How good was Elvis Presley at Karate?

Back in the late 1950s, The King of rock n roll, Elvis Presley began training Karate whilst in the US army. Within a few years he was a 7th Dan black belt in the art. So, what does this mean? Well, firstly it usually takes a minimum of three years training to achieve the black belt. More precisely, it takes a bare minimum of seven years to reach 7th Dan status. With this said, how did Elvis get to the rank of 7th Dan so quickly?

To answer this question, the devil is in the detail. According to Elvis himself, he had quite a high opinion of his skills at the time and said “It’s called Karate, man. Only two kinds of people know it, The Chinese and The King. And one of them is me.” It should be noted that Presley’s addiction to opiates and painkillers began during the early ’60s, around the time he would have said this quote and around the same time, he was awarded the coveted 7th Dan.

Who gave Elvis his Karate Black Belt?

Elvis was awarded his Karate black belt in the early 1960s by Hank Slemansky. Slemansky was a key figure in the Karate community during the time and helped grow the martial art in the United States. However, it was Rhee Kang who awarded Elvis the extra Dan ranks on his black belt. This happened during a supposedly 6-week, intensive course. As mentioned earlier, it usually takes closer to 10 years to achieve this rank, so you can see why Karate purists would get annoyed with this.

Was Elvis any good at Karate?

It should also be noted, that Elvis’s later promotions to 7th Dan were due in an honorary fashion. Often in martial arts, celebrities are fast-tracked through the belts. With this said, the status of Elvis’s black belt shouldn’t be considered in the same way that a regular black belt should. In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, celebrity teacher Rigan Machado does a similar scheme whilst training celebrities, to ensure their safety whilst keeping the environment competitive and focused on learning. Because of this, it means that Elvis certainly knew Karate, but he wouldn’t have been as good as most black belts either.

Who taught Elvis Presley Karate?

As mentioned, throughout his years – Elvis had various Karate teachers. He got his black belt from Hank Slemansky and was fast-tracked through the Dan rankings by Rhee Kang. However, a lot of the time he was also taught by Ed Parker. Parker founded American Kenpo, which was his US interpretation of Karate. Although its name is different, this is mostly academic and most people see it as Karate. Parker trained with Elvis into the ’70s, which was the decade that saw Presley die.

Elvis trains with Ed Parker. Notice the stance of Elvis? This is a Karate stance, which he also put into his live performances which were highly energetic

Did Bruce Lee ever meet Elvis?

This is something that has been a bit of an internet rumor for a while now. Although The King did genuinely want to meet Bruce Lee, this never actually happened. Due to different schedules and commitments, the pair never met. However, this story is quite interesting as it shows just how much Elvis truly loved martial arts. Undoubtedly, he would have wanted to learn from Bruce Lee, and would have been interested in the greatest martial artist of his generation.

The legendary stage suits of Elvis were supposedly inspired by Karate

As homage to Karate, Elvis often wore stage suits that mimicked the gis worn in Karate. Thinking about it, the classic-white suit kind of looks familiar, right? His energetic Karate chops and stances would also be used on stage whilst performing. With this said, he genuinely did care for Karate and seemed to love it deeply.


In summary, Elvis had a real passion for Karate and practiced it casually for decades. In a life full of celebrity culture, the lure of Karate would have helped him unwind and take him back to his days before fame, when he was in the army. However, Elvis wouldn’t have been some kind of Karate master. Instead, he was a fanatic who loved to train and learn, and what is wrong with that? For those moaning about his quick promotions, whilst this does annoy some…let’s be real – it’s other reasons as to why Karate got watered down in areas, and it wasn’t Elvis Presley’s fault as to why the art’s reputation suffered.

In conclusion, it’s fair to say that Elvis had a rich history with Karate. It’s also fair to say that the art helped shape his career in the form of stage costumes and performances. For a comprehensive breakdown of Elvis and his venture into Karate, this book covers a lot of the intricate details and history.

2 thoughts on “How good was Elvis Presley at Karate?

  • April 22, 2021 at 4:47 pm

    Many Martial Arts would take a life time to get to 7th Dan. I think who ever promoted him wanted to make a name for himself

    • June 2, 2021 at 1:49 am

      While you complain about who promoted him, I will say he was a legit black belt. If you know anything about martial arts, the name Hank Slomanski is well known. If you don’t know about him, study the man.

      He awarded Elvis and Dan Ionosoto black belts. They were the only two civilians awarded this rank by Commissioner Slomanski.


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