Greatness Prevails! The official, JLFS-approved story documenting the final days, funeral events and life celebration of Joe Lewisâ€” the greatest fighter in the history of karate by Rob Colasanti
ÂŠ Copyright October 2012 All rights reserved Images courtesy of JLFS No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the permission in writing from the author. JoeLewisFightingSystems.com
Life. What we do with it and the level of impact our actions have on others can be compared to ripples in a pond. Flick a grain of sand into the pond and nothing happens. But, if you drop a boulder into the pond, a continuously expanding wonder of ripples will energize like a fusion reaction and travel across the water for as far as the eye can see.
The bigger the rock…the bigger the ripples. Using this analogy, Joe Lewis was a mountain—a truly rarified individual who touched the hearts, minds and imaginations of countless people around the world and the ripples he created will travel for the rest of time. On August 31, 2012 at 10:45 am, Joseph Henry Lewis, age 68, succumbed to the sneakiest opponent he’d ever faced—brain cancer. Actually, Joe’s ultimate passing was due to pneumonia. The heavy-duty medications he had been taking to battle his metastasizing tumors gradually whittled his immune system down to nothing, thereby giving the pneumonia a timely opening to strike. The typical person of Joe’s age, who develops a glioblastoma, only survives one to fourteen months. It’s one of the most aggressive, meanest and toughest to fight cancers a human being can possibly develop. Without surgery, the champ would have lived an estimated six weeks. But Joe Lewis lived 13.5 months—post surgery. And this was a testament to the sheer mental and physical strength he possessed. At his bedside at the time of his last breath was daughter Kristina Lewis, ex-wife Kim Hardegree Lewis, and girlfriend Svetlana Cavasmi. Joe went quietly—surrounded by his loved ones. He was finally out of pain.
Joseph Henry Lewis
Joe Lewis Did It “His Way” To set the stage and create appropriate expectations, this story is not meant to give you a history lesson about Joe Lewis. It’s not meant to document each phase of his life. It’s not mean to point out his flaws. This story focuses on Joe’s passing. But to do this article justice, I still want to spotlight some of the significant accomplishments and distinctive characteristics personified by the remarkable man to whom this article is devoted.
tial arts world had ever seen. He completely dominated sport karate during the “blood and guts era” of the sixties, he became the first heavyweight kickboxing champion during the seventies—giving the sport the “teeth” it needed to debut on national television, and due to his ahead-of-his-time approach to fighting and willingness to step in the ring with anyone, he could arguably be considered the father of MMA.
Jaguar Lives, boasted a lavish million-dollar production budget back in the 70s—when budgets of this size were far from typical.
From a big picture point of view— countless people around the globe have imitated Joe Lewis’ electrifying movements, personality, vernacular and style. In fact, however: Joe Lewis was inimitable.
As a person and martial artist, Lewis was the best of the best on so many different levels. I knew him for 26 years of my life and so it’s easy for me to highlight a few of his finer qualities here.
Once referred to as “The Golden Boy of Karate,” Lewis was in a league of his own when it came to his understanding and skill in virtually all aspects of fighting, combat sports and the martial sciences. He mastered the chessboard of the ring at an early age and became the ultimate reality checker for any fighter who began to get a little too confident.
At the top of the list, Joe Lewis had a charisma like no other, making him one of the most confident, intense, captivating people you could ever have the privilege of meeting. (Think the James Dean of martial arts times three.)
He was a prolific writer and a formidable historian of the martial arts with a steel-trap mind—incredibly detail-oriented, readily providing a cat scan-like perspective on something seemingly insignificant that happened maybe 30 years ago at a tournament.
Furthermore, the man achieved some of the most monumentally impactful milestones the mar-
He was a proud Marine, a martial arts icon, a champion fighter and a famous Hollywood star. His movie,
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He had a genius level IQ with the physical attributes of Adonis.
When it came to the fight game, Lewis brought perspective, quality standards, and dimentionalizedthinking to the forefront. He was considered THE teacher of teachers by virtually everyone who is anyone in the martial arts world, respected at the highest level.
He was a courageous contemporary who continuously evolved his patented fight system—showing zero loyalty to the ineffective, outdated ways of the past—shattering molds; shifting paradigms; sparking innovations. He was a supremely principle-centered individual, who vocalized a profound distaste for anyone whom he considered an “imposter.” Fur-
thermore, he detested shysters, B.S. artists, and especially anyone who tried to harm one of “his guys.” And what always mattered to him was the size of your heart, not the size of your wallet. He had an uncanny ability to make people laugh and laugh and laugh until their faces and bellies ached— anywhere, anytime. He was a man who stood for valor, conviction, integrity and dignity— someone who vehemently refused to compromise those values for anyone, or any amount of money. He was a man of laudable and exceptional ethos. And he was never afraid to speak his mind—regardless of the consequences. He was definitely not a politician. Joe Lewis…was “the king of the jungle”… a mighty and unstoppable for-
ce of nature. But most importantly to him, he was a loving father of two beautiful children—Cameron and Kristina. Yes, Joe Lewis truly was a one-of-akind and he will be sorely missed. The silver lining in the cloud of his passing, however, is that Joe lived a life that would make nine-tenths of the world’s population massively envious. He did it all and he had it all. He lived life on his terms. He lived it with pride. And he lived it with sound trust in his personal statement of self. If Frank Sinatra were here today, he would not hesitate to say, “Joe Lewis did it his way.” Sadly though, what’s clear to those of us who really knew Lewis is that the very same characteristics that
catapulted him to legend status are the same characteristics that caused him grief throughout his life. But the important thing to recognize is that Joe took great pride in “who he was and what he stood for” and he never faltered from his core values and beliefs, not even on his deathbed. Along these lines, I don’t know if it’s true or not, but a very credible source mentioned that a feeble, defenseless, end-stage Joe Lewis spit on a well-known visitor, right from his wheelchair, that he believed was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. True? Not sure. Admirable? I think so. Very few people in this world have the guts to remain true to their convictions, never wavering, never yielding, never selling-out…as Lewis demonstrated. He maintained his dignity, until the final bell was rung.
Joe Lewis as a young Marine in Vietnam, circa 1965. 5
Article with photo No. 2
The Final Days On the morning of August 31, I was sitting by myself, stretching, on my living room floor. At one point, I thought, “Sometime soon, I’m going to get a phone call about Joe Lewis dying.” It was inevitable. The reports coming to me from the VA hospital in Coatesville, PA had become grim. Joe was getting weaker and weaker. Wheelchair bound. Very sick. At times, unable to eat or speak—slipping in and out of consciousness. However, during the last weeks of his life, Joe was still squeezing his hand grippers. His knuckles were still the size of golf balls despite his emaciated body. He was still kidding around with the nurses. Still staying in the fight. In fact, JLFS black belt Bob Mauro told me that an incomprehensi6 Greatness Prevails!
bly weakened Lewis rose from his wheelchair and taught him a footwork drill—pointing, grunting, and maneuvering to maintain his balance—just weeks before he died. I continued to stretch on that fateful morning in August. Then, about 15 minutes later my phone rang. It was a friend of mine. He sounded unusually calm as he asked, “Have you heard the news?” I responded with, “No. I’m sitting here stretching. What news?” He said, “Your friend Joe Lewis is gone. I’m sorry for your loss.” At that moment, I was literally speechless. The room closed in on me. It felt as if I was being transported somewhere else. Anger boiled in my blood. I unknowingly hung up the
phone on my friend. The whole thing seemed like a divine tug of war that “we” lost. On our side, we were holding onto Joe, pulling as hard as we could to keep him here. He wanted it so bad. All his friends, fans and family wanted it so bad. And it always seemed so possible that he’d beat his cancer because Joe was different—a “superhuman,” if you will. But, on the other side, an incredibly powerful force was pulling him in the opposite direction. It was so much stronger. It totally overpowered us. We just couldn’t compete. It was implausible to think that in the blink of an eye Joe was no longer with us. I mean, we can send a 2,000-pound, car-size rover to Mars some 34 million miles into the cosmos, but we couldn’t keep this miracle of a man alive, right here, with all
Joe Lewis was wheelchair bound in his final days.
Lewis, in June of 2012.
Daughter Kristina Lewis, holding her daddy’s hand, hours prior to his passing.
amazing knowledge we supposedly have at our fingertips. Baffles me. Ah, what can you do? As my dad always says, “When it’s your time… it’s your time.” And the time had clearly come for the great Joe Lewis to go to that mysterious place that we’ll all one day discover despite our prayers, advancements in technology and mortal efforts to beat the system. According to JLFS Chairman, Dennis Nackord, “In the middle of August 2012 while Joe Lewis was being cared for at the Coatesville, PA VA hospital, he continued to complain about severe left shoulder and hip pain. At that time there was a difference of opinion on what was the cause and what course of action should be taken. The decision was made to move Joe to a private hospital for further tests. The results of
JLFS President Mike Allen during his final visit with Lewis.
those tests showed his brain tumor had metastasized and a decision was made to return Joe to the VA hospital as a Hospice patient. After 13 months of caring for Joe, I told the VA doctor I would turn Joe’s care over to him and continue my place as Joe’s friend. Within four days of withdrawing Joe from palliative care, his tumors had spread to many areas of his body and he died within about 12 days. His final days were spent with his close family and girlfriend. Because of the excellent care the VA hospital gave to Joe, his pain was controlled to the best possible extent and he was at peace in the end.” Immediately following the news of Joe’s death, the directors of JLFS set their plans in motion. They knew this day was coming, so preparations had been initiated nearly one year in advance.
One of those preparations, as stated by Joe Lewis, was that he wanted me to be the author of the events involving his departure. No doubt— an emotionally difficult chore for me, but one that I instantly accepted to honor the wishes of a man who was my martial arts hero, instructor and friend. According to JLFS President, Mike Allen, “Sometime in May of 2012 when I was on a phone call with Joe we discussed what would be said about his death and funeral when the time came. He told me ‘I want Rob Colasanti to write this story cause he will get it right...I trust Rob.’” So join me now as I walk you through some of the unforgettable moments that I personally witnessed during the events surrounding Joe Lewis’ final send off. Joe Lewis 7
” The once great champion lay at the front of the room—entombed in a casket, shrouded entirely by an American flag.”
The Visitation On September 7, 2012—me, and hundreds of other martial artists arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina to attend a series of events that would comprise Joe Lewis’ funeral. People came from all over the world to pay tribute. But one man, Mr. Nelson LeBron, gets the record for farthest distance traveled. Upon hearing the news, LeBron booked the next available flight from Okinawa, Japan. Some 33 hours later—and about $2,600 lighter—he arrived. (With only one change of clothes since he had no time to check his luggage.) Personally, I don’t do funerals. But this one was different. Joe was family to me. So I had to be there, but not as a weeping bystander. Rather, to help with the process…just as I would have done with one of my own. A call of duty, if you will. The first order of business was a two-hour visitation with the Lewis family at the L. Harold Poole Funeral Service and Crematory. Upon arrival, we instantly observed a chapter of veterans known as The Patriot Guard Riders—each standing at attention in various locations in front of the building—each clutching a pole that gallantly flew the flag of the United States. Lewis was a proud Marine who served approximately four years on active duty in the Third Marine Division. In 1962, he did boot camp in Parris Island, and then went to Camp Lejeune for infantry training. He was in the Far East during 1964 and 1965, primarily Camp Hague on Okinawa and Da Nang in Vietnam—honorably discharged in 1966 as an NCO (corporal). Hence, the directors of his association ensured that he would receive a full military style burial. By 7 pm, the funeral parlor was packed, transforming it into a veritable who’s who of the martial arts. Joe’s friends, family and students from far and wide gathered in his honor; grieving for their loss; sharing their deepest,
heartfelt stories about the fallen warrior; embracing one another for strength; searching for closure. Most people successfully faked being upbeat. Others were completely grief stricken and just couldn’t pull it off. Overall, the mood was emphatically somber. The once great champion lay at the front of the room— entombed in a casket, shrouded entirely by an American flag. Playing overhead was a slideshow revealing significant moments of his life. Here, we witnessed a jaw-dropping collection of rare photos from family albums, which brought to light startling images of Joe Lewis that even his closest friends had never before seen. His stars and stripes gi and 10th degree black belt became the attire of a wire mannequin positioned to the left of his casket. And the entire scene was warmly encased with gorgeous floral arrangements and various awards that Joe had received in recent years. As I stood in the front row overlooking Joe’s casket—still in a state of disbelief—I watched martial arts brothers and sisters approach one after the next. Some made the sign of the cross. Some knelt down and prayed. Some gently placed their hands on the casket and stared into the distance for a while. Some kissed the casket. Everyone cried. Me? I just couldn’t believe that my friend was actually lying there in that box. I felt sick. At the same time, I felt the urge to somehow rescue him. To get him out of there. To bring him back. For a moment there, I got confused. I think they call that denial. Then, at approximately 10 pm, everyone said their goodbyes for the evening. Some of us went to a nearby steakhouse for a late night dinner. Others went back to their hotels to rest. Many more went for a stiff drink to calm their nerves. Joe Lewis 9
Article with photo #3
”Joe Lewis added monumental value, clarity and profound—almost haunting— awareness to the martial arts community about how much more is possible.”
The Memorial Workout 10 Greatness Prevails!
A proud group of JLFS black belts following The Memorial Workout conducted in Lewis’ honor.
Bright and early the next morning, JLFS hosted a workout in Joe’s honor at the Raleigh Institute of Martial Arts.
almost as if we knew for sure that Joe Lewis was watching from above, still analyzing our movements and guiding us towards perfection.
Approximately 100 of Joe’s black belts came together to train— mostly all of us wearing Joe Lewis t-shirts of varying designs.
A boxing ring was located in the center of this rather large school with an open floor plan. Then, one after the next, various JLFS fighters and trainers climbed into the ring to teach one of their favorite Joe Lewis sparring drills.
As you’d expect, there was a tremendous amount of spirit and camaraderie in the air. Each kick, each punch, each block—was executed with pride, conviction and power—
Kevin “Hurricane” Hudson, John Maynard and Bob Mauro. The sweat was dripping. The adrenalin was pumping. And smiles were prominently displayed on every face. For a minute there, we all took our minds off Joe’s funeral, which was now just hours away.
Some of the presenters were Danny Dring, Randy Ballard, Jim Graden, Joe Lewis 11
The Funeral At approximately 12 pm, the lobby of the Hilton was packed with “dark suits” preparing to journey to the funeral home, and subsequently the cemetery, where the legendary Joe Lewis would be introduced to his final resting place. The funeral began promptly at 2 pm—standing room only. Walt Lysak, one of Joe’s top black belts, who is also a preacher, delivered the sermon. He spoke from the heart about Lewis and told earnest stories to commemorate the occasion. Most notably, Walt discussed the moment when he and his brother Charlie helped Joe find God just months prior 12 Greatness Prevails!
to his death. With the guidance of the Lysak brothers, Joe yielded completely to the almighty, accepted Him once and for all, and released an ocean of tears that comforted his soul. Walt also told a story that was so “Joe Lewis” I’d be remiss if I didn’t share it here. To paraphrase—some years back, they were in Greece at a martial arts event and the promoters had taken them to a fancy restaurant for dinner. Joe was facing the window and noticed a couple of stray dogs sniffing around a garbage can, looking for food. Soon the meals arrived and Joe was suddenly nowhere to be found. To everyone’s astonishment, Joe quietly snuck outside with his plate of food, sat on a bench and began feeding his
Hundreds of mourners entered the L. Harold Poole Funeral Service Chapel in Knightdale, NC to say their final goodbyes to the great Joe Lewis.
meal to the hungry dogs. He was happier to be outside taking care of those mutts in need, than inside hobnobbing with the promoters. And that was Joe… As the ceremony began to wind down, Walt Lysak lead us through the singing of Amazing Grace. No music. All that could be heard were the voices of so many people who came together for this historic occasion…eyes full of tears…lumps in throats…trying hard to get the lyrics out. Finally, the deceased’s lifelong friend, Walter Anderson, delivered a heartrending eulogy that overflowed with breadth, depth and perspective about his pal Joe
Lewis—making it clear that no one on Earth could have been a more appropriate choice for the task at hand. Walter had been close with Joe for more than fifty years. They bunked together in Vietnam. They embarked upon all the follies of youth together. Walter was the first person Joe called after he won his first karate tournament. They shared decades of deep, meaningful conversation about topics such as existentialism, life, death, philosophy, family, etc. They were soul mates to the end. Indeed, Walter knew Joe at a level that no one else can claim. When the former editor of Parade Magazine stepped up to the podium, it was akin to Joe DiMaggio stepping into the batter’s box during his prime. He spoke eloquently about the granite-like character of Lewis Joe Lewis 13
and some of the amazing life experiences the two had shared. At times, Anderson made us laugh; at times he made us cry. Ultimately, he helped us come to terms with our loss and gave sincere suggestions on how to bring closure to it.
So as Joe’s family began exiting their pew, the main photographer and I hopped in her car and raced to the cemetery in advance of the funeral procession. The recessional to the gravesite was now in motion.
Due to my background in running a leading martial arts association and magazine, the directors of JLFS had asked me to be in charge of PR. I was designated Official JLFS Photographer and handed a professional grade Nikon camera to help document the event. (Some of the photos you see in this story were taken by me.)
1 Lewis’ burial took place at the New Knightdale Baptist Church Cemetery. Pictured here: 1. Bill “Superfoot” Wallace 2. Nelson LeBron 3. Kenny Herrera 4. Mr. and Mrs. Joe Hess 5. Lone Bugler (opposite page)
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”Shovel by shovel, we literally gave Joe Lewis his finally burial by hand.”
The Burial It was a very hot, Saturday afternoon in Knightdale, North Carolina. The sun was shining bright, birds were chirping and the setting at the Knightdale Baptist Cemetery was serene and picturesque. I stood at the side of a very long and narrow road, camera in hand, waiting for Joe’s arrival. The scene remained still for what seemed like an eternity. Then, all of a sudden, out in the distance, I detected the dull flicker of red and blue police lights. I knew the time had come. As the procession crept closer and closer the sheer size of it became evident. It was lead by a police car, followed by the hearse transporting Joe’s remains, Joe’s family, a unit of veterans on motorcycles, military personnel and then a massive lineup of vehicles being driven by Joe’s black belts and friends.
and presenting of the flag of the United States to Joe’s son Cameron, and the very somber playing of Taps by a lone bugler. During and after the ceremony—you could literally hear a pin drop. And then it suddenly came to an end…with an effortless simplicity…just like that. Joe’s family was first to say their final goodbyes and then exited on the green carpet under foot. Subsequently, a lengthy line began to form, which included everyone else. To the left of the casket was a bucket of sand brought from Treasure Island Beach near Wilmington, NC.
One after the next, cars entered the thin cemetery offroad, which gave mourners access to the nearby gravesite. The hearse now located approximately 20 yards from where Joe would ultimately be laid to rest. Eventually, when everyone had arrived, the pallbearers sullenly approached the back of that “long black limousine.” They included Mike Allen, Dennis Nackord, John Maynard, Bill Wallace, Phil Maldonato and Warren Kennedy. As the back of the hearse opened, the military honor guard detail, positioned approximately 50 yards away, readied their rifles. Joe was carried a short distance to the excavated rectangle of earth, which would become his final earthly destination. Then, one at a time, each pallbearer placed a vibrant red rose, in row formation, on top of the casket. Next, a full military burial ceremony commenced, giving the former Marine the farewell salute he deserved. It included an ear-popping salvo of rifles, the silent folding
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Article with Collage
Phil Maldonato, JLFS 7th degree black belt and pallbearer, places one of six crimson roses on Lewis’ casket.
Joe loved that beach. The dreamy view. The refreshing waves. The sugar-white sand dancing beneath his feet. As the mourners paid their final respects, each gently sprinkled a handful of sand over the casket. I noticed someone placing a piece of jewelry on top of the casket. And to lift some of the heaviness that was in the air, Joe’s longtime friend Bill “Superfoot” Wallace placed a box of golf balls on the casket. In Magic Marker, he wrote “Joe’s Balls” on the outside of the box. (Joe would have had a blast with that one if he were there to see it.) According to Wallace, he and Joe went golfing once and Joe hit almost every ball they had into the weeds. When they were down to the last ball, Wallace refused to give it up. 16 Greatness Prevails!
And Joe jested with him over this for years. Now, eternally, Joe had an entire box of golf balls of his very own—compliments of Superfoot. I was one of the last to kneel down and say farewell to my friend. As I sprinkled a modest handful of sand over the shiny silver box, I repeated some sentimental words that Joe once wrote to me in a book he gave me as a gift. Joe wrote, “To a good friend —and to the bone!” And those were my last words back to him. At this point, most people had left the scene and the cemetery personnel began to complete the burial. Using the mechanical device that had been put in place prior to our arrival, they slowly lowered Joe’s casket into the grave.
A truck, containing a load of dirt arrived simultaneously and backed-up within a few feet of the hallowed ground. They were just about to raise the flatbed and dump a yard or so of dirt over Joe’s grave when one of his black belts suggested we do it ourselves. So we asked the cemetery workers if it would be okay. And let’s just say they weren’t about to deny a core group of emotionally charged JLFS black belts this simple request. Heck, they may have ended up down in that hole with Joe, if they had said no. (Just kidding!) Next, myself and about 15 other guys grabbed a couple shovels from the truck. Then, one by one, we took turns scooping dirt from the back of the truck and began covering the casket.
How Joe Lewis Wanted to Be Remembered Phil Maldonato, one of Joe’s 7th degree black belts, actually climbed into the truck—with his suit, tie and dress shoes—and pushed the dirt forward for us to access.
[Note: During the Echo of Greatness audio interview in 2005, Rob Colasanti asked Joe Lewis how he wanted to be remembered. Below is Lewis’ response, which was cut from the interview transcript.]
All total, it took us approximately 30 minutes in the scorching hot sun to finish the job. But finish it, we did.
”I’d probably like to be remembered as a martial artist. I often teach my black belts the ten traits of mental toughness.
We literally gave Joe Lewis his finally burial by hand.
»» One is the will to engage;
All the while, Joe was probably looking down at us with those piercing eyes and that suave grin of his saying, “You guys are NUTS…SICK!” But, at the same time, I’ll bet he was thinking, “What an unbelievable honor to ultimately be buried by my guys. Oh, me.”
»» Second is the courage to maintain; »» Third is the bravery to endure; »» Fourth is the confidence to always seek a solution; »» Fifth is the guts to face any adversity; »» Six is the heart to confront any struggle; »» Seven is the spirit to persevere and never quit; »» Eight is the toughness to see the pain as just weakness in the body; »» Nine is the savvy to be resourceful and to use your inner core, that thing I called passion earlier; »» And ten is the conviction of sound trust in your statement of self. That last one is how I’d like to be remembered. A statement of self. I like the statement—man’s highest virtue is to live with dignity. I can live with it. I can die with it. I came here with nothing. I don’t mind leaving with nothing. I want my kids to have whatever I can create for them.”
JLFS 5th degree black belt, Jeff Troshane, sprinkles a handful of sand over his instructor.
Photos 1. The hearse transporting Lewis arrives at the cemetery. 2. The honor guards prepare for their dramatic salvo to honor the fallen Marine. 3. The symbolic, tri-cornered flag, which draped Lewis’ casket, was presented as a keepsake to son Cameron Lewis. 4. Longtime friend John Corcoran says goodbye to his dear friend. 5. The pallbearers carry Lewis’ casket from the hearse to the burial site. 6. Colonel Dane S. Harden and Nelson Lebron salute as the pallbearers approach carrying the deceased. 7. A grief stricken Charlie Lysak mourns the loss of Lewis.
Joe Lewis 19
The Life Celebration The funeral events of Joe Lewis culminated in a life celebration that included a buffet dinner, brief presentations from a bespoke group of carefully chosen speakers and various audio/visual elements that jarred the crowd on an emotional level. JLFS President, Mike Allen, served as Master of Ceremonies. The final leg of this solemn journey to bury “the greatest fighter in the history of karate” began with a trip to the buffet. Me, and many of Joe’s other black belts, made a pact to eat our dinner that night, as Joe would have eaten his—one food group at a time. In other words, you eat all the meats, then the vegetables, then the carbs and so on.
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Once everyone was seated, we recited the oath of our JLFS Black Belt Pledge. All Joe Lewis black belts stood up and repeated the words after Mr. Allen stated them. Before long, the speakers began to address the audience. They included Walter Anderson, Dr. Maung Gyi, Bill Wallace, Jeff Smith, John Corcoran, Rob Colasanti, Dennis Nackord, Steve Smith, Tom Updegrove, Jim Graden, Bob Mauro, John Graham, Phil Moldanto, Col. Dane Hardin, Joe Hess, Pat Burleson, Chris Pollman, George Fitzgerald, Warren Kennedy, John Korab and Mike Allen. One could probably write a book based upon the touching stories, heartfelt platitudes and mind-rattling wisdoms this potent brain trust of presenters shared, not just about Joe Lewis, but about life, in general. However,
A select group of speakers orated heartfelt message at Lewis’ Life Celebration. Seen here is 1. JLFS Senior Mentor, Dr. Maung Gyi 2. Lewis’ first martial arts instructor, John Korab 3. JLFS President, Mike Allen 4. JLFS Board Member, Danny Dring.
a few magical moments occurred and I’d like to share them with you now. First, I was deeply touched by the closing of Bill Wallace’s talk. Just days before Joe passed away, Bill and a group of others were at his bedside. They were posing for a picture and Bill wanted to lighten the mood—a specialty of his. So he came up with the idea of having everyone sing California Dreamin’—the 60’s rock ‘n roll song made famous by The Mamas & the Papas. (You know—All the leaves are brown…and the sky is gray.) At that stage of the game, Joe was to weak to pronounce the words, but he summoned enough energy to hum along with the group, as Bill held his hand in friendship.
So—at the conclusion of Bill Wallace’s brief talk, he paused for a moment, choked back his emotions and mumbled, “I said I wasn’t going to do this. Ahhhhhhhh…” But he did it anyway. He actually had us sing California Dreamin’, in an effort to brighten things up a bit, just as he did once before. He’d sing the line aloud, and then while waving his hand like a conductor, everyone in the audience would repeat it. We sang all the song’s verses and upon completion, a rather toned-down Wallace said, “That’s the last time I will ever sing that song.” You had to be there to appreciate the impact. MA Success editor, John Corcoran, delivered a talk that the audience found rather shocking. He revealed for the first time in public the story of how Joe Lewis saved his life. Joe Lewis 21
When Corcoran came to Florida in the early 90’s he encountered a whirlwind of difficulties. He had relocated to the Sunshine State to work on a movie script, but the entire project was terminated a few weeks after his arrival. He was suddenly unemployed. At the same time, his girlfriend, Lanna, was horrifically murdered by one of the most notorious serial killers in history—Robert Joe Long. To make matters worse, the FBI considered Corcoran to be a chief suspect in the crime because he fit some peculiar profiling template they used to determine who might have done it. According to Corcoran, he was harassed and abused by various law enforcement agencies for months, as they tried everything in their power to get him to confess to a crime he did not commit. Eventually, Corcoran was mentally drained, jobless, out of money and the love of his life had been brutally murdered. All of these factors and others drove him into a deep depression and caused him to seriously consider suicide; he thought it was his only way out.
Fortunately, however, Corcoran had been roommates with Lewis for more than four years back in the 70’s in California. During that time, Joe taught him key black
Lewis’ burial took place at the New Knightdale Baptist Church Cemetery. Pictured here: 1. JLFS Chairman, Dennis Nackord 2. The author and producer of this story, Rob Colasanti. 3. Former Parade Magazine editor, Walter Anderson
4. Hundreds of guests who took part in the celebration.
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belt principles such as courage, indomitable spirit, perseverance, mental toughness, etc. Corcoran remembered these lessons from Lewis and also the huge inspiration he was to him. And it was this influence that gave him the strength to continue the fight and not take his own life. According to Corcoran, if it had not been for Joe Lewis, he would not be here today.
”Joe Lewis was ‘the king of the jungle’… a mighty and unstoppable force of nature.”
And the talks continued… A wheelchair bound Dr. Maung Gyi, Senior Mentor for JLFS, spoke about his final visit with Joe and shared hints of private matters that ripped right through the audience’s souls like a razor sharp dha-shay sword. There was not a dry eye at my table. Walter Anderson shared hilarious stories of the crafty pranks he and Joe pulled on one another when they were Marines stationed overseas. And he revealed that Joe actually died on his, meaning Walter’s, birthday—August 31st. As Walter mentioned to me during the previous evening, Walter used to call Joe “the old man” because Joe’s birthday was in March, whereas Walter’s was in August. So Joe dying on Walter’s birthday was significant because that meant Joe could no longer be considered “the old man.” In a sense, the duo would now be equal…forever. Whew! Joe had great timing, but what are the odds of him pulling that one off? John Korab, the man who first taught Joe how to fight in Okinawa, spoke of his relationship with the kid from North Carolina when he was just a white belt. And I fascinated the audience with my talk. A number of years ago, I did an extensive audio interview and cover story on Lewis titled “Echo of Greatness.” During the interview I asked him, “How do you want to be remembered?” Off the cuff, he gave a profound Lewis-style response that accentuated the deep-thinking, perennial teacher that raged inside of him. So I cut his unedited words from the original transcript and read them to the crowd. To say the audience was captivated would be an understatement. (See sidebar for Lewis’ response.) As the evening came to a close, we once again endured the playing of Taps. This time—a video of a young girl playing it. The video link is TAPS. And from what I understand, this was Joe’s favorite rendition. Then, JLFS 5th degree black belt, Steve Snyder, asked everyone to recite one of Joe’s favorite lines. A line that anyone who knew Joe Lewis has probably heard him say hundreds, if not thousands of times. So together as a group, we all shouted, “WHAT’S SO FUNNY!?” A thunderous round of applause ensued and that is how the funeral events of Joe Lewis concluded. We got the job done!
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”A hundred years from now it will not matter what degree Black belt I was, the number of World titles I had won, or how much money my martial arts school had grossed…but that the world may be different because I was important in the life of a student. What you put into the lives of others comes back into your own.” —Joe Lewis
24 Greatness Prevails!
A Surprise Visit from the Norris’ and an Entourage of Texas Martial Arts Royalty In June of 2012, Joe Lewis was resting in bed at the VA Hospital in Coatesdale, PA when he received the surprise of a lifetime. The door opened, and in walked Chuck and Gena Norris, followed by a host of martial arts notables who dominated the Texas Blood and Guts Era of Karate back in the sixties. The Norris’ organized the heartfelt visit, as Lewis’ health began to dramatically worsen. They flew in on a private jet—and brought with them an entourage of Lewis’ friends—including Allen Steen, J. Pat Burleson, Skipper Mullins, Ed Daniel and Roy Kurban.
The group visited with Lewis for more than four hours— the longest time he stayed awake to meet with any visitors in months. They shared memorable stories from the past, laughed and everyone did their best to lift the great champion’s spirits despite the gravity of the situation. An emotional Joe Lewis was deeply moved by the outpouring of love he received from his special guests. Before long, the visitors said their goodbyes and flew back to the Lone Star State. It would be the last time anyone from the Texas crew would see Joe Lewis alive again.
Also in attendance were JLFS representatives Dennis Nackord, Mr. and Mrs. Brian McNally, Bill Wallace and Mike Allen. Joe Lewis 25
The Future Looks Bright for JLFS!
Over 15 months ago after Joe had his initial brain operation, Dennis Nackord, Joe Lewis, and I spent time discussing how the JLFS should continue to operate after he passes on. He knew the clock was ticking and that he had only a short period before the cancer would take him. He was an optimist but also a realist regarding his disease. Ever since we started the JLFS association in 1999 we have been slowly putting together the by-laws to help govern the organization. By 2011, when Joe was diagnosed with brain cancer, we had already positioned ourselves to carry forward Joe’s system and association after he died. For each of the last 12 years the senior members of the JLFS met at the annual conference and discussed the future of the JLFS. So we have had over 12 years to prepare this. Many of those ideas are already published in our bylaws and the rest was up to us to formulate as needed
to grow the organization. As a result we have an senior executive board with a chairman, a board of directors, senior advisors with the SBBC, a senior mentor, and a very loyal membership of JLFS Black Belts. Overall the organization is a who’s-who of very talented martial artist. So we are in an excellent position to carry forward the Joe Lewis system. Joe was a visionary in this case and ensured we had a clear vision for the future. As a result we have avoided many of the pitfalls that occur when a grandmasters passes away and they have no clear direction. We have our mission statement and charter has been laid out. Our mission is “To promote the JLFS, preserve and enhance the systems that Joe Lewis left us with, and to be the stewards of the rank that we have worked so hard to earn.” So our goal is to perpetuate Joe’s system for future generation with an organization that will train instructors in his time tested principles. We are an association of many Black Belts and with many styles so the JLFS needs to be Integrateable for all these arts. With that said we do have curriculum for those that want to pursue the JLFS as Joe was teaching it. Here are the latest announcements: Bill “Superfoot” Wallace and John Korab were inducted into the JLFS Senior Black Belt Council (SBBC) as official members. They will be joining Dane Harden, Joe Hess, Bill D’Urso, and Chris Pollman. The JLFS Board of Directors met on Sunday September 30 to reaffirm their commitment to continue running the JLFS in keeping Joe’s wishes. We have contracted with a new company to revamp the
28 Greatness Prevails!
JLFS website which will provide our members with more information and access to JLFS information on products, training videos, photos, blogs, and a general go-to page for JLFS and upcoming events. We have 3 major JLFS events being planned for 2013 which include: »» 2nd Annual Joe Lewis Day March 9, 2013 »» 4th Annual JLFS Midyear Camp June 21-23, 2013 »» 14th Annual JLFS Research Conference September
We now have an official JLFS training center representative in England with George Fitzgerald. We have members in Canada and we are currently working to certify John Lemodetis in Greece as a JLFS training center. So the JLFS is now an international organization. We now have new people in positions in the JLFS governing body, administration, and combative areas that will contribute their time and effort to promote the JLFS. These new appointments will be announced as specific duties are designated.
We are organizing testing dates. These will include locations where members can pretest and to ensure they meet the qualifications in becoming JLFS Black Belts. We plan to continue promoting JLFS Black Belts as long as they meet the established criteria set forth in the Joe Lewis Black Belt Manual. Two of our most senior and experienced Black Belts (Phil Maldonato and Jim Graden) are spearheading the underblack belt curriculum which will be used to promote and develop the JLFS. Everyone at JLFS is working hard to maintain organization, structure and integrity. You have a place, a home, and a family!! If you have any questions or suggestions, please email Mike Allen (MikeAllenAKarate@aol. com) or John Maynard at email@example.com Thank you and stay tuned,
Mike Allen President, JLFS
John Maynard is the new vice president of the JLFS, Steve Snyder is the new executive administrator, and Mariea is the executive secretary to the JLFS executive board. We have new high profile members joining the JLFS such as Danny Lane, Howard Pechlar, Steve “Nasty” Anderson, and many more. Joe Lewis 29
“The Jaguar” Lives On! For anyone who had the unique privilege of knowing Joe Lewis—a piece of them is now missing. Me, personally—a day will probably never pass when I won’t think about my old friend at least once. Does the death of Joe Lewis mark the end of an era? Perhaps. But life must go on, and it shall, as it always does. Joe Lewis will remain with us forever and his legacy will multiply with each passing year—no different than how the legacies of Bruce Lee, Elvis Presley, Abraham Lincoln and so many other greats continue to emanate outward like those proverbial ripples in the pond. Think back to that auspicious moment in Star Wars part one when Obi Wan Kenobi says to Darth Vader, “You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” I believe that while an unbeatable opponent ultimately “struck down” Joe Lewis, he is now more powerful than ever. He was always larger than life, but he’s now even larger in death.
cent man. A man who made countless others proud to be martial artists. A man who inspired people everywhere—of all ages—to aim for the apex of greatness. A man who added monumental value, clarity and profound–– almost haunting—awareness to the martial arts community about how much more is possible. A man who will never be forgotten. That man is the one-and-only, Joe Lewis. May “The Jaguar” live on…forever!
About the Author: Rob Colasanti is “The Ambassador of the Martial Arts” and President of The Martial Arts Community Organization (MACO). He is a best selling author and a JLFS black belt. He can be reached at RobColasanti.com.
All people share a common experience. They struggle from birth until they take their final breaths. But a rare few do more than just survive or endure. They prevail. And it is in their lives we can find inspiration for our own. Joe was such a soul. So the time for closure has come. We’ve wept abundantly. Now we must raise our chins, look reality in the eyes and accept the fact that we are all just visitors here. Walter Anderson said it best when he spoke at Joe’s life celebration. He told the chilling story of a father who was grieving over the loss of his child. Each night, in his dreams, he’d see the child, leading a procession of angels carrying candles. But the candles were never lit. Then one night the child came to the father in his dream. The father asked his child, why the candles were never lit. And the child responded by saying, “Daddy, it’s because your tears keep putting them out.” As Mr. Anderson suggested, it is now time for us to wipe our tears and begin celebrating the life of this magnifiJoe Lewis 31