Joe Lewis and the Bruce Lee Era
“For almost two years, Lewis learned the most advanced martial arts theory of the day directly from the innovative mind of Bruce Lee. When you combine Joe’s natural athleticism with Bruce Lee’s advanced martial theory you create a fighter the likes of which had never been seen. In tournament competition Lewis became simply unstoppable. He won the top karate and kickboxing titles of his day, not once but two and three times.” (Excerpted from Joe Lewis by Jerry Beasley, 1998)
Bruce had told legendary screen writer Stirling Silliphant that, in his opinion, “Joe Lewis was the greatest tournament fighter in the history of the sport”. Between the years 1968 and 1971 Joe Lewis was considered “The Most Feared Fighter on the Planet.” A former US Marine and super athlete, during the almost two years Joe was being coached by the legendary Bruce Lee, Lewis won 11 straight national and world championships in 68 and 69 alone. Bruce Lee had asked Joe to refer to his style as jeet kune do. According to Sports Illustrated (1971) by the end of 1969 Joe, in collaboration with Bruce, had started his own style which he preferred to call Joe Lewis-Style™ Self-Defense.
“Use what works” was a principle made famous by Joe Lewis. If you practice self-defense drills then suit up and try it against a non-compliant attacker. If it still works, keep it. The Joe Lewis-Style™ self-defense had no forms and few rules. Joe Lewis-Style™ was intended to be scientific street fighting that you could apply in the ring or street. Wearing shoes, chops to the back of the neck, using elbows, knees, low kicks, sweeps, throws and take-downs and the occasional head butt in competition were not considered fouls. Street or ring: to a full-contact fighter, it’s all just real estate.
There are no Black Belts in JL-S™. Why? Because Joe posed the question, “How do you rank a street-fighter?” Joe said “In the ring you fight to win the fight. But in the street, “You fight to ‘end’ the fight.” And anything goes. Still, the fighting strategies that Bruce and Joe worked on are just as applicable to the street as they are to the ring. Joe hated the idea of having to apply his skills to a lesser-trained streetfighter. That did happen a few times. Once in Atlanta Joe had to head butt a Black Belt looking to build his reputation. Once in Tijuana Joe and an ex-Marine buddy were invited to a hotel room. When Joe walked out in disgust he was met by three locals with knives. Joe dispatched the first so quick that the other two ran leaving their buddy asleep on the ground. Another time Joe was at a rest stop off I77 in WVA. A woman stopped him for some directions and a very large accomplice quickly approached claiming Joe had insulted his wife. It was a scam and Joe knew it. Joe looked at the guy with “evil intent” and the guy cowered and left. Bruce Lee would call this “the art of fighting without fighting.” Some say Joe “invented” kickboxing so he could express his desire to fight for real in a legal environment.
When Joe worked with Bruce, according to Ted Wong, “Bruce would teach a technique or theory and Joe would put it to the test, “earning Joe the title: “Bruce Lee’s Test Tube.” Bruce Lee’s famous straight lead was tested and evolved under fire by Joe Lewis. According to Mrs. Linda Lee, “Joe and Bruce were “research partners because they learned together.” It was Bruce Lee’s “scientific street fighting” and Joe Lewis’ “scientific ring fighting” blended together