Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace is a kicking legend. With his kicks clocked at over 60mph, and the ability to throw a hook kick, roundhouse (turning) and sidekick from the same chamber, he was as great a pioneer in kicking as Bruce Lee was in concepts.
Such was his influence in kicking, that many people now use his chamber without realising where it came from in the first place.
With an active career spanning more than 30 years, Bill is still as good a kicker now, as he was when he started. His view on training however, has moved with the times.
“I don’t want to do the same things that I’ve done before. My body just doesn’t do the things that I used to do. Number two, my ideas have changed, my priorities have changed. When I was younger all I wanted to do was workout, spar, and fight. And now there are other things to do. Your priorities change as you get older. Your body changes and gets different. But I still love it.”
These conflicting priorities are otherwise known as ‘life’. Fortunately, Bill used his nimble footwork to out manoeuvre life, and still gets to train whilst working, “I do seminars every weekend and that’s when I get to do my workouts. That’s my job. I get paid to work out. It’s perfect, I’m having fun.”
Having fun whilst training in the martial arts, is one of the most overlooked but important, factors. If you’re not having fun whilst training, then it becomes a chore. If you’re losing students, it could well be due to apathy or (more likely) they’ve become bored and disenchanted.
This certainly isn’t the case for Bill as he explains: “I find the training is still great. I don’t like to fight as much as I used to, I’m 61 years old. I like to have someone come out and say to them ‘okay, now you block this kick’. I’ll show them where it’s going and have them try to block the kick. Then I move onto the creation of a combination, so I have the guy able to block the first technique and hit him with something else. That’s the fun part of it.”
Hearing Bill say this took me back a few years to when I was watching a VMA release. Bill was teaching a seminar, and called Bob Sykes out to the front of the class. Doing exactly what he said above, he threw an excellent combination that ended with a good clock to the chin. He had a grin on his face all the way through.
Aside from having fun, it’s important to feel that you are making progress in the martial arts, and one way is to take ideas and concepts, and adapt them to your own way of doing things. This is something that Bill has also recognised, and made a core part of his seminars. He was kind enough to explain how he did this.
“What I try to do is to provide ideas.” He said, “I provide ideas on how to create openings, how to make something work. Most people are not good kickers because the leg is heavy, they’re not flexible and they’ve found it’s easier to punch than it is to kick. My whole goal in my martial arts career is to get people to start liking the kicking movements, to get people to start liking the kicks themselves.”
It seems that this has worked. Being an old-school kicker with the TAGB, back in the 90s, I can remember the advent of the lead leg chamber in our class. It literally changed everything. Bill and I talked about how kicking has changed over the years, “I see a lot more people kicking now. Especially in competitions. I see a lot more people throwing the flashy kicks to the head, I see a lot more people using the front leg kicks, using the speed aspect as opposed to the power shots.”
Bill’s enthusiasm when he talks about the seminars he gave to the TAGB is obvious, and it’s clear he still remembers them with affection, “I really like the TAGB, they’re good people. The first time I met Kenny Walton and David Oliver was in Buenos Aires in Argentina. We walked into a bar and there they were. We sat down and started talking and had an absolute ball. They did some exhibitions and demonstrations, and one that I remember was them in Tuxedos. I also did a demonstration with Cynthia Rothrock where we fought in slow motion. I wore bib overalls (dungarees) for that.”
(Ed’s note: This was the Combat Superstars show)
Bill’s career has had its effects upon his health, especially on his hips. “I have new ones. I have brand new ones. Both have been replaced. My left was replaced after an accident in Africa, and my right was replaced because of my right knee. My right knee had been bad for so long that I overcompensated and wore the right hip out.”
For those that don’t know of Bill’s history, Bill began studying karate in February 1967, after suffering a serious injury to his right knee in a judo accident. He completely ripped the ligaments in his knee. The injury left him unable to compete in Judo, and so he moved into Shorin-Ryu Karate. From there he proceeded to make history both in semi-contact and then full-contact.
Having two new hips is going to affect the way you train, no matter how old you are, and we discussed what effect this surgery had upon Bill’s training, “When I started to stretch I actually felt the stretch. The muscles themselves were affected because they’d atrophied, so I had to rebuild my flexibility. I had to change some other things, but the kicking is still there. I still feel fast and I’m two or three inches off the floor in box splits, which isn’t bad when you’ve got two new hips.”
Aside from having to work on his flexibility, and rebuild the atrophied muscles, the surgery has made Bill think about the way he kicks.
“When you have brand new hips there are certain things that the doctors don’t want you to do.” He explained, “They don’t want you to cross your legs, to have your feet point out, and they don’t want you to bend more than 90 degrees. Fortunately my doctor knows what I do for a living, so he fixed it so that I could do everything I needed.” This definitely seems to be a case of ‘we have the technology to rebuild him’.
Hip replacement operations aren’t easy on the body. If you’ve never seen one on television, you haven’t missed much. The trauma on the body is as severe as you might expect when it involves replacing such major bones. Often the time taken to heal can be months. Not in the case of ‘Super Bill’, “I had my operation at the end of May, and I gave my first seminar in the middle of June. It wasn’t a great seminar but I had it arranged so I showed up, and I demonstrated the techniques.”
Aside from a successful career on the semi and full contact arenas, Bill has also co-starred in a number of films, often being the bad guy.
“I haven’t done a movie for a few years, but it’s fun being the bad guy. You can be the bad guy on-screen and it’s great being the bad guy off-screen, staying in the role.
I think that movies are behind me because I’m older now, I don’t have the same look I as I did when I was younger, and there are so many other people out there that can be the bad guy. Movies are a young people’s game nowadays, but I’d still like to do them if I was asked to.”
———- Begin Sidebar ———-
The Falkland Man – 2001
Silent Assassins – 1988
American Hunter – 1988
Fight to win – 1987
Sword of Heaven – 1985
The Protector – 1985
Manchurian Avenger – 1985
Los Angeles Streetfighter – 1985
Get a Job – 1985
Killpoint – 1984
Sword of Heaven – 1981
A Force of One – 1979
———- End Sidebar ———-
Having competed in semi-contact, and travelled the world teaching martial artists how to improve their kicking, Bill was in a good position to point out the differences between competitors in the US, and competitors in the UK.
“A lot of the UK people have been coming over to the states to compete, so when they come over to compete they’re learning a lot and taking it back. This means that they’re so much better now.”
That said, he continues saying, “They need to compete more. You learn through competing, you learn the best aspects by entering competitions. Over here you can take one large city like Chicago, Miami, or New York, and you’ll find a tournament in that area every weekend. If you’re a martial artist you can compete every weekend and you can’t help but learn.”
It’s clear that the US is still streets ahead when it comes to the martial arts and their acceptance by the general public. With the ability to enter a tournament in their locality every weekend, the US fighters are going to keep their lead. How the UK gets around this is certainly a matter for debate.
One aspect of freestyle competition that Bill doesn’t like is musical forms. “A lot of the fancy stuff, the jumping, the diving, the spinning, and the somersaults is something I don’t like because it has little to do with the martial arts. It looks great on the movie screen though, and people like to see it. People who aren’t martial artists think it’s really neat.”
Not only was Bill a pioneer in kicking, he was also a pioneer in kickboxing. Many readers will have grown up knowing kickboxing as a mainstream martial art (whether it’s full-contact or ‘freestyle kickboxing’ aka semi/light). When Bill started kickboxing it was viewed in pretty much the same light as BJJ, rocking the foundations of people’s belief as to what martial arts and full-contact karate (as it was known before becoming kickboxing) actually were.
He was also one of the lucky few who got to train with other pioneers of the sport, “I did a lot of training with Joe Lewis. Back when we first started in the early 70s, Joe was the only one who knew how to box. Joe was the only one that had the boxing skills, and the rest of us were karate people. It was a great time to spar Joe Lewis. There were other people that came along. When I was in Memphis, Tennessee there was a boxing coach that came along, Bevo Covington. I trained a lot with him.”
Even pioneers have their heroes however namely, “Skipper Mullins and Chuck Norris, simply because when I started they were the competitors of the time, and were the top guys and I wanted to compete against them.”
It seems that Bill was an accidental hero however. A somewhat reluctant full-contact fighter, he didn’t actually volunteer.
“At the start of it I was more or less forced into it. I was a natural middleweight so Joe Lewis said ‘you’re going to do it’. I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to get hit but he said ‘you’re going to do it’.
It started getting fun, all of a sudden I was a World Champion Kickboxer and I was like ‘wow’.”
His first fight definitely had an impression on him as he can remember it as clear as glass, “Whatever you train for, you can train for all day long, but unless you actually get out there you don’t know what it’s like. I was up there in front of 10,000 fans and all of a sudden I’m going ‘oh sh*t’.
I was nervous, scared to death until the bell went ‘ding’. I said to myself ‘well if I’m scared now and the guy hits me it can’t be any worse’. After the bell went ding I wasn’t scared at all, I was ready to do it.”
One does wonder whether it was worth all that fear and stress, and Bill agreed citing the reason that he kept fighting, “I just enjoyed it, it starting becoming fun.” Unfortunately, the pre-fight fear, stress and preparation started having a negative impact on his life, “It’s one of the reasons that I retired. It was always on your mind. You just don’t want to go through with it after a while, and I said ‘enough is enough’.”
The full contact world now has a lot to offer fighters. They can enter Muay Thai, kickboxing, WTF Taekwondo, the WCL and MMA. I asked Bill If he was starting out in full-contact now, would he fight in MMA or WCL?
“Not the WCL”, is the emphatic answer, “because I’m a thinker. The WCL aspect of it means you have one, three minute round and if you hesitate at all they warn you for stalling. It’s okay but I like to set stuff up, I want to create openings on the guy, want him to block stuff, I want him to move around. I want to hesitate a bit, but in the WCL you have to continually kick and punch all the time.
I was a wrestler in College and if I was younger, 21 or 22 I would totally consider entering the MMA events.”
As with any martial artist, there is always a reason for them starting beyond ‘I just wanted to’. With Bill it was a common problem. He was scrawny.
“When I went to High School I weighed 98lbs, so it was a little bit difficult for me to play basketball, a little bit difficult to play football (Ed: American Football, not Soccer), so I got started in wrestling and fell in love with it.”
Not only did he fall in love with wrestling, he went on to become very good at it. His competitive nature shone through even then, “I really liked the competition. I always wanted to beat someone, I wanted to be a better wrestler than they were.”
As we were talking about wrestling, we moved back towards discussing the modern trends of BJJ and MMA. Bill was quick to point out how wrestling has influenced these arts, “If you look at wrestling, the takedowns are fantastic.” He explained. “They’re using wrestling takedowns such as the double leg takedown, the single leg and then once they get down they’re using the chokes and arm bars from the JJ and putting them together. If you watch the Gracies, the number one technique is the double leg takedown which is a wrestling move.”
Bill was also a commentator on UFC I, back in the days when it was style versus style, bare hands and pretty much ‘no holds barred’. In those days attacks to the groins and eyes weren’t banned, fighters would just be fined something in the region of $10,000. It was a time when the Gracies dominated due to the fact that no-one knew about ground fighting, and how to counter it.
“It’s okay, but it’s like a brawl. You’re not really learning how to punch, you’re not really learning how to kick. It’s just tough guys in there that like to get guys to the ground and pummel them.” I think it is safe to say he’s not necessarily a fan of sloppy technique.
Bill then put forward an interesting idea, “I’d like to see the same competition on a concrete floor or a hardwood floor. Do the same takedowns, the same throws, do the same movements on the floor. You’re not going to get the same takedowns or the same movements because it’s going to tear your knees up, it’s going to tear everything apart.”
He wouldn’t deny just how popular it has proven with the public however, nor how it had got into the general martial arts psyche, “People here in the US see this MMA, everybody wants to learn the takedowns, everyone wants to learn the chokes, all that stuff. What they find out in the first month though is that it’s not as easy to do as it looks, and when you reach a certain age, the last thing you want is to have someone roll around on top of you. I’m 61 years old and I don’t want someone rolling on me. I get mat burns, bruises on my shoulders and hips, you just don’t want to be there.”
Having trained with, and fought against, some of the best in the world, Bill has plenty of memories. I asked if he had any that stood out.
“The time I sparred with Bob Sykes in England was great. We had a ball. Bob, Kenny Walton and I all sparred. When I do the seminars everyone gets together and spars and tries out different techniques. That’s always the fun thing, see how they react, how they learn something.
Kenny was a good fighter. We sparred in Liverpool and we had a great time, it was super sparring Kenny. We were out there kicking and punching each other, he’d just won a TAGB championship, it was a great time.”
Speaking about how he came over to England for seminars, we talked about his forthcoming seminar in Belfast and whether he was coming over to Scotland, “I’d love to. Some people have asked me to come over and give seminars in that area. I’d like to be able to tie it into the seminars that I’m doing for John Rosboro in Ireland, on August 1st in Belfast, and from there go over to Scotland and do some stuff over there. I’ve also had calls from England, and I’d love to do some stuff over there as well. The last time I was in England was in the early 90s. I would love to set some seminars up.”
Bill was very firm about what his plans for the future were, “Still travelling around doing the seminars and exhibitions. I still really enjoy doing all of that. I’m not retiring” He offered his philosophy on retiring, “You retire you die. I don’t wanna die, not yet anyway.”
It was clear that Bill had a love for the martial arts that went beyond the feelings most people have for them. He had mentioned other priorities however, and I wanted to know more about the man than the martial artist, so I asked what he did when he wasn’t demonstrating how to kick someone in the head multiple times: “I like to play golf, sometimes I hit it good, sometimes I hit it bad. I have a 4/5 handicap right now, and I have a motorbike which I enjoy riding. It’s a Harley Davidson.
My martial arts help a lot with the balance, the tempo and movement and getting the hips into the swing. A lot of times it gives me focus. I play for the fun o fit, I get upset sometimes but on the whole I play for the fun of it.”
I truly pity any golfing partner that’s with Bill when he ‘gets upset’. Hooking the ball must take on a whole new meaning!