Born December 1, 1945, William Lewis Wallace entered the world kicking and screaming, like all children. But unlike other children, that kicking would some day have far reaching ramifications. Cared for by loving parents, who were always helpful and supportive in all that he did, he grew up into a wonderful young man. While in high school he enjoyed the sport of wrestling. Later he began training in Judo, a martial art akin to the wrestling he so enjoyed.
It was a tragic and yet fateful incident in Judo that helped to fashion the man that would one day be known as Superfoot. While practicing the throw Ouchigari, major inner reaping, Wallace's partner took a straight downward plunge onto his right knee. As a result his ligaments were severely torn and rendered all but useless. This was the end of his Judo career, and for a lesser man, possibly the drive of life. But Bill Wallace is anything but a lesser man. Instead of quitting or wallowing in self pity, Wallace recovered from his injury and then wondered, what can I do now? And a friend came by with the answer: Karate.
In 1966, Bill Wallace began training in Shorin Ryu Karate under Michael Gneck and George Torbett. Like a man possessed, or one who has found a God given talent to immerse himself into, Wallace trained on a seven day a week regimen, working from four until midnight. Since his right knee did nothing except support his weight, he worked his good left leg twice as hard. When his peers were throwing twenty five kicks with their right leg and then twenty five kicks with their left, Wallace was throwing fifty with just his left leg. While others were trying to figure out how to best use spinning techniques and front kick setups, Wallace was working just that left leg at a fanatical pace. He began to experiment with methods that would allow him to hit others with just his left leg, that it would take anyone else two legs to accomplish.
In 1968 he returned home and began to work out with Glenn Keeney, a Shorei Goju Ryu stylist. Wallace credits his many sparring hours with Keeney as helping him to develop the winning style that helped him to evolve into a champion. He began competing in 1968, winning his first black belt tournament in Lexington, Kentucky. This launched him into a point fighting career in which he was named top fighter in the country three times. He won virtually every major tournament title of the time. He won the United States Championships three times, the Top Ten Nationals twice, and United States Karate Association Grand Nationals three times, garnering a place in the Trias International Society for his ability, knowledge, competitive spirit, outstanding skill, superb achievement, and his devotion to the art of Karate.
The Real Bill Wallace
Bill Wallace is actually a quiet and reflective man when in private. He has a very deep and intuitive side that is many times hidden from the public when he is in the entertainment mode for doing clinics and seminars. In public he seems like a carefree, almost thoughtless individual, and yet in his antics during his public appearances it is easy to see the intelligence behind the actions as he leads students to open their minds to new ideas and concepts to which they may have been resistant, had he tried to force them to analyze what they had been taught. Instead, behind the big grin, and the rambling banter, Wallace gets his charges to analyze and scrutinize each of his moves, to show how it applies to them and how they can improve what they do. All with a song and a smile, in the inimitable Wallace way.
In a typical Superfoot clinic, in the old days called the Superfoot Show, there are five main points that Bill usually covers. First of all is stretching. Over the years Wallace has developed an exceptional routine of stretching. He has certain key exercises which will help the most inexperienced beginner improve their flexibility, as well as, prove of value to even experienced martial arts practitioners. Next he works on form, mainly stressing his three prime kicks, because all other kicking skills can be compared and developed through those motions. Third, Wallace works on power by having the participants work on throwing individual kicks slow and at full speed. Next, he helps the students develop speed by practicing extremely slow kicks, moving ahead to slightly faster kicks, and finally full speed kicks in combinations. Finally, Bill helps the practitioners develop endurance through some very special exercises which help each person becoming aware of muscles they have not used before, and which are extremely important to proper kicking form and practical use. The last part of the clinic is devoted to developing kicking skill and strategy, with Bill showing examples of kicking applications, and then watching and helping the students perform them the best they can.
While many think of Wallace as just a master kicker, he is much more, he is a master tactician. Superfoot makes it clear that he does not think of himself as a powerful fighter, rather he is a fast and sneaky tactician. He kicks and punches fast, getting his opponent to move into his techniques so that the accumulative effect is devastating. One has only to watch the tape of his fight against Jem Echolas to see the effect of that incredible left leg, as it sends his opponent crashing to the mat.
Bill creates openings where there were none, then he makes the person so anxious to move, that he simply streaks the kick past immobile hands and into the vital points of his opponents. It is his wealth of experience and knowledge that makes Bill Wallace, Superfoot. It is not the fast left foot, but the knowledge and ability to use it that makes him the single most sought after clinician in martial arts circles.
And yet all that has been said thus far is dealing with what people already know about the man Bill Wallace. There is more, much more. First of all Bill Wallace is a man of extremely strong character. When most men would have been stopped by the leg injury, Bill used the 'handicap' to his advantage. He caused the limitation to push him to higher and higher levels of ability. He also allowed his competitiveness to be a positive attribute to push him past inability to potential performance, thus instead of asking what can't I do with this bad leg, he asked, what can I do, and then he did it.
Bill Wallace is also a man of deep love and friendship. He has never completely released the anguish over the deaths of friends Elvis Presley and John Belushi. He loved both men very much and valued their friendship. When Elvis saved his career, after he was kicked in the gastronemius muscle, by flying an acupuncturist from Los Angeles to Memphis, Bill felt a great deal of gratitude, and yet was unable to fully acknowledge his debt to his friend.
Yet in some ways what Wallace teaches to his students more than makes up for any favor they may have done for him. When many saw Elvis perform Karate on stage, they recognized the hand techniques from Parker's Kenpo, but many were surprised at how high Elvis raised his knee and the height to which he would kick. It was that kicking ability that made many feel that Elvis was a martial artist of note, and that was a skill, an ability, and a method that can be very easily traced to Superfoot. In home films prior to Elvis connection to Bill Wallace, his kicks while fast, were generally low. But in concert footage after the 'Wallace Connection', the kicks were higher and the knee raised reminiscent of Wallace himself.
When it comes to his love for John Belushi it seems to have run even deeper. Theirs was a friendship that came from mutual respect and an enjoyment of similar tastes. But one thing that they disagreed upon vehemently was the matter of drugs. Belushi had all too many friends that encouraged his use of illegal substances, and Bill still had the memory of the loss of another friend to legal substance abuse, Elvis. Many times Wallace put his friendship and job security on the line with Belushi to keep drugs out of his hands. It is possible that Belushi might have died earlier had it not been for Bill taking many caches of cocaine and other drugs away from the comedienne. In the end Belushi could not give up his habit and it lead to his downfall, but Bill's love of the man endures and his hatred for drug abuse endures as well.
There is even a gentler side of Bill 'Superfoot' Wallace that many may not have seen. In clinics dealing with not just regular students of Karate, but with handicapped individuals, Wallace shows an empathy, compassion, and gentleness that belies the power and roughness of the man who climbs into the ring. It is always a wonder to watch Bill place those hands, which have knocked men out in the ring, onto the handicapped body of a Karate student and gently stretch their unnaturally tight muscles. And the whole time he is doing so, he is saying words of encouragement and hopefulness, getting the student to want to work harder so they can overcome their handicap.
Wallace also welcomes offers to hold babies at his clinics. Many times women who come to watch their husbands train will have their little babies in their arms and Wallace always makes it a point to mug with the baby, taking pictures with the child.
There is a wonderful spirit about this man who is so strong and powerful, that he has reigned as a great point tournament champion and the only unquestionable full contact fighter to retire undefeated, and yet has the gentleness, love, and bearing of the kindly martial arts master portrayed so often in the martial arts movies.
As a martial arts master, Bill Wallace has more knowledge than most people ever realize. In many of his seminars he makes the statement that he has only five techniques. With his left leg he has the roundhouse kick, the side kick, and the hook kick. Then he has a jab and a hook with his left arm. In his humble manner, he then explains how he used them to battle his opponents by working just those five techniques until he could apply them from so many angles, they could not be stopped. But it is his genuine humility that keeps the man so self effacing, even as he is so confident.
Yet if one watches some of his past fights they will see more that just those techniques in action, though those five do predominate. In his battle with Joe Corley in 1985, when they fought an anniversary bout of the first PKA full contact title defense, Bill used an uppercut with his right arm very effectively. In many of the movies that Bill has appeared in, he has shown that he has strengthened his right leg by throwing some front kicks with it, along with some good reverse punches with his right hand. In his match against Emilio Narvaez he performed a spinning roundhouse kick, and against Bob Biggs, in his retirement fight, he used a spinning back kick, once again with his right leg.
More, if one looks at his self defense tape, they will find that Bill 'Superfoot' Wallace, has many effective techniques with which to defend himself, if the need should ever arise on the street. Among the techniques in the video are; reverse punches, palm heels, chops, elbow strikes, finger strikes (used as gouges and rakes in the manner of tiger claws), front kicks, roundhouse kicks, side kicks, back kicks, knee kicks, ax kicks, and stomps. There are also grappling skills, including releases and foot sweeps. Bill is known for his black belt Judo skills, which made him one of the best throwers on the PKA circuits, until throws were disallowed.
Self Defense Movement
Yet in his system of self defense what Bill 'Superfoot' Wallace really stresses is an emphasis on movement. He knows that techniques are less important than proper movement. Unless techniques can be modified to fit actual street situations, they cannot be used for self defense. It takes confidence and common sense to take basic techniques and turn them into functional self defense skills, the very thesis of the Bill Wallace system of self defense.
This brings us to the final aspect of the man and martial artist known as Superfoot. And that aspect is his ability as a teacher. Through his vast experience as a martial arts champion and his depth of education, Bill Wallace is as great a teacher as he is a fighter, something that few martial arts instructors have achieved.
As noted earlier, Wallace has a full range of techniques, but just beside knowing them he understands them. He can teach a person how a technique works, why it works, and finally when it should be used. Most of all, while Bill is a stern teacher, he is also an understanding and patient instructor. This is not only due to his many years as a Karate practitioner and champion, but also to his Masters of Kinesiology and Physiology of Exercise. Not everyone perceives the keys to the lessons he teaches, and when that happens he will demonstrate and explain the moves over and over again, leading the student if necessary through the move until awareness and comprehension follow. And if by chance the student just cannot get it, Bill gives the encouragement to them to keep studying and seeking the knowledge that can only be gained by personal experience. To many he is the most inspiring of teachers.
Bill Wallace has had one of the most interesting of lives. He has traveled all over the world. He has taught clinics in most European countries, made movies in the United States and Hong Kong, trained and fought some of the best martial artists in the world, and met some of the most interesting people in the world; Princess Grace, Elvis Presley, and John Belushi. His friends in the martial arts world read like a list of Who Who's in the Martial Arts; Chuck Norris, Glenn Keeney, Joe Lewis, Bob Wall, Mike Stone, Don Wilson, and many more too numerous to mention. What then is next for the Superfoot? First of all he wants to continue having 'a good time', which means teaching Karate and sharing his knowledge with those of all styles. His desire is to help all instructors promote the martial arts in their areas. He plans on doing this as long as he can kick, which from all indications, seems like a very long time.
Most of all Bill wants to train, practice, and teach, the art he loves so much. His desire is to meet young martial artists and help them develop, not only the skills of fighting, but also the joy of living. As Superfoot he has the status of a legend, as Bill Wallace he has the heart and soul of a gifted teacher, as a friend he has the love and support of a true companion. Currently, Bill 'Superfoot' Wallace is available to any instructor who would like their students exposed to the best ring fighter to have ever lived. If you have not had the honor and pleasure of working out with him, it is a gift to yourself and your students that you should definitely look into, because there is one and only one: Bill 'Superfoot' Wallace.
Connection to Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei
William Durbin has been a friend and student of Bill Wallace since 1978. The author acknowledges that he feels like he could not be where he is today, without the training he received under this mentor. He has been called a Bill Wallace clone, which he accepts as a compliment. Bill has been a supportive friend and aid in the different times of the author's life. It was Wallace's encouragement that inspired the author to start writing and submitting articles.
During the 80, right after Durbin was awarded the title of Soke, Wallace agreed to serve as technical advisor to Kiyojute Ryu and accepted a Hanshi title so that he could have the authority to assist the Ryu should anything happen to Durbin. As Durbin moved more towards the traditional forms of training and teaching the martial arts, Wallace was very supportive of his endeavors.
Wallace wrote a preface for Durbin’s first book, Mastering Kempo, and pictures of him have been featured in many of the other books Durbin has written. While life has taken the two martial artists in different directions, Durbin still thinks of Wallace as a close friend and brother.
It is Durbin's hope that this article will be a tribute to one of the greatest martial artists of all times, as well as, to one of his earliest teachers and martial arts friends.