Like all of us, Elvis Presley’s life was marked by different stages. Unlike the rest of us, his stages are crisply defined like action figure special editions. Upon returning to America, he met Ed Parker, a kenpo master, at a karate demonstration at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. There’s a little bit of a debate within the karate community over The King’s skills and the veracity of his seventh-degree black belt. Whenever doubt is raised, people who knew or trained with Elvis always defend him. Elvis to earn his black belt because of a rash of phony celebrity black belts during the late 1950s. This apparently culminated when Ricky Nelson—who was, by all accounts, terrible at karate—was given one by instructor Bruce Tegner. Because of this, Slemansky put Elvis through a rigorous six-week training program to justify his belt. Wayne Carman trained with Elvis under Master Kang Rhee in Memphis and wrote an entire book about the experience, Elvis’s Karate Legacy.
Despite this, the book still casts some doubt on Elvis’s seventh-degree honors. One day, Kang Rhee called a meeting of the black belts and brought up this dilemma. He said, ‘Elvis wants his seventh-degree belt. You see, in order for this to take place, we would have to vote Kang Rhee his eighth-degree belt. In the days that followed, however, the promotion took place. Heck, Elvis was so persuasive and you wanted to help him so muchI would have probably done the same thing. Elvis’s gratitude upon his promotion is obvious.
After class, Elvis gave Kang Rhee a Cadillac. Still, Carman maintains that Elvis was a talented martial artist, right until the end of his life. Elvis really looked sharp that last time I saw him,” he says. His technique was crisp and powerful and his movements were graceful. Carman also recalls a time when the singer had to use his skills while performing at the Las Vegas Hilton: “During the show three men jumped on stage and rushed the entertainer. Elvis’ security team, thinking fast, jumped into the action. The Hilton stage soon took on the appearance of a Hollywood film set brawl. Elvis was still punching and kicking even after the dust settled.
In 1974, Kang Rhee and Carman helped Elvis shoot footage for “The New Gladiator,” a karate documentary that was never released. Presley wanted to use the film to propel karate into the mainstream’s consciousness. Elvis had sketched out a handwritten script of how he wanted the documentary to go,” Carman says. Elvis estimated the film would gross nine million dollars within the first month after it was released. Perhaps the question shouldn’t be, “Was Elvis Actually Any Good at Karate? Will we see someone teach karate like Elvis ever again? Why do I have to complete a CAPTCHA?
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