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Steve Doss: Showing Off Bruce Lee Moves in the Early 70’s Navy

motivation May 18, 2019

By Herb Borkland


Cardio kickboxing and Impact Fitness entrepreneur Steve Doss has what Enter the Dragon villain Bob Wall once called the “greatest martial arts resume ever.” Among other distinctions, Doss grew up down the street from kickboxing superstar Jim Harrison and knew pre-fame Chuck Norris. He trained with Bill Wallace at Elvis Presley’s legendary Tennessee Karate Institute and, in Corpus Christie, learned from pioneer karate champion Pat Burleson. Considered the Father of Cardio Kickboxing, today Doss’s new Impact Fitness thirty-minute workouts are a growing franchise success nationally.

Herb Borkland: Where did you grow up, and what did your father 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.

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 went for Jim’s first tournament.  

Harrison’s kickboxing was holding up your hands like a boxer and jumping around. I was a little scrawny guy, but I fought in the first kickboxing tournament ever.

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 – except me. In boot camp, I was using hand combinations and kicks.

I went from 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, first night with the Greek, I went back to being a peon. I got my black belt from Demetrius. He is 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 founder) Billy Blanks, either. It was a friend’s wife – she called it “Karobics.”

Ever since Jhoon Rhee invented musical forms, 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.” I thought, 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!

HB: Future?

SD: Now I’m with world kickboxing champ Abel Villareal’s Karate Club. I started the Impact Fitness franchise in ’97 in Rhode Island. Check out We do a 30-minute workout which is exactly what customers want, to tone and burn body mass. There are seven locations now, with a bunch more coming. It’s a good way to make a living!


Herb Borkland is a veteran black belt who can be contacted at [email protected].

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