Bill Wallace

Fight Like Superfoot: What I Learned at a Bill Wallace Seminar

On this slow Sunday afternoon, I find myself reflecting on the time I spent with Bill “Superfoot” Wallace yesterday. Over the years, I’ve been blessed to be able to train with some legends of the martial arts — from kickboxer Bill Wallace to full-contact karate fighter Joe Lewis to Brazilian jiu-jitsu master Renzo Gracie — but I must say that the Superfoot seminar I just hosted ranks near the top of the list.

The reason is multifaceted: Wallace’s fighting strategies are top-notch, and they make more sense the more you interact with him. In addition, his delivery is entertaining, active and fresh. Finally, it all comes from a 70-year-old martial artist who’s probably forgotten more about fighting than you and I will ever know.

Photo Courtesy of Black Belt

I say this not to make those who’ve never attended a Superfoot seminar feel inadequate but to encourage you to do so if you get the chance. One nugget of knowledge from a master like Bill Wallace can change the face of your journey in the martial arts. Don’t believe it? The following comes from an email sent by Don “The Dragon” Wilson:

“I took his seminar in the late ‘70s and attribute much of my success as a kickboxer to that experience! I still practice and believe what he taught. …”

Here are a few of my take-aways from Superfoot’s seminar.

•     Humor is important in life.

To stay young, remain active and kick high, you’ve got to be able to laugh. That point was driven home by Wallace’s entertaining delivery style. Ron LeGrand once said, “You don’t have to be funny to do public speaking, but to do public speaking and get paid, you do have to be funny.”

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Wallace laughed a lot during our almost four-hour class — and so did the participants. Through laughter, you can learn important things about this man: Wallace loves what he’s doing, and he loves people.

•     Deceptive distance manipulation is an essential part of Wallace’s fighting style.

As a fighter, you already know that one of the hardest things to do is control distance. Joe Lewis used to speak of three distances that need to be controlled: horizontal, lateral and vertical. At Wallace’s seminar, I learned firsthand that the big problem associated with stopping a Superfoot kick is that you don’t know he’s moved close enough to hit you until it’s too late. By the time you’ve figured that out, he’s already planted his foot on your face.

Photo by Rick Hustead

Even worse for his opponents, Wallace’s jab, side kick, hook kick and round kick all take advantage of the same masterful footwork. He never penetrates the pocket or stays inside. He doesn’t have to. His horizontal distance — the straight-line distance from his opponent to him — is manipulated by a “Wallace rhythm” that’s light and difficult to follow. It is, however, easy to understand once he explains it.

The result? Superfoot’s victims are often left confused as to whether to use a block to protect a certain part of their body or try to stop the weapon that’s coming in. All too often, either course of action will be futile, and Wallace will immediately exploit the opening they so kindly give him.

•     To hit Bill Wallace, you would have to evade that lead leg and fire at a target he leaves open.

Sounds easy, but doing that while facing Wallace’s battle-tested fighting stance requires you to attack the only targets he leaves “exposed”: his left arm and head.

Most opponents opt to go for the head — which Superfoot is probably hoping you’ll do. I say that because he immediately capitalizes on your entry into his domain. He moves his head out of reach and gives you his shoulder. Then his left hook proceeds to pound your head and ribs until his left hook is unleashed. If that doesn’t put you down, you’ll notice that when it concludes, his body is repositioned in a sideways stance that facilitates the launch of a rib-crushing side kick. After that, he just steps away as you fold to the floor.

Historical note: Bill Wallace’s record includes 13 knockouts that followed a side kick to the ribs. As he likes to say at his seminars, it’s hard to fight when you can’t breathe.

•     As a coach, you can’t force a particular fighting style on your students, but you can expose them to areas of the art they aren’t familiar with, and that

Why Evasion Is the Best Defense and How to Make It Work for You

As a professional athlete, I made a living poking holes in other people’s defenses. When I was the one doing the defending, I preferred to use evasive techniques. I didn’t sidestep or block much; I leaned back or took a step back. No matter what my opponent threw at me or how hard, if I was out of range, he couldn’t hit me.

If I’d tried to block a technique, it would have hurt, and I didn’t want to go through the pain. On the other hand, I thought, if my opponent attacked and missed because he couldn’t get close enough, he’d become frustrated and lose his cool. That was my favorite thing about evasion and why my rule of thumb was simply to get out of the way.

Bill Wallace

Evasion doesn’t mean just turning and running. You also can move your head out of the way and shift your body using what boxers call “bobbing and weaving.” You should strive to stay light on your feet and move when you sense he’s about to strike. Don’t wait to counter him or to make up your mind while he’s throwing his technique. Try to stay a step ahead so you aren’t stuck in defensive mode. Blocking and then countering takes too much time.

If you think it’s better to intercept a technique, listen up: When I competed, my opponents almost never managed to intercept my shots. When a guy is quick, there’s no way you can intercept his attack. You’ll have enough trouble just getting out of the way.

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Against a combination, evasion still works. If you avoid the first shot, the next three or four techniques in your opponent’s combo will miss you because now you’re somewhere else.

When your adversary attacks and misses, three things happen. First, he’s disturbed by your absence, so he prepares to speed up his next attack. Second, he wastes a lot of energy swinging at nothing. Third and most crucial, he leaves himself wide open because he doesn’t have a chance to pull his hand or foot back. In essence, he’s handing you an opening.

Bill Wallace

To develop the maneuverability and speed needed to fight evasively, try to be mobile and bounce on your toes. Jumping rope and shadowboxing are good training tools. When you’re shadowboxing, it’s easy to stay on your toes because nobody’s trying to hit you. Once you get used to the movements, have your partner throw techniques while you evade without countering. Then put on headgear and challenge your partner to spar while you focus on evading when you can, covering up when you have to and attacking when you see an opening. This is an essential form of training because if you never get hit, you’ll have no idea what you’re evading.

Evasion isn’t a panacea. For example, it doesn’t work well if you’re slow and unable to back up quickly. And if you retreat so your opponent can’t reach you, you won’t be able to reach him with your counterattack.

Bill Wallace

Eventually, someone you’re matched against will corner you, and it’ll be necessary for you to block an attack. When I’m in such a predicament, I don’t protect myself against the technique; I protect an area on my body. If I think my opponent is going for my face, which most people try to do, I protect that area. If I think he’s going for my stomach or ribs, I keep my elbows in. My philosophy is, don’t focus on the opponent’s technique because it can change at any time.

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When you absolutely have to block, the easiest way is to keep your arms and elbows in close. Your hands should be up to protect the sides of your face. It’s better to take punches and kicks on your arms, elbows and shoulders than in the ribs, stomach or face. You don’t need to toughen up your limbs too much; you just need to be able to absorb the blows. If you’re backing up while your opponent is punching and kicking, his shots won’t hit hard anyway.

As you experiment to determine the defensive posture that works best for you, remember that everybody is unique. Every fighter puts his hands in a slightly different place. Personally, I’ve always fought with my hands lower than most people — with my right at chest level and my left down by my side. There, they can protect my chest, ribs, side and stomach. There’s only one open body part — my head — and I can get it out of …

Bill “Superfoot” Wallace on Teaching Martial Arts, Practicing Diplomacy and Loving What You Do

Bill "Superfoot" Wallace deemed victor in a vintage fight photo.
Editor’s Note: For the full context of Bill “Superfoot” Wallace’s thoughts on these topics, we recommend downloading Floyd Burk’s FREE in-depth profile on this living legend.

Did you and your father ever reconcile after you decided to make the martial arts your career?

Bill Wallace: It took a long time, but yes. Since day one, my father would always say, “When are you going to quit doing that stupid crap and get a real good job?” The night I won the world championship, I called my father to tell him. The next day, my mother called: “You should hear your father now! He’s telling everyone, ‘My son is the world champion.’” The stuff about getting a job — it stopped that night.

What are the primary reasons you were so good at full-contact karate?

Wallace: Fitness and a good trainer. Being a wrestler, a judo player and a black belt in karate — [with] my degrees in physical education — I knew a whole lot more about conditioning than most people. I knew how to stay in shape. Also, I didn’t smoke or drink or eat a bunch of crap.

Most important, I had a really good trainer — a boxing trainer from Memphis who believed in me, trusted me and didn’t try to change my stances and many of the things that made me successful. He just added a few things to my repertoire. A lot of other guys were pretty stubborn — they trained themselves — but I learned my lesson about pain and injury, and I didn’t want to get hit. So I found someone to help me keep from getting hit too much.

Explore the life and times of Bill Wallace in this FREE download!
Bill “Superfoot” Wallace: How He Became the
World’s Greatest Kicker for 50 Years!

How were you able to jump into the movie business without schooling or experience?

Wallace: I learned so much working with Chuck [Norris]. I didn’t know anything about movies back then, but I’d watch him every day. Even when I didn’t have to be there, I was there watching and learning. I watched the director do scene after scene, take after take. I watched the stunt choreographer and stuntmen do what they do. I saw Chuck and everyone else add their artistic touches to their work. I also learned that you’ve got to play the game in that business. It’s a process. Things move slowly.

Why have you been so successful on the seminar circuit?

Wallace: Anyone who wants to do seminars has to find a niche and provide something people want. Luckily for me, I was very good at flexibility, kicking and all the related conditioning. I could explain and demonstrate exactly why you do what you do. The problem for most people is they don’t have a specialty that someone at the host school can’t do just as good as them. Who’s going to pay you $1,000 to come and teach when they can do what you can do?

Some well-known fighters can’t do seminars because while they can win, they can’t explain why or how to do it. These same people are the ones who, once they start losing, can’t come back by figuring out how to win again. Here’s one of my secrets: I learn from my seminar students. Ever since I started doing seminars, I’ve used themas my own laboratory. I always throw techniques and ask people to block or evade. If someone blocks one of my kicks, I’m glad to have something to work on. That’s how I’ve kept up — or kept ahead, even.

There’s a lot of bickering in the martial arts. How have you stayed out of it and maintained so many friendships over the years?

Wallace: Everybody has their own way of doing something. There’s no wrong way, but there’s also no perfectly right way. People argue all the time about who’s right and who’s wrong. I say, play the game and get along with people. My job is to give ideas. Your job, as a student, is to take those ideas, play with them, change them and go make them work for you.

How have you remained so in demand even after retiring?

Wallace: First of all, I really love what I do. I’ve always made a point of getting
to know people and trying to remember who they are. I also take my job seriously. When I teach, say at the Martial Arts SuperShow or some other event where I have a couple of seminars to do, I focus on teaching the class during class time. Only before or afterward will I stop to sign autographs or take pictures. If you pay me for a day, you get me for a day — I’ll stay …

Bill Wallace on the Death Touch and Other Martial Arts Myths

Kickboxing and full-contact-karate legend Bill Wallace.The martial arts world is full of myths. They usually start when someone tells a factual story and, as the years pass and it’s retold, it becomes more and more distorted until it bears little resemblance to the original account.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Regardless of whether the myths were ever true, they do give us something to think about and add depth to the culture of the martial arts.

As long as there is a possibility that a spectacular event happened (or could happen), people have a reason to persevere in their training.

— Bill Wallace

The following are five of the most common martial arts myths, according to Bill Wallace — and, of course, Bill Wallace’s opinion regarding each one.

The reverse punch, when executed correctly, endows people with an almost superhuman “one punch, one kill” capability.

Bill Wallace: The reverse punch is just like a boxing punch, except it’s thrown from the hip. Instructors claim it’s the deadliest technique in the world, but when you throw it in a sparring match and nail your opponent in the ribs, he usually just bounces back and says, “Hey, good shot!” You didn’t kill him, and you have to come up with an excuse, so you blurt out, “I controlled that punch pretty well, didn’t I?”

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The truth is, you threw it as hard as you could, and it didn’t do what it was supposed to.

I believe the reverse punch is less deadly than it used to be because peoples’ bodies change. The Chinese, Japanese and Koreans who used it centuries ago were not very physically powerful; somebody with big knuckles could throw a reverse punch and break a rib or puncture a lung, and the person might bleed to death.

Today, people are larger, and medical advances have almost eliminated the risk of fatality when such injuries occur.

The karate chop has magical power.

Bill Wallace: No way. This technique is definitely a powerful one, and when it’s thrown to the side of the neck, it can be very effective. But it’s not as deadly as many nonmartial artists think.

I remember witnessing a fight when I was in high school. One of the guys just stood there with his shuto (knifehand) held high, and alarmed bystanders whispered, “He knows karate. He’s gonna hit that guy and kill him.”

Needless to say, nobody was killed in the skirmish.

A martial arts expert can touch a certain part of a person’s body and kill him.

Bill Wallace: Many people say Bruce Lee died from a “death touch,” supposedly inflicted because he showed Westerners the secrets of kung fu.

That’s bull.

The people who believe stories like this also believe masters who say they can kill you if they want to — but they don’t want to, so they’re not going to. There is no spot on the human body that you can tap and kill a person.

A woman who has trained in the martial arts can beat a man who has not trained.

Bill Wallace: A woman can be victorious against a man only if she’s got the element of surprise on her side or she is significantly stronger than her opponent.

There are plenty of techniques a woman can use against a mugger who thinks she won’t fight back; the woman can hopefully buy a little extra time to escape.

But generally women are not as strong as men, and no matter what their game is — kicking, punching, grappling or whatever — if they hit a guy and don’t do any immediate damage, they’ll be in trouble.

Explore the life and times of Bill Wallace in this FREE download!
Bill “Superfoot” Wallace: How He Became the
World’s Greatest Kicker for 50 Years!

If a person is a champion in the ring, he can easily knock out any opponent.

Bill Wallace: Not necessarily true. If you want to be a good fighter, you have to train the way you will fight. If you are going to fight full-contact, you have to learn to take the contact.

Before I was a kickboxer, I was a national champion in point fighting three years in a row. I thought I was a super fighter because I could kick or punch my opponent and he couldn’t hit me back. I never took into consideration the other guy’s ability to defend against or absorb my strikes.

That’s why when kickboxing was born, kickboxers kicked butt against point fighters. The kickboxers could take a shot, and we didn’t know what to do when we got hit. It takes a long time to psychologically …

Bill Wallace: Are Your Favorite Martial Arts Moves Overrated When Used as Self-Defense Techniques?

The first time you watched your favorite martial arts star wipe out a horde of bad guys with a string of jump-spinning back kicks on the silver screen, you probably were impressed. I know I was. On the other hand, you probably weren’t quite as inspired the first time you saw a real martial artist knock out his opponent with a plain old punch.

There are so many martial arts moves that it’s only natural that some are going to work better than others as self-defense techniques. It’s also natural that some are going to look flashier than others. The following are my observations on the qualities of the most popular ones.

Jump-Spinning Back Kick

This is probably the most overrated martial arts move when it comes to being used as a self-defense technique. Don’t get me wrong — it’s an absolutely beautiful move. However, it has several problems. If your opponent is very quick, he’ll have no problem getting out of the way before you nail him with it. Or he’ll rush in and jam the technique before you make contact.

Because you’re essentially blind for a second while you’re spinning, you don’t know where the other guy is or what he’s up to. There’s no way to defend yourself if you miss or if he counters while you’re in the air. If you lose your balance during the landing and he punches you as you fall, he’ll get a point for knocking you down.

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Rear-Leg Roundhouse Kick

The rear-leg roundhouse kick is very powerful because you can put your entire body rotation into it, but that’s not the end of the story. Because your kicking foot begins its motion so far away from your opponent, he has plenty of time to see it coming, then avoid and counter it. Experienced kickboxers like to throw a rear-leg roundhouse kick to the knee or body, but they seldom aim for the head because of the distance that must be traversed.

Front Kick

The front kick is one of the first techniques kickboxers learn, but hardly anyone uses it in a match. It’s a terrific self-defense technique for fending off an aggressor on the street, provided he doesn’t know any martial arts. However, another kickboxer will have no trouble countering it. Indeed, everybody I’ve ever seen throw a front kick in competition has limped out of the ring because his toes got mangled or because his elbow, hip or knee got caught.


The jab is easy to learn and execute. Not only can it set up virtually every technique you can think of, but it’s also very hard to defend against. It’s fast and subtle. As you snap it out at your opponent, he has to fight hard to deal with it, especially if he’s in a boxing stance.

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Bruce Lee Training Research:
How Boxing Influenced His Jeet Kune Do Techniques

Nevertheless, very few people throw jabs in kickboxing bouts, probably because the association between kicks and knockouts is so strong. It definitely could be used more often. I know because I’m left-handed and left-legged and have used it to set up numerous techniques. For example, I can throw a series of jabs and then stick a side kick in right behind the punches, coming under the guy’s arms and hitting him in the gut.

Left Hook

Also known as the forward-hand hook, the left hook is a phenomenal weapon. It makes a particularly good counter because you’re already standing sideways; all you have to do is create the hook, bring your hand up and turn. Don “The Dragon” Wilson destroyed his opponents with this technique because he was so fast. Since I fought as a middleweight, I nailed my opponents with it because I could hit really hard.

Side Kick

The side kick is a great weapon because when you land it on the other fighter’s body, usually in the rib area, it really takes the wind out of him. However, it’s very difficult to throw if you’re in a kickboxing or boxing stance, which is facing forward. You must turn sideways before you can launch the kick. Unfortunately, shifting your stance will immediately warn your opponent that a side kick is coming, and he might be able to defend against it.

These brief descriptions are meant to be guidelines, not absolutes. Knowing when, where and how to throw a punch or kick is what ultimately wins the match. Timing and distancing count most in the ring as well as on the street.…