Under: karate
22 Dec 2007


When I was a kid I used to see Elvis in movies doing karate! Not only was he (Elvis) the king of music but he was also the king of karate! Then I got older and started learning the martial arts. I heard rumors that Elvis could not fight his way out of a paper bag and that all of his belts were honorary. Although I am a 5th degree black belt in Kenpo Karate – I did not take the time to learn the real history!

Picture from Barracuda Central/Tiger Man Pics website       

I read an article by Al Tracy that attempts to separate the myth from the facts. According to Al Tracy, Hank (Henry) Slomanski was the instructor that granted Elvis a black belt. Henry was a tough cookie that won a Japanese championship after winning 119 bouts! I encourage you all to read this account by Al Tracy. He (Al) was a student of Ed Parker’s in the same time period.  


Ok – you might be thinking, I’ve heard that Elvis was a 10th degree, a 7th degree, or other high ranking black belt… is that the straight dope?  


The black belt is the toughest test most styles of karate have. To attain that rank, a student has to do everything prescribed by that style proficiently! The bar of measurement varies from school to school but if the instructor is known for his or her fighting ability – the students are certainly passed if they too, have fighting ability. I would submit to you, based on Elvis’s instructor who granted the black belt (Hank), That Elvis was the real deal.  


As for the later rankings… once a student achieved the black belt, he or she could get the latter rankings by doing prescribed tests or by contributing to the style as well as getting purely horary degrees. Each system’s ranking practices are different but the important ranking is black belt. All of the higher degrees do not generally have a much meaning because they speak to experience or political connections rather then fighting prowess!  


For instance I am a 5th degree black belt – a Master in my system. Do you think that means I am untouchable by a 1st degree black belt? No – I have more experience now but I am also a middle-aged man. Here is what I had to do for each degree of black belt:

  • Fighting black belt: Fight 10 black belts in a row – I was antsy to start fighting black belt in tournaments.
  • 1st degree black belt: 17 katas, spot check of 240 techniques, basics, fight 5 black belts.
  • 2nd degree black belt: Karate demonstration
  • 3rd degree black belt: Defend against a mass attack
  • 4th degree black belt: Create 10 techniques and 1 kata
  • 5th degree black belt: Present a thesis


Elvis studied with various instructors, some of which bestowed higher degrees of black belt but I say to you – The first degree is the most important. Elvis was a real black belt and was not a paper tiger! He was a truly amazing man that could be successful as a musician and get a black belt from a tough instructor such as Henry Slomanski!  


Here is a YouTube video of Elvis (the Tiger Man) reminiscing about karate. Chuck Norris wrote a nice article about Elvis and Priscilla Presley back in the day that gives a little more context. So to answer the burning question – Yes, Elvis could fight his way out of a paper bag. While I am not sure what his final ranking in each style was – he was the real deal. While reviewing material for this blog, I saw videos of his concerts where he launched into karate demonstrations. I think his love for karate helped advance the martial arts. 

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20 Responses to “Was Elvis Presley a Paper Tiger? Did the King Get a Real Black Belt?”

  1. msknowitall Says:

    That is amazing! I really had no idea that Elvis was REALLY a black belt. Thank you so much for your kind wors of encouragement. You have NO idea how much that meant!

  2. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi MsKnowItAll,

    I enjoyed seeing your thoughts while going through your training. We have all been there but the rewards are worth it. I think Napoleon Hill said (paraphrasing), if you have a burning desire, you have what it takes to achieve it! I think you will do anything you put your mind to… most people do not realize that until later in life.

    Take care,

    John W. Zimmer

  3. Krav Maga 411 Says:

    I think one thing we have to remember for sure is that Elvis loved the martial arts and did as much as he could to turn other people on to them. I heard that when Bill “Super Foot” Wallace was injured and had to have surgery Elvis came through with some much needed financial support. I also heard that when they were auctioning off some of Elvis’s karate gis there was blood on them, that goes to show he wasn’t fake training.

  4. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Wow… I had heard the the King was helpful but did not know the details. Thanks!

  5. Joy Ruiz Says:

    Wow. This is an amazing entry. Never did the thought of Elvis being a black belt entered my mind. Thank you very much for your comment in my blog. Maybe I’m just burnt out but I really love karate. Even though sometimes, I want to quit, I am confident enough to say that whatever happens, I’ll continue training. Thanks also for the tips. :) God bless you.

  6. Patricia Slomanski Says:

    My beloved husband, Henry Slomanski, has never received the credit that he deserves. He not only awarded Elvis the First and Second Degree Black Belt, but he was the World Karate Champion. He won this by defeating 119 of the best Japan had to offer, but the Japanese Karate Federation has never given him the credit that he deserves. It is very sad that the truth has not been revealed. He trained in the “old style” of Karate which had been passed down to the Masters for over 2,000 years. I need information from persons who can help me bring the truth to the surface. The Japanese officials have not cooperated, I guess, because they are embarassed that an American defeated their best. I would appreciate any help that you can give to me.

  7. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hello Mrs. Slomanski,
    I got my material from Al Tracy’s website for this post. I did look on google books for old Black Belt Magazines from 1960 and see a couple of mentions:
    I put your husband’s name and got a few mentions. I imagine that the older information is not published on the web. Have you asked Al Tracy or Dan Inosanto?
    I found a few links – one of which mentions his winning the title, “International Karate Champion.”



    It was great to learn of Henry “Hank” Slomanski while researching material for this post.

  8. Mr. Jesus E. Castillo Says:

    Respecfully; Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, me for one, I have no reason to doubt that Elvis was a bad ass, wether he was a black belt or not, this is not what made him famous anyway. I’m pushig 53 years, I wasn’t an Elvis fan all the time, I was a beatles fan 1st, but when they broked up, there was no one to admire at that level, then, Elvis came on strong with his jumpsuits, That did it !, I got into the Elvis groove and became a lifetime fan of his, since 1970. In my life, and youth, I managed to get as high as 3rd degree black belt in tae twan do, but I like Chuck Norris and Robert Conrad’s way of thinking, that of learning more than one style of martial arts. What’s the 1st lesson though in martial arts ? ( never take your eyes off your oponent !, what’s the 2nd ? The element of sorprise is what makes karate work. Let the world think that you can’t figth your way out of shield of lettuce, untill the time comes. Because if I know your a bad ass dude in karate, I’m not coming near you without a gun ! So, let it be, wether it was truth or nor that Elvis was a black belt , he was one heck of a gentle man. Because, when you look at who he was, what he had, the clout he commanded any where in the world,the millions who adored or admired him,
    and you saw him being brougth to his knees with tears and compassion for a handicapped child, hence here the real essence of this man ! So who the hell cares if he really was a black belt ?!?!?!

  9. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hello Jesus,
    Elvis having a black belt is not in question and I agree that he is quite the rocker and roller for the ages. This post was more to inform the world that yes the king – really did have a black belt!
    When I was younger I thought it was more of a social promotion – you know like I hear Ricky Nelson got…
    Not bad first and second lessons… I would use #2 as number on and then put critical distance as # 2. But as you say everyone is entitled to their opinions.
    I’ve heard of black belts bragging and then getting their butt kicked so you are preaching to the choir with me. :)
    Thanks for commenting

  10. Mrs. Henry Slomanski Says:

    Thank you, Mr. Zimmer, for your suggestions. I have been researching, but the information is very difficult to uncover. I have several institutions doing research for me, and I hope to hear from them in the not too distant future. Graceland has already confirmed that they have Elvis’ cards with my husband’s signature on them, but I really want to find the information which will, once and for all, show the world that his accomplishments in Karate have not been matched since he defeated the 119 Japanese. The Japanese are not willing to admit that an American defeated 119 of their very best. Hopefully, I will discover information or persons who can provide indisputable evidence about his victories. I thought that the Japanese were very big on honor and integrity, but so far I have seen very little honor or integrity when I have requested documents. Anything that you can do to help would be greatly appreciated. I hope to make a movie about his life and have been in conversations with a producer. The truth will eventually come out. It always does. Thanks for your help. I truly appreciate it.

  11. Bob Carmody Says:

    Mrs. Slomanski,

    Someone has told me that my father was a good friend of Henry’s at Ft. Campbell and I was just trying to verify this. My father was an Army boxer and coach who won an Olympic medal and was killed in Vietnam. His name was Bobby Carmody. Do you have any recollection of him ? To be honest, I never heard of your husband until someone emailed me that he remembered my father being friends with Henry.

    I am researching my father’s life. Appreciate the help. Thanks, Bob.

  12. Shawn Reeves Says:

    I have come across my father’s, Wendell M. Reeves, All Japan Kempo Karate Do Assocation 3D Black Belt Certificate dated July 18, 1965 with the signature of Henry Slomanski and Joseph Vittue. Is there any other information I can gather? pictures, documentation?

    Shawn Reeves

  13. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Shawn,
    I found a mention of a Joseph Virtue along with Henry Slomanski here: http://www.chito-ryu.com/military.html. I also found a picutre of Wendell Reeves several places… here is one that talks about a Chicago tournment with a picture: http://www.usagoju.com/History.htm.

    Was that Wendell Reeves your dad? Let me know if it is ok to email Henry Slomanski’s wife with your email address and I will be happy to do so (not sure the email address is good but she has commented twice).
    Hope this is useful.

  14. Elvis Presley Says:

    he sure did he was a hell of a fighter and a hell of a singer HEY!

  15. Daneen Whinna Says:

    Hello Shawn-

    I am just coming across your post on this forum and wanted to give you the most accurate and precise information on your question. My dad has trained under the only living Master Instructor from Henry Slomanski. He is currently the Soke of Slo Ryu Karate Do, which was formed as a dedication to Henry Slomanski’s unique accomplishments, his name is John B. Burkhardt. You can read about his training on http://www.henryslomanski.net or http://www.henryslomanski.com. My dad currently holds the rank of 4th degree Shihan. We would be extremely interested in getting in touch with you further about your father’s training and his certificate. We would love nothing more than to honor your father in our lineage tree that is listed on both websites mentioned above. It would be of great interest to you and John Burkhardt to be in further contact. John Burkhardt and Mrs. Slomanski are close friends and I, along with my dad, are all part of the ventures in honoring all of Henry’s accomplishments as well as his students. Please contact me and I will put you in touch with John Burkhardt. My dad has spoken to him just prior to me writing this about your post and is very interested in being in contact. We hope to reciprocally share a lot of information. You can reach me via email @ sensei@henryslomanski.com.
    We look forward to hearing from you soon! ~Daneen

  16. Jordan Edwards Says:

    No one will beat the king which is Elvis Presley.-“-

  17. Zachary Graham Says:

    who could have not known the greatest musician of the decade. Elvis is the king.`,;

  18. John Ali Says:

    i always love the songs of Elvis Presley, there would be no other singer like him;”:

  19. Aaron Stewart Says:

    Elvis Presley is the only King, there would be no other music artist like him-,~

  20. Pine Cupboard Says:

    there would be no other king of rock and roll like elvis presley, he is the best and a legend `*’