By Herb Borkland
Among other distinctions, cardio kickboxing and Impact Fitness entrepreneur Steve Doss grew up down the street from kickboxing pioneer Jim Harrison and knew pre-fame Chuck Norris. He trained with Bill Wallace at Elvis Presley’s legendary co-owned Tennessee Karate Institute and, in Corpus Christie, learned from pioneer karate champion Pat Burleson.
Herb Borkland: Where did you grow up, and what did your dad do?
Steve Doss: I grew up in Kansas City. Dad was a business man.
HB: How did you first hear about martial arts?
SD: Jim Harrison lived next door. His school was across the street from the high school I went to. He ran two floors: one for judo, the other for karate. Sparring was a bunch of men beating each other up and bleeding. Harrison’s [style of] kickboxing was holding up your hands like a boxer and jumping around.
I was a little scrawny guy and I was scared to death, but I took some classes. I never saw Jim, but I took karate from Steve Mackey. I met Chuck Norris when he just got back to the States and competed in Jim’s first tournament.
HB: Turning point?
SD: I joined the Navy in 1975 because I thought they’d send me to Japan to learn karate. It was the heyday of Bruce Lee movies, and everybody wanted to learn martial arts. But nobody knew them — except me. In boot camp, I was using hand combinations and kicks.
I went from [training with] Jim Harrison to Bill Wallace. We were stationed outside Memphis, and I’d trade watches so I could go take classes at the Tennessee Karate Institute founded by Bill Wallace, Patrick Wrenn, Elvis Presley and Red West. I trained there from November ’75 until May ’76.
Later, while in the Navy, I was stationed in Corpus Christie and worked out with Pat Burleson and Demetrius “The Golden Greek” Havanas. I had won state championships and was the number-one brown belt in Texas. But, that first night with the Greek, I went back to being a peon. I got my black belt from Demetrius. He’s the reason I stayed in martial arts.
When he died, I opened my own first Austin, Texas, school in 1984.
I was the guy that introduced cardio kickboxing. I did about a thousand seminars in most every city. By the way, the inventor wasn’t me, and it wasn’t (Tae Bo creator) Billy Blanks, either. It was a friend’s wife; she called it “Karobics.”
Ever since Jhoon Rhee invented musical forms [in 1975], they used music to do karate moves. One day, I was on a commercial flight, thinking that I could do the same thing with kickboxing. I was talking to some women and they were fascinated. One girl said, “Call it cardio kickboxing.” Yes!
So, I started classes and we were the sensation of Austin — cover of the newspaper, different locations cropped up, lines out the door. I gave seminars, did VHS training tapes and a marketing manual. Big international fad!
SD: Now I’m with World Kickboxing Champ Abel Villareal’s Karate Club. We do a 30-minute Impact Fitness workout, which is exactly what customers want, to tone and burn body mass.
Herb Borkland is a veteran black belt who can be contacted at [email protected]
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