Joe Lewis and his American Karate Systems:
Second Edition ©
The Case for Non-Classical Combative Methodologies ©
“Remember this, concern yourself not with the art alone because it’s not the art that counts; it’s the individual that makes the difference. In the end it’s not the technique, but the delivery that scores the point.”—Jerry Beasley, 1997, Jeet Kune Do: Scientific Street Fighting DVD Series/NCCM (c)
Bruce Lee coaches Joe Lewis
Combining a superior work ethic with incredible strength, Joe Lewis enjoyed one of the most successful careers in the history of tournament karate. In 1967 he met Bruce Lee and trained with Lee for most of 1968 and 1969. Lee coached his young protégé into becoming the “Greatest karate fighter of all time.”
In the 1967 exhibition match between Joe Lewis and legendary karate fighter Tony Tulluners, Bruce Lee was at ring side to coach his new pupil. “Bruce sat in the front row behind my corner and coached me between each round” recalls Lewis. “That night I used a double side kick that Bruce and I had drilled on that week. I won $300 for that match.” That was considered to be a big payday in 1967. After the win Bruce came up and said, “Joe, that’s the broken rhythm principle I taught you.” (From the book JKD: High-Risk Sparring by Jerry Beasley featuring Joe Lewis, 2008)
Because he was seeing immediate results Joe trained exclusively with Bruce in 1968 and 1969. They were close friends. Any opportunity to meet with Bruce was an opportunity to train. Lewis and Lee shared a work ethic that demanded that they train constantly. Lewis recalls, “I trained with Bruce on Wednesdays in a private class, but Bruce and I typically got together on Fridays and Saturdays to train together.”
Before working with Bruce Joe had often used a lead leg side kick, back-knuckle and reverse punch as his basic tools. Although Bruce had Joe learn each of the more intricate jeet kune skills, Joe relied primarily on his lead leg side kick and a Bruce Lee-style “jab/back knuckle”; a fore fist strike that when properly executed entered like a jab and returned like a back knuckle (aka back fist). There was no chamber for the back fist. Using independent motion the strike landed before the opponent saw it coming. The referees typically saw only the return that appeared to be a back fist.
Joe Lewis is on record stating that while working with Bruce Lee he won 11 tournaments. Joe met Bruce Lee in June, 1967 when he was the grand champion of the Jhoon Rhee US Nationals in Washington, DC. Bruce was a special guest. He met Bruce a second time in October in Los Angeles, CA and agreed to take a few classes with Bruce who was promoting his new style of jeet kune do. Joe visited the Chinatown school in Februrary1968 with Lou Alcindor (aka Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and Bruce Lee. Afterwards they ate at the local Chinese restaurant. That story was told by Joe on numerous occasions. With Bruce as coach Joe won the May, 1968 US Nationals in Washington, DC. That same year Joe also won the U.S.K.A. Nationals in June in Kansas City, KS. In October, Joe won the Dallas Professional Championships and the US Championships. At the Dallas US Championships Joe presented the first ever JKD seminar to a national roster of black belts. In November 1968 Joe won the World Professional Karate Championships in NYC.
Joe and his then wife Susan would often socialize with Bruce and Linda during 1968/69. Joe continued to train with Bruce Lee in 1969 and under Lee’s coaching Joe won the 1969 US Nationals in Washington, DC in May; The U.S.K.A Nationals in Kansas City, KS, in June and the Long Beach Internationals hosted by Ed Parker in August 1969. This tournament was significant because Joe listed his instructor as John Korab and his art as karate, instead of Bruce Lee and art of jeet kune do.
Bruce, who was at ringside, was predictably upset since he missed the chance to be named coach of the tournament champion in front of LA/Hollywood area celebrities. Both Bruce and Joe made a living from teaching private lessons. That failure to be recognized may have cost Bruce potential students. Bruce was upset at Joe’s lack of consideration. However Bruce continued to coach Joe for the World Professional championships in November 1969.
Sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas Joe’s wife Susan went to Bruce’s house to cut his hair and a difference of opinion resulted in bad feelings between Joe and Bruce. As a result Joe and Bruce did not train together after November 1969. However, they did communicate via Jay T. Will. According to Will, in the summer of 1969 Joe would often leave a training session with Bruce Lee and practice the entire lesson on Jay T. Will. As a photographer and competitor Will often had contact with Bruce Lee at tournaments.
During his work with Bruce Lee, Joe was introduced to the angles of attack methodology which formed the foundation of the Joe Lewis-Style Self-Defense method and eventually became the signature offensive approach for the Joe Lewis American Karate Systems. Joe and I shot photos and recorded an interview for a proposed JL-SS-D manual in 1990. The manuscript has yet to be published. Joe’s approach was to adapt the strategies, skills and drills he had learned from Bruce Lee to enhance his footwork and striking skills. The end result was the Joe Lewis-Style Self-Defense method.
Following the untimely death of his coach and mentor in 1973 Lewis co-authored with John Corcoran, a series of articles for Professional Karate magazine detailing the offensive approach methodology he had learned directly from Bruce Lee. These articles demonstrated that as a student under Lee, and as a result of his own fighting experience, Lewis had developed a superior knowledge of combat. Lewis was now able to articulate the most advanced strategies needed to teach others how to win.
The AIKIA Era 1983-2000 www.aikia.net
AIKIA is the acronym for the words American Independent Karate/Kickboxing Instructors Association. Translated from Japanese components the term can mean “allegiance of courage.” The AIKIA concept, that instructors should be free and courageous enough to borrow from all arts and use what works, is based on the teaching of Joe Lewis and his teacher Bruce Lee. The traditional model for martial arts requires complete dominance from a master. The student must surrender his independence to follow the master’s commands. AIKIA was designed to nurture the individual freedom and independence of the martial artist.
In the 1980s and 1990s, AIKIA became the largest and best known independent martial arts organization in the world. In the 80’s it took courage for an instructor to venture outside his system to explore new ideas. The independent martial arts instructor is free to borrow skills and drills from any martial art and “use what works.” When you train with an independent instructor you know he has spent hours and hours of independent research discovering what works best for his students instead of blindly following a tradition of doing only one way and nothing more.
The tradition of having an all-powerful central office or board of directors was rejected in favor of shared authority with each member instructor. In this case the role model for AIKIA was Joe Lewis, the epitome of an independent thinking martial artist. Joe and I put a lot of effort in making AIKIA the promotional tool for his expanding network and positioning in the martial arts community of the 80’s and 90’s.
In an interview, Bruce Lee once said you could call his system “Non-Classical Karate.” He wanted to liberate followers of traditional or classical martial arts. It was not until I partnered with Joe Lewis in 1983 that the organization for “Non-Classical Karate” was made available to a national audience. Lewis served as AIKIA’s first National Director for Training and Instruction. This appraisal of AIKIA, written by Joe Lewis appeared on all AIKIA and Joe Lewis Seminar brochures from the eighties and nineties.
Joe Lewis writes, “The feeling that I find missing in so many schools nowadays is a sense of pride and belonging. I want to help restore this sense of pride in the martial arts through AIKIA. I haven’t been associated with an organization since 1973. I was so impressed with the philosophy, ideas and sincerity of AIKIA; I chose to fully endorse their efforts by serving as National Director for Training and Instruction. If you are an independent martial arts instructor, I encourage you to join in our effort to better the professional practice of martial arts instruction.”
In that capacity he would eventually conduct seminars for both member and non-member schools. By the time Bill Wallace and Jeff Smith joined as National Directors in 1991, AIKIA had become the premiere independent martial arts organization in the world. With more than 1,400 affiliated schools AIKIA became a launching pad for many of today’s successful martial arts business and style organizations. The AIKIA business plan was being used by top schools worldwide.
Introducing Joe Lewis American Karate Systems
In 1984 AIKIA helped launch the Joe Lewis American Karate Systems and became the major promotional organization for JLAKS. AIKIA/JLAKS quickly became synonymous. For the first five years, Lewis used only AIKIA dan certificates to promote black belts who were affiliated with both AIKIA/JLAKS. Joe was against any organization in which there was a grandmaster and student masters following him chanting slogans and giving praise. He hated that idea and cracked jokes about the grandmaster concept and traditional styles for as long as I knew him. He was completely disgusted with the idea of an organization that sold high dollar black belt certificates as income for the grandmaster, board of directors or central office. AIKIA was perfect for Joe because our slogan was “Rank should be an honor; not an expense.” He liked that.
The individual mandates shared by both AIKIA/JLAKS included the following:
1- A central office or master may charge no more than $100 as an administrative testing fee for presenting the black belt to members. The charge is applied only if the master personally participates in or grades the exam. Rank should be an honor; not an expense.
2- There will be no chain of command other than the master instructor/central office to administer rank recognition. All dan levels would indicate only acquired skill and not authority over another member.
3- No kata or fixed patterns of any type would represent AIKIA and be used as requirements for rank.
4- Techniques and skills could be changed as needed.
5- Black belt members will spar 3 rounds full-contact as part of the black belt exam.
After a particularly rough sparring session in March of 1985, Joe informed me that he was upgrading my rank to 6th Dan. He didn’t have a certificate. Tim Teausant, owner of the last remaining Joe Lewis Karate Studio on the west coast sent me a certificate which Joe signed. Years later, in 1991, I was again tested and promoted by Joe. This time I was testing for the rank of 7th Dan. I didn’t want Joe to use the AIKIA certificate for me or ask someone else for a certificate so I worked with Joe to design the first ever JLAKS Dan certificate.
The JLAKS black belt certificate we designed in 1991 included an updated pledge which I arranged and listed the arts that Joe had been associated with as: Okinawa Karate, Jeet Kune Do, Boxing, Full Contact Karate and Joe Lewis American Karate Systems. The idea was to show the evolution from his first art to his last. In 1995 Joe Lewis personally updated his black belt certificates to include a term that I had coined as Non-Classical Combative Methodologies. Joe’s new JLAKS certificate listed the arts as: Okinawa Karate, American Karate, Jeet Kune Do, and Kickboxing and in addition he inserted Non-Classical Combative Methodologies. This chapter will shed light on the NCCM and offer the reader an explanation of how and why Joe Lewis came to identify Non-Classical Combative Methodologies as an important concept to his list of arts and systems.
Training with Joe Lewis
Joe and I never practiced what is called “karate.” Karate was the generic term used in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s to identify fighting methods that used both punching and kicking. The “Full-contact” karate of early 70’s was actually an early form of kickboxing. Joe and I practiced fighting with kickboxing gear but never did we engage in something that could be called “karate.” At times we would suit-up in a karate gi for photos but when we trained we never considered wearing a gi nor did we ever practice something that resembled “karate-like” movements. Sparring with protective gear with intent to make hard contact is all we ever did. JLAKS was never karate-like. It was always full-contact sparring and sometimes for photos he would wear a karate gi.
When I use the term “we” in reference to Joe Lewis and myself, I refer to the fact that often Joe would have an idea and I would develop it into words. For example the terms “technique variation/selective technique variation” and “target denial/ target relocation” originated with me and were often used by Joe. Joe once paid me the supreme compliment when he wrote this endorsement for my 1988 book cover: “What Bruce Lee was able to do in a physical context, Dr. Beasley has successfully done in print.”
Joe often told me “Jerry, no other author has published more about me than you.” After a 2008 article I wrote appeared in Black Belt magazine analyzing the strategy Joe Lewis learned from Bruce Lee, Joe sent the following e-mail to an editor “I trust Dr. Beasley explicitly. I am proud to say that Dr. Beasley is a black belt in my system. He has won awards from Black Belt for Instructor of the Year and Karate College has won for Camp of the Year; he has twice been on the cover of Black Belt as well. Dr. Beasley is part of an elite group in the Joe Lewis Fighting Systems.”
As Joe and I sparred, we did not look at different arts and try to perform the muay Thai plum, the Mohammad Ali shuffle, or the Bruce Lee straight lead. We tried to become the technique. Joe told me that Bruce would coach him on the “thus-ness” of the technique. He meant to become the technique, not to simply perform it. In fighting, Joe taught me that it was more important to change the angle of attack than it was to change the technique.
Most of the time when Joe and I would spar or exchange ideas I would ask him to focus on the drills that Bruce Lee had designed for him, which Bruce had called jeet kune do. It is important to note the major influence Bruce Lee had on Joe Lewis. Joe spent only seven months with his karate instructor in Okinawa. He spent at least18 months with his fighting coach, Bruce Lee. Joe would often wear a karate gi and compete in karate tournaments but the essence of his style was most assuredly the result of his personal relationship with Bruce Lee.
Most founders forming an art or a style will have to focus on learning new and different techniques. One of the talking points on the art of Kenpo, for example, is that the black belt knows a thousand techniques. Bruce Lee felt that when you break combat into so many techniques it is like “dissecting a corpse.” Combat must be alive, free to change in the moment. During the years that I worked personally with Joe Lewis, in my opinion, he was always about presenting the strategic angle of attack, what we, at the time called the offensive approach methodology, and seldom did he slow down to go over a technique. More than anything else, that is the lesson I learned. It is the lesson that Bruce Lee taught Joe and it is the lesson that Joe taught me.
Out with Traditions
As mentioned, I was particularly interested in the connection between Bruce Lee and Joe Lewis. Bruce Lee’s most famous article for Black Belt magazine was titled “Liberate Yourself from Classical Karate.” JLAKS is fully liberated from classical karate. Every classical and not-so-traditional martial art has a focus on the development and performance of skills. This is the way martial arts have been historically taught. This is the way martial artists have been historically trained to think. The key to becoming non-classical is to forget the technique, forget the style and focus on the presentation. Use what works. It is indeed a difficult task to move from classical to non-classical thought. Bruce Lee did it. He taught Joe Lewis to do it. I learned to evolve not so much from what Joe taught but from what Joe consistently did.
I can’t recall a time in which Joe and I just practiced individual skills. We always worked on the approach; the presentation of the skill. Joe’s round kick was just a round kick. You bring the leg up and let it go. To improve the round kick you increase your flexibility, speed, power, deceptiveness. Improve your accuracy, timing.
Historically, all martial artist think first of their style. They argue over how to perfect a technique. They argue over whom looks best performing the technique, the drills, and the mitt drills or the kata. JLAKS was designed to allow for selective technique variation in performing the skills so long as the offensive approach methodology was perfected. JLAKS is best identified with the approach and not the skill.
The Beginnings of NCCM
In 1982, I was commissioned to write a book about Bruce Lee and his method of jeet kune do. I was introduced to Larry Hartsell, an original student of Lee’s and a guy whom everyone loved. Larry often taught drills in teaching Jun Fan kickboxing that required the organized kata-like use of focus pads. The drills taught at jeet kune do seminars were, in some ways, similar to the kata taught in the typical karate school. When the mitt drills are used in karate schools they usually call them fighting forms or fighting kata. In other words, there would be a basic 1, 2, 3 drill followed by a kick, followed by a 2, 3, followed by other combinations. After a while the combination drills would take on the look of a fixed pattern. In this way the student would be expected to learn fighting pattern number one, number two etc. The student exams would require patterns 1, 2, 3 etc. Before long, what was intended as an innovation has become an unanticipated expectation? The “innovation turned expectation” eventually becomes a way to identify the anticipated limitations of membership to a style or fixed system.
In 1970 Bruce Lee disbanded the teaching of JKD because he said that his students began to mistake the skills for the art. He preferred instead the freedom represented in sparring. I understood that. I agreed. JLAKS has no fixed patterns, katas, forms or organized mitt drills. JLAKS is better designed for the black belt who wants to learn the offensive approach methodology than the beginner who needs to first learn basic skills. The expert is free to explore ways to present the skills in any way that works.
Instead of creating a system that relied on forms, kata, mitt drills or one-steps Joe insisted that we understand that in JLAKS that if the skill didn’t work, then you should change your approach; change your angle of attack. He got this idea directly from his teacher Bruce Lee and he owned the idea as a result of decades devoted to freestyle sparring.
Bruce Lee taught Joe to believe, “There is nothing better than free-style sparring in the practice of any combative art. In sparring you should wear suitable protective equipment and go all out. Then you can truly learn the correct timing and distance for the delivery of the kicks, punches, etc. It is a good idea to spar with all types of individuals–tall, short, fast, clumsy. Yes, at times a clumsy fellow will mess up a better man because his awkwardness serves as a sort of broken rhythm. The best sparring partner, though, is a quick, strong man who does not know anything; a madman who goes all out, scratching, grabbing, grappling, punching, and kicking, and so on.” JLAKS was intended to epitomize this quote from Bruce Lee. JLAKS is applied in sparring
JKD as NCCM
In the late 60’s Joe had, on many occasions worked with Bruce’s friend, Ted Wong, during the JKD training sessions. Bruce Lee quit teaching JKD publically in 1970. As a result, Joe did not see Ted again until 1994, when I was fortunate to be able bring the two old friends together for the original jeet kune do summer camp. Ted, Joe, and I taught and trained together each summer and at other seminars until the final year of the Radford University JKD camps (RUJKD98). Ted taught skills and drills that Joe recalled from his days with Bruce Lee.
In 1995, Joe, Ted, and I formed the Original Jeet Kune Do Council with the intent of propagating the original skills, drills, and OAM (offensive approach methodology) that Bruce Lee had taught Ted and Joe during their training sessions. As a writer and publicists I had coined the term “Original” JKD in the late 80’s by following the marketing campaign from the “New Coke” versus “Coke Classic” headlines of 1985. Ted had become very much in-demand as an OJKD seminar teacher by 1995. I had hoped to position Joe into a similar role.
Ted taught the skills Bruce taught when he was alive and Joe taught the methodology for offensively approaching the opponent (OAM) that Bruce specifically taught to Joe. Joe asked me if I could come up with a term that would best identify the strategic manner of offensively approaching the opponent that he had learned from Bruce Lee. The term was to be inclusive of the emphasis on self-defense that Bruce Lee had championed. It was then that I coined the term “Non-Classical Combative Methodologies to represent the training methods taught to Joe Lewis by Bruce Lee.
Bruce Lee Once Said…
Bruce Lee once said, and I paraphrase, see the finger pointing to the moon; don’t focus on the finger or you will miss all the heavenly glory. NCCM represents a new paradigm in the education of the martial artist. I want to repeat: this, I feel, is the lesson that Bruce Lee taught Joe Lewis; the lesson that Joe Lewis was to teach me; the lesson I now share with you. Understanding and perfecting one’s offensive approach methodology, aka angular attack or Non-Classical Combative Methodologies is potentially more important than learning a fixed art, technique, drill, system or style.
Most people, let’s say 99% of all black belts will point to this skill or that drill and say this is our system, our art. It is my opinion that what Bruce was trying to teach Joe and what Joe was teaching me is that all the techniques are important. But if the fighter cannot strategically approach the opponent even the most artistic techniques become inadequate. For the artist, the performer, the way we perform skills is paramount. But for the fighter, successfully executing the offensive approach can make the difference between victory and defeat. Bruce Lee wrote “In this art (JKD) efficiency is anything that scores.” I know Joe wanted me to capture the essence of that sentence in NCCM and I believed this is what Joe felt that I accomplished. And that is why NCCM appears on the JLAKS black belt certificates.
There will be some followers who will assume that, if they are practicing JLAKS, then they are also practicing JKD; however, that is not true. Or they will say my teacher was Joe Lewis and his teacher was Bruce Lee therefore I teach what Bruce Lee taught. Again, not true. I have added this chapter to help the reader understand the connection between Bruce Lee and Joe Lewis. NCCM is dedicated to recapturing the essence of the methodology taught to Joe Lewis by Bruce Lee in its pristine form. To truly appreciate the connection between Bruce Lee and Joe Lewis one must understand and be able to apply NCCM.
It is extremely important to note here that in combat you may keep the same skill yet change your angle of attack. Real combat is simple and direct, spontaneous and unrehearsed. When we organize elaborate katas, forms, patterns and drills we are in effect dissecting combat which is otherwise alive and in the moment into nicely ordered parts. We then begin to focus on the part we like and often miss the relevance of what really works! In Bruce Lee’s terms we mistake the finger for the moon and miss all that Heavenly glory.
Joe often told me and others that he thought the idea of a grandmaster with lesser masters bound together by some creed or edict to be opposite of what he wanted to do. He made fun of organizations and styles. Organizations that sold styles were in Joe’s opinion just a front for brainwashing members into clinging to the past. Joe would quote his own mentors and repeat “A clinging to the past in the face of new and changing circumstances is itself a product of insecurity, a lack of self-trust.” Combat is constantly in a state of change.
As national director for training and instruction of AIKIA, Joe vehemently avoided organizing a group that would be sworn by oath to one master, one style, and one organization. What begins as a sign of loyalty to the style or teacher quickly becomes an addictive identity for the student. Instead of continuing to evolve as independent martial artists they evolve only as keepers of the faith. He was following the teaching of his instructor Bruce Lee. Joe felt learning something as important as self-defense or fighting should be a personal experience. Joe did things his way.
And Now You Know
Bruce Lee once wrote about how a great master could have many students. Each would be taught the same way. However, upon death of the master the students would form clans, one clan against the other, each proclaiming that they alone had the right formula for the master’s style or that they alone represent the master to the exclusion of all others. In the end, some clans would greatly depart from the master’s teachings. Some would delete sections of the program they disliked; others would add new arts or skills not endorsed by the founder.
Bruce Lee writes, “It is conceivable that a long time ago a certain martial artist discovered some partial truth. During his lifetime, the man resisted the temptation to organize this partial truth, although this is a common tendency in a man’s search for security and certainly in life. After his death, his students took his hypotheses, his postulates, and his method and turned them into law. Impressive creeds were then invented, solemn reinforcing ceremonies prescribed, rigid philosophy and patterns formulated, and so on, until finally an institution was erected. So, what originated as one man’s intuition of some sort or personal fluidity has been transformed into solidified, fixed knowledge, complete with organized classified responses presented in a logical order. In so doing, the well-meaning, loyal followers have not only made this knowledge a holy shrine, but also a tomb in which they have buried the founder’s wisdom.”
In the JLAKS and NCCM, there are no formulas, no recipes. In JLAKS there are a minimum of required skills that can be performed in an unlimited amount of ways. Joe Lewis included NCCM on his dan certificates because NCCM is a statement to the effect that success in combat is outside all styles, all systems all dogma. It’s like saying, whatever you have been led to believe isn’t so. Only you can experience what is best for you.
And now you know the meaning of Non-Classical Combative Methodologies and why it is important to the understanding of Joe Lewis American Karate Systems. I felt it worthwhile to share the principles which were most important to Joe during the time in which he served as national director of training and instruction for AIKIA. The fact that he never hesitated to include NCCM as part of his identity gives testimony to this fact.
Joe Lewis is the “Greatest Karate Fighter of All Time.” I was honored to have shared his time. Jerry Beasley 2012