Monday, November 30, 2009

Footprints in the Sands of Inspiration


Tips from the Top Question: You have been an icon in the martial arts for four decades. Why have you waited so long to form a Joe Lewis organization?

Joe Lewis: Originally I became involved in the martial arts for the same reasons most of us did. Not only was it fun and exciting, but the training appealed to my need to develop and mature as a person. Also, the camaraderie I enjoyed while working out with my fellow black belts was unmatched.

Later, when I found myself being questioned by most of the top fighters about strategies, tactics, fighting attitudes, and training tips, I realized that it was time for me to become an instructor.

During the next decade, many of my top black belts insisted that there was a need to form a Joe Lewis organization, and they asked me to be the head of it. Like Bruce Lee, I never wanted to give my fighting style a name or to start an organization or to write a book until I felt comfortable with the completed evolution of my research.

Question: Some years you do nearly 100 seminars a year. Why add forming an organization to your plate?

Lewis: I have always wanted to have all of my seminars recorded or to put my research into a permanent format where it could forever remain available to any interested martial artist. Seminars are very limited. My new Black Belt Manual and website create the perfect forum to provide me with total access to the martial arts community. And, more importantly, it provides them with total access to me.

Question: What do you hope to accomplish with a Joe Lewis organization?

Lewis: To dignify the student’s efforts and to pursue a common vision based on courageous leadership. I do not think that happiness as a martial artist is attained with self-gratification or the greedy pursuit of ego centered values, but through one’s fidelity of a worthy purpose.

While most black belt instructors spend up to 80 percent of their time teaching beginning material over and over again, mostly to white belts, I have spent more than 80 percent of my time developing ways to advance the teaching skills of those instructors, as well as to enhance the training methods and combat skills of black belts and world-class fighters.

A good organization should embody a vision shared by all its members, and it should demonstrate a sense of leadership in its most basic form. For example, I will not ask you if you can accomplish something. But rather I will show you how to accomplish it. A teacher who represents cutting-edge concepts should never have a student ask can he make black belt, can he be fast, or could he ever double his power? Our organization will teach you to have students who will instead ask how to become a black belt, how to increase their speed, how they can double their power.

Question: Who can join?

Lewis: The doors to this organization are open to anyone. You do not even have to be a martial artist to join. This association is first and foremost an alliance of people. At the end of my book I wrote a few years ago about training with Bruce Lee, I applauded how his vision made him a leading icon in martial arts history. Unlike any other martial artist, he was able to bring together millions of people of diverse backgrounds, enabling them to share the same future. He made all of them proud and excited to be martial artists. We want to do the same.

Question: You are well-known for saying the only rank that matters is black belt. Do you still feel that way?

Lewis: I said a lot of things when I was young and arrogant. To me, pursuing martial arts was similar to going on a diet. I didn’t understand why people would quit before reaching black belt. That attitude was out-dated and did not take into account the high cost of years of expensive tuition or the ongoing aggravation of sacrifices that many endure. Nor does it take into account that many black belt instructors lack combat skills or the ability to motivate students, not to mention a lack of understanding the science of improving self-confidence. Some intelligent instructors are able to motivate students; however, motivation is like an emotion, it only lasts a short period of time. Great instructors know how to inspire students; inspiration lasts a life time.

I now believe that the majority of those who discontinue their pursuit of earning a black belt acquiesce because of disappointments unrelated to a personal lack of genuine effort or honest intentions. When a student’s instructor falls short as a motivator or teacher, or if his material is below the student’s expectations, I would never blame him if he dropped out.

Question: You are well known for saying that there are two kinds of black belts: good ones and bad ones. How do you define a good black belt?

Lewis: This subject would make a great book itself. But, briefly, if you have passed a battery of tests for your black belt promotion and you were conferred rank by a legitimate board or instructor, then in my opinion you are a black belt.

One of my first schools in Okinawa gave out two types of black belts. One was rank earned by sparring, and another was rank earned by knowledge of a certain number of katas and wazas. The handful of those who received a sparring promotion also got a special seal attached to the diploma by the head instructor. Although I could beat some of these specially promoted black belts in a sparring match, I never received one of the fighting certificates. I also failed my first green belt test.

“Success is nothing more than a long list of failures until you finally get it right.”

During my old days as a Marine back in Okinawa, the Okinawan instructors put great emphasis on katas. In 1936, one of the grandmasters in my chain of command, Okinawa’s most iconic legend, Chojun Miyagi, made this published statement: “Regarding kata, I think traditional kata should be preserved as old or classic kata. For the nationwide promotion of KaraTe, I think we better create new kata. We will create both defensive and offensive kata which are suitable for students of primary schools, high schools, universities and youth schools”

I created our own fighting forms based on a number of techniques and maneuvers used by past famous fighters in their championship bouts.

I and a few others put our emphasis on fighting skills and reality based training. Today, my opinion of what constitutes a good black belt has greatly changed from those days. Most people who love and participate in martial arts do not engage in combative sparring, nor do they place a high value on that category of demanding training skills.

The Black Belt Instructor

Instructors, though, want to know how to teach sparring and how to teach their students to better themselves when engaged in any form of combat. The idea of learning tactical combat skills, strategic mindsets, and teaching others to confront different opponent types appeals greatly to the intelligent, modern-day black belt teacher.

In today’s world, little emphasis is placed on who is the toughest. Most instructors strongly advocate the value of having the courage, the will, and the self-assertive conviction to deal physically and mentally with a situation when they are forced; however, this does not necessarily mean having to prove it in a sparring session or some type of king of the hill forum.

Instructors today teach their students, especially children, to solve problems by communication, not by the use of force. Otherwise, our kids grow up believing that adults condone violence and that problems get solved through the use of force. This is one reason I feel it is distasteful for world class fighters to challenge each other in public.

The rank system is important for personal development. Each rank level gives a student a physical goal that symbolizes an accomplishment. Self-esteem leads to self-confidence. Appropriate martial art’s training can be a great self-confidence builder. Of course, I still believe that a good black belt must understand and demonstrate that warrior’s spirit; it is a fighter’s most important asset, the Authority of a Fighter’s Will.

The appropriate and balanced development of every student affords each martial artist the potential to achieve that ultimate weapon, an obstinate will power—in his heart, his body, and in his mind. This energy will make it possible for a practitioner to always execute with conviction. Every student deserves an instructor who possesses cutting-edge combat tactics; the ability to see these hidden strengths within each student; and, finally, the ability to create inner courage and a sense of self-confidence in each of them.

Question: That said, what then makes a good organization?

Lewis: First, make sure that it is set up on the premise of benefiting its members and not on magnifying an individual. Always place moral conscience above economic gain. A successful association has an administrative structure that it’s planning and efforts focus on the good of its members, thus maintaining a loyalty to its collective fidelity towards a worthy purpose.

Most associations collect dues until the end of the year, when they pass out a pile of meaningless awards at an over-priced banquet. This is why I have always shied away from organizations. I believe that good associations continually upgrade their services. They maintain easy access among the leadership staff and all members. They have mastered the secret of making membership more important than the association itself.

Question: How can someone earn a black belt with you?

Lewis: First, let me state with pride that our black belt certificate is the best looking diploma in martial arts. The outside border is pressed gold foil, and dead center of the certificate are three big words “Black Belt Certificate.” I’ve always put more emphasis on the person’s rank than the name of the association.

The Joe Lewis Fighting Systems Black Belt Manual

We have a black belt manual, which is easy for any instructor to read and follow. On a black belt level, our manual lists 100 sparring combinations, that can be done either by a fighter, or in a cardio class, or even by any non-combat oriented martial artist. Our glossary lists dozens of martial arts terms, such as broken rhythm, implicit timing, and so forth. It is the only manual which discusses the most efficacious method to deal with each of the nine different types of fighting styles.

Our system is currently broken down into five sections called Pillars. These are officially named the “Five Pillars of the Joe Lewis 40 Universal Fighting Tactics.” These tactics are broken down into these five categories: Ring Generalship, Aggressive Defensive Tactics, Bridging the Gap, Dominating the Pocket, and Specialized Maneuvers. I have no knowledge of any fighting system with this type of disciplined structure.

All martial artists, students or instructors, need to grow and to know that they are constantly growing. What gauge or type of criteria does one use in order to best calculate whether he is lost in the past, or responsibly continuing to advance his growth in knowledge? The experience of understanding and knowing how to effectively show others how to use these Universal Fighting Tactics is by far the best standard I've witnessed during my 45 years as a black belt.

I can ask most black belts a question: "If your opponent has a fast side kick, how best should you take it away from him? (I do not mean to block it....that's not taking anything away, even though his kick may be stamped with a return address.) Or, if he has an accurately sharp, straight right punch, how would you take it away from him?" Most of those asked would either have no answer or could only give some faulty nonsense as one.

An informed strategist knows it would be prudent to prevent him from firing his favorite technique, or if he does, it is because YOU made him---not, let him. One would need to know how to set this maneuver up, and then how best to check him as he's firing. A skilled practitioner needs to understand how to use quick interception timing to check and counter, or how to come in through the back door, (defensive timing), with an effective, appropriate answer. And, does one defend from the (upright or crouching) inside guard or from the outside guard? What does this depend on? These are the kind of intelligent questions our manual begins to answer for you to point each instructor in the right direction.

(For immediate shipment of credit card order, autographed JLFS Black Belt Manual: Call 727 420-0496.)

We require each student to spend time developing his skills against various targets, bags, mitts, and so on, because without contact against a target, speed, power, and timing have no meaning.

Whether a student is strictly a cardio-fitness trainee or is pursuing higher rank as a martial artist, target skills are a must. Not only are they fun drills to learn and execute, but they are the quickest route to self-confidence.

Fighting Forms (Katas)

Our forms are called combination sequences. We also advocate the recommendations stated earlier from Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi. Each of our cutting-edge fighting forms is designed to teach the student how to confront and engage a different type of fighter. The forms can be executed in a shadow-fighting context or against a coach holding mitts or with the heavy bag or double-end bag. Real fighting or combat combinations, which we call modules, are extrapolated from each of these various sequences.

Our programs teach the student how to double his speed or power. Ninety percent of all mistakes in combat are mental, not physical. We teach instructors to show students step by step how to deal with the classic mistakes. All of this can be easily learned without ever engaging in actual sparring. For the everyday cardio fitness student, one advantage of exploring our manuals is seeing how easy it is to advance their skills step by step and acquire combat confidence without ever getting hit, or engaging in dangerous full-contact sparring drills.

Question: How old do you have to be to earn a Joe Lewis black belt?

Lewis: With rare exceptions, our bylaws mandate that an individual must be 18 years old and have achieved either a brown belt or a black belt in another martial art system before they can test for a black belt in our system.

A few years ago, our board of directors promoted a 13-year-old multi-champion young man to the rank of junior black belt. He went on to receive a wrestling scholarship to college. We have, therefore, opened up rank qualifications to black belt for those under the age of 18 so that they can qualify as a junior black belt until such time that they can convert to an adult ranking.

Our standards and requirements from first-degree black belt and above may be a little stricter than other associations. However, once you put that black belt on, the sense of personal pride is unmatched by anything else. I have won world titles; I’ve starred in movies; I’ve been on the covers of all the major martial art publications; I’m in over 15 halls of fame. But, the thing that means the most to me was earning my first black belt.

Question: How will this organization differ from the many other martial arts organizations?

Lewis: In my 51 years of fitness and martial arts, I’ve seen more attempts at creating organizations than I ever want to remember. My Board of Directors has been working very closely with me to make sure that we give our members a huge return on their tuition. The organization is built around an exclusive website for our members. There they can ask me training questions, have personalized training programs developed for them, earn discounts on our events and products, have access to my personal training library, interact with other members, and most importantly, get a downloadable video private lesson each month to advance towards black belt. We will also have special member-only events where we can all get together and train. Our membership runs from the casual fan who just wants access to this amazing website, to the school owner who would perhaps like to earn a Joe Lewis training center certification.

“Real leaders are not followed, they are accompanied.”

Question: There is also some industry buzz about your book, World’s Greatest Fighter Teaches You: How to Master Bruce Lee’s Fighting System. Is this your first?

Lewis: I am like one of my teachers, Bruce Lee. He started many book manuscripts but never really finished any to his personal satisfaction. This was the first book that I had written, actually finished, and published. It’s about my earlier training years with one of my last martial art’s instructors, Bruce Lee. Many martial artists have told me they are not interested in Bruce Lee, that they are only interested in me and my personal fighting system. For anyone to fully understand my system, however, they must first grasp both the essence and the attitude of my fighting psychology.

Any smart martial artist or instructor will get his hands on this book. Without this book, you will not be able to answer one of the two most important questions that confront all martial artists: What is the most dominant psychological principle that motivates a person to want to fight or to engage in combat? Another interesting question that the book will answer is, what was Bruce Lee’s vision that propelled him into super stardom and made him historically martial arts’ most famous icon?

Question: What kind of support have you received for the book?

Lewis: I have nine contributing writers who each provided a personal chapter about his relationship with Bruce Lee. This is a first in martial arts history: Ten notable martial artists, each contributing his experiences with the late Bruce Lee. Each of these contributors worked with Bruce Lee and also knew me. They are Joe Hyams, Danny Inosanto, John Korab, Gene LeBell, Jhoon Rhee, Mike Stone, Bob Wall, Ted Wong, and Chuck Norris. Many books have been published about Bruce Lee or about the two of us. Most were written by people who never met Bruce Lee or me, or even watched us train or fight. This is history’s first.

Question: You’ve always been on the leading edge of martial arts training. Now you’ve become an author and teacher. Do you have plans for any other books or projects?

Lewis: Presently, I am focused on my web site,, my new blog, “Tips from the Top, and training programs for our new subscribers and members. Eventually, I will do a multi-volume encyclopedic training manual for all martial arts and fitness enthusiasts.

Arnold Howard, research writer, has been a karate instructor since 1985.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Uncovering the Check Hook Punch

Think this one through.....

Below is a discussion on the "check hook." How much value should one invest in being able to appropriately identify, or to correctly execute this technique, often called a counter punch by many trainers? It was of profound importance for Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and his corner when he used this check hook to knock out his opponent, Ricky Hatton, in their 2007 world title fight.

I have often successfully used this same counter punch against various types of fighters attempting most all known attacking techniques, round kicks, straight rights, left jabs, and/or the shooting of a grappler. I was taught not to hook with a hooker---unless he's a dud or super slow----however, I’ve often worked a “corkscrew hook” inside a wide outside hook being attempted by a fighter who lunges in with his chin unprotected. It requires exceptional "interception" timing, catching the attacker in the middle of his offensive strike as you will view in the Mayweather/Hatton clip below.

Various hooks:

It is easy to become confused over all the different types of hooks and the various names different geographical areas use to identify each. There are inside and outside hooks, hooks to the head, the body, or the thigh cavities. We have shovel hooks, sneak hooks, the forty-five hook, the corkscrew hook, the upright hook, the check hook, the pronaded and supinated hooks, the straight hook, the surge hook, and the swing hook, just to name a few. Some are better for use as counter techniques while others are lead-off or follow-up punches. With the right training, type of opponent, and timing, they can all work.

Part of the widespread confusion is due to the use of creating slang terms for each as a specialized vocabulary and idioms, the purpose of which was to disguise from outsiders the meaning of what was being said or taught. It’s the same with most martial art disciplines; in Muay Thai, one camp will call the knee strike to the side of ones mid-section a circle knee and others call it an inside knee. The up-kick identified in Muay Thai is called the stick-kick in Burmese kickboxing. In Philadelphia’s old school boxing gyms, the inside hook (Jack Dempsey’s shovel hook) to the body or head is called the “forty-five,” due to the angle of its penetrating trajectory. In the old boxing schools in New York City, many refer to the same type punch as a “check hook,” especially when it’s used as a counter.

Study correct execution:

One of my motives for creating my Black Belt Manual (CLICK) was to help my fighters deal with what’s of most importance to them, and also how best for each of them to train by making it easy to select which maneuvers from our Universal Fighting Tactics section to use in preparation for their classroom or for an upcoming contest. For example, in the chapter discussing our favorite proven fighting combinations, the “Dirty Dozen,” (CLICK) one of them is called “The Tony Zale.” Tony knocked out the infamous former world boxing champion, Rocky Graziano, twice with the same combination---a right hook to the body followed by a hook to the head, a “corkscrew hook.” (CLICK) (The actual fight between Zale and Gaziano)

From time to time I will break down many of these ultimate fighting techniques and maneuvers and the psychology behind them at my Day/camp clinics (click on site below and go to Calendar of Events). Available studies will often appear on my blogs as well as on clips you can find on my web site if you are one of our special JLFS’s members.
Check us out:

Study the below clip (two minutes-plus) closely and you can see Mayweather early in this last round attempting to set up this finishing shot, the check hook, by keeping Hatton slightly out of range and drawing him into the pocket. Hatton gets hit coming into the pocket---head first. Prior to the knockout, Mayweather has successfully used his jab to draw Hatton’s right glove slightly forward and downward from protecting his chin (Part of the set-up in conjunction with the drawing forward footwork against Ricky). Hatton’s left shoulder and right glove had both deserted protecting his chin when he charged in on Mayweather.

The knockout blow, according to Wikipedia’s writer below, was supposed to be a check hook; however, to me, this shot looks more like what is called a corkscrew hook off the wrong foot. Using Wikipedia’s definition of a check hook, there is supposed to be some type of slide step just prior to triggering this punch, either a pivot in (on left foot) against a South-paw or a pivot out (also on left foot) against an orthodox hooker like Hatton. Note that Mayweather does not pivot at all (although he begins to pivot out on his right foot appearing to be positioned on just one foot), as he lands his counter against Hatton's incoming hook. I did not see any slide step during the hook. Supposedly, the attacker is going to lunge past you leaving him open for this check hook counter punch. Your call!

Check hook - From Wikipedia, (CLICK)

In boxing, a check hook is employed to prevent aggressive boxers from lunging in. There are two parts to the check hook. The first part consists of a regular hook. The second, trickier part involves the footwork. As the opponent lunges in, the boxer should throw the hook and pivot on his left foot and swing his right foot 180 degrees around. If executed correctly, the aggressive boxer will lunge in and sail harmlessly past his opponent like a bull missing a matador.

This is rarely seen in professional boxing as it requires a great disparity in skill level to execute. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. demonstrated a picture perfect example of this punch against Ricky Hatton in their 2007 encounter. Ricky Hatton was caught with the check hook as he was lunging in; Hatton continued forward as he was knocked off balance and proceeded to ram his head into the ring post as Floyd Mayweather stepped out of harm's way. When interviewed, Mayweather stated that he was taught the check hook in the Michigan amateurs.

Mayweather/Hatton clip: (CLICK)

This contest represents a classic example of great courage and gallentry being trumped by superior tactics and techniques.


Joe Lewis