. They react quickly and move without the bouncer having to do great
damage. So they need all these weapon skills as well as the Kenpo, Kung Fu,
Judo and Boxing and all else I incorporate into it now. These are my
requirement to be on my family tree."
Question nineteen: For people who want to study your style of Kenpo, where
can they find this list or family tree to track down teachers in your art
"I don't know if it's on the web site yet, but I do have a tree in this
country. People like Tom Saviano in Chicago, and in the New York area it
would be Frank De Maria. I do have many other students I taught, but many of
them went over to the various organizations that exist now in Kenpo, My tree
is not that large. There are the few who have been with me for years that I
can say are true Kenpo Teachers under me, such as Tom and Frank.
"I no longer teach in a school because I'm retired. All I do now is teach
privately in the Florida area, and I teach around the country at seminars. In
fact, I do go overseas as well. When I do I usually go to Ireland, but I
expect shortly to be going to Australia to teach Kenpo to the people there.
"I would say my organization is very small. I'm just one out of many who
Parker made black belts. But, I am my own man. As Parker once said in an
interview in Black Belt Magazine, 'Every black belt is a style unto
himself.' A lot of people don't realize that. They think you just have to
do what Parker taught you. In reality, you can create your own system based
on his call. He let you go your own way. He knew I had different techniques,
but he still brought me back into his organization many years ago, because he
wanted me to be part of it, because we go back so many years, and he knew I
was still teaching his call."
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Question twenty: The Kenpo system, with its extraordinary in-fighting
techniques, has made me realize that the center line theory has limitless
value and understanding of the true purpose of martial arts. Is this often
not part of other styles' curriculum?
"It definitely is, and that's an excellent point about the center line,
because you'll notice most of the key targets come down the center line of
the body with the head, and the eyes and nose and chin, or the heart, the
bladder, the groin. These are key targets.
"There are some targets that are off the center line, like the vegas nerve
off the side of the neck and the back of the neck, which is still the center
line. Some arts like Tae Kwon Do really emphasize circular kicks which are
coming away from the center and into the side of the body, usually the head.
Japanese arts in general do emphasize lineage shots to the center line to the
head or chest. Most of their strikes are geared that way, but donut have the
circles like Keno.
"So I would say that Tae Kwon Do really emphasizes strikes like spinning
kicks and the wheeling kicks, whereas the Japanese system goes straight into
the center line. But with Kenpo there is the center line fighting we go for,
plus we use many of the circular strikes, which makes Kenpo so well known. We
are not the only ones using the front line for main attack. Many other styles
also use this, including internal arts of Shao-lin. But as far as Kenpo goes,
it is the combination of center line attacks and all the other Kenpo fighting
strategies that make Kenpo what it is."
Question twenty-one: I don't mean to get too personal but many married
martial artists have problems training all the time, as many wives object to
their husband's being in a martial arts school day and night. How do your
wife and family feel about your lifelong dedication to the arts?
Well, I'm married now to a different wife for 13 years, going on 14 years. My
first wife, with whom I had my children, my girls, was with me when I trained
in California under Parker, and she loved the art. She thought it was just
great, and liked it when I trained people in Ireland and in America, so she
never had any objection to the art. I don't know how she would be if I was
still with her today, but that was long ago.
My present wife is a student of
mine. She's got a brown belt with me and has even used the art once for real
to defend herself in the street, so she is a great believer in the art.
She's a professional dancer, who does belly dancing and hula dancing and she
has her own group and she is active in Florida and was active in Chicago. I
mention that because she's an athlete, always training. She incorporates my
tiger moves with her exercise system, so she really likes everything about
the art, and she loves that I go on seminars, where I bring her sometimes.
She doesn't mind, so she is completely behind the art and loves the art, and
has trained with me for over six years, and earned a brown belt, so she can
really and can handle herself."
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Question twenty-two: Over the years you have written a number of books and
made in number of videotapes. Can you tell us if you are working on anything
new at present, and also how Kenpo enthusiasts may obtain your books or
"I enjoy traveling around meeting people and teaching.
Each place I go there are wonderful people there and we all enjoy the
seminars including myself."
"They would have to order the books through Palet and Press or through
myself. Like I have one book, that was published by City Video years ago,
called "Battleaxe: A Warrior's Tale," which is autobiographical as well as
instructive. It covers 18 actual combat moves that I was in and they can
order that book from me, and can get the address through Tom Saviano or Frank
"To order my other books called, "Street Karate" and "Swat Battle Tactics,"
they would have to call Palet Press, and that's in almost all the magazines
where people can get their number. As far as the video tapes, they have to
order from Walter Joseph Communications in the Chicago area, but I don't have
the address on me."
Question twenty-three: You are here today to run a seminar at my school. Do
you enjoy doing these as opposed to running your own school?
"Yes, I do. I would rather not get into my own school anymore. I am retired
and enjoy my free time with my family. However, I could never give up my arts
as it is part of me. I enjoy traveling around meeting people and teaching.
Each place I go there are wonderful people there and we all enjoy the
seminars including myself. My schedules are busy enough now, and if I ran a
school again, I could not travel as much and meet all the people who enjoy
learning Kenpo. My whole life has been teaching at my schools or learning.
This stage of my life is very rewarding for me."
On February 26, 2002, the world lost another Great Master of the Martial
arts. Grandmaster John McSweeney passed away at his home in Florida. He was
74 years of age and active in the arts till his dying day. It is not time to
mourn him, but rather celebrate his life accomplishments. He was truly of the
He often said in the midst of his lectures, "Today is a good day to die." He
was a man who was not afraid to live and not afraid to die. He meant we must
all live the warrior way: to take life and use it fully. His way was the
Kenpo Way. We shall miss him, but his teachings and his name will be talked
about for many years to come by all the thousands of people he taught and who
loved him. Because of his contributions to the arts, Kenpo will continue to
endure and spread to the world by the people he taught.
Till we meet again, I bow to you, Sifu McSweeney.
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