Question 1-Mr.Lewis you were voted as the greatest karate fighter of all time. What did it take to achieve this title?
Joe Lewis: In 1976, the largest karate magazine in the world at that time was simply called "Karate." It came out of Paris, France. They had done a huge centerfold pullout whereby they voted me the greatest karate fighter of all time. In 1983, a subsidiary of the biggest magazine at that time, which was Black Belt Magazine, (their subsidiary was called Karate Illustrated), did a poll of all the top fighters and promoters, including Mike Stone, Chuck Norris, and Bill Wallace, who were the top people at that time, and in that survey, I was voted by my peers as the greatest karate fighter of all time. Chuck Norris and Bill Wallace tied for second place. Of all the ballots that were submitted, I was the only fighter who was included on everyone's lists within the survey. So, not only did I win first place, the greatest karate fighter of all time, but I was the only fighter who was included on everyone's ballot. I started competing in 1966 when I won the United States National Karate Championship. I won the Grand Title and also won first place in the Black Belt Forum Competition. I'm perhaps the only big name fighter who can say I was never defeated in Kata competition. I was the United States National Black Belt Kata Champion two years, 1966 and 1977. Perhaps, no one who is a tournament grand champion can brag and say that not only were they the grand champion of a major tournament, but they also won first place in Kata competition. That's extremely difficult to accomplish. Since it took me 17 years of competition to achieve that title, "Greatest Fighter of All Time," I think time and grade, stature of your accomplishments, a legitimacy of your credentials, and the standards to which you subscribe are all factors, which help you gain the respect of your peers. In an insecure world, such as martial arts competition, gaining the respect and the acknowledgment of your peers is almost impossible.
Q2-Can you tell us about the differences between the world of martial arts and fighters of today and your day?
Joe Lewis: In all sports, athletes and sportsmen evolve from one decade to the next. In the late 50s and early 60s, the Asians were not as interested in competition as were the Americans and Europeans. They stuck to traditional values, such as loyalty and personal development. Fighters today have a wealth of great instructors from which to learn. In my day, there were few coaches that knew anything about fighting or competition. Top black belts like myself basically were either self-taught or you learned, working with your sparring partner, by trial and error. Today's fighters have better technique executions in terms of their style. I feel that the older fighters were more substance-oriented. When they executed techniques, how they looked was not important. It was the intent that they put behind their kicks and punches which was stressed. In the old days, there were always only two or three top guns. In recent years, there has become a multitude of top guns. The older fighters had a higher winning percentage than the fighters of today. Today's fighters ignore their losses and have no respect for defense or physical toughness. In the old days, the law of combat was you did not get hit, no one was allowed to score on you, and you never let anyone know when you're tired, hurt, or in distress during competition. Today's fighters, if they get a little nip on the lip, get the wind knocked out of them, or a little too much contact to the head, they go crying for their mommy (mother).
Q3-Do you think the fighters of today are better than fighters of your time? Can you imagine yourself against a good fighter like Peter Aerts? Who will be winner?
Joe Lewis: In all sports, sportsmen and athletes evolve and become better from one decade to the next. We're better coached, we're better trained, and we're healthier, we're bigger, faster, and stronger. As a fighter today, at age 58, I could beat the Joe Lewis of 30 years ago. When you become a teacher, you grow and learn much faster than you ever did as a fighter. Peter Aerts has won the K1 three different times. That only makes him a great fighter. He could perhaps become a future icon. Of course, he, as well as the rest of us, have weaknesses. He fights on television. Few of my fights were ever televised, so when people faced me, they could only imagine what they're up against. With Peter, you can prepare in advance to learn how to take away his strong points and easily capitalize on his weaknesses. I was faster and stronger than Peter. He is taller and has faced tougher competition than I. I have never honestly thought about whether I could beat another person or not. I enjoy analyzing a fighter and teaching his competition how to keep him off balance by taking away his strong points.
Q4-If you were to vote for a great fighter, who would he be? I know Alex Gong will be one of your choices!
Joe Lewis: There's a difference between a great fighter and what I would call a champion. A great fighter would have to possess all of the ultimate attributes required to achieve greatness. You must be fast, you must be powerful, you must be tenacious, you must be tough, you must have a strong inner constitution, a profound willingness to consistently engage, and you must have that ultimate courage. We call it your fighting spirit. To know how to totally commit and always give 100 percent, we call that heart. Few fighters have that ultimate attribute. I watch fighters over the world like Alex Gong. He's a friend of mine, he's smart, he trains hard, and he's got good technique. He lacks that willingness to consistently engage, toughness, and what I call inner meanness. He lacks that intimidating presence. He lacks defense. He lacks good inside hand skills, ability to exercise angles, and inside turning skills. His response time when he counters is slow. He has few set-up skills. With any fighter on the planet, I could go on and on as I am now. I'm not putting anybody down; I'm pointing out the importance of developing the eye of a trainer. You must figure out what is singularly the most dominant principle that motivates you to train and to pursue becoming a champion. Few fighters can answer that question. Sadly, most trainers are unable to answer it for them. When a fighter is able to embrace that inner awareness, which answers this question, he will become unstoppable.
Q5-As I understand, you are very serious about giving a blackbelt to a student! Who is eligible to become a blackbelt in your opinion?
Joe Lewis: Black belt to me means two things. One, you can fight, and two, you can teach. It's not based on how fast you are, how hard you hit, how much time and grade you've got, what style you're from, what grades you make in school, how much money you slip your instructor under the table, or how sharp your katas look. I don't like hoodlums, members of gangs, people with tattoos, and excessive body piercings, people with police records, people who respect violence, or any of that other nonsense. I only give out rank for black belts, nothing below that. Once you've passed these eliminations and you're recommended by another one of my black belts, we take you through three 3-minute full-contact rounds. If you don't quit, if you look like you know how to fight, and you have a desire to stick around and learn from me and my other black belt fighters, I'll give you a black belt. I don't care how many boards you can break, how many katas you can memorize, or how many miles you can run. I've seen these tests that last two days. My test is 11 minutes, nine minutes of fighting and two minutes of resting. Give me 11 minutes of your life with all your heart, and I'll teach you for life.
Q6-There are many eligible fighters and martial artists who can't travel to the USA and be examined by you, don't you want to give them any facility or chance?
Joe Lewis: I do have black belts who travel from other countries to come here and test. I went halfway around the world. When I wanted to learn martial arts in the early 60s, I went halfway around the world to Okinawa. I'm not in a position to make concessions. You either come to me or forget it. Eventually, I hope to make appearances in the Middle East. Ten years ago, I was going to do some teaching in Kuwait, and then that ridiculous war broke out and everything got canceled. I would love to open the door to go to anyone's country. I used to do body guard work years ago for some of the Iranians who are from oil families. They love martial arts. They always talked about one of my instructors, Bruce Lee. I would enjoy going over there and spending some time.
Q7-You could not become a successful star in movies like you were in the ring, why?
Joe Lewis: Real simple, I don't like to take orders. In Hollywood, you have to kiss ass, pretend to be humble, be able to take a lot of abuse, and allow yourself to be treated with disrespect. Hollywood, as well as the recording industry, is full of con-artists, liars, cheaters, and manipulators. It was hard for me to function in that world of deceit.
Q8- The late Bruce Lee, who is a legend in most parts of the world, invited you to fight against him in the movie " The way of dragon". You did not accept that request and Chuck Norris played the role. Why did you not accept that request and do you have a special memory of Bruce?
Joe Lewis: Bruce Lee told me that he wanted to prove to the world that the Chinese martial artists were superior to all the other races, the Koreans, the Japanese, and in particular, the Caucasians. At that time, no one knew that "Enter the Dragon" was going to become a major $300,000,000 mega film. My advisors told me not to do martial arts films period. Bruce Lee was a five-foot, seven inch, 138 pound, non-combat type martial artist. I was strictly into combat and competition. I was almost six feet tall, 200 pounds. I didn't understand the point of why he wanted to ask me to allow him to beat me up in the film to prove this personal point of his. Of course, I wanted to do movies, but at that time and based on what my advisors told me, it just didn't seem like a good idea to fulfill someone else's ego trip. In retrospect, by telling him no or just avoiding getting involved with his films, you might say it was a major mistake in my life. Of course, I have special memories about Bruce. He was very intelligent and very creative, two things which I enjoy. He thought in principle. He had a high abstract intelligence. That's a thing I admire most in people. He also enjoyed physical development and fitness, two things which I like. I won art contests as a kid, and he was also a fabulous artist and enjoyed philosophy, two things on which we were both extremely hooked.
Q9-Do you believe in the role of courtesy and a nice personality to become successful in martial arts?
Joe Lewis: If an instructor wants to teach his young students certain character development, that's his business. I think good manners and respect for others should be exercised in all aspects of life. I don't think you necessarily need that to become successful in martial arts. People should possess these traits before going into martial arts. That's like saying, "Do you need that to become successful in boxing?" Look at Mike Tyson's personal life. There's your answer.