Under: karate
1 Jul 2008


[Forward: My good friend, David Hays is contributing this article. David is a 4th degree Kenpo black belt from Dick Willett. Dave has been a fierce tournament competitor, studio owner and now he mentors the upcoming generations of karate students. The photo credits go to Barbara Steinberg. Welcome David! John W. Zimmer]


On June 14th, 2008 Dick Willett’s senior Black Belts hosted a seminar in San Diego Ca. with the legendary Joe Lewis and world champion grappler Dean Lister.


Joe Lewis was the best of the best in the golden age of Sport Karate.  During the early years of martial arts in America, he stood out as the best in the sport. There was no one more feared and/or respected than the legendary Joe Lewis.


 Joe Lewis & David Hays



I have had the privilege of attending Joe Lewis seminars since the 70’s.  I came up through the ranks in the Tracy’s system under Dick Willett.  Joe was a part of the Tracy’s organization during that time and would come to our schools for training purposes. 

This seminar was even better.  Joe is in great shape and still teaching cutting edge principals that will take any fighter to the next level.  His reactions were fast, his timing perfect and his wit entertaining.   
 Joe Lewis & Orned
If you have never met Joe the first thing you notice is his stature.  At sixty plus years old he still moves great. He is rock solid, has huge hands and has the body of a man twenty years his junior.  People have always said that Joe Lewis hit like a Mack Truck.  I know this is true from experience.
Joe’s part of the seminar was one of the best martial arts seminars I have ever witnessed. For two hours Joe shared secrets and insights into the art of kickboxing that only someone who had been there and done that could share. Joe is a scientist and the greatest thing about his teaching is his ability to easily explain the science of fighting in a way that both the novice and the seasoned veteran can benefit. I’m so thankful that the Joe Lewis fighting system has been a part of my training from the beginning.   
Rey Leal & Joe Lewis 
Dean Lister was amazing.  This was my first interaction with Dean.  He is amazing to watch as he is able to easily control an opponent.  He taught us simple to learn techniques for common situations and was very involved with the students.  What really impressed me is that he is one of the most polite and humble people I have met.  I believe these are traits of a true champion. 
Dean Lister 

Dean Lister Class  

The Head of Dick Willett’s AKKA (American Kenpo Karate Association) council, Dr. Mick Leone, holds a ninth degree Black Belt in Kenpo and a second degree Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  He feels that we (AKKA) need to incorporate some Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to make us complete fighters and after seeing Dean I agree with him.  He (Mick) has backed that philosophy with time and energy donated to teaching some of our black belts for over two years.  Now if you are a Kenpo purest, please do not start sending me but, but, but replies.  I do not want to replace my Kenpo; I just want to add to it.


Dean Lister, David Hays, & Joe Lewis


In the late 60’s, Al Tracy brought in Joe Lewis to teach the Tracy people the best stand up fighting techniques of the day.  It did not take away from Kenpo; it added to it.  I believe the incorporation of the ground fighting will do the same.


Dick Willett’s 40th anniversary.


After the seminar we had a private party for Dick Willett to honor him for his 40 years of contributions to the Martial Arts.   We were also honored to have some greats in the martial arts join us for this event.  I want to thank: Bob White, his wife and his fine students (http://www.bwkenpo.com/), Roger Greene, (Roger was Joe Lewis’ first black belt) (http://www.rogergreene.com/Default.asp), Ted Sumner (http://www.sanjosekenpo.com/) and Thomas Darcy for attending and all the kind words they had to say about Dick Willett.




Roger Greene & Richard




Roger Greene, Richard


Al Tracy had prior commitments and could not attend but was certainly there in spirit.  I was honored to read the following statement from Al Tracy and to help present to Dick Willett, his 10th degree black belt certification from Al Tracy.


The following is the statement from Master Al Tracy, I (David Hays) read to Dick Willett;




As you know Al Tracy has the Kenpo summer camp next week and could not attend today.


I’m honored that he has asked me to say a few words on his behalf.


Master Tracy wanted me to express to you how proud he is of you and your people and all the accomplishments they have achieved. 


He wanted me to tell you he believes you have continually produced some of the finest Kenpo Black Belts in the world and that he is honored that they have represented you and the Tracy organization with class.


Master Tracy also wanted me to tell you that he sees you not as just being part of the “Golden Age of Karate” he believes you helped create the “Golden Age of Karate”


On behalf of Master Al Tracy, I’m proud to present you with your 10th degree Black belt certificate”.



After I read this statement to Dick, Joe Lewis said;


“I have a correction to the statement from Al Tracy.  Dick did not only produce some of the best Kenpo Black Belts in the world, Dick produced some of the best fighter’s period!”


We were all humble with a comment like that coming from Joe Lewis, one of the greatest fighters of all time.


Dick's daughters presented their dad with a martial arts ring!


As I get older and time goes by, I reflect more now on what is important in life.  I believe it is God, and my family. When I talk of family I include both my wife and two boys and my extended family.  I’m so proud to be part of this family (AKKA).  A big “thank you” to all of you, for all you have done to help me become who I am today.


The Wild Bunch!


Dick and his Black Belts have turned out some of the best Black Belts in the nation during his tenure.  They include Mike Roberts, Orned “Chicken” Gabriel, Rey Leal, Steve ”Nasty” Anderson, Robert ”Foots” Sumler, John “Big T” Turnage, Terry Crook, John West, John Zimmer, Dr. Mick Leone, Todd McElhinney, Joyce Nickley, David Hays, Frank Mafnas, Victor “the fly” Hervias and Larry McCraw.


Mike Roberts, Todd McElhinney, & Dr. MicK Leone


Now stop reading about training and start training!


David Hays




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14 Responses to “Dick Willett’s AKKA 40th Anniversary; Joe Lewis/Dean Lister Seminar Review”

  1. Bob White Says:

    It was a honor to be able to attend this tribute. My deepest respect to all that were a part of this fine organization.
    Bob White

  2. Vic AKA "the fly" Says:

    WOW! Great article!

  3. Kim Kimmel Says:

    I have used the phrase “I am honored” before, but never has it been more true than a few weeks ago. I was very fortunate to attend the celebration and presentation of Master Dick Willett’s 10th degree black belt. That in itself was extrordinary. How many people can say they witnessed a 10th degree presentation? Im sure not many. Then to top it off, I was surrounded by fighters I grew up admiring. Back in the day, it was common to pick up a copy of black belt magazene and find an article on at least one of the fighters from our studios. I learned from some of the very best! I’m still in awe from that day. Joe Lewis was great. He was like E.F. Hutton. When Joe spoke, people listened. To be in the company of amazing fighters like Dave, Terry, Chicken, Mick, Foots, John, Todd, Kimco and many more, was such an adrenaline rush. Better not leave out Joyce. One of the fiercest women fighters I have ever seen. These were some of the nicest people you will ever have the pleasure of meeting. As the celebration went on, I couldn’t help but think that this would be the wrong backyard for party crashers to hit. Again, I was truly honored to be there. I’m totally motivated again thanks to everyone there. Thank you to all involved. Kim

  4. David Hays Says:

    Thanks to those who responded to this posting.

    To the great Bob White, the honor was ours, thank you sir.

    Vic, you’re the best! And to Kim, thank you for always being a great student. I enjoyed the years we trained together and appreciate all the help you gave me in putting on great self defense demos. For those that do not know, Kim is a professional stuntman. That was a big factor in making the demo’s we did look excellent. Kim was always willing to allow great hard contact for that realistic effect.


    David Hays

  5. Dave Simmons Says:

    I honor Dick Willet he is true pioneer in Kenpo Karate. I value his friendship and think of him daily. I do remember the old days he represents the best of our Kenpo Karate system!

    God Bless,

    Dave Simmons

  6. Tom Says:

    Martial arts training teaches you to move from your center and connects your energy source. To increase power in martial arts training, you must increase both speed and strength. Self defense is one of the first purpose in martial arts training. Best wishes for you.

  7. Brason Says:

    This was a very well-written article, smooth and articulate. If it were not for the topic and the people in it, I would say that I couldn’t tell the difference between this story and a story published in the New Yorker magazine.

  8. David Hays Says:


    Thank you for your kind words. This was my first attempt at posting on a bog. I must confess I read several reviews on similar seminars to see how they were written. I also asked my good friends and fellow Black Belts Mike Roberts, Dr. Mick Leone and John Zimmer look it over prior to posting to check for errors, typos, etc. ?


    David Hays

  9. Janet Walgren Says:

    I’m so glad that you found my blog with your google search and that I posted the photo of Joe and me right before you did your search. What fun it is to see that at least one old timer is still fit and doing his thing. I’m totally jealous.

    Seriously, I enjoyed my visit to your blog. Thanks!

  10. John W. Zimmer Says:

    I’m jealous too Janet… Joe is only 10 or 15 years older than me and he is in better shape – hands down! Anyone interested in some early articles of Joe and Janet and Janets Karate experences – please visit her blog post entitled, Judo, my favorite sport at: http://janetwalgren.wordpress.com/2008/07/01/judo-my-favorite-sport/

    Kind regards,

    John W. Zimmer

  11. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hello Dave Simmons, I meant to reply earlier. I added a link to your site here. I also have you pictured in the “Pics” section from the Hall of Fame. Let me know if you would like any events published – I’ll be glad to post them for you.

    Warm regards,

    John W. Zimmer

  12. Vic Hervias AKA "the fly" Says:

    Is it possible to put my website and chickens (I built it for him and he want’s it out there..) as a link in your blog?
    I hope all is well with you borther!
    My site is: http://www.freewebs.com/vicskenpo
    Chickens is: http://www.freewebs.com/chickengabriel
    My little school is doing great, I know have only 5 students but they are good and I am glad I get to spend so much quality time with them and really teach them the way I want to. I also have a new Kenpo black belt coming to train with us soon and he is from New Jersey that is moving here to Alabama, so he will be with us.
    Talk to you soon John!

  13. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Vic,
    I took care of this for you… contrats on getting your school going. I was glad to see you and Doug at Dick’s party!
    Take care,

  14. Jose Says:

    After reading this blog makes me want to start my own :)