Kenpo Women’s Symposium
Helping Women Find Community and Grow


Dian Tanaka has never owned a studio nor promoted students to a black belt level, yet she is considered one of the pioneers of American Kenpo and has been invited to teach at seminars throughout the world. Mr. Ed Parker promoted Ms. Tanaka to 5th degree black belt, and she had always been content with that rank even though her peers promoted her to the rank of 6th degree. In Ms. Tanaka’s view, rank is unimportant, and merit is what matters. Her humility, as well as a desire to learn more and better herself regardless of what she is working on, makes her a strong teacher.

Ms. Tanaka was born in Japan and moved to the United States at the age of 7. She attended UCLA where she achieved her bachelor’s degree during the late 1970’s. While at college she found a place to train in karate that suited her needs and was one of a few women at her school. She was a purple belt when she met Mr. Parker for the first time. After their initial meeting, Mr. Parker asked her to participate in demos and essentially put her under his wing. She did not know why she was a favorite of Mr. Parker’s, but whatever the reason was it didn’t matter to her. She was allowed to watch the advanced classes while the other lower belts weren’t. She was part of Mr. Parker’s forms and demos team, something she took great honor in. It was while watching those advanced classes that she learned a valuable lesson: the students were practicing the same material that they did in the beginning class – all basics – just at a higher, faster level. 

Ms. Tanaka is also an 8th degree black belt in Doce Pares Eskrima , a Filipino martial art that includes stick, knife, and empty hands training. Her instructor is SGM Ciriaco “Cacoy Canete.” 

She has also researched and studied the Internal vs External Martial Arts under Shifu Zhang Yun, who teaches Wu-style Tai Chi, a more combative style of Tai Chi that focuses on developing internal energy.