Chuck Norris - Elvis, Priscilla, martial arts and me
September 12, 2007 - 1:16:00 AM
The king and karate
Like myself, it appears Elvis was introduced to the world of self defense while in the military. He would study many styles under many different ethnic instructors throughout his life. In 1959 he started as a student under German Juerge Seydel (a Shokotan sensei), then was mentored under Japanese Teugio Murakami (a Shokotan master), Korean Kang Rhee (Sa-Ryu TaeKwon Do Grandmaster), Americans Hank Slemansky (a Chito Ryu stylist) and Ed Parker (the founder of American Kenpo - who would remain his lifelong teacher) and Filipino Dan Inosanto (later Bruce Lee's student), under whom Elvis would eventually earn his black belt.
Over the next decade and a half, Elvis was awarded advancing black belt degrees, and in time was granted an honorary 7th degree black belt. He even opened his own martial arts school back in Memphis, 'The Tennessee Karate Institute', where Bill Wallace was the chief instructor.
Elvis' love for martial arts permeated his career in music and movies, where he'd often demonstrate his self-defense moves. I'll never forget seeing him perform in Las Vegas (which I'll detail in a moment), where he kicked, punched, postured and even did the splits holding his guitar in hand!
Several of his films demonstrate the influence of karate in his life, including 'G.I. Blues', 'Wild in the Country', 'Blue Hawaii', 'Kid Galahad', 'Follow that Dream', 'Double Trouble', 'Harum Scarum' and 'Flaming Star'.
Teaching Priscilla martial arts
While they were still married, Priscilla called me to say she wanted to study karate with me. We had been introduced by Ed Parker at a tournament. I asked her why she didn't study with Ed, to which she replied, 'Ed can't teach me because he is Elvis' private trainer as well as his personal bodyguard.' So I agreed and taught her at my Sherman Oaks martial arts studio.
Priscilla came to her private lesson wearing a gi (a martial arts training uniform). She worked hard, and I soon discovered she was serious about her training. We would start her lessons with stretching exercises to loosen and warm up the muscles. She was quick to learn some basic kicks. Priscilla had studied ballet, which gave her an edge over many students, because she was already limber and able to execute high kicks with ease. Within a month she was able to kick anywhere I directed with force and precision.
When we started free-style sparring (a free exchange of blows, blocks and counterattacks until a cleanly executed assault to a vital point is made), I tried to put a boxer's head-guard on her. Although most students welcomed the face protection, Priscilla scorned it. I remember her responding as she rejected the offer to wear it, 'I won't have one of these on in the streets.' Once she even insisted on going out in the alley behind the studio to work out with the high-heeled shoes, because she said that was what she usually wore.
Priscilla has many of the qualities I value in a person. She is open and has a positive attitude toward life. She was a great reflection in yesteryear of what we see today - women training and competing with equal diligence and fortitude to men. From her training onward, I've expected top results from both my male and female students. In fact, in my World Combat League, women are among the fiercest competitors.
Viva Las Vegas!
After one of her private lessons, Priscilla invited Bob Wall (my karate studio partner) and me to Las Vegas to watch Elvis perform at the Hilton Hotel. We gladly accepted the invitation. This would be the first time I met Elvis in person. I'll never forget sitting in the front booth with Priscilla at that dinner show and being captivated by his charisma and showmanship.
Afterwards Elvis invited us up to his suite, where we talked until 4:00 in the morning. At first I thought, 'What are we going to talk about?' I knew nothing about music, but I knew I could talk about martial arts all night long! And we did! I was impressed with his self defense insight and devotion. Even after two shows earlier that evening, Elvis stayed to the early morning hours shooting the breeze with us. That was a special night for all of us, which I'll never forget.
Elvis was a real nice, down-to-earth guy, who made you feel in a few hours like you had known him forever. I still enjoy his music and films. I wasn't always a big fan of his morality, but then I wasn't always a big fan of mine.
I hope, despite his struggles near the end, that Elvis too made peace with God, believing those gospel truths as well as he belted them out as a singer. God's amazing grace is still all sufficient, able to forgive us all of all we've done wrong, even those king-sized vices. When we ask Him to do so, as Elvis sang, we too can sing, 'O happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away.'
Despite some personal objections to his lifestyle, no one can doubt Elvis' musical and theatrical genius, creativity and magnetism as a performer. And as far as his martial arts abilities, he truly was pretty impressive, flexible and tough. He may not have been a Bruce Lee, me or other notables in the field of professional competition, but then again have you ever heard about any of our singing careers?
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