Sad news: Joe Lewis passed on August 31st, 2012 after suffering from cancer. May he rest in peace. We keep you in our hearts, Joe!
It was in 2000 when I first had the opportunity to meet up with Joe Lewis, the person who became known as the first American Sport Karate Champion, first professional heavyweight World Champion and as a teacher. He is one of the most advanced instructors for self defense and combat principles that are developed to be scaled up for different demands and not just one occasion. Joe Lewis has been a mentor and idol for many martial artists. Some have had the chance to study with him over many years and call him their master while others have just met him on one or two occasions. Yet, both sort of encounters with Joe Lewis have spurred positive developments for martial artists from all over the world.
Of course I admire Joe Lewis, as my old friend and mentor Georg F. Brueckner from Berlin once showed me private super-8 films of tournaments from the USA of late 60ies and early 70ies. Joe Lewis was the first fullcontact fighter who knew how to use boxing punches and mix them up with Karate. He had great self control. During his days as a point fighter Joe was able to stop powerful and lighting fast kicks and punches less then a centimeter before making contact. He did not use locking techniques like traditional Karatekas, but genuine body control as required in a particular situation. But there was another side to him. Once his career as a fighter was over the top Joe kept fighting fullcontact and his late fights were mere showings of his true talent. While other keep complimenting him on his late fights, I thought he did not look well. He stayed well behind his potential. I guess that’s what happened to a lot of fighters after their prime including great boxing champions like Muhamad Ali, Floyd Patterson and Oscar Delahoya. I think Joe Lewis realized this himself an pulled the plug after a nice exhibition match with Bill “Superfoot” Wallace.
My old friend Mike Anderson called me up as I heard I was visiting Germany in 2000, a country I have been living in and promoting martial arts for over 20 years. Mike asked if I could pick up Joe from the airport, translate for his seminar in Koblenz with Bernhard Willems and take care of him and Don ‘the Dragon’ Wilson while they were attending Stefan Billen’s Martial Arts Grad Prix 2000 in Unna. I gladly accepted this honor and met Joe at the airport in Frankfurt.We talked a lot about common friends and the good old days. He still had great memories from Berlin, where he was featured on a gigantic event poster for George Brueckner’s championships in Deutschlandhalle 1974 and 1975. (Actually, I met Joe again in 2012 and he was talking about that again as one hell of an experience).
During a seminar in Koblenz for host Bernhard Willems I was reminded why Joe Lewis was such a great fighter and is still in high demand for teaching others. Joe has a concept. He knows about physics and psychology, he has experience. His seminars are best for fighters and total newbies. people who have studied other more traditional styles like Taekwondo or Kung Fu for many years will find it difficult to follow him as they would need to admit of being fundamentally wrong. This creates conflicts and some strange situations, but Joe is here to teach and not to convince others to change their style or organization.
I am going to write more about Joe in the future. Just recently I was able to meet him in Bangkok, Thailand, were he worked on a movie with Don Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock: “White Tiger“. Also, I do have some rare never-seen photos of his fights and showings from the mid 70ies on file. This will take some time before I am able to locate and scan all the content as it’s stored in boxes somewhere. Thanks to the internet I will be able to share this great old material, soon.
Resources about Joe Lewis: