Mar 14, 2022
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Joe Lewis Candid Interview (1973)

JOE LEWIS was born 29 years ago in Raleigh, North Carolina. His father, in addition to being a farmer, was a professor at North Carolina State and his mother, a lady of Raleigh city society, taught highschool. Joe worked on his father’s farm until the time he entered the service. In May of 1964, while stationed with the Marines in Okinawa, he began his Karate training under Master Eizo Shimabuku. After 2 years in Karate, back in the States, he entered his first tournament, the National Karate Championships, and won the Grand Championship. Lewis’ tournament career was to last six and one half years in which he won over 30 major titles, a record still unequalled.
He was the only four-time National and three-time Internotionol Champion in the history of Karate. In 1970 Lewis became the U.S. Heavyweight Kickboxing Champion and defended his title seven tirnes, with no opponent lasting through the second round. Joe is currently pursuing on acting career and is set to star in G. David Schine’s (producer of “THE FRENCH CONNECTION”) new picture “TONG”.

America’s most heralded, yet controversial Karate figure, has actually remained a mystery since his debut on the U.S. Karate scene. When approached by Professional Karate for a candid interview, Lewis remarked, “I don’t want to be interviewed like some musclehead. Through interviews, the public is usually given a “He’s iust another Karate bum” image of me. I want the public to know the REAL ME.”

Professional Karate presents … The Real Joe Lewis. By LOU BALINT

Joe Lewis

P.K.: Joe what motivated you to take up Karate?

Lewis: I was in the Marine Corps at the time, stationed at Camp LaJeune in North Carolina. I was lifling weights at the time and interested in becoming a professional wrestler. I was 20 years old and weighed about 225 pounds. I used to watch these Black Belts working out in the same gymnasium where I trained and was somewhat fascinated by the aesthetic beauty of the techniques that they were using. I was attracted primarily to the kicks and have always had kind of a natural desire to want to feel physically effecacious or physically effective and I’ve always had a fear of violence. I fe lt that psychologically and physically Karate would be very compatible with my needs at the time. Of course, at that time I didn’t know myself why I really liked Karate. I just thought it would belet’s say “neat to be a Black Belt.” However, when I became a Black Belt 7 months after I started training, I didn’t value the rank system that much and since that time I have chosen not to be promoted.

P.K.: What is the rank that you hold now?

Lewis: I have no comment on that.

P.K.: You have won more Grand Championships and awards than anyone in the history of Karate. What physical characteristics do you believe are most important to becoming not merely good at Karate, but to become a great champion?

Lewis: Let me first say that champions have been of different sizes, different nationalities, different Karate styles , different ages, different body weights and I’m sure come from different backgrounds. What I want to try to name here are what I consider a gross crosssection of what I think it takes to become a champion. First of all, I think there are three main categories which we should look at. The first category is what I call technique. The second category is what I call speed and the third category is what I term assertiveness. There are three different things that make up speed. There is timing speed, initial speed, and we have what we call natural speed or miles per hour speed. Underneath the category of technique, what is considered in technique is basically the mechanics of the movements. What kicks a person throws, what punches a person throws, his footwork, his critical distancing, his blocking techniques, the position of his body and his overall movement patterns. Whether he’s a jammer, a blocker, or what we call a runner. Now I choose the word assertiveness for the third phase because here I’m thinking about a person with an attitude of aggression — one who tends to be very aggressive, one who chooses to assert himself both physically and psychologically, one who is not afraid of giving 100 per cent commitment to every single movement he makes while he is sparring. I’d like to break this down into two levels, the physical level and the psychological level. Physically, a man has to be in real good condition and has to be fast and have real top muscular speed. I feel that the best overall Karate men are between the height of about 5’10” to 6′ with a medium muscular structure on their body. On a psychological level, I would list four things which I think characterize a champion. Number one, a man definitely has to be extremely assertive. Number two, he has to have a burning desire to win. Number three, he has to have a compelling sense of confidence stemming from good conditioning, good physical conditioning, good psychological conditioning, and a positive awareness of one’s competence to excel. Number four, and I think this fourth one is crucial, one must have an ability to focus externally on his opponent, free of any self-doubts.

Joe lewis

P.K.: Are you aware of any specific psychological traits of men who became superlative as contrasted to men who are excellent?

Lewis: Okay, in order for me to answer this question, let me first say that there are people who never win and there are people who win sometimes. In other words, there are people. or fighters , who will win one tournament and they will lose the next four. They are very inconsistent. So, what is it psychologically that makes a person inconsistent? Or what is it that causes a per-son not to be motivated to becoming a champion. We can call this one thing fear – okay, fear or a lack of interest. One of the things which make people afraid of becom-ing a superstar is the fact they lack a sense of confidence to assume responsibility to what it entails to being a champion. It’s a big responsibility and that frightens a lot of people and they set themselves up to lose before a tournament by either not getting in good enough shape, physically and psychologically and they do the exact same thing during a match. Prior to the match or prior to stepping into the ring to fight an opponent, they have already set themselves up to get beat. You can see it in their attitude. All right, secondly, people who are champions tend to be motivated by an internal value. Now, rather than extrinsic values such as trophies, money, titles, achieving rank, establishing a big name or trying to beat a big name or whatever, a person is motivated by an inner sense of strength. He is trying to feel a sense of himself; a sense of his own pow-ers, a sense of his own physical powers, a sense of his ability to control himself in a physical situation, a physical situation, in this context, relating to a Karate match. When a person is motivated in this way and not by external values, he has a slight edge. A third specific characteristic or a third specific trait which I would name that the superstars tend to have is what I call a sense of control over their own ability to concentrate through every match during a tournament at every single tournament and I find that very few people have this. Therefore, naturally, we have very few champions.

P.K.: What were your own training practices which helped you achieve your skills?

Lewis: I would have to simply name how I started out training. I trained nine times a week for the first two years I was in Karate and I had a sparring partner for the first two and one half years I was in Karate. So the things that helped me to achieve my particular skills at that time were the fact that I spent an hour a day working on a makiwara board throwing about six or seven hundred punches with each hand. I spent another hour each day throwing side kicks against a kicking bag. I spent thirty minutes with each leg without stopping. Then, in addition, I would go through about a one hour and fifteen minute or a one hour and thirty minute workout. During this workout, I would throw hundreds of punches, hundreds of kicks, go through various blocking tech-niques and different types of shuffling exercises to develop my footwork. At the end of my workouts, I would spar always for about 20 to 30 minutes. I would always try to spar non-stop. Then I would spend some time doing pushups and situps to toughen my body. My training sessions did not consist of doing Katas and they did not consist of talking, they did not consist of instruction. They consisted totally of doing hard, fast repetition punches and kicks. I usually worked up a sweat within three minutes after I started my workout and within 15 to 20 minutes I could wring my gi of sweat and if you can make every square inch of your gi wet during a workout, you know you’ve gone through a hard workout. Two techniques I worked on were side kicks and a forehand strike. This was in my later days. And this is what helped me to become a champion in the beginning. I would just say it was the consistency of my training and the commitment I made to every minute that I was in the dojo.

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P.K.: What training practices do you advocate for students today?

Lewis: In order for me to answer that question, I am only going to speak to tournament competitors. First of all, there are three categories that people go into Karate to pursue: One, the esthetic category whereby people learn to do Katas and to do theatrical techniques maybe for films; a second category is what we call self-defense. Here people learn techniques for realistic situations; thirdly is the sport aspect of competition category and naturally here you are learning to compete either on an amateur or a professional level — and, when I say professional, I mean we’re using contact gear and there is moderate to full contact. When I speak of training, I am not talking about any of the traditional rituals which people go through, the bowing, the ceremonies, the traditional exercises. I’m not speaking of doing any Katas. I’m not speaking of doing any breaking techniques or hand conditioning techniques. I’m speaking strictly of what conditions the mind and what conditions the body to achieving the specific results that a man is after when he’s in that ring competing. The name of the game, very simply, is to score on f your opponent without being scored against and to do that we have to develop men in the three categories which I named earlier: speed, technique, and assertiveness. Let me speak, first of all in the area of conditioning a person physically. I think a man should train a minimum of three times a week and a maximum of seven times a week. I think during his training session, he should concentrate and spend a minimum of one hour doing hard, fast, repetition kicking, repetition punching, and repetition moving exercises to develop the speed and the power and the deceptiveness of his punching techniques, his kicking techniques, and his moving techniques. When I say moving techniques, I’m talking about footwork. Very few schools, if any, practice footwork of any kind and I feel footwork is number one. When a man’s legs are gone, he can’t move fast on his feet; he’ll never be a superchampion. Let’s look at all those champions, the superstars like Tony Tulleners, Frank Smith, Mike Stone, Chuck Norris, Skipper Mullins, and Allen Steen. There’s one thing they all had and that was one or two real good, effective techniques. The techniques were fast, powerful, and deceptive. But, primarily they were fast. They developed these techniques by doing them repetitively every day that they trained so this is a prerequisite to a man establishing a training program. This is in addition to one-hour hard training session which I mentioned earlier. I don’t choose at this time to name any kind of specific training program, however. I can be contacted for information on setting up a training session. The trouble with most schools is they spend a great deal of time instructing their students, a great deal of time talking, a great deal of time goofing off, a great deal of time doing the things which aren’t going to achieve the specific results that a man should have when he is in the ring. This, I think, is the greatest problem. I do recommend that if a person is not motivated to train himself then he should try to find or seek out a sparring partner or a training partner so that they can motivate each other and work side by side always trying to excel the other. I also recommend a great deal of sparring. Every time you work out, try to spar. I recommend road work. If you run, try to run a minimum of 2 miles and try to run each mile in about seven, maybe seven and one half minutes if you can. I also recommend working with striking bags both with the hands and the legs. The good thing about bags when you’re training is the fact that you focus externally. You’re not thinking about yourself, you’re thinking about hitting the target and that’s the attitude you must have when you’re in the ring. You cannot think about how you are throwing a particular technique. Is my particular technique going to work? Is my opponent going to hit me before I hit him? When you are in the ring, you have to think “there is my target” and see your opponent as a target and not as an opponent. That’s why I recommend working with bags and that’s why I recommend doing a great deal of sparring. There are many reasons why I recommend this particular type of training session , such as, how it helps ‘your timing, how it helps you psychologically, how it conditions the body, and how it prepares you exactly for tournament competition. To prepare a man psychologically, he should do psychological exercises to psych himself up and to strengthen his mind for competition. Naturally, if you’re not doing any sparring, you’re not developing your mind for that kind of work. People say Katas help your sparring — I say they don’t. People say that breaking techniques help your sparring — I say they don’t. Okay, running doesn’t help you to spar either, it merely conditions the body. But the kind of breathing you do when you run and the kind of breathing you do when you do Katas and the kind of breathing you do when you do punching and kicking techniques and the kind of breathing you do when you’re sparring are all individually different. Therefore if you are going to compete, you must do a great deal of sparring, hard sparring, tough sparring, fast sparring. Some of the exercises I recommend to develop a person psychologically are, very simply: Your greatest sense and source of confidence comes from being in good physical condition and knowing that you know how to assert yourself, assert your techniques in the ring and that can only come from practice. That cannot come from any instructor, it cannot come from any sparring partner, it cannot come from experience, it comes from doing it. When I used to train, I found that it didn’t make any difference how long I rested prior to a tournament. Sometimes I would rest a week before a tournament, sometimes I would train right up to the day before the tournament. I recommend slacking off about 2 to 3 days prior to a tournament and just concentrate on eating light foods and getting plenty of rest and doing things to get your mind off the tournament. Another type of psychological conditioning I recommend, and it’s the one thing that I find makes about 95 per cent of all mistakes in competition and it’s very difficult for me to put in words how imponant this factor is I may even have difficulty naming it. It’s what I call focusing. When I say focus. I mean directing your senses in a given area and making clear visually, sensorally, and mentally what it is that you have directed your attention towards and in this case it is your opponent – how do you focus on your opponent. I find that this is one thing which is not taught in any school in the entire United States or the Orient. l don’t feel that any instructor really knows how to teach this. I will simply try to name One good exercise which l think people can try to do.

Top Ten

First of all. let me try to name how I see the problem and maybe some people can draw upon this and relate it to their own mistakes that they have made in tournaments. When you are out there fighting, you have to live in the present tense. You cannot think about beating the man. You cannot think about how much time you have left in the ring. You cannot think about whether the referees like you or not. You cannot think about whether the audience approves of you or not. You cannot think about what school you are from or what style your opponent’s from. You cannot think about whether you are better than your opponent or vice versa. You cannot think about something which happened at a previous tournament. You cannot think about your girlfriend. You can not think about whether your techniques are going to work or not. You can not think about whether you are going to get hit or hurt. All these thoughts have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with achieving the results that you are after in that ring, and yet, we are all victims of this kind of mental drifting, of this kind of passive thinking, of this kind of self-defeating thinking.
A good example of this is when a man scores a point. Rather than thinking and going on to the next moment in the match, he starts thinking about the fact that he just scored a point and he thinks maybe about how he scored it, and he thinks about his opponent’s reaction to the fact that, ‘Oh, I am a point behind. Now I’ve got to catch up. The audience doesn’t like me because they think the man I am figh ing is better than me because he’s a point ahead of me … Or maybe the technique hurt and he’s thinking about the physical pain he’s going through.’ All these thoughts are past tense thinking. They are negative thoughts. These thoughts do not help him to fight better. Yet we are all victims of it.
Let me try to give a perfect example of this. It happened during the Muhammed Ali-Joe Frazier fight. I remember specifically in the fourth round that Ali was against the ropes with Frazier and he was looking at the audience and shaking his head and holding his gloves on top of Frazier’s head trying to indicate to the audience that Joe Frazier wasn’t hurting him. Here is a perfect example of what I call being victimized by … split focus … At that moment. Ali’s focus was not on what he was doing. His focus was not on his objective. His focus was on “How is the audience reacting to me.”
How is the audience approving of him, subecquently, he lost the fight. Joe Frazier won, not because he was in better shape because both fighters were out of shape. Joe Frazier won because he kept his focus on his opponent. He kept his focus on what he was doing to his opponent. Okay, Joe Frazier was not concerned about whether Ali was a better fighter, whether Ali was more intelligent, whether Ali was a favorite in the audience or any of these negative thoughts. He kept his mind on his work. This I find to be the greatest defeating factor in competition today, especially among Black Belts. What I would recommend as an exercise to correct this problem, and I personally know that every single Black Belt in the United States, not to mention their students, have this problem. It is this: First of all, be aware of what I am talking about. That’s the first step. Second step, when you are sparring, try not to allow these thoughts to pass through your mind. Third step. as soon as these thoughts start to enter your mindimmediately try to focus your attention on your opponent. What do you think about? Ask questions like “Where are the targets? Where is his head? Where is his chest? where’s his rib cage? Where’s his groin?” So immediately you start thinking about targets. Immediately you start thinking about hitting your opponent and just practice wondering and perceiving your opponent in this way until you have found that you have totally lost yourself in where your opponent is and not what you are going to do to your opponent and not what your opponent is going to do to you and especially, not what is the audience’s or the referee’s or the judge’s reaction to you. When you find a man that can concentrate this way, who can feel us this way and focus it continually during every match, during every tournament, and during his workout sessions, and I will show you a man who is on the road to becoming a superstar.

P.K.: You seem to be in tremendous physical condition. Do you lift weights to build yourself up or is your muscle tone solely a result of your Karate training?

Lewis: I lifted weights until I was 19 years old and I was always fairly fast anyway. l never felt the weights had any hindrance on my respective speed. I recommend people to lift weights to strengthen their muscles: not to enlarge their muscles. If a person trains correctly, the weights will not tighten the muscles and slow a person’s speed down, contrary to popular belief. I have been working physically hard since I was a child and that, naturally, would be one of the reasons why I still maintain a muscular frame. I do road work and light bag work now and l am able to maintain the physical condition which l had. for let’s say, 15 to 20 years.

P.K.: What one attribute would you say was the key factor in your winning ability?

Lewis: I would say very simply it is hard work. In the Karate world we have the knowers, we have what I would call those who possess the ability and the skill and then we have the doers. The knowers are the ones who have a tremendous amount of what I consider floating knowledge. I guess you would call these the masters or the people who like to be perceived as knowing everything. Knowing hundreds of Katas, numbers of styles of Karate, numerous techniques and so forth. Those who possess the ability are the ones who would like to think of themselves as being competent, as being capable, as being effective. Yet. they don’t want to assume the responsibility to fulfill this need. They don’t compete or rarely compete. They don’t train or rarely train or don’t train hard. And these are the types which I think fit into this category.
Then you have what I call the doers. The greatest motivation in Karate is a man, as I mentioned earlier, who loves to gain a sense of that internal strength. That sense of physical effectiveness, physical effecacy, and the only way to ever experience that strength and that real sense of self is by doing and applying your knowledge. If I had to say what was the one factor, I would definitely have to say it was this. If I only knew one technique, I’d practice that technique diligently for two hours, so it’s not what you know, it’s not what you can do. It’s simply what you do.

P.K.: Joe. your footwork always amazed me. Although you are big, you always closed the gap on your opponents with unbelievable speed. How did you attain this ability?

Lewis: I feel, first of all, that a fast man is a man who can bridge the gap well on his opponents. A man who can move fast on his feet, a man who has exceptional footwork and I separate these types from those who kick fast, and those who punch fast. Those types don’t impress me. Very few schools, as I have mentioned earlier, teach footwork. Or they teach a very limited amount of footwork I feel that footwork is the most important factor in any sport and especially Karate. In order to be fast on your feet, you have to have techniques to develop footwork. In other words, you have to know what footwork is all about. If a man doesn’t know good footwork, he can go to a boxing gym and he can learn how to move around in a ring. That’s one way of developing it. Maybe a person can start off very simply, just practicing closing the gap between he and his opponent or moving forward as fast as he can and he can practice maintaining the distance between his opponent by shuffling backwards as fast as he can. Then he can practice varying these types of movements: Shuffling sideways, breaking the rhythm up, shuffling slightly forward then moving backwards, shuffling slightly backwards then moving forward. In other words, he has to learn how to move on his feet and control his opponent.
Another thing which will help is to have strong legs. When I was in competition, I developed my legs through lifting weights to strengthen them, through kicking heavy bags, and through doing many, many shuffling exercises. I practiced on always trying to focus on how fast I could move on my feet. My first sparring partner, John Korab, was an ex-boxer and he taught me how to move fast on my feet and I was thankful for that. In 1968, I met Mr. Bruce Lee and once again he emphasized, in my sessions with him, the importance of being able to move fast on my feet. I might say that one of the top competitors in the United States today is a man from California by the name of Howard Jackson. If you watch him compete, you’ll find that one of the key assets and one of the reasons why he was able to win this big tournament recently held by Mike Anderson in St. Louis, was the fact that he was able to move fast on his feet. He was able to close the gap between his opponents before his opponents could react or counter. Psychologically, or should I say mentally, a person should concentrate on practicing these principles which I have named and you have to establish your own exercises. It ‘s hard to put exercises in word form. The main thing to concentrate on is trying to explode as quickly and suddenly as possible in all of your initial moves, in all of your footwork patterns. To me this is the crucial number one factor in becoming a champion from a mechanical perspective.

P.K.: What are your favorite techniques?

Lewis: That’s simple. The most effective technique in a street fight or in a tournament is a forehand strike. I think the safest technique is a foreleg side kick. Both of these techniques come off of the forward side and, if thrown properly, they are the two fastest and the two most effective techniques in Karate. A roundhouse kick probably is scored more consistently in competition than the side kick, but a roundhouse kick is not a power kick. A roundhouse kick leaves you vulnerable to a counterattack, whereas a good side kick, thrown properly, rectifies this problem. Naturally I have about four or five good techniques off either side such as a forward leg roundhouse kick, a reverse punch, lunge punch, forehand strike, side kick, but all a man really needs to become a champion is a good hand technique and a good kicking technique or two real good hand techniques.

P.K.: How would you characterize your own style of Karate?

Lewis: First off Jet me say that for every man there is in Karate, there is a different style. I don’t personally believe in “styles” of Karate. I don’t believe in Korean styles, Japanese styles, Okinawan styles, Chinese styles, or Kung-Fu Karate. A punch is a punch, and a kick is a kick, a block is a block. When a man gets hit, it doesn’t matter whether it was a Kung Fu punch or a Karate punch, or a boxing punch, or a streetfighting punch. My style, therefore, would be characterized by my own individual uniqueness. What differentiates me, from other people? I would say that the emphasis of my particular style is placed on footwork, movement patterns using the five angles of attack which are demonstrated in the Jeet Kundo style of Bruce Lee such as the direct angular attack, indirect angular attack, combination angular attack, arm and leg immobilization angular attack, and the offset or broken rhythm angular attack. I put my primary focus on using my forward side as much as possible, such as, the foreleg roundhouse kick, the forehand strike, and the forward leg side kick. I concentrate a great deal on my initial speed, trying to explode with each of my techniques , trying to offset my opponent’s rhythm and his sense of timing constantly. What is unique about my style is my concentration on the use of the forward hand which I think is the most effective weapon in competition. The concentration of using distance against my opponent and use of my footwork patterns, such as the angles which I have just mentioned, used respectfully and constant with the type of opponent I am fighting, whether he is a jammer, a man who just holds his ground and blocks, or a man who is a runner . The two theoretical differences between my style and other individuals are number one, I focus 90 percent of my training around developing the speed of my initial move, whereby I see most people spend most of their time developing combinations.

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The second contrasant element in my style would be the fact that what I vary during a match is not my technique, but my focus is placed on changing the angle of my attack to fit the footwork of my opponent, rather than changing the technique I am using to fit my opponent’s target. Now let me give you an example where I am fighting a man and I throw a side kick and my side kick doesn’t work. Rather than changing to maybe a forehand strike and – then changing to a reverse punch and then changing to a spinning back kick, I don’t vary the technique, I’ll vary the angle. I’ll turn right around and throw another side kick except I’ll use different footwork with the side kick. My recommendation to all students is to rebel totally at some time in their training against all knowledge that they may have acquired and try to seek and create something entirely different from what they are doing. Both in application of their techniques and in the mechanical application of their techniques. Naturally, man has to find a style which is consonant with his physical structure and his psychological make-up. For example, if a man is short and he is skinny and he tends to be passive psychologically, his best strategy in the ring is not to go out there and throw a jam reverse punch against every man who attacks him. This would not be compatible with his basic make-up, as a style of fighting for him . I wouldn’t say that everyone is totally different, but you have to find the movement patterns, the techniques, and your own way of asserting yourself psychologically in order to be a top fighter, in order to create your own style which I think everyone should do.

P.K.: You are known to have innovated certain techniques which represent departures from conventional Karate as it was practiced in your younger years. Give two or three examples of what you have developed and why you regard it as more effective than classical techniques.

Lewis: Technically, I guess I was known for introducing two techniques into Karate, the forehand strike and the forehand close punch or the inverted close punch. I was well known for the side kick. There were people throwing side kicks before me, but I don’t choose to give them credit for introducing the side kick into Karate. I do remember in the beginning days when I first started in competition, most people fought facing their opponnts and they threw a lot of front kicks, roundhouse kicks and rear hand punching techniques. My basic style was strictly from the side facing my opponent at a right angle. I think this question has been answered earlier in my previous statements such as the use of footwork movement patterns against different types of opponents as opposed to thinking technique vs. technique or technique vs. target. The other thing which I introduced which hasn’t quite gotten around yet is psychological training, teaching people to focus externally in a positive way as opposed to focusing internally on themselves. This is a whole new area of Karate which is just starting to open up this year and as of date no one is teaching it yet.

P.K.: Joe , what was your most memorable tournament? Can you relate some of the events that made it memorable for you?

Lewis: Okay. There have been tournaments which have been memorable and there have been tournaments that were credible. I guess the most credible tournament was in 1968 when I went down and won the U.S. Karate Championships in Dallas, Texas . I defeated a couple of the biggest names in Karate that day and perhaps the biggest name. I won the tournament without being scored on and Miss Texas was the tournament queen. After the tournament we started a real nice relationship and I had a lot of fun in Dallas. I have to admit, even to this day, I have always enjoyed fighting in Dallas more than any other city. I liked the people there and I liked the way they reacted to me. The most memorable tournament though, would have to be in 1968 when I went to Sacramento to fight on a team with Robert Halliburton and Ron Marchini. We fought a team of Koreans which was captained by Byong Yu at the time. He had just come over to the United States. I had a lot of fun that day because it turned into kind of a full contact tournament. I had about 4 or 5 Koreans on my back at one time and I’ll have to admit that it was my most memorable tournament. I just have a lot of fun when things become a reality and Byong Yu and I have subsequently become friends, bait I’m sure we both remember that day. I wanted to interject one thing about the Dallas tournament that also made it memorable. I had my shortest match in competition and it lasted about one second. The referee said go and I laid my opponent out with a side kick and I remember they had to drag him underneath the ropes to get him out of the ring, and that was fun.

P.K.: Are you definitely finished with competition?

Lewis: Very simply, I find competition interesting but my values have changed. I started losing an interest in competition in 1968. I found myself changing and maturing intellectually and emotionally and I felt for what I was in Karate for, I was not achieving and there was no may I could achieve it for existential reasons. One of the main reasons I quit competition was the bad refereeing and the bad judging — especially in my last two tournaments. I fought in the U.S.K.A. tournament in Memphis and I felt that the judging and the attitude of the judges was somewhat prejudiced against me and the last time I fought was at the Internationals in Long Beach, 1972. I knew that would be my last match. I guess it’s kind of nice to retire as a winner, to use that word. But before I stepped up in the ring to fight, even in the elimination matches, I could sense from the people who were connected with the tournament at ringside and I also could sense from the judges that the cards were stacked against me. I might add that I have been offered $5,000 to compete. I’ve had numerous challenges from around the country. All I can say is this. I’ve never challenged another man to fight and I never will. I don’t remember ever accepting a challenge. I don’t believe in challenging period. I’m tee aware of the psychological implications of people who go around challenging others. I don’t choose tube a part of that game and I would not fight for any price. I don’t mind doing exhibition matches and I have done a couple of exhibition matches on occasion. My focus now is on becoming an actor and to gravitate in that direction.

P.K.: What experiences have you had?

Lewis: I simply say that I feel I was the victim, on numerous occasions of bad refereeing and judging for whatever reasons.It’s hard to mention those times and I’m choosing not to because it is very difficult to express your feelings regardless of how true they are because people will only perceive you as some type of a crybaby or what they might call a “poor loser.” All I can say is this: Since I only necked evaluation from inside myself, not from what the judges thought of me or the magazines or the fans I can honestly say that I never really felt that anyone ever took anything away from me, whether it be a match, a title, a trophy, fame, sense of dignity or anything else which was important to me or to them.

P.K.: More and more people are sharing their dissatisfaction with current refereeing. If you share this same dissatisfaction, what improvements would you suggest?

Lewis: Well, naturally I don’t compete any more so my feelings wouldn’t be as strong as someone who had students competing or as strongly as those who are competing. I feel that refereeing and judging are bad at most tournaments. I feel that the bad judging is done consistently by the same parties. I don’t know realistically how to make the judging better. I feel that the competence and the ability of people to judge can be improved by running a referee’s clinic prior to a tournament, especially the bigtournaments. I think if it is done at the big tournaments, then it will subsequently filter down to the small ones. I feel that it’s the tournament promoter’s responsibility to enforce some kind of action to guarantee the competitors at the tournaments that they will have competent judging and refereeing at the respective tournaments. I don’t feel that this responsibility should be shared by dojo owners, by students of Karate or by the tournament’s participants. I feel that it is solely the responsibility of the tournament promoter. Mistakes in judging will always be made, just as mistakes are made in everything. I don’t know what else to do about improving the competence of those who judge and referee at tournaments other than running a clinic prior to the tournament. This doesn’t completely safeguard against fallacies that will be made. The other major problem is prejudiced judging for whatever reasons. I really don’t know what can be done about this problem. If you are in the ring and the referees and judges have a negative response or a negative reaction to you and it does influence the decision of the match or the individual call of a point, I feel that it is the responsibility of the competitor at that point to choose to express himself in any way which he sees fit and appropriate to the situation.

P.K.: Do you still work out?

Lewis: I haven’t trained for competition in over a year. Currently I weigh about 174 pounds. I’ve lost about 20 pounds since the days when I was competing. I’ve slimmed down so I can pursue an acting career. The training I do now is to maintain my present physical structure. I run 2 1/2 miles about 3 or 4 times a week. I go to a health club about 2 to 3 times a week. I li ft. weights with my legs and sometimes I work on a speed bag and a heavy bag doing boxing exercises just to mildly condition the upper part of my body. That is the extent of my training today. I still feel that I am in excellent shape with superior speed and I feel that my mind is stronger now than it has ever been in the history of my career and I might add that I still feel confident, too.

P.K.: Joe, do you have any future plans as for es Karate is concerned?

Lewis: Well, this has been kind of hush-hush, but, by the time this interview article reaches the press, everyone in the country will probably know about it. Tom Tannenbaum of Universal Pictures has contracted me to direct a big Martial Arts show for a national television pilot. He asked me to select a big promoter to assist in the direction and promotion of the show. I selected your publisher, Mike Anderson, as I was impressed by his promotion of the Top 10 Nationals and PROFESSIONAL KARATE magazine. Anderson suggested producing the World Professional Karate Championships along with a Martial Arts exhibition. Mr. Tannenbaum was really excited about such a prominent event and agreed to all conditions. The main condition was that it would be “THE” World Professional Karate Championship and not just another tournament with an impressive sounding name with nothing but local fighters. He agreed one hundred per cent. The event will be held in latelebruary in the Forum in Los Angeles. The 16 best fighters in the world will be flown in and fight each other for an undisclosed amount of money. There will be 4 Europeans, 2 Canadians, 2 Japanese, 2. Mexicans, 2. Koreans and 4 Americans participating. It is not for certain, but it looks like the American representatives will be Wallace, Wren, Smith, and Jackson. So far, all the foreign parties that have been contacted have agreed to participate — corn the Koreans and Japanese. I am really excited about it as this is the biggest and most important event ever to take place in the history of Karate. An event such as this really builds up my enthusiasm again for sport Karate. This event will be the first real step toward world unification and understanding in sport Karate and with national, and in all probability, worldwide television coverage, it will give Karate its long-deserved recognition as one of the most prominent professional sports in the world today.

P.K.: You were always a colorful, exciting and dramatic fighter to watch in the ring and drew tremendous crowds, yet a sizeable number of people seemed hostile to you and wanted you to lose. You seem to have generated a lot of antagonism. How do you account for that?

Lewis: There are a number of reasons. I’ll try to make my answer brief. People resented me. I was a smart ass and probably asked for it, but then again, I was also shy and somewhat antisocial and was never one of the boys.” That probably made some people feel rejected by me. Finally, I was the best thing they had ever seen and I knew it and a lot of them just couldn’t forgive me for that. The only way they will ever forgive a champion is for him to play the humility game and I wasn’t willing.

P.K.: Have you ever had to use Karate to defend yourself? Could you relate an example to us?

Lewis: Years ago I used to work as a body guard and I had the opportunity to throw a few kicks and a couple punches on occasion. I have no comment about the results or the nature of the incident. Generally speaking, let me say this because basically what people really want to know is how I stand morally on the issue of using my knowledge. If I had a dog or a cat or a friend, a close friend, or a relative, and another person was trying to harm them, harm them physically, and I knew that they would be harmed physically, I would not hesitate at all to act in any way which I saw fitting to use Karate to rectify the situation. I would go so. tar as to say if I saw someone beating on a pet of mine or a close friend of mine, I would not hesitate to kill them as fast as possible in any way which I was capable of doing, whether it would be with a gun, or with a chair, or with Karate. I detest violence passionately, or should I say vehemently and I resent people who respect violence implicitly or explicitly. I might add that I resent people who respect me for any reason outside of the fact that they can appreciate and admire the fact that it took a great deal of effort and determination and will power for me to achieve what I achieved as opposed to respecting me for the fact that I am capable of violence. Now that I have explained my ethics somewhat, I’ll add that on several occasions I have been confronted where I had a choice either to use Karate or to use my intelligence. Most of the time I feel proud of the fact that I was able to use my intelligence. Sometimes, when I have felt totally helpless intellectually, I have chosen to use some techniques. What I usually like to do is to simply harass my opponents by playing with them or by spinning them around into a choke hold or a wrist flex.

P.K.: Okay, Joe you are known to have become very interested in psychology and ref subjects. How did your interest begin?

Lewis: I met my closest friend, Dr. Nathaniel Branden, over four years ago and at the time I was in the middle of a 7 month marriage. He was a well known psychotherapist and a brilliant scientist in the field of psychology and also an author of a number of books. I started working under him and I’ve been with him ever since. I started becoming extremely interested in the field of psychology and philosophy about two years ago and I’ve been somewhat training myself to use my knowledge to help augment what I teach in the field of Karate and also to help myself grow and become a more effective human being in my everyday life. The area of psychology which I am most interested in is the science of epistomology which deals with how the mind functions and acquires knowledge. It gets into thinking methods which is something I talked about briefly earlier when I was discussing teaching a man how to become externally focused on his opponent rather than intrinsically focused on himself or some aspect in relation to himself. I do plan to become a writer someday and I want to write about people and in order to do so, I am choosing to learn a great deal about myself, about motivational psychology, and how I can use it to better understand other people as well. I might add that I feel very fortunate to be a close friend of Nathaniel Branden because he has developed a whole new, a revolutionary new, kind of psychology which he calls the biocentric approach.

P.K.: Joe, you are known to have become interested in acting as a career. Could you tell us how it all happened?

Lewis: I had planned by the age of 30 to go into acting. Two years ago I was approached to do a television pilot by Paramount studios. I did the pilot and at a later date I dropped the entire project by my own choice. I chose at that time to continue pursuing an acting career. I was spending about $700 a month on lessons. I was taking speech lessons, psychology courses, speed-reading therapy courses. I was attending three different acting schools and I was also in the process of getting out of the competitive aspect of Karate because it was working against me emotionally. It was making me feel emotionally repressed. It was also making me very physically tense and both of these are a no-no for the acting profession.

P.K.: Are you still taking acting lessons?

Lewis: I am still taking acting lessons. Yes. I am attending a couple of different schools at the present time. The one thing that Karate helps me to do is practice some of my acting techniques. When I go to tournaments I’m constantly practicing acting techniques, practicing relating to people, practicing speaking exercises, practicing talking to people, practicing reacting off of people when I go on tours or do public appearances, radio, newspaper, and television, again I am practicing things that will help me become a very competent actor.

P.K.: Films about Karate have become the top box office movies in America today. What do you think about this sudden interest in Karate?

Lewis: It excites me a great deal. Bruce Lee was the real master of fight scenes on fihn. It will be pretty hard to duplicate what he has done. My personal interest !lei in the area of using my name and my contacts to open up as many doors as possible and to get me into the film industry. There are a number of big name and affluent people in the business who are extremely interested in me at the present time. I do not choose to become another Jim Brown in the acting field. I am not interested in becoming another athlete who happened to get a couple roles or happened to be pursuing an acting career. My interest is to become a good actor in all roles. I’m not interested in only doing Karate films. I’d like to add that Karate fight scenes or Kung-Fu fight scenes are going to be around for a long, long time. They will be around as long if not longer than western gunfight scenes and I feel that they will take the place of a lot of gunfight scenes and definitely take the place of most of the fight scenes that we see currently on television and in films.

P.K.: What are your prospects for a movie?

Lewis: Okay, at the present time I am being pursued by about seven different sources to do films. I haven’t done a film in the past because I am only interested in doing good work. Anyone can jump in and do a Kung-Fu film. There are a number of Karate people and Kung-Fu experts around who are doing them presently. Like I said, I am interested in being a good actor. I am well aware of my ability as a Karateist. Therefore, when I go on film, I don’t choose to go on film as a Karate man. I will be on film as an actor first, as a Karate man second. This biggest project I have got going currently is a film called Tong. It’s being produced by G. David Schine. It was written by Will Tracy and also being co-produced by Will Tracy. It’s a film about the mafia moving into San Francisco. There’s a conflict between the mafia and the Tong, which is the Chinese underground, which creates a very interesting story line and a very interesting plot. There are ten fight scenes in this particular film. We are scheduled to go into production some time in August of this year. It’s going to be a pretty good film. There’s a $1,800,000 budget on this particular film. I am playing a starring role and at the present time I don’t know who the rest of the cast will be. I know that Tichiro Mifune will probably be playing opposite me. There are other projects at this time, but this is the only one which I care to mention at the moment. All I can say about this film at the present time is the people at MGM and also at Universal Studios feel that this is “the Gone With the Wind of the Kung-Fu and Karate films” so I must say that I am looking forward to the 2 1/2 months that we will be on location. I’m looking forward to this being a real exciting time in my career. I have to admit that the whole project frightens me but I am also working on that too. As I leamed very early in the Karate days, fear is only a very uncomfortable state. It has nothing to do with whether I can function or not. So I’m using this knowledge to pursue I hope a very productive and rewarding career as an actor.

Professional Karate

This Joe Lewis interview was published in Professional Karate magazine’s fall issue of 1973. Some of the images were added from different sources.

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