Talks & Interviews — September 12, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Legendary Joe Lewis: I never lost my World Full Contact Karate/Kickboxing titles to anyone

In the world of martial arts, the name of Joe Lewis is very well known and remembered even today. That’s understandable – Lewis, is considered by most, the best karate fighter ever step into the ring.

With him beginning his career, words as kickboxing and full contact were used for the first time ever. He was the first fighter to win the Heavyweight Kickboxing Championship in 1970.

Lewis is also known to be one of only 5 men to ever come out victorious over Chuck Norris in the ring. Lewis himself doesn’t like to talk about this, since he and Norris used to train together.

In his 17 year fighting career, Joe Lewis was a 7 times world champion, and was elected to numerous hall of fames 15 times.

In his day he won all the possible titles there were, including World Karate Champion, World full contact Kickboxing champion, USA Black belts Kata champion, National US Kickboxing champion.

Lewis also studied Jeet Kune Do with the late great Bruce Lee. Twice Lewis was awarded as «the greatest fighter of all time». For the World of martial arts, Lewis was the same as was Arnold Schwarzenegger to bodybuilding.

After his retirement as a fighter, Lewis went on to teaching. He wrote a few books, and released instructional martial arts videos. Today he spends his time visiting seminars, while not teaching ,and is the President of his own Organization Joe Lewis Fighting Systems.


Mr Lewis, you trained with Bruce Lee, who is still considered a legend of martial arts today. What is your opinion of his martial arts philosophy? Could his «using no style as a style» method be applied to you somehow?

A martial arts philosophy should be applicable to a combat situation, after all, martial does mean military. I felt Bruce’s concepts and principles were more so directed towards living in life and not for combat. You cannot use many ethics or morality codes in a dog eat dog, firing line, survival only environment anyway – if you want to remain alive

He did not have a “using no style as a style” method. That was all talk and image-type PR. I was right there in front of Bruce – standing toe to toe with him, on many workout occasions.  There was always the use of a style – HIS style. He was extremely precise in how every single little movement was to be executed, or a position, a strike, a set-up, or any type movement, be it rhythm or timing – everything was and had to be exact. He was a perfectionist. Look at his fight scenes.  He wrote out many of these years before he put them on film, and he rehearsed each scene to death. He was like the Thai actor, Tony Jaa, they both rehearsed what they did for months to make their martial art work look perfect.

To say he used “no style” is to say he lacked style – that would be an insult.  Only a fool would claim Bruce Lee lacked style. Ask Danny Inosanto, his chief instructor at the L.A. Chinatown JKD School – he will tell you the exact same thing as I.

In your opinion, what is more important, to be a great fighter, or be able to teach those, willing to learn?

There is no point in saying that one is more important than the other – so what?  Some people write and some people read.  Some people like to talk and some people like to listen. Some people fight and some people teach. I know guys who teach because they could never accomplish anything in the ring. I also know fighters who could never accomplish anything as a teacher. Find what you like to do and just do it – if you enjoy doing it, it is no one’s business how good you are at whatever you chose.

You were voted the greatest karate fighter of all time. Did you consider yourself one, after losing three matches out of four to Chuck Norris?

Chuck and I used to be sparring partners in late 1966 before we had to compete against each other. Norris had a four year jump on me in training and he made it very difficult for me to catch up and ever pass him.  He just trained too hard – I know because at times, we trained together.   In our first competition match, we actually tied point for point. It was a Korean tournament (Chuck was a Korean stylist), and so instead of having us fight in overtime to break the tie even though the final fighting score was even, they gave him the win over me by awarding him “style” points. It wasn’t my day. Chuck went on to win the next two of our remaining three competition matches. Out of respect, I do not talk about beating Chuck Norris or anyone else in public; I never have. He did not follow me into full contact.

Chuck lost to Tony Tulleners three out of three matches, yet Norris ended up tied with Bill Wallace for the all-time number two spot.  Tony was not up there in the voting by the 43 top fighters and promoters of the day. Remember, three wins does not alone make someone a great fighter – it still only counts as three victories. When Michael Spinks, who I fought in Birmingham, England, beat Mohammad Ali, that title fight victory did not make Spinks a great fighter; it only counted as ONE win.

I had beaten everybody, I had won every major tournament, I had set all the records, I had set the new bar for others to seek, and I started a new sport, kickboxing, and became the first martial artist to win a world championship in two sports.  Maybe some of the voters felt that since I had won three of the top major tournaments which Norris had not, this factor should give me an edge?  (United States National Championships [four times], Amateur World Championships, and the United States Karate Championships).  Of course I felt pleased that my peers voted me the Greatest. If I did not – in my heart – feel in agreement with them that I deserved that esteemed accolade, including Mr. Norris who has many times expressed his opinion in public, then I would never have accepted their choice nor allowed it into the record books.

Bruce Lee used to say to me all the time, “Joe, If I told you I was the greatest, you’d think I was bragging.  But, if I told you I wasn’t, you’d know I’d be lying.”

In your past interviews you’ve said you didn’t stay in Hollywood because you had to take orders, and didn’t want to lose to anyone on screen. However you did some movies, and my question is – which one of them you yourself liked the most?

This first statement is not true.  I do not write my interviews and most writers seem to embellish what I say to hype their text or to even change it so as to compliment their own agendas. The internet is packed with mistakes and false information about me. There is incorrect data about me even in Wikipedia, there are clips on You-tube claiming I lost my world championship title. Not true.  I never lost my World Full Contact Karate/Kickboxing titles to anyone.

This ongoing dilemma is all nonsense and I do not have the time to correct all those misrepresentations that my enemies have posted all over the internet. I do not like taking orders from imposters and liars – be it Hollywood producers or some unaccomplished self-endowed black belts. I grew up in the Southern United States on a farm where a man’s character is based on the value of his word.

The outside world, as I came to discover, has a very different set of values which lacks dignity. I was forced to no longer allow myself to be a part of those kinds of environments. This in part granted me enough reason – but also, because my Mother was dying; my family had asked me to leave Hollywood to be by her side in her final days. I loved my Mother more than Hollywood. Unfortunately, these facts are left out of the real history of Joe Lewis.

This comment, “didn’t want to lose to anyone on screen,” sounds a bit taken out of context.  If a little Chinese actor, not a fighter (who has no professional fight record), who is only 5′ 7″ and only 138 pounds tells me to my face that he is going to prove to the world that the Chinese is the superior race when it comes to martial arts, and that he wants to prove that on screen – then let him make his statement on screen using someone else – not me. This was stated to my face more than once. Okay, be it so that “I didn’t want to Lose to anyone?”  Not so fast! It would be correct to say “to someone.” I made a giant mistake by turning my back on this film opportunity – but I didn’t turn my back by being disloyal to my inner values which make up the constitution of my character. I knew what the real motive was.

I never got to do a film I liked.  I didn’t want to do martial arts stuff – my acting coaches always told me that my talent was above that genre. I am not dead yet and still ready to shoot films.  I do love that work.

Mr Lewis what is your opinion on todays UFC/MMA fighters? It is considered a sport, but to some its still just brutal no-rules fighting. Whats your opinion on this sport as a whole?

MMA is a major sport spreading all around the world and it hasn’t peaked yet. I like most of it because it finally gave the tough guy like myself a place we could call home – and without all those crybabies in other martial art disciplines complaining about someone like me hitting too hard or being too rough. The sport is still new with some kinks which may still need to be worked through – like what happens if all of a sudden a freak couple of deaths happen?

The sport is still in transition with each of the champions not lasting more than a year or two.  That major super star (M. Ali, J. Namath, B. Ruth, M. Jordan, or T. Woods) hasn’t come onto the scene as yet. This drives the public crazy trying to keep up with who’s who in this new sport. As soon as you fall in love with a favorite champion, he ends up getting beat in his very next title defense. Too much, too soon….but, give it time, all new things deserve that.

What is your opinion on Benny The Jet Urquidez, who is considered one of the best fighters ever step into the ring?

I like Benny, but of the older fighters, I believe Don Wilson left the larger stamp on the world view of kickboxing almost with the same degree of prestige as did Ramon Decker, the only non-Thai ever to be voted the greatest kickboxer of the year. There have been many outside kickboxing champions, but only one with this honor.

Do you know anything about Azerbaijan? Maybe visit us someday?

I am currently dating a lady who is from Russia.  If I ever get the chance to be invited back to your part of the world again, I would very much look forward to paying you a visit.  Since I understand that most of your citizens speak Russian, I will bring her as my own personal interpreter. Years ago, warriors from your region in Asia used to be some of the world’s fiercest fighters.  I’d love to see your country with so much history.  Remember, my country, the U.S. A. is barely 200 years old.

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