Elvis Presley and Karate

By: David Adams
Source: Elvis Australia
May 23, 2021

Elvis was first exposed to Karate in 1958 after he was drafted into the Army and stationed in Germany. His first instructor was a German shotokan stylist named Juergen Seydel who taught Elvis at his off-base housing in Nauheim until 1958. One nice thing about the military was that you got thirty days of paid vacation (leave) each year. During his vacation in Paris he would take private lessons with Tetsugio Murakami, one of Japan's top shotokan stylists, who would help pioneer shotokan in Europe. On one occasion he spent nine straight days studying for several hours each day with Murakami.

With a lot of spare time on his hands Elvis would spend hours training with Rex Mansfield, another soldier stationed with Elvis in Germany.

It was during this time that Elvis would also start conditioning his hands for board breaking by banging his knuckles against hard surfaces.

His next Instructor was Japanese Shotokan Master Tetugio Murakami who became the Shotokan master of Europe.

In 1960 Elvis, with Japanese style training under his belt, Elvis met the Father of American Kenpo, Ed Parker at the Wilshire Beverly Hills Hotel after a Karate demonstration. Mr. Parker introduced Elvis to Hank Slomanski, an Instructor at Fort Campbell to test for his black belt. It was Hank who promoted Elvis to 'Black Belt' on July 21, 1960 and personally gave Elvis his own personal Black belt when he promoted him. He is said to have sent word back to Ed Parker 'Your boy ain't pretty anymore, but he's a black belt'.


Elvis Presley Video Elvis practicing Karate (From the Gladiators DVD)

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The Gladiators DVD contains;

1.) 49 minutes of footage narrated by Wayne Carmen
2.) Raw footage with Elvis
3.) 1968 'It Hurts Me' Karate footage takes
4.) Interview about Elvis' Karate with Wayne Carmen

Buy Elvis Presley: Gladiators DVD

Master Kang Rhee

Elvis trained from 1970-1974 under Master Kang Rhee in Memphis, TN. He said Master Rhee had a good reputation and had come highly recommended by Ed Parker, his former instructor, of California. During the four year period under Master Rhee, Elvis, like all the other students, selected an animal title by which to be addressed in the training area. After first choosing Mr. Panther, that name was later changed to 'Mr. Tiger' because of existing political implications associated with the name 'Panther' at that time.

Black Belt

Elvis trained with the other students in a regular training session. Classroom discipline was so strict that Elvis was allowed the same freedom of training as the ordinary students without the usual press from adoring fans. Elvis was awarded 7th Degree Black Belt in 1973 by Master Rhee and on occasion had the opportunity, himself, to test and promote students of lower rank.

Elvis the Instructor

Elvis was an instructor in the Pasaryu Karate Association under Master Kang Rhee, and served with such Karate greats as Master Rhee, who had been a Korean Grand Champion, and Bill Wallace, World middleweight Karate Champion. Once during a training session he was instructing a female student in a break-away technique which called for the victim to scrape the shins of the assailant. After repeated attempts by Elvis to get her to perform properly, the exasperated student came down so hard against his shins that he almost fell down with pain. She had learned. Younger students in the classroom were often frightened by the presence of Elvis. Upon learning of this problem regarding a young 9 year old boy, he called the boy aside, spoke privately with him and presented him with his own 'Elvis Presley' engraved watch.

Close friends of Elvis call this four year period the Golden Years - the years of peace and spiritual contentment for him. Photos exist documenting that four year period.

Bill 'Superfoot' Wallace

It is safe to say that Bill 'Superfoot' Wallace was one of the biggest names in the world of martial arts in the 1970's and 80's but he also gained some additional mystique as one of Elvis Presley's karate instructors, as the King was an ardent fan, even once flying in an acupuncturist to treat Wallace at Graceland following an injury to his leg.

Interviews with or about Elvis Presley Elvis Presley & Bill 'superfoot' Wallace

On June 4, 1973, Elvis Presley gave Kang Rhee a custom-delux Eldorado Cadillac.

This was not an ordinary gift. Vernon Presley had purchased the white Cadillac, customized with the Continental rear-end and silver front-end grill, for Elvis as a gift. Elvis drove the car for his personal use ten months before bestowing the car as a gift upon Master Rhee.

What makes this gift so unusual? Many friends of Elvis Presley, such as Linda Thompson, Elvis' girl-friend at the time, say that Elvis rarely gave a car away that had been personally customized, but because of his tremendous respect for his Karate instructor, he wanted to express his feelings. This is why we would like to give the many fans a chance to share all the wonderful memories, even his friends such as Kang Rhee, have stored up in their hearts.

A day in the Life

Elvis Presley was a legend, even in my homeland of Korea. When Master Rhee received a phone call from a man who identified himself as Elvis Presley and told him that he was interested in continuing his studies in the martial arts under his direction, it occurred to Master Rhee that this was most probably someone's idea of a joke; however, several hours later, he found himself seated behind his desk with the legend, Elvis Presley, seated across from him. In this meeting, Elvis explained that he had begun training in the martial arts because he was fascinated with the movements. He found the movements graceful as well as artistic and had the idea to incorporate them to make his stage performances more exciting. Elvis told Master Rhee that it was at Master Ed. Parker's suggestion that he contacted him. Master Rhee : 'I was more than flattered, I was overwhelmed'.

Master Rhee : 'Elvis was very humble. In many ways, Elvis taught me more than I taught him'. 'He insisted on training and teaching in regular classes with other students and e quickly realized that students were watching him rather than paying attention in the class.

Master Rhee : 'He asked me to arrange a demonstration which would allow the students to view his technique and see that he was attending class as a martial artist, not as an entertainer. I selected a day when a promotion (rank advancement) test was already scheduled and combined the two events. I selected this day because Elvis particularly enjoyed working with children and the student to be tested was a boy'.

Elvis :  Karate

Elvis :  Karate

Elvis :  Karate

Master Rhee : 'Elvis, who normally trained in a traditional uniform, considered the demonstration a type of performance. Therefore, I designed for him a special uniform and belt, as a sort of costume. The uniform is trimmed in red satin, has the TCB patch which Elvis and I designed together, on the left chest and the crown fist patch on the left sleeve cuff. The belt is a black belt, embroidered with Elvis personal information, with all but the embroidered ends covered in the same red satin in which the uniform is trimmed'.

In the early part of the demonstration, Elvis was demonstrating a kicking technique, when his pants ripped. Embarrassed, Elvis explained to me and the class that he did not wear any underwear, and asked me 'Now, what do I do?' Realizing that the demonstration of further kicking techniques was out, Elvis proceeded to demonstrate a variety of self-defense techniques, including defense against an attacker armed with a hand-gun. He demonstrated several defenses at close range and then stepped back.

He pretended to demonstrate a defense against a gun technique from more than five feet away. He then dropped to his knees, explaining that the only defense from that distance is to 'pray'. This was very entertaining. Myself, the students and all spectators laughed and clapped. Elvis also demonstrated his fighting stance and jokingly challenged me to a fight, which everyone also found entertaining. As well as demonstrating, Elvis participated in the testing of the student by being part of the Black Belt judging panel. Elvis watched intently as the student worked for his promotion and as others, myself included, demonstrated.

Normally, in a traditional martial arts school, no one is allowed to train while wearing shoes or socks; however, on this particular day, I made an exception for Elvis. I made this exception because only a few days before Elvis had surgery to correct an ingrown toenail and I did not want his foot to become infected. Elvis also had an injury to his hand. A fan, in reaching out to touch him, had inadvertently scratched the back of his hand and Elvis had not gotten treatment for the scratch, which subsequently became infected. Elvis said that his hand looked 'much worse than it was'. Elvis was a deeply religious person, having presented me with a bible as a gift. Toward the end of the demonstration, I requested that Elvis offer a prayer for the students.

Elvis' prayer was very moving and beautiful.

Elvis Presley and Red West practice Karate
Elvis Presley and Red West.

Elvis Presley Septermber 9, 1974
Elvis Presley Septermber 9, 1974.

Elvis and Karate byer Kang Rhee
Elvis and Karate Master Kang Rhee Septermber 9, 1974.

8th Degree San Black Belt

Elvis Presley received his 8th Degree San Black Belt certificate from Master Rhee, at a private ceremony. The presentation took place on September 16, 1974 at Master Rhee's studio in Memphis.

The awards presentation was very 'low key' in comparison to other events that involved Elvis.

Elvis accepted his award in witness of his fellow students and their families. The photograph was signed and inscribed 'Kang Rhee, Karate Instructor of Elvis Presley, 8th Degree Black Belt PaSaRyu Karate, September 16th 1974, Memphis Tennessee, U.S.A'. penned by Master Rhee in black ink. The photo was previously on display at Master Rhee studio in Memphis.

Elvis' commitment to the martial arts has been rewarded with a place in the Martial Arts Hall of Fame.

note to Charlie Hodge from Elvis Presley

Elvis receives his 7th degree black belt from Kang Rhee.
Elvis receives his honorary
8th degree black belt from Kang Rhee.

Elvis Presley with certificate for his honorary 8th degree black belt from Kang Rhee
Elvis Presley with certificate for his 8th degree black belt from Kang Rhee.

Elvis Presley receiving his 8th Degree San Black Belt certificate from Master Rhee, at a private ceremony. The presentation took place on September 16, 1974 at Master Rhee's studio in Memphis.

Elvis Presley's 8th Degree San Black Belt certificate
Elvis Presley's 8th Degree San Black Belt certificate.

To Master Kang Rhee with great respect - Elvis Presley

Buy Elvis Presley: Gladiators DVD contains;

1.) 49 minutes of footage narrated by Wayne Carmen
2.) Raw footage with Elvis
3.) 1968 'It Hurts Me' Karate footage takes
4.) Interview about Elvis' Karate with Wayne Carmen

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