With the recent anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, I thought I would share an article I wrote many years ago about his love and passion for the proliferation of the Martial Arts and, specifically, American Kenpo.
Long before I began learning American Kenpo, I made it to Graceland. I remember seeing some of his martial arts memorabilia and thinking how interesting it was that he was a black belt. Perhaps between that visit and all the Kung Fu theater I used to watch on Saturday mornings, was the beginning of my martial arts journey?!
He was a world renowned singer and entertainer. He was also a movie star. But what many people didn’t know was that Elvis was an accomplished black belt in Ed Parker’s American Kenpo. It is not often known that Elvis’s second love to singing was the martial arts. Elvis studied a couple of different martial arts, he even had black belt ranks in some of these other arts, but according to those close to him, American Kenpo was always his favorite.
It was in late 1960 that Elvis Presley met Ed Parker at the Beverly Hills Wilshire hotel. The meeting took place following an announced, and intense, demonstration by Mr. Parker to a group of people that had gathered to watch. Mr. Parker had been conducting a demonstration on the principles and concepts of his Kenpo system. They became instant friends and Elvis started training with Ed Parker on movie sets, in Parker’s studio, and even in hotel rooms, among other places. Their relationship as friends and martial artists spanned from 1960 to Elvis’s early death in 1977.
The martial arts, and in particular American Kenpo, was such a big part of Elvis’s life that he affixed Parker’s International Kenpo Karate International (I.K.K.A.) association patch to several of his guitars. He even went so far as to demonstrate moves and stances while on stage singing his songs. Elvis did this for many years and exposed millions to the Martial Arts through his on stage Kenpo demonstrations and use of the martial arts in his films.
Elvis was promoted to honorary 8th degree black in Ed Parker’s American Kenpo system in August of 1974. While many martial artists look unfavorably at Elvis’ elevated ranking, chalking it up to his celebrity status, Elvis was a legitimate black belt. Mr. Parker had commented that Elvis was a good black belt and that he contributed to the overall improvement and advancement of the martial arts.
In the end, Ed Parker and Elvis shared seventeen years of close, personal association. Ed Parker was his personal bodyguard, friend and confidant. Parker even went on to write a book entitled “Inside Elvis” where most of the information contained in this article came from. He wanted to set the record straight on Elvis’ character, his generosity, his love of the martial arts and most importantly, their friendship.