Interviews \ Joe Lewis

DW Forum - Is there a particular person whose insight and understanding of combat you admire more than others? If so, I hope you'll take the time to give an example.

Joe Lewis - I do not admire any one person. I see myself in many other fighters and trainers. I like the explosiveness of Jack Dempsey, (25 first-round knockouts--a record today). The elusiveness of Ali and the power of Joe Louis and Marciano. Few guys can knock you out with just one punch in the very last round like those two.Eddie Futch had a brilliant trainer's mind, and others like Ray Robinson could put it all together, speed, power, timing, brains, stamina, longevity, adaptability, etc. Even I had it all once but in my heart, I never cared about who was king of the hill.

DW Forum - Could you answer me on one simple question concerning JKD? What exactly was Bruce teaching? I mean did he have specific way of treining his students or maybe he just said "well, we're gonna learn this from wing chun, that from boxing and those kicks from taekwondo"?Were there any specifics only for jeet kune do?So, have you sparred with Bruce Lee (because I've heard many versions of your fighting-relation ship with him).

Joe Lewis - Bruce and I would only do drills related to combat. We did not give them names, such as Wing Chun etc. If it worked we used it and I have always trained that way. I do not care about names or styles, that is all garbage---and I mean garbage. Either your kick or choke worked or it didn't: the style did not carry any super magic or extra powers.

DW Forum - I read a story about Bruce going over to your house and not being impressed with the size of your heavy bag and called it a girls bag, and I think he asked Herb Jackson was it, to make him a man sized man. It weighed 700lbs and if I remember the story correctly you along with Bob Wall set it up for him and then hid in a bush. Bruce kicked it and landed in a heap. I hope I've got this all right or else I'll look like a bit of a dip Anyway can you remember this day and what did you think when he kicked the bag and landed on the floor. Did he ever move the big bag at all, what was his sidekick power like on the bag?

Joe Lewis - I do not remember much about that 700 pound bag. It sounds like one of those old rumors. Bruce had a good fast side kick but if you watch some of those old atapes, you can tell he always lunged from too great a distance. This makes the bag move but throws your timing way off. You need to be close to the tirget when you fire so your reaction time and your response time are quick, not just one. Timeing speed is both.You should never work with a bag weighing more than l00 pounds, and I mean never. If anyone tells you different, they do not know what they are talking about. Bannana bags are different for the low cut kicks.

DW Forum - Lately I've heard things like "Bruce Lee could hit seven times in a second"...I personally believe it is crap. I mean how could anybody test speed of punches without todays fast-cameras and all that stuff?I'm told my wing chun instructor punches seven hits on a second (in the air of course).Have you heard of it? I guess it's a proof of a quickness....maybe Bruce talked about it?

Joe Lewis - Please, drop all the stuff you've heard. Martial arts is full of nonsense. Only believe what you have seen or can prove. Show me more than three real punches in a second and I will kiss your butt. ON film, Ali's jab took 7 frames to complete, and Sugar Ray's took 9 frames. A second of film takes 24 frames. Simple math guys. Three real punches per second and that is it. Less talk and more proof. Let's get in the ring and show off some of these secrets. They pay millions of dollars. That beats eating rice all your life and teaching martial arts forever anytime?

DW Forum - Can you tell a bit us of your training days with Bruce Lee & Bob Wall? How many training sessions in total did you have with Bruce & over that period of time? What is your opinion of Bruce as a fighter? Would he have been able to go 10 or 12 rounds with someone such as yourself or Chuck Norris? It is rumoured that Bruce Lee & Chuck Norris had a sparing session in that Chuck Norris was left red-faced. I assume this to mean he lost and was embarassed. Do you know ot have you anything about this ? Is there any truth in it. Can you tell us about the incident where Bruce kept teasing you about kicking a girl sized bag (Becuase you kept busting 100lb bags with your kicks). And you guys (Bob wall etc) made him a man sized bag (300lb). Did you ever meet or have a chance to talk to Jim Kelly ?

Joe Lewis - I learn fast. I made black belt in one year in Okinawa in three different styles. I am a fast learning. I can get all your stuff in a matter of weeks, and I mean anybody who can fight. I worked with Bruce less than two years before we grew apart. We used to work together for 6 to 8 hours at a time. I would be at his house at one in the afternoon, and not leave until maybe ten that night. Is that one lesson? Bruce was not a fighter. He was an actor and a teacher. He was a great teacher.

DW Forum - There is a fellow from India who always calls Bruce Lee `Master Lee',and capitalizes any words referring to `Him'.He has also put some rather unflattering remarks on his Indian fan club website about you by taking quotes of yours out of context and saying that you are essential insulting `Master Lee'. Can you tell us how Bruce Lee would respond and treat somebody who would call him `Master Lee' outside a formal class setting?Did you or Chuck or Mike Stone ever have to call him sifu or such?Or did Lee tell you to call him by his name?

Joe Lewis - Bruce Lee always called me "Joe," and I always called him, "Bruce." Bruce told me he was not a master but rather a student master. He called himself this because he felt he was always still learning. He joked about some who called him "sifu." As far as what some of these uninformed people from foreign websites say about me or Bruce, I wish they would exercise better judgment. You never talk about a person unless you have interviewed him, worked with him, or observed him training. Most people who talk about Bruce and myself have never met either of us, interviewed either of us, or witnessed us training together. My only advice to the uneducated writers, who saturate the JKD world, bring us a little honor to your efforts, and in the future, as professional writers practice, do your homework first. Lastly, proper ethics teaches you not to attack somebody and then invite them to come onto a website to defend themselves. In response to attacks against me not being spiritual: The spiritual aspects of combat never made sense to the rational thinker. However, I studied objectivism and J. Krisnamurti before I ever met Bruce. He encouraged me to integrate these ideologies into my training. Before Krisnamurti died, I attended one of his lectures in Ojai, California. After his talk, he usually accepted visitors in the privacy of his company. I gave his staff a poster and pictures of Bruce Lee to present on Bruce's behalf. I told them that Krisnamurti was one of Bruce's idols. To me, this was an act of profound spiritualism. No other martial artist had done this for Bruce.

DW Forum - Are you still in contact with Chuck Norris and Mike Stone?

Joe Lewis - I recently did one of Chuck Norris' last shows on "Walker Texas Ranger." Chuck is in good shape but focuses his life on acting. Mike Stone lives in the Phillipines. So far as training goes, I have stayed in shape and remain on the cutting edge of the best knowledge available to top fighters.

DW Forum - What was/ is the greatest impact that Bruce had on you personally , whether it be from a physical , or spiritual sense? Also, what are your thoughts on the fact that he's still being talked about after all these decades?

Joe Lewis - I had studied the philosophies of objectivism and J. Krisnamurti before I met Bruce. His ideas complemented and encouraged a similar ideology. He inspired me to embrace this way of thinking and integrated into my physical training. I admired his abstract thinking. These are people who think in principal. We were both artists in the sense of being able to draw and sketch. Although he was Chinese, I saw myself in him.

DW Forum - You have said on numerous occassions that Bruce was not a fighter, but at the same time you say that Bruce was the first Ph.D in martial arts fighting? And you have also written about how when you first met Bruce you were really prejudice in those days, especially of little guys as fighters, what changed your mind? You also write that in those days you didn't care much for talkers, you say, "don't tell me how to fight if you never fought", you go on to say "I was a doer in those days, and I didn't care much for talkers. In other words, don't tell me how great you are, how great your style is, or weather your stuff works or not. Let's simply get in the ring and I'll find out within a matter of seconds". What was it that changed your mind and become one of Bruce's students? Why were your classes private, and were Chuck Norris, or Mike Stone taught privatly also?

Joe Lewis - Bruce told me he did not care about competing. He had no interest in it, and he said he felt there was nothing to gain by him doing so. Little guys, in my opinion, have always been the best trainers. This is because tactically very early in their careers they figure out how to conquer larger opponents. Mike Stone, who I respect, convinced me to study with Bruce. Martial arts does not have a long history as does boxing. Bruce Lee was a wealth of knowledge. No one knew what he had. Bruce Lee was proud to be the instructor of three world champions, Norris, Stone, and myself. With private lessons, he could customize each lesson to fit and compliment the attributes of the individual. I teach this way also.

DW Forum - How do you end a fight with multiple opponents in a very quick and efficient way?? (4 or 5 Opponents). And Who is your hero? or a role model?

Joe Lewis - Against multiple opponents, you only fight one at a time. You respond to the closest first and maneuver so that the opponent you are working against is always between you and the next nearest attacker. I have no martial arts heroes. I'm attracted to scientists in the intellectual arena. Abstract thinkers, not physical types, have always appealed to me most. Bruce Lee was an abstract thinker. That's why I liked him, not because of his techniques.

DW Forum - Have you ever considered putting out a Bio of you life during your tournament days. A book about your start in the martial arts right up to when you became World Kick Boxing champion. I for one like these sort of books and think it would make a good book. Are you still involved in anyway with the UFC, I remember a couple of years ago, maybe it was longer, you interviewed fighters after their matches; what is your opinion of these tournaments today? Do you think that they will ever get the same respect, or media coverage that Boxing does?

Joe Lewis - Some day a good writer would do my life story. Presently, we have a screen play ready entitled, "The One To Beat." I did commentary on the IFC events. They cancel out so much that it's difficult working it into my schedule. I do not like tournaments; they are boring and it's fake fighting. In the 20s, 30s, and 40s, baseball and boxing were America's two major sports. It will take years for the mixed martial arts to ever catch up.

DW Forum - How come it took so long to come out with a book about your relationship with Bruce Lee?

Joe Lewis - Over the years, there have been many statements that others have made about what Bruce Lee or I said. I come from a long chain of world-class fighters, and we pay little attention to those who do the talking and only give credit to those who do their talking in the ring. I wanted this book to set the record straight about my true relationship and training with Bruce Lee. The reviews and feedback I have begun to receive from many of the early readers of the book have been 100% favorable. Most have said it was extremely interesting and long overdue. Most of the material in the book has never been disclosed. It is a major first in the history of martial arts. Ten different writers who knew Bruce Lee, including three of the top karate fighters of all time: Mike Stone, Chuck Norris, and myself, have put our true statements in print for the first time.

DW Forum - Have you read Davis Millers Book 'The Tao of Bruce Lee' and what did you think of it?

Joe Lewis - Davis Miller’s book really upset Bruce Lee’s family, and I understand why. He made many statements which I found extremely offensive and untrue. Several times he attributed comments to me that I never said. Example: He stated that I made a comment that Jeet Kune Do practitioners were more like “Geek Kune Do.” I have never used the word “geek” in my life. It is not a word in my vocabulary.

DW Forum - In Davis Miller's 'The Tao of Bruce Lee' he recounts a story that you told him about how one time Bruce set you up in front of some of his students –Davis writes, "We're training and a couple of his student's are standing around. He says, 'Joe, fire that forehand strike you're working on.' I fired it; he slipped it, and he said, 'Come on Joe, do it again.' I did. And he says, 'just once more, Joe.' The third time I fired the punch, he slipped it and came back with that triple punch you see at the beginning of ENTER THE DRAGON. He goes ba-ba-bam, fires the three shots, hits me square between the eyes. He suckered me. And it took him three tries to pull it off. Next thing I hear, his students are running around saying Bruce kicked my ass, completely showed me up." Can you tell us which students were present and did Bruce ever apologize?

Joe Lewis - The two students that I had met on this occasion behind Bruce’s house were Peter Chin and Ted Wong. The year was 1968. It was not a workout session or a private lesson. Bruce was pretty much just goofing off. He had Ted and myself execute a couple of drills, which he had staged. We were wearing boxing headgear and Kendo gloves. One of us would fire a forward hand strike, and the other would attempt to slip it or deflect it. Bruce asked me to fire the punch at him. My punch was very quick, and it took him a couple of attempts before he could time his counter. On the third attempt, he brushed the punch aside and did a three-punch counter, which is what we saw in the movie, “Enter the Dragon.” We were not sparring as I have never sparred with Bruce nor have I seen him spar. I don’t think any apology from Bruce was warranted. I didn’t see it as a big deal and I still don’t. He was just doing a little timing thing. If Bruce’s students were running around saying Bruce kicked my butt, of course, it is not true and I could care less why they would make this up. This is another reason I wanted to set the record straight with this book.

DW Forum - What were your exhibition bouts like against Leon Spinks and Bill "Superfoot" Wallace? Are many of your fights on film or will there be in the future? I think I heard somewhere that Bruce had film of you competing, if so, do you know where that film is?

Joe Lewis - My exhibition bout with Leon Spinks was a fiasco. His manager asked me not to throw any leg kicks, and while we were in the dressing room before the bout, they approached me asked me to take a dive and pretend Leon Spinks knocked me out. That just showed me again how crooked boxing is. Of course, I said, “no.” Then just before the bell, Leon’s manager walked over to me and asked me not to throw any head kicks, and I said, “Why don’t you just put handcuffs on me and let him beat the hell out of me?” Against “Superfoot,” the Nevada Athletic Commissioner told me two different times before I got in the ring that if I started hitting hard he would personally step in the ring and stop the bout. Against someone who is fast as Bill Wallace, how do you hold back your power while at the same time being able to match his speed? It is impossible. Again, I felt handcuffed. Exhibition or demonstration bouts are a “farce.” It’s too easy for someone to set you up. I’ve seen it happen many times.

DW Forum - Can you tell the forum what exactly happened the time you demonstrated Martial Arts on Muhammad Ali?

Joe Lewis - Muhammad Ali was getting ready to fight the wrestler, Inoki, from Japan. He was at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles doing a press conference in the boxing ring. I simply asked him what he would do if a wrestler did a fake punch at his head and shot for his leg to take him to the ground. He told me to step in the ring and demonstrate. The press pushed me between the ropes, and I found myself face to face with Ali. We were both in street clothes, and he had his hands up shuffling side to side using lateral footwork movements against me. I did a shoulder fake, which he reacted to, and shot for his leg. The instance I hooked his leg, I froze. I was too embarrassed to dump him on his butt. He bent forward and wrapped his arms around my waist, and I heard everybody in the place laugh. I picked him up, did a fireman’s carry takedown, dumping him on his back, and pinned him on the mat. Everybody grabbed me and pulled me off quickly. I jumped up, telling everybody we were just playing. Ali stood up next to me and put his arm around my shoulder. At the time, I was only about 180 pounds because I was pursuing acting not fighting, and my weight was really down. Ali’s first comment to me was, “You lifted weights when you were younger, didn’t you?” I’m sure he could tell I was extremely strong and hard as a brick. Then we did the same movement again, and I pinned him again a second time in a row. That’s when he showed me how he was going to fight Inoki with his back constantly against the ropes.

DW Forum - In your brief film career, what movie are you most proud of and if you had total control over a project to star in, who would you cast and why?

Joe Lewis - I am not really proud of any of my films. I never had a script or a director I could work with. They were all action directors and knew nothing about working with actors. I would like to work in a project with someone like Robert De Niro or Jack Nicholson where I would play someone close to him, such as a brother. I would prefer never to do martial art movies. In the beginning, my acting coaches told me to never do martial art movies. That was one of the reasons I turned Bruce Lee down.

DW Forum - You worked on 'The Silent Flute' or 'Circle of Iron' with David Carradine; had Bruce lived would you have worked with him on 'The Silent Flute' movie, or let's say 'Game of Death' if he asked you again?

Joe Lewis - I am not sure what part I would have played in either of these movies had Bruce Lee asked me to work with him. In retrospect, I would be a fool not to.

DW Forum - The first time you met Bruce in late 1966 in a parking lot outside of Black Belt magazine, Bruce spent about 30-minutes showing you a number of weaknesses in the traditional karate styles and why his system was superior. What exactly did Bruce say and why didn't that convince you to start working with him. Why did you consider only after talking to Mike Stone in 1967 to contact Lee, what did Mike Stone say that Bruce didn't to convince you?

Joe Lewis - This is actually a good story. Both Mike Stone and I talk about this in the book. Mike’s chapter is a real eye opener. Mike was a fighter and I respected his opinion.

DW Forum - There is new film all the time popping up for sale of Bruce Lee's backyard workouts. Did Bruce ever film any of your lessons with him? Do you have any photos of Bruce and yourself, or film of Bruce that have been stored away and never been released?

Joe Lewis - No one ever filmed Bruce Lee and I training together. The photo editor of Black Belt magazine, Oliver Pang, shot a number of rolls of film with me, Bruce Lee, and Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabar) down in China Town in 1967. When Oliver went blind, he turned all of those shots over to Black Belt, which were put in storage, and to date, no one has seen them. In the future, my website,, and will release old footage of many of my fights, which were shot on 8m and Super 8m back in the 60s.

DW Forum - Mr. Lewis, who, in your opinion, do you think is responsible for glorifying, or building up Bruce as a great warrior, with exceptional powers? The media, the fans or the martial artists and people who actually met and knew him?

Joe Lewis - That is an interesting question. Movies create heroes and myths. The combination of martial arts, which is steeped in myth and the magic of film helped create the Bruce Lee that most people imagine to be real. My image is quite different. This was a guy who was simply brilliant in his concepts, confidence and drive. I’ll take that over the movies any day. Either way we both win. Fans of Bruce have a real martial artist to champion and I have an experience that no one can take away.

DW Forum - What are your thoughts on ground fighting; Gene Lebell said in an interview once that Bruce loved it and "would eat it up.” Did Bruce teach you any ground fighting, or was he more into it later on in his life?

Joe Lewis - I began my training in weightlifting and wrestling as a teenager. I have always felt grappling and weight training provides the best foundation for a fighter. Bruce Lee and I did not do any ground fighting when I was working with him. I think all martial artists today should practice ground maneuvers, such as how to shoot for the legs, a couple of good rear chokes and front chokes, maybe a triangle choke, and sit-out arm bar, and a good standing arm bar. Most of that standing wrist flexing and finger locking stuff does not work in a real situation.

DW Forum - You stated before, that you thought that the UFC and other tournaments like that, when they first started, actually pushed the martial arts back about 50 yrs; do you still think that today, or has it improved in the last 4, or 5 yrs?

Joe Lewis - I never stated that any of the mixed martial arts events pushed martial arts back 50-years. Initially, the UFC events were set up as a challenge to other martial arts styles. I do not play the challenge game. I feel it is very low class. I have never personally made a challenge towards someone or accepted a challenge. It sends the wrong message in martial arts. People who challenge others seem to me to be insecure about their accomplishments or how others perceive their stature as a martial artist.

The fighters who have learned to punch more effectively have surpassed the mixed martial arts fighters who only have grappling skills. When the day comes that the top fighters can kick as well as punch, together with excellent grappling skills, that will be the birth of a great sport.

DW Forum - You met Dan Inosanto for the first time ever and did an interview with him for your new book; what was your impression of him before the interview and what was your impression after?

Joe Lewis - Before I met Danny, I had known his daughter, Diana, and her husband for a number of years. Contrary to the rumors I had heard, Diana told me that her father had great respect for me. I found him to be very sociable, charming, and talkative. It was an extremely pleasant first meeting. I think the two of us hit it off like two old kids who had grown up together. He added a great deal to the insight and credibility to the book. Many of his statements about his training with Bruce Lee were identical to those I had made about Bruce over the past 30-years. In particular was the fact that both Danny and I stated that Bruce Lee was constantly changing his definition of Jeet Kune Do and the correct application of its respected combat drills. Many of these are illustrated in the book.

DW Forum - Do you think that Bruce Lee was gradually going to phase out trapping, wing chung, in Jeet Kune and incorporate more Kickboxing?

Joe Lewis - No doubt, Bruce Lee was phasing out much of the trapping from his Wing Chung training. He was incorporating a lot from kickboxing at the time I was working with him. One example was when he threw his round kick. He was teaching people how to roll the hip into the kick before you release the knee extension at contact. Another example was that instead of kicking with your toes or the ball of your foot on the round kick, he began teaching making contact with the anklebone and the lower part of the shin. He was also starting to add more in and out type engaging drills. The old Wing Chung practitioners would penetrate their opponent’s defensive perimeter, engage with a combination but neglect to pull out or disengage at the end. Bruce was correcting this tactical oversight.

DW Forum - In your great fighting career, what was your greatest moment in the ring?

Joe Lewis - I had no great moments in the ring. I never enjoyed beating up another person. My greatest moment in martial arts was the day they promoted me to black belt in Okinawa. That was 40-years ago.

DW Forum - During your tournament days you were known for your power, speed and finesse as a fighter, but you also didn't drink alcohol, coffee, tea, or smoke cigarettes, do you still practice these good habits?

Joe Lewis - I still practice my clean-living habits today at age 60. I will compare my body against any 25-year-old fighter today. I drink tea, but I never liked the taste of alcohol or coffee, and I cannot stand cigarette smoke.

DW Forum - Tom Bleeker wrote a book on Bruce Lee and said in it that Bruce Lee used steroids and I also read that he used drugs; during your time with Bruce, did you witness any of this, if so was it once, twice, or not at all?

Joe Lewis - I do not know anything about Tom Bleeker, nor have I ever met him. As far as Bruce Lee using steroids, I don’t think it is anyone’s business. Steroids make fighters short-winded, and only a fool would take them unless you need to gain weight quickly for some professional purpose. The church; the state; or any of his peers did not own Bruce Lee’s body. His body was his property and his only. Therefore, it is no one’s business what he chose to put in his body. I wish everyone would respect this philosophical principle.

DW Forum - Have you been in any knock down drag out street fights? If so, what was your toughest fight outside the ring (if any)? Please explain in detail.

Joe Lewis - I have followed two rules all my life. I do not drink, and I do not hang out with other guys. Why hang out with men when you can hang out with women? If you follow these two simple rules, life is not only a hell of a lot more fun but it is impossible to get into street fights. Street fighting is for two people: kids and/or hoodlums who have no respect for the principles of being a responsible martial artist. Street fighters have two counts against them: 1) They try to solve problems by force, and 2) indirectly they’re teaching others that they condone violence. I fully reject this premise.

DW Forum - Do you feel that as time goes by you are a better fighter (meaning in the street not tournament competition) today then you were in your prime? Or is just a matter of adjustments, as you grow older?

Joe Lewis - I have never thought of myself as being a better street fighter in any respect. I know more today about how to avoid that kind of nonsense. I have nothing to prove by getting into a street altercation. As was 30-to 40-years ago, if push comes to shove, my favorite move has always been to spin my opponent into a rear choke. That way, no one gets hurt, and when the cops come, there are no bruises or blood. Street fighters keep their records down at the local police department. I want my fight records to remain where they belong — only in the record books.

DW Forum - Today there's definitely a huge misunderstanding of what JKD actually was, would it would be fair to say that the basic aim of JKD was merely to become a natural martial artist rather than a mechanical one?

Joe Lewis - The best way to answer this question is to ask the serious thinking martial artists to not only read my book but to study and to use it as a research manual. Many black belts from around the country who have already received their personal issue tell me that they carry it with them always as a manual. In one of the chapters in the book, I discuss Bruce Lee’s obsession with teaching martial artists how to avoid this trap of duality. As in acting or any artistic endeavor, be it combat or a musician playing an instrument, one’s execution of his craft must always be in perfect unison between his technique and his current emotional state. I explained in the book how this process could be learned and executed. It is one of the keys to understanding the core of the premise of Jeet Kune Do philosophy.

DW Forum - 60-years from now, when people mention the name Joe Lewis, how would you want to be remembered?

Joe Lewis - I have seriously never given this question any thought. To dignify my efforts and to be able to have been known to live with dignity would be my greatest attribute. I feel that few of us martial artists have ever accomplished that. I have never stated in public that I have beaten anyone by name. I have never misrepresented my real rank nor have I ever claimed to win a title that I had not. Although I failed my first green belt test in Okinawa, a year later, when I was handed a second-degree black belt certificate, I refused to accept it. I am the only martial artist in North America that I know of who has not only trained in every country from Korea southward all the way to Australia, but I am perhaps the only one who received the last rights from the same master priest in Tokyo who administered the last rights to the Kamikaze pilots during World War II. I have tried to make the standard and the status for that which a black belt stands to always represent a very noble and worthy accomplishment. I wish others would respect and follow this same rule. I do not expect more than a handful of martial artists to ever be able to duplicate my examples. However, I trust that some will be able to live in the light of dignity, which I have described above.

DW Forum - Thanks again Joe for doing this interview with us.

Joe Lewis - Your very welcome.