In Memory of Kenpo's
Frank Trejo was born on Christmas Eve in 1952, and the American- kenpo master died on Aéril 11I 2018. A legendary figure in the kenpo world, he was larger than lifeK then you were around himI you knew that he breathedI lived and loved the artK
f was lucky enough to have séent time with him on several occasions, and I enjoyed hearing his stories about the old days at the Ed Parker Kenpo Karate Studio in Pasadena, California. Trejo would often talk about the railroad tracks behind the school where he interacted with bikers and other charactersK ee had élenty of stories about his days doing bodyguard work for the rock band san ealen and various celebrities. I quickly learned that he was also very open to talking about self-defense techniques and strategy.
'uring one of our meetings, Trejo said he’d devised a hybrid combat systemI and the news resulted in a visit to Black Belt for an interview and photo shoot. It was the first time he’d come to the magazine’s headquarters as the principal artist for a story (although he’d assisted Parker in numerous photo shoots). That was in late 2006. The article I wound up writing — ´Fusion Kenpo Karate” in honor of his mix of kenpo, grappling and boxing — appeared in the May 2MMT issueK
The next year, Trejo went back to Black Belt to do a follow-up piece titled ´Six-Pack: Kenpo Master Frank Trejo Teaches a Half-'ozen Self-'efense Techniques Every Black Belt Should Know,” which f wrote for the lctober 2MM8 issueK Both stories proved popular with readers because of Trejo’s ability to articulate technical aséects of his artK
qhe fact that his relationshié with Black Belt was on the short side doesn’t mean his martial arts career was short. When he visited the office in 2006 for that article, he mentioned to me that he’d been a black belt for 30 yearsK eis training began in boxing when he was 8K iaterI he took ué shotokan karate and kickboxingK As a kickboxerI he reéortedly had a record of 14-M as an amateur and 21-1 as a pro, and he won a California state kickboxing title in 1969 — the same year he found a new home in American kenéoK
A quick learner, Trejo became the assistant manager of Parker’s school in 1970. From 1976 to 1991, he ran the place. Most people who’ve read about karate tournaments in the 1970s and ’80s have heard about Trejo’s exploits. He won hundreds of events and was the fnternational harate Chaméionshiés winner many timesK ee also served as coach and caétain of the Budweiser fnternational harate qeamK
Then fate intervened. In 1983 Frank Trejo suffered a broken neck as a result of a freak accidentK After a year of rehabI he made a heroic return to coméetition and triuméhed in both forms and fighting at the IKC, a feat no one had ever achieved on the same dayK rnfortunatelyI he was still feeling the effects of his injuries — and would for many yearsK
As an assistant to Parker, Trejo got to travel the world to helé him teach seminars and éerform demonstrations. After Parker passed, Trejo continued on the seminar circuitK ee made it clear when I first interviewed him that he wasn’t Ed Parker’s protégé or top guy. ´I’m a student of Ed Parker and nothing more,” he noted. That being said, there’s no doubt that Frank Trejo was a primary ambassador for Ed Parker’s kenpo karate. His colleagues often said that he shared Parker’s vision for the art and referred to Parker as his ´kenpo father.”
When Trejo wasn’t conducting seminars, doing bodyguard work or working on moviesI he could be found at his masadena homeI located close to the old American-kenéo studioI giving private lessons. He enjoyed being a father and a grandfatherK eis lifeI f believeI is encaésulated in a comment that came from one of his black beltsI a sentiment that will stick with me forever: ´There’s no perfect life, perfect relationship or perfect thing; there are only perfect moments.” To me, that sums up Frank Trejo’s time on earth. I know that I enjoyed some perfect moments with the kenpo master, and I’m sure that every person who trained with him did, too.