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Joe Lewis was twice named as the best karate fighter in the world. He earned his first black belt in three months while stationed in Okinawa as a marine. He left that school and earned a second black belt in four months at another school. 

He was so dedicated that if his duties prevented him from attending class, he would fake sleep and then sneak out of the barracks to practice.

Bruce Lee presents Joe Lewis with trophy as tournament queen looks on
Bruce Lee presents Joe Lewis with trophy as tournament queen looks on.

First Karate Tournament

When he returned to the states, he attended Jhoon Rhee’s U.S. Nationals in Washington, DC. He planned to just watch, but Rhee convinced him to compete, so Lewis paid his $5 entry fee and won fighting, forms, and weapons. He returned the following year to successfully defend those titles.

Lewis moved to Los Angeles where he visited a boxing club. The top karate fighter in the world climbed into the ring to spar with one of the boxers. He promptly had his head handed to him.

He was unable to block the onslaught of combinations thrown at him. He said that if he had a TV appearance coming up, the boxers would try to give him a black eye or a swollen nose so they could laugh at him on TV.

Karate teaches students to focus on one block at a time. Typically, a student is taught to step forward to block with as much power as possible and then freeze for form before the next move.

Recognizing this fallacy, Lewis developed what is now know as kickboxing. Black Belt Magazine describes his process of solo training in boxing and combining those techniques with his Karate techniques as “the result is the martial sport now known as Kickboxing.

Karate Contradictions

This type of training is useless against a skilled puncher. Joe Lewis discovered that karate contradicts most, if not all, of the principles of punching.

Mistakes Traditional Karate Teaches Students

  1. Hold your chin up instead of chin down which is safer.
  2. Pull the non-punching hand back to the hip instead of the face to guard.
  3. Hold a punch out in the air frozen rather than snapping it back to guard.
  4. Hold a deep stance to anchor yourself to the earth rather than keeping your legs under you so you have mobility.
  5. Aim your punch at the target with your opposite hand before you step through and punch. Aiming a punch makes no sense at all.
  6. Square your shoulders to your opponent rather than turning sideways to protect your center line.
  7. Keep your head at the same level rather than moving it. Obviously, a still head is easier to hit than a moving head.
  8. Block with power to injure the attackers’ strike. Blocks never need power. They just need to protect the target rather than reaching out to strike the opponent’s arm or leg.

These are just some of the examples of the terrible habits Joe Lewis had to relearn in order to become the first

World Heavyweight Kickboxing Champion in 1974.


Joe Lewis Fighting System

 is a central part of the Empower Kickboxing martial arts curriculum at