http://www.commercialappeal.com/story/m ... 475814001/
Elvis's karate school returning to Crosstown
Tom Bailey , USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee Published 4:21 p.m. CT July 17, 2017 | Updated 4:21 p.m. CT July 17, 2017
The storied Tennessee Karate Institute is re-opening next month in its original space in Crosstown. Tom Bailey/The Commercial Appeal
Patrick Wrenn is renovating the upstairs at 1372 Overton Park Ave. to reopen the old Tennessee Karate Institute in the same location it was in 1974-78 when Elvis was a partner in the school.(Photo: Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal)
The fabled Tennessee Karate Institute — the martial arts school that Elvis co-founded and supported in Crosstown — re-opens next month after 39 years.
Partial credit for the revival goes to the lift that the huge Crosstown Concourse redevelopment has given the once-distressed commercial district.
For the intersecting worlds of martial arts and Elvis Presley, the room over the long-closed White Way Pharmacy is revered space.
Search for "Elvis" and "The New Gladiators'' documentary on YouTube, and watch Elvis in the mid-1970s driving up in his white Cadillac to the building at Overton Park Avenue and Cleveland, ascending the stairs and demonstrating his karate moves with middleweight world kickboxing champion Bill "Superfoot'' Wallace, Elvis bodyguard Red West and others.
There's no video of the time martial artist/actor Chuck Norris traveled there seeking out a sparring session with Wallace and afterward offering him a bad-guy role in his next movie, "A Force of One.''
"We kicked everybody out of the school for an hour an a half and we beat the (expletive deleted) out of each other and had an absolute blast,'' recalled Wallace, who now lives in Florida.
He's returning to Memphis next month not only for Elvis death-week events at the invitation of Graceland, but for the grand-re-opening of Tennessee Karate Institute, often called TKI.
Patrick Wrenn is renovating the upstairs at 1372 Overton Park Ave. to reopen the old Tennessee Karate Institute in the same location it was in 1974-78 when Elvis was a partner in the school. (Photo: Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal)
Elvis had long been a karate student when he and sidekick Red West invited Patrick Wrenn, a local martial arts competitor with a good tournament reputation, and world champion Wallace to help them establish the Tennessee Karate Institute. The 4,300-square-foot studio operated above the pharmacy from 1974 to 1978.
Elvis died in 1977, Wallace left Memphis soon for his movie roles and worldwide travels as a martial arts champion, and Wrenn painfully vacated the premises shortly afterward, literally crawling on his belly.
Wrenn, now 70, had not tended to his back properly after a tournament injury, and it went out on him while he was upstairs alone. "I had to crawl on my stomach down the stairs to my car... That's the last time I left the school, was on my belly,'' he recalled.
In an old publicity photo, Patrick Wrenn breaks boards during a karate demonstration. Wrenn is renovating the upstairs at 1372 Overton Park Ave. to reopen the old Tennessee Karate Institute in the same location it was in 1974-78 when Elvis was a partner in the school. (Photo: Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal)
"For 40 years I thought of walking back into the school on my two feet.''
He has continued to teach as Patrick Wrenn's Combative Arts at other Memphis-area sites over the decades, most recently at DAC Fitness in Collierville. The Collierville school will continue, with classes taught by other black-belt holders.
Former Tennessee Supreme Court chief justice Janice Holder has been a student of Wrenn's for 28 years, and holds a fifth-degree black belt. She played a key role in the return of Tennessee Karate Institute to Crosstown.
On April 19, Holder toured Crosstown Concourse with the Kiwanis Club and decided to take a photo of the nearby old karate building. She texted the image to Wrenn. "He texted me back, 'Did you see a 'For Lease' sign in that window?' I said no,'' Holder recalled.
But when Holder expanded the photo, she spotted a "For Lease'' sign, called the real estate broker and, she said, "The rest is history.'' (The vacant ground floor, where the old pharmacy operated, will become the office for brg3s architects by late this year.)
Holder describes herself as a "silent'' partner with Wrenn and secretary-treasurer in the revival of the old karate school.
"This is a legend,'' she said of the site. "This was a school that has been described as the greatest martial arts school of all time...''
Asked what made the school so famous, Holder responded by naming Wallace, not Elvis. "It was Bill Wallace and his stature and the fact that it's where he trained to be a world champion,'' Holder said. "People came through here to fight with him and work with him.''
Wallace recalled training there during the daytime -- including routine runs to and around Overton Park -- and teaching at night. Among the students, of course, was Elvis.
As a kickboxer, Wallace would kick and punch and spar; Elvis practiced only self-defense with Kenpo karate.
"Elvis never sparred,'' Wallace recalled. "You've got to understand, he couldn't take the chance of being hit.
"He wasn’t a fighter. He didn’t have the time to train to be a fighter. He couldn't take a chance to get a rib broken or get a cut.
"But his technique, when we worked out, was fine,'' he said, adding that Elvis was "very flamboyant'' with his movements.
Wallace would never correct Elvis's techniques when other people were around. "But if it was just he and I, he could take criticism,'' Wallace recalled.
TKI will offer classes in karate, kickboxing and traditional boxing. The grand opening will be over the weekend of Aug. 18-20.
The potential number of students may be limited by the Crosstown facility's size, but a big part of the business will be selling T-shirts, polo shirts, jackets and workout equipment with TKI's insignia.
"I think the opportunity is golden," Wrenn said.
Want more Elvis?
The Commercial Appeal is marking next month’s 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death with two publications. Subscribers will receive a 12-page special section with their July 23 newspapers, and a 64-page magazine will be included with subscribers’ Aug. 13 newspapers and sold at select locations around town.