Andrew Hearn talks with Frank Tarver

Elvis' friend and karate student with Kang Rhee in Memphis

It seemed that Elvis felt passionately about producing a karate movie in order to bring an end to the mystery surrounding the arts during the 1970s. Teenage America simply didn't understand or command any serious knowledge of this exciting form of self defence from the orient, and apart from a handful of movies including Enter The Dragon and Shaft, there wasn't a great deal of availability commercially. Elvis was perhaps the first actor to introduce karate to the silver screen in the 1960s and a desire to extend such impressive fighting skills to an ever growing audience lead to the idea of a dream project - The New Gladiator. In the summer of 1973, between shows at the Las Vegas Hilton, Elvis approached Ed Parker about the film and after receiving a positive reaction, he began to jot down some ideas on paper, occasionally dictating to Linda Thompson. Karate simply wasn't a popular mainstream sport at the time and schools were scarce.

The New Gladiators would help the popularity of karate, not just in the USA, but world wide. It was apparent that a keen martial artist should be responsible so that the point of the documentary would be correctly portrayed on screen. George Waite, one of Ed Parkers highest ranking students was also an excellent moviemaker and was soon appointed to spearhead the project. Several of America's top martial artists were gathered to appear in a segment to be filmed in Memphis. Local black belts including Red West and Bill Wallace fondly remember being filmed. Local karate student Frank Tarver was also there that day and thanks to our friends Wayne and Susan Carman, I spoke to him recently about his recollections of that exciting time.

I grew up in a small town in Arkansas and I was a fan of Elvis from the first time I started hearing his records. I'd come in every day from school and play his music. I just loved everything about him and he was a very big part of my life when I was growing up. I moved to Memphis when I was eighteen and I soon became involved with karate. Soon after that, Wayne Carman and I became good friends and we both went to Kang Rhee so we'd have a place to work out with other practitioners. Wayne and I have remained friends now for over thirty years.

One summer's night in 1971, I was working out when Elvis appeared unexpectedly at the school. He brought Priscilla and Lisa Marie, who was about three or four years old. He watched the entire class and afterwards Kang Rhee took Priscilla and Lisa Marie to another area of the school and it ended up with Elvis, myself and a couple of other students just sitting around talking. We talked for about two hours and we covered a lot of things. You don't know what it meant to me, after growing up and becoming a fan, to have him just pop in unexpectedly like that. I remember that he was wearing a greyish black mink suit, a silk shirt and a nice big gold necklace. He really looked good and of course, he had his trademark sunglasses on too. They came in on his tricycle, his three-wheeled motorcycle. They didn't have any one else with them and that night was the only time I ever saw him without Red, Sonny or any of the other guys.

We talked about quite a few things including martial arts. He enjoyed the various karate styles and he liked to learn about TaeKwonDo and PaSaRyu, which was our system. He asked about other styles that we had studied and it seemed to me that he really enjoyed just talking with a regular bunch of guys. Elvis told me that he needed to be cautious and that he had to make sure that he could protect himself and that martial arts may not always get the job done. He reached across with his right hand and produced a pistol from his belt. He said that if that one didn't get them then maybe his other one would and he pulled another gun from the other side of his belt. At this point, he reached behind and from under his jacket bought out a nickel-plated, very ornate 38-calibre automatic.

He explained that if the first two didn't do the job, this one certainly would. I was so enthralled with meeting the man, and so taken by his presence, that I thought all this stuff was very interesting. The fact that he carried his own protection because he didn't have his bodyguards with him. He assumed that we were all wondering about how the pistols were carried legally and so he showed us his Shelby County deputy sheriff's badge. This made the weapons legal in Shelby County but he needed to carry then nationally and to prove this he took out another wallet and showed us his US Federal badge. He told us stories about going to see President Nixon and how he got awarded the badges. My adrenaline was pumping so much that night that I went home and called my parents. I woke them up to tell them what I had just experienced and that I had really enjoyed talking with Elvis. I explained that I thought Elvis was just a regular person and not the icon that I was used to seeing. He was such a normal person.

I often worked out with Elvis but I never spared with him but it would have been quite an honour. He worked hard as a martial artist and his hands were very fast. He had a lot of good hand techniques that Ed Parker had taught him. Ed was a fabulous martial artist and a wonderful person. Elvis and I trained together maybe five or six times as I recall but Priscilla came over a great deal and worked out in the regular class with everyone else before she moved out West. Elvis would mostly work out with Kang Rhee so it was pretty special to see him in the regular class when we did. I can clearly recall the filming of The New Gladiator. Elvis' entourage was there and so too were some of his close friends including Linda Thompson. There was a lot of excitement in the air. Several of us had been working out at one of the other schools that day and we got a call to head over to the Whitehaven building, which is now closed.

The school at Overton Park is where Bill Wallace trained and it was the second place that they filmed. When Elvis showed up there was quite a buzz of excitement. We all got into the workout, Elvis gave several interesting demonstrations and we had a lot of fun. I'm excited about the release of The New Gladiator. I'm not sure if I appear too much in the movie but some of the footage did appear in a couple of documentaries and I was in that. After I left Kang Rhee's school I went to the Tennessee Karate Institute (TKA) and people from that school, including Al Holcome and Bill Wallace appear quite a bit. Elvis would appear at the TKI from time to time to work out. Bill Wallace was the number one karate player in the world at that time and because of this, you never knew who was going to show up there. Many great champions trained at TKI and even Chuck Norris came up those stairs one time. It was all quite an experience that I'll never forget.