Skip to main content

Chester County Press

Iconic martial artist serves as guest instructor at Lawler’s Kenpo Karate

06/30/2015 12:46PM ● By Steven Hoffman

Jeff Speakman, the accomplished martial artist who starred in the movie “The Perfect Weapon,” recently served as a guest instructor during a weekend of training sessions at Lawler’s Kenpo Karate in Kennett Square.

“He’s an iconic figure in martial arts,” Lawler explained. “Kenpo Karate had never been featured in that way before he did “The Perfect Weapon.”

Speakman spent three days—May 22 to May 24—teaching seminars at Lawler’s Kenpo Karate. Approximately 70 people attended the sessions.

Speakman is a black belt in American Kenpo Karate and Japanese Goju-Ryu, and studied under Ed Parker, who is considered the father of the American style of Kenpo Karate. Speakman was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame and has been named an Instructor of the Year. He holds training camps regularly, and his Kenpo 5.0 system of Kenpo Karate is taught in 16 countries.

“If you like martial arts movies, then you know Jeff,” explained Lawler, who is an eighth-degree black belt with over 37 years of training in the martial arts.

Lawler said that Kenpo Karate developed in the U.S. starting in the 1950s, and it has evolved into a purely American style. According to Lawler, Kenpo Karate is known for its self-defense techniques, and includes a lot of motion analysis with physics and geometry behind the motions.

“It’s the thinking-man’s form of martial arts,” Lawler explained. “Kenpo Karate is very individualized, and people bring their own styles into it.”

Speakman has been a guest star on a number of television shows and showcased his martial arts talents in more than a dozen movies, most notably “The Perfect Weapon” in 1991.

“That’s probably the movie that he is most famous for,” Lawler said, explaining that Speakman's performance in “The Perfect Weapon” showcased Kenpo Karate for the first time in a major Hollywood movie.

Parker became very well-known beyond the martial arts community. At one point, he served as the bodyguard for Elvis Presley. He appeared in several movies himself, including The Pink Panther films, and was a friend of director Blake Edwards. Parker helped Bruce Lee get his start in movies in the 1960s. He assisted with the fight choreography for “The Perfect Weapon,” but passed away in 1990, before the movie was released.

Lawler first met Speakman back in the 1990s, when they did some training together, and they discovered that they had similar perspectives and ideas about training.

“Our connection to Ed Parker drew us together,” Lawler explained.

Lawler said that Kenpo Karate, as taught in the U.S., is a more modernized and eclectic style. It shares many elements with forms of traditional martial arts, but has an added element of practicality. According to Lawler, the element of practicality comes in by focusing on a student’s strengths. One student might have an inherent weakness that would make it impossible to be good at kicking. In Kenpo Karate, an instructor would have the flexibility to tailor the art to a student’s strengths, while also developing the areas of weakness.

About a year ago, Speakman contacted Lawler about two students that he had been training in California who were moving to the Kennett Square area. Speakman wanted to match up the students with Lawler, his longtime acquaintance, who would continue the proper training.

“They started training here and have been here ever since,” Lawler explained.

When he found out that there was an opportunity to bring Speakman to Kennett Square for a weekend of seminars, Lawler was excited. The two martial artists quickly reconnected without missing a beat.

Lawler, who opened his facility in Kennett Square in 1992 and also teaches strength training and self-defense at West Chester University, said that it was impressive to see Speakman teach.

Speakman could certainly offer some valuable advice to students. Not only is he an accomplished martial artist with a an impressive professional résumé, he has also fully recovered from a battle with throat cancer in 2013.

Lawler said that it's good for Kenpo Karate to have people like Speakman teaching the principles of the discipline to others.

“He is driven to put forth a positive legacy for Kenpo Karate, to see it continue and advance,” Lawler explained. “Mr. Parker liked to say that martial arts is a journey, not a destination.”

Lawler’s Kenpo Karate is offering a special of six weeks of classes for $69 for children and adults throughout the summer. Lawler conducts the same women's self-defense classes that he teaches as part of the Department of Kinesiology at West Chester University. There are also opportunities for personal training and private lessons. For more information, visit or call 610-444-6036.

To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Chester County's free newsletter to catch every headline