Joe Lewis American Karate Systems


“The Official Joe Lewis-Style™ Self-Defense Systems: Bruce Lee Era.”


Bruce Lee Era-Joe Lewis-Style™. Designed for the Street: works in the Ring!

Bruce Lee was proud of his champion fighting protégé. And why not? Over a period of about 16 months between 1968 and 1969 Lee had helped refine the undisputed world heavy weight champion, Joe Lewis. Bruce Lee and Joe Lewis worked together closely to create the signature Joe Lewis-Style™. While other martial artist of the day (1968-1971) practiced a form of non-contact fighting Joe Lewis, as did his mentor Bruce Lee, fought with full contact. As Bruce Lee predicted when you test your skills under the pressure of full contact you quickly learn to abandon the artistic skills and absorb what is useful. The time Joe spent under the guidance of Bruce Lee would totally shape his future career.  At Joe we focus entirely on the research collected during the Bruce Lee Era 1968-1971.  Join us.

Said Joe Lewis about training with Bruce Lee “Bruce and I would train together and then study the strategies of different fighters on film and then we would go to tournaments and watch guys fight, and we would analyze them together. I was like the test tube.  I would go out and get in the street fight or I’d go out in a tournament and I’d prove whether it worked or not.  You can’t have a better setup that that.  We would watch boxing on TV and do the same thing, so it’s like a research center, like research laboratory.  I thought it was the greatest life that ever existed.  And I don’t think there was ever anything like it before or ever will be again.” (Excerpted from Joe Lewis by Jerry Beasley, 1998)

© 2018

Bruce Lee Era

Joe Lewis and the Bruce Lee Era

“For almost two years, Lewis learned the most advanced martial arts theory of the day directly from the innovative mind of Bruce Lee. When you combine Joe’s natural athleticism with Bruce Lee’s advanced martial theory you create a fighter the likes of which had never been seen. In tournament competition Lewis became simply unstoppable. He won the top karate and kickboxing titles of his day, not once but two and three times.” (Excerpted from Joe Lewis by Jerry Beasley, 1998)

Bruce had told legendary screen writer Stirling Silliphant that, in his opinion, “Joe Lewis was the greatest tournament fighter in the history of the sport”. Between the years 1968 and 1971 Joe Lewis was considered “The Most Feared Fighter on the Planet.” A former US Marine and super athlete, during the almost two years Joe was being coached by the legendary Bruce Lee, Lewis won 11 straight national and world championships in 68 and 69 alone. Bruce Lee had asked Joe to refer to his style as jeet kune do. According to Sports Illustrated (1971) by the end of 1969 Joe, in collaboration with Bruce, had started his own style which he preferred to call Joe Lewis-Style™ Self-Defense.

“Use what works” was a principle made famous by Joe Lewis. If you practice self-defense drills then suit up and try it against a non-compliant attacker. If it still works, keep it.  The Joe Lewis-Style™ self-defense had no forms and few rules. Joe Lewis-Style™ was intended to be scientific street fighting that you could apply in the ring or street. Wearing shoes, chops to the back of the neck, using elbows, knees, low kicks, sweeps, throws and take-downs and the occasional head butt in competition were not considered fouls. Street or ring: to a full-contact fighter, it’s all just real estate.

There are no Black Belts in JL-S™. Why? Because Joe posed the question, “How do you rank a street-fighter?” Joe said “In the ring you fight to win the fight. But in the street, “You fight to ‘end’ the fight.” And anything goes. Still, the fighting strategies that Bruce and Joe worked on are just as applicable to the street as they are to the ring. Joe hated the idea of having to apply his skills to a lesser-trained streetfighter. That did happen a few times. Once in Atlanta Joe had to head butt a Black Belt looking to build his reputation. Once in Tijuana Joe and an ex-Marine buddy were invited to a hotel room. When Joe walked out in disgust he was met by three locals with knives. Joe dispatched the first so quick that the other two ran leaving their buddy asleep on the ground. Another time Joe was at a rest stop off I77 in WVA. A woman stopped him for some directions and a very large accomplice quickly approached claiming Joe had insulted his wife. It was a scam and Joe knew it. Joe looked at the guy with “evil intent” and the guy cowered and left. Bruce Lee would call this “the art of fighting without fighting.” Some say Joe “invented” kickboxing so he could express his desire to fight for real in a legal environment.

When Joe worked with Bruce, according to Ted Wong, “Bruce would teach a technique or theory and Joe would put it to the test, “earning Joe the title: “Bruce Lee’s Test Tube.” Bruce Lee’s famous straight lead was tested and evolved under fire by Joe Lewis. According to Mrs. Linda Lee, “Joe and Bruce were “research partners because they learned together.” It was Bruce Lee’s “scientific street fighting” and Joe Lewis’ “scientific ring fighting” blended together

Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated, April 1971

Sports Illustrated notes, “Karate, Joe Lewis began to realize, was an art whose skills could never be fully used competitively. The only legal outlets for its blows were the breaking of boards that TV is so crazy about—”show business,” Lewis says derisively—or self-defense, and who was going to pick on Joe Lewis? “I could never understand why we couldn’t put on boxing gloves and just go at it,” he says, so in 1969 he began developing and teaching a brand of super-karate called, not too pithily, Joe Lewis-Style™ Self-Defense. JLSSD differed radically from karate, with its straight punches and limited bare-handed contact. Lewis and his followers not only put on the gloves, they threw all-out hooks and uppercuts plus kicks.”


Joe Lewis – Style Kickboxing

Joe Lewis-Style™ “Kickboxing”

How it all began: Joe Lewis left the Shorin-ryu Karate system in the fall of 1967 when he was fed up with Karate politics. Bruce Lee offered a new way. Although he had just opened a new Karate school with Bob Wall, Joe decided to sell his interest in the school to Chuck Norris and follow the model that Bruce Lee had introduced teaching all private lessons to wealthy clients who could afford to pay for the equivalent of two months of group lessons in return for a single one hour private lesson. Today we would call Joe a self-defense personal trainer. Bruce Lee closed his JKD clubs in January 1970. That same month, Joe Lewis-Style fighting became a reality.  According to the already noted Sports Illustrated article, Joe had recruited Greg Baines to be his opponent in what Joe expected to be called the Joe Lewis-Style Self-Defense method. Joe planned to use the publicity to attract self-defense clients who would want to learn the Bruce Lee-Joe Lewis-Style™ of full contact fighting for the street.

To get ready for the first ever Joe Lewis-Style™ fight. Full-contact martial arts style street-fighting with boxing gloves had never been tried in a public event before 1970. Joe purchased two pairs of boxing gloves, one for him and a pair to be worn by his opponent. At ringside that night, January 1970, the ring commentator, who had seen other kickboxing events in the same arena, saw that both fighters were wearing boxing gloves and immediately began to identify the fighters as “kickboxers” and Joe’s new full-contact fighting sport as “kickboxing.” While Joe had intended to use the event to promote Joe Lewis-Style™ self-defense, the term “kickboxing” stuck and for the rest of his career the Joe Lewis-Style™ became known as American Kickboxing. In 1970 and 1971 Joe defended his “kickboxing” title 10 times with 10 wins by the KO. No opponent made it past the second round. At the time Joe Lewis was the most dominant fighter in his field and was the only martial arts competitor to be featured in Sports Illustrated. The Joe Lewis-Style™ during the Bruce Lee era may have been called “kickboxing” but it was a lot more!

Joe Lewis Style

The new Joe Lewis-Style™

In the spring of 1982 I had been commissioned to write a book about Bruce Lee and his method of jeet kune do by a martial arts magazine publisher. When I met Joe in March of 1982 he was 38. Joe had won the world full-contact championships in 1974 and was now intent on regaining his PKA title. I was intent on learning the Joe Lewis-Style™ but he didn’t give lessons. Joe understood fully that I was interested in learning exactly what Bruce Lee had taught him and how he had made it work in the street and in the ring. To learn from Joe you became his sparring partner. So for the next few years I would travel monthly to Raleigh, NC or any number of other locations to “spar.” At least once per month Joe would stay at my home in Christiansburg, VA for a few days at a time. Once here we would create articles, organize seminar tours and spar.

After leaving Hollywood for good, Joe needed an income. So to begin a seminar circuit Joe and I decided on the name “Joe Lewis American Karate Systems” in 1983. We called it “American Karate” to identify the full-contact Joe Lewis-Style™ fighting only version from the more traditional forms of Karate. And, because Bruce Lee’s fighting system was also referred to by some as “non-classical karate.” To earn rank you had to fight 3 rounds full contact Joe Lewis-Style ™. Joe and I also started an organization we called the American Independent Karate/Kickboxing Instructors Association™ or for short to certify more traditional styles including student and Black Belt ranks.

Together Joe and I worked closely as partners in seminars, camps, writing and promotions for the next 20+ years. In the early 90’s Joe and I had decided to write a book to be titled Joe Lewis-Style™ Self-Defense. We took photos and designated book chapters. In 1997 I was selected by Panther Productions to star in the jeet kune do video series focusing on the Joe Lewis-Style™ of JKD. That same year Paladin Press requested a book manuscript so Joe and I decided on the title “The Greatest Karate Fighter of All Time”. Instead of using the original Joe Lewis-Style™ as the title we went with Joe Lewis American Karate Systems.