JAN / 2012



My name is Eddie Morales and welcome to Online Martial Arts Magazine. The person I am introducing in this interview is Grand Master Frank Trejo. Grand Master Trejo has a dedicated history in the Martial Arts. I learned a lot about the system he practices during this interview. He demonstrated techniques and explained in full detail what makes them work. I have been a Martial Arts for many years and I was impressed with his words and techniques.  He has a strong lineage, which we will talk about and it is our hope here at that you enjoy this journey.


Interview by Eddie Morales

Online Magazine Can you tell our readers at what age did you begin Martial Arts and what system did you study?


FRANK TREJO: I started my training with my grandfather who began teaching me how to box when I was approximately 7 or 8 years old. I did that because my cousins were bigger than me and they would pick on me. I got pretty good at it and I actually boxed my cousin one time, I got one punch in and next thing you know my aunt was screaming at me saying” Don’t be hitting your cousin like that.” My grandfather would turn around to her and say, “There just kids” and my aunt would say, No, now he knows what he’s doing” and that was the end of that! They never picked on me again.


A while after that I started studying Shotokan Karate and the way that happened was after watching two guys fight on the street. I saw the guys fight and one of them did some Karate moves and I had never seen that before. I remember thinking. “Man I have to learn that.”


A few months later a friend and I were coming out of a theater and next door to the theater was a Karate School. I saw this guy pull up in a car and I told my friend, hey man that’s the guy that I told you about that got in that Karate fight. Then the guy pulled out his bag and went towards the Karate School. There was about eight of us so we went and piled up at the front door. When the teacher Tony Tullener came out he said, “Hey what’s going on.” I told him “we want to watch,” and he pointed at some chairs and said, “Sit right there and shut up,” We all sat down and the school was owned by Tak Kubota and the guy I saw fighting was a student of Tullener. I stood there all afternoon watching the class.


One of the reasons I wanted to learn was because I had been involved in a fight that lasted about a minute but a fat lip and a bloody nose later I still couldn’t put the guy down. I started questioning my self thinking maybe I’m not so tough after all. The other reason was that even back then I always knew I wanted to be a coach or mentor. This was as a result of my coach helping and teaching me so I wanted to be just like him. I would coach my brothers and sisters in basketball, boxing and other sports. I remember using the cushions from the couch as bags /striking pads until my Mother would come out and smack the crap out of us and tell us to put them back because that’s not what their used for. (Laughter).
 How did you get involved in Kenpo Karate?


FRANK TREJO: I was sixteen years old and there was an AD in the Newspaper that my Mother saw. The AD said, (Karate instructors needed, no experience necessary). I went to the location and the teacher was Ed Parker, so I signed up for it and it was a certification course called The Instructors Program, which lasted a few months. What Parker did in this program was teach you how to teach someone else which is not always an easy task. It was not an overnight black belt course or anything bogus like that. You would still have to earn each rank with full requirements but it did teach you how to teach. I thought I had a pretty good handle on it because of my background in the fundamentals that I previously learned at Kubota’s School. The experience I gained from couching my brothers and sisters was a big help as well. After I passed the certification course I was put to teach the beginners the introduction classes. I would teach the blocks, punches, kicks and any basics. The idea was to be able to teach all beginning students. I remember as I reached the higher ranks like orange and above I would teach at different levels so I literally taught at every rank, which gave me a strong foundation for my future as an instructor. While I did go through different phases in regards to Tournament fighting competition and whatever my training placed before me it was always my desire to be a teacher / couch and I would always come back to it. What kept you in the Kenpo system?


FRANK TREJO: Well, growing up as a boxer I could relate to Kenpo because it is a boxing based system. Ed Parker was a boxer and implemented its movements in the application of technique. He learned his Martial Arts from William Chow and combined this knowledge with his previous experience. That coupled with his college education took his teaching to the next level. Parker taught more than just a style of Karate, it was more of the science of Karate. He taught principles, concepts, theory and techniques adding terminology, which basically developed a more well rounded system of street combat defense. 


His method helped me a lot because when I was growing up I had a reading disability, which prevented me from understanding what I read. It was a separation of Audio and visual. I could read words but couldn’t associate there meaning to anything visual. Parker developed the system with names in English that literally translated your movement. An example would be if the terminology was the word hammer you would do a hammer like movement and on to the more complexed bio mechanical movements. Another example is a technique he named five swords, which is five quickly delivered shuto chops in a sword like fashion. It’s basically a left right hook combination in relation to boxing technique. This allowed me to relate, understand and see the motion, which benefited me while growing up. When you said Boxing Based system, are you referring to the techniques mechanics?


FRANK TREJO: Yes and that’s why it was so easy for me to relate to in the beginning. Between the boxing mechanics and the terminology with visual reference the system suited me. What can you tell our readers in regards to what kind of person was Ed Parker on a day by day basis outside of the Karate environment?


FRANK TREJO: I got to know him on a personal level because I use to clean his yard and I traveled with him allot. I saw him more as a family man. I would see how he was with his wife and kids and he would treat me like one of his own. He let me live in the school and take care of it. I looked at him more as a Father image more then a Karate Master. What would you say the Kenpo system is comprised of?


FRANK TREJO: It’s definitely a close range fighting system with low line kicking, knees and elbows. Unlike today where Jiu Jitsu is practiced in the early days we would practice Judo because Parker had a black belt in Judo. We would do a lot of Rendori and throws which aren’t practiced these days because I guess people don’t want to spend time practicing falling or throwing each other on the ground so as a result it has become a standup art. I still teach a lot of the throws but I primarily try to keep it as a stand up art. Do you think that the system has changed as a result of the different directions Parkers students went?


FRANK TREJO: I think because of commercialism right now and it doesn’t necessarily pertain to Kenpo but to all systems that are pretty much getting water down because everybody now is a black belt. You have kids that are 6 and 7 years old walking around wearing black belts. Before you couldn’t get a black belt unless you were old enough to have a driver’s license. These days everybody and their uncle is a black belt. How many techniques are in the Kenpo system?


FRANK TREJO: As far as requirements we have about 154 base techniques plus variation. Are they simple to learn and adapt to?


FRANK TREJO: Yes, it starts with a one two combination and as you show progress then the combinations get more advanced with techniques such as grabs, throws, Wristlocks and fighting multiple opponents when your at the higher level. Have you ever met Ed Parkers instructor, William Chow? 


FRANK TREJO: No but I have seen a lot of films on him and I viewed him as a remarkable person. Have you ever heard any war stories about him?


FRANK TREJO: From what I gathered, Chow was like a little thug in regards to field testing any new technique he developed by starting fights. His Father studied Classical Kung Fu but Chow didn’t want to follow the lineage because he felt there was too much formality to it. Chows only interest was fighting and using any technique that worked. He would go to the local gyms and study the bodybuilders while researching what would happen if he struck different muscle group with specific strikes. Basically giving himself knowledge of the human anatomy and the functions of different parts of the body and the effects of strikes. He would go to neighborhood bars and send in a decoy person like a female to talk to sailors which gave him a reason to ask why are you talking to her and of course a fight would ensue. This was one of his methods of practicing his technique.


(Laughter) Parker once told us that he himself would hang out outside of a bar and pretend like he was drunk with money hanging from his pocket so someone would see it and try to rob him and he could fight them and beat the crap out them.


EDDIE MORALES AND FRANK TREJO Lets talk about your competition years. Did you compete in forms, fighting or both?


FRANK TREJO: In the beginning I competed as a fighter after I completed the instructor program and you have to understand I was 16 at the time. When I completed the instructor program we visited the west LA school. We did basic fundamentals then the next day we worked on our sparring which I had some experience in because of my brief training at Kubota’s school. One of the techniques that I was pretty good at was the spinning back kick and I remember a guy trying to throw a back kick at me but it was wide so I threw one at him direct and hit him in the stomach which put him on the ground. At the time, Tom Kelly was the head instructor and I heard him yell out, “Hey, who’s that kid, who’s that kid.” Someone said, oh that’s that Mexican kid from Pasadena and Tom Kelly shouted, “Put him in a tournament.” The tournament was the following week and that’s how I began competing. My first experience in the tournament was like being in a street fight but it was for fun, I had a great time. How many years did you compete and eventually becoming a member of the Budweiser Team?


FRANK TREJO: By the time the Budweiser team was formed I was 33 years old. I had been fighting from the age of 16 to 33. We fought bare knuckles so it wasn’t like we had pads and any type of safety equipment like the people that fight nowadays. There were a lot of injuries involved from broken knuckles, broken toes or foot etc. Nowadays you can go a lot further then we did back then with the head gear and foot and hand gear etc. Do you recall some of your teammates?


FRANK TREJO: Oh yea, in the Budweiser Team we had Billy Blanks, Richard Plowden, Terry Creamer, Anthony Price, Tony Young just to name a few. We had some great fighters on the team. We fought guys from all over the world and it was fun. In your opinion, what’s the difference between Sport karate back then and now?


FRANK TREJO: The equipment, when you didn’t have equipment the techniques were more direct and to the point but now it’s more like flailing. Its kind of gotten away from the basics like reverse punch and back knuckle. Its basically who ever could hit who first and its not necessarily who has the better technique but instead whoever touches their opponent first to score.  In the old days it wasn’t who hit first but instead who hit with better technique with strength, focus and accuracy. Do you still teach?



FRANK TREJO: Yes, I teach all the time in Seminars. I just got back from Northern California and getting ready for my next trip to Laredo Texas next week You have your garage set up like a gym. Do you give private lessons? .


FRANK TREJO: Yes, I make the time to teach a lot of kids from the neighborhood. People call me up to see if they can get a private lesson, which I charge $100 an hour in advance. Throughout your time in Kenpo have you ever cross-trained besides your boxing background?


FRANK TREJO: Coming up in Kenpo, I had a lot of friends that were in different systems like James Ibroa so we barrowed some techniques from him or we learned some Kung Fu forms. We also learned Escrima in the early seventies even before Bruce Lee used them on screen. The guys I use to train with, Pete Jacobs and Jerry Poteet were eventually the ones that taught Bruce Lee how to use the sticks. Did you ever meet Bruce Lee?



FRANK TREJO: I met him a few times. Your teacher, Ed Parker eventually ended up in the Movie business. How did that come about?


FRANK TREJO: There was this guy by the name of Terry who had a gym in Hollywood. I don’t recall his last name. It was Terry that introduced Ed Parker to a lot of the Celebrities. This lead to him teaching people like Elvis Presley and many other well known Celebrities. Parker was like the Guru of Hollywood. You mentioned Elvis, did you ever meet him?


FRANK TREJO: I met him a few times. Under what circumstances?


FRANK TREJO: At the West LA school they were having an open house, I think I was a purple belt. All the black belts were going to get together and go and I was helping teach at the Pasadena school so I said,” Can I go but I was told no because I had to help teach at the school so I stayed behind. Later on that night one of the black belts came into the school and asked where everybody was and I told him about the event at the West LA school and about Elvis being their. He got excited about it and said, come with me as I was telling him, im suppose to run the school but he said, “No, come with me.” I had to show him how to get to the West LA School. Well, there was my excuse to go so then we went down there and that’s the first time I saw Elvis. They were doing demonstrations and afterward everyone left and I started looking for the guy that brought me and he left too so I was stuck. I started to wonder how I was going to get back so as everyone is walking I said, hey, what about me? That’s when I heard the words, Trejo! What the hell are you doing here?  I was suppose to be at the Pasadena school so I told them that I brought so and so here and now I can’t find him. After they scolded me they had one of the guys take me home.


A few months later I was at the Pasadena school and Ed Parker walked in the back door and behind him was Elvis Presley followed by his bodyguards. I saluted Mr. Parker then I saluted Mr. Presley and they looked at me and walked in the office. On their way out I saluted Mr. Parker then I saluted Mr. Presley and Elvis turned around and says, “Trejo right” and I said, yes sir. I guess he recognized me from the last scolding that I got (Laughter) I said yea that’s me and he salutes me back and I remember thinking, YEA! Elvis knows me (Laughter). So when people would ask me if I ever knew Elvis I would say Shoe, that dude knows me (Laughter). What would you recommend to someone that doesn’t know Martial arts but wants to find a place to study? 


FRANK TREJO: First of all any kind of Martial Arts is good to get started in but if you know someone that’s in Martial arts then talk to them. Because I didn’t know Ed Parker from Adam, I was just looking for a job. I got lucky and stumbled on to exactly what I was looking for. If you know a school then see what kind of group they have. Notice if they have a lot of people or they don’t have a lot of people because there must be a reason. If there are a lot of people then ask a few of them, why they are studying there and why they like it so much. Do you have anything you want to say to the readers of Online Magazine?


FRANK TREJO: It’s a great Magazine with good people being highlighted. Thank you for this interview.