EIN: Bill, many thanks for taking time to talk to us today. Firstly, could you tell us a little about the Bill “Superfoot” Wallace story before you became world karate champion.
BW: Well I was a wrestler in high school and college. I was going to continue wrestling but ended up joining a judo team, that was in 1966. but had to stop my judo training after suffering a knee injury. Shortly after, in 1967 I started training in Shorin-ryu karate while serving in the Air Force over in Okinawa. I did well in the point fighting tournament scene and then took up training for full-contact competition. I had fun kicking people (laughs).
EIN: You were undefeated middleweight karate champion from 1974 to 1980. Those years must have been a great time for you. What are some of your favorite memories from that period?
BW: You know from 1974 to 1980 is pretty much a blur. I won the world championship in September 74 and I was obviously very happy. I was working for Elvis at the time.
After winning the championship I went back and trained with him and really just had a blast. You know it was pretty much worked out, trained, worked out, trained, worked out, and I attended Memphis State University for four years – I enjoyed that also.
EIN: Of your six world championships is there one that sticks out in your mind?
BW: No....all of them because at the time I was champion most of my fights were on national television and for that reason I couldn’t take it easy as you maybe could at other times. Because they were on national television and the other guy wanted to take my face off, I had to be prepared for all of them.
EIN: Bill, you mentioned your years at Memphis State University. Please tell us about your Master of Kinesiology degree.
BW: Well I did my undergraduate work on physical education at a place called Ball State University in Indiana around 1970-71. Then I went down to Memphis where I started continuing my physical education program but ended up studying Kinesiology and Physiology of Exercise. So that became my focus and I ended up majoring in it and got my Masters Degree in 1976 from Memphis State. I worked hard at understanding body movements, the movement of the muscles, the reactions and so forth. It is wonderful to know why your muscles do what they do and how you can achieve flexibility and how you can achieve speed and strength.
EIN: Your time working with Elvis. For those of our readers not familiar with the Elvis-Bill Wallace story could you tell us how your friendship with Elvis came about.
BW: Well I was working for Khang Rhee in Memphis and I’d just won a tournament in Dallas, Texas called the United States Championships and Elvis was there. I beat a guy named Skipper Mullins who was a really, really good fighter from Texas – he was a very well known fighter at the time. And when I returned to the Memphis Karate School in Memphis Elvis turned up and he wanted to meet me. And I met him and became friends with him and also Red West, his cousin Sonny, Jerry Schilling, Charlie Hodge...you know all those guys. I basically started hanging out and working out with him.
EIN: What were your initial impressions of Elvis?
BW: Scared to death (laughs). You know here you’ve got a guy whose bigger than life itself. And I’m there asking him how he is, what he’s doing and he’s talking to me, you know, asking me how do you do this move, that move......and I’m sort of tongue tied, going oow oow oow.
EIN: How long were you involved in training Elvis?
BW: I was involved with him from 1974 until 1977 when he died.
EIN: Bill, what was your reaction when Elvis died?
BW: Oh I was upset. It was a bummer. I was on vacation in Oklahoma when they started playing all these Elvis songs on the radio. And I thought oh, oh, something’s wrong, so I called back to Memphis and they said Elvis had died. I asked if they wanted me to come home but they said “No, stay away, this is a zoo, stay gone”. So I stayed gone.
EIN: A number of the Memphis Mafia members have said that Elvis was deadly at karate. Just how proficient was he?
BW: He was great, I thought he was very good. You know a lot of people say he wasn’t an Eighth Degree or a Ninth Degree Black Belt but let me tell you something, every time he went on-stage and did those karate movements – you know some of the kicking techniques, some of the hand techniques....every mother who had a son said “My kid’s going to do that”. So you can’t get any better advertising than that. Elvis worked out with me a lot and also with Ed Parker a lot. Ed was Elvis’ teacher.
EIN: And other members of the Memphis Mafia. How good were they?
BW: Well, Red (West) was a black belt under Ed Parker and Red trained with me a lot as well as Ed. The other guys worked out under Ed but Red worked really hard and he was a pretty good guy, a good martial artist. He was a very good technician and a very good fighter and so forth. And I don’t know if you know but Red was Elvis’ Chief of Security, he was the head guy and he was tough. You also had Sonny West, Jerry Schilling and a couple of the other guys. Then it was probably in 1976-77 that David Stanley and his brothers came into the mix but they didn’t do a lot with it [karate], at least not around me, anyway.
EIN: Bill, what are your greatest memories of Elvis?
BW: Oh I have fond memories of him. We had fun together, had a good time. I enjoyed working out with him. I enjoyed training with him. Yes I have very fond memories of Elvis - too many to talk about now.
EIN: Did you ever work as Elvis’ bodyguard or as security at any of his concerts?
BW: No, I never did. I never did. I worked out with him, he would be in Memphis, I would work out with him. I went to a couple of concerts but I was never, never, never one of Elvis’ bodyguards. He had a group of people with him who were absolutely superb. He didn’t need me. Besides I took enough punches for myself, let alone taking some for someone else (laughs).
EIN: What is the story about you and the Memphis Mafia visiting an armed biker gang?
BW: Oh yeah, yeah, we did that. David Stanley didn’t go with us. He just started the ruckus. What happened primarily is he went to a biker bar and tried to pick up a girl. And she said “Leave me alone, I’m with my boyfriend”. But he kept trying and telling her “But I’m Elvis Presley’s brother, you know I’m cool, I’m a cool guy”. The biker, who was her boyfriend, came up and pushed him, slapped him around a little bit, you know – he didn’t beat him up or anything, just kind of said to him “Get out of here”. But David came back to Graceland and told Elvis that these guys beat him up, you know for no reason at all. So Elvis called me up, he called Red West, he called everybody up. I don’t know they did it but they found out where this biker guy lives, so we went over to this guy’s house and we broke down the door – I don’t know how how we didn’t get arrested or something like that – anyway we broke down the door and when we got in there were three or four of these guys sitting around and you know they’re watching television. You remember the show Kung Fu with David Carradine?
Well they’re watching that and I’m looking down at the television, at David Carradine, and all of a sudden this guy’s cocking his ‘38 lever action carbie and pointing it at me. I was the last one in and suddenly this gun is pointed at me and I’m thinking “Oh, oh”. Then Red nailed this guy with a sidekick, knocked him against the refrigerator and this guy slid down the refrigerator and he’s getting ready to shoot us and I said “Red, stop it, I don’t want to die, not here, stop it”. So he left the guy alone and we asked the guy what happened and the guy said this is exactly what happened, “That guy came here and he tried to pick up the chick and tried to be this and that”. David Stanley was being a dork. He was trying to get all sorts of things because he was Elvis’ brother – well you know he was only his step-brother. And so we apologised, everyone apologised, we apologised for breaking the door down and we left, and everything was fine. But you know, I’ll never do something like that again!
EIN: What happened to the school?
EIN: Bill, you mentioned Khang Rhee before. You, Elvis, Red West and Patrick Wrenn, established the Tennessee Karate Institute in Memphis. How did that come about?
Well what happened was, Elvis and Red West wanted to have a school they could train at, work out at. For some reason, I don’t know why, they didn’t want to go over to Khang Rhee’s – probably because there were classes going on or something like that, so they wanted to open a karate school. So Elvis called me and offered me to be the head instructor and he was going to pay me so much and so on and so on and I thought “Well, you know I think I can handle working for Elvis Presley for a couple of years” and so that’s how it got started....just west of Overton Park around Cleveland Avenue. It was upstairs, on top of a drug store and it was a really nice school. We built it up really nicely with a lot of students. But we’d kick everyone else out when it was time for us to work out. Elvis worked out there, Red worked out there, I worked out there, Ed Parker would come and train with us once in a while, so would Dave Hebler.
BW: When I left, Pat Wrenn took it over. Unfortunately Pat was very sick for a couple of years and he had to close it down.
EIN: Are you still in contact with Red West?
BW: Not really. We talk once in a while. Red moved down to Mississippi then back to Memphis and I’m in Florida now so we don’t talk to each other very much.
EIN: Please tell us about Ed Parker.
BW: Ed was a wonderful guy. I met him back in 1967 at the International Karate Championships, one of thebiggest karate tournaments in the world, in Long Beach, California. Really, really good guy. A very good technician, in fact he started American Kenpo, and he was very good. I fought for Ed in 1969 when we went to Hawaii to fight. I enjoyed that. And of course we became good friends due to Elvis and everything. Ed was a promoter of karate championships. Apart from the International Karate Championships he helped Mike Stone with the Four Seasons Championships in Los Angeles. Ed also acted as Elvis’ bodyguard several times. A good guy, a very good guy.
EIN: Bill, Bo Keeley asked me to ask this question. Bo said that James Hydrick claims Ed Parker showed him photos of Elvis, Ed Parker and President Nixon at the White House, but on a date subsequent to Elvis’ famous meeting with Nixon in the Oval Office. Do you know anything about this?
BW: No. Not at all. That’s news to me. I don’t think Ed Parker was ever there with Elvis at the White House. I only know about Elvis’ famous meeting with President Nixon that is well known to everyone.
EIN: Bill, you were involved in the famous New Gladiators film which was eventually released on DVD as a short documentary. Please tell us about your involvement.
BW: Yes, I did a couple of demonstrations for it. I did them right after I won the world championship and I used Red West to help me do some kicking demonstrations, some combinations, and so forth. I wasn’t involved with itbeyond that.
EIN: One of your good friends is Chuck Norris. Please tell us about Chuck.
BW: He’s a great guy. Really a fantastic individual and a very, very good friend of mine. We did A Force Of One together back in 1978. A great, great guy – I learned a lot from him......people don’t realise that he was a fantastic technician and a hell of a fighter!
EIN: What is Bill “Superfoot” Wallace doing in 2016?
EIN: Did you ever fight Chuck Norris?
BW: Apart from working in A Force of One We did a sparring match one time. He came to Memphis and it was 1978 and he wanted to spar with me. It was our private sparring match. No one is going to know what happened. Chuck won’t tell anybody and I’m not going to tell anybody.
EIN: You’ve also met Jackie Chan. What can you tell us about Jackie?
BW: Yeah, we did a movie together called The Protector and he was a good guy. A good technician, and he is actually one of those few guys who can sell a movie with his facial features, you know sell a scene by the way his face looks.
BW: I’m living the life, living the good life. I’m married to a lovely, lovely lady named Jane. We have an absoluteball. We have fun, we have five dogs and three cats and I still work out all the time. I’m still doing karate seminars on weekends. Travelling all over. I’m getting ready to go to Santa Barbara, California this weekend and about a month ago we were in Spain. You know, I’ve just got invited to go to Lebanon......Jane helps me and we have a blast.
EIN: Do you see yourself ever retiring?
BW: NO! If you ever retire, you die. Everyone I have ever known who has retired, has died.
EIN: Bill, is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
EIN: I recently saw one of your books, The Best of Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, a collection of 60 articles you wrote for Black Belt magazine, in an Australian bookstore. How did that come about?
BW: Yeah I did a lot of articles for Black Belt. They asked me for my views and I would give them my views on things in the martial arts world. It was fun to do. They decided to put my articles out as a book and I wrote the foreword for it.
The book is my views on martial arts techniques, the psychology of fighting, physiology and so forth.
BW: No. I’ve had a wonderful time answering your questions. Tell all my friends in Australia I said hello and that I look forward to seeing them some time. You have one of my guys down there, Ian Fauth. He’s still kicking good and lives in Bundaberg [Queensland].
EIN: Bill "Superfoot" Wallace....thank you very much for talking to us today and all the best for the future.
Interview by Nigel Patterson.
-Copyright EIN August 2016
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