He was my fate and a major part of my destiny. I had just won the title of Miss Texas International in Dallas, Texas when I was asked to present several dozen red roses and a trophy to the winner of the Karate Grand Champion. Chuck Norris and Joe Lewis would fight that night for the title.
Hundreds of people watched as Chuck Norris entered the room, and then, as if by magic, I saw a 6 foot 2 inch, 180-pound man with green eyes and a thick mane of blonde hair bouncing down the aisle toward me. When he removed his gi, his chest was massive, flanked by wings for lats and mountain-boulder shoulders. With his muscular build, strong jaw, and piercing eyes, he cast a powerful image.
The muscles of his torso, chiseled to refinement, flickered with each movement. He looked like a walking fantasy, a Greek Warrior god… alert and confident. He swiftly tapped into his rhythm and it was quite obvious that he was mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually at the top of his game. He was a nonpareil.
Soon, he positioned himself into a fighting stance with the stare and intensity of a lion gauging his prey, hungry to attack. His focus, discipline and energy were unmistakable. Like chess players, the fighters were poised, alert, and relaxed. Joe was mobile in all directions with equal skill and speed. He was the meaning of the word smooth.
Sitting in the front row, I was an anxious spectator, not knowing that in a few minutes I would witness Karate Champions at their best. The excitement, the force, the flurry of punches and kicks with sweat drenching their bodies simply left me in awe. The two men were fighting for the title of ‘Grand’ Champion.
In the last round, Joe Lewis took his revenge with a punch in the plexus and Chuck Norris fell to the mat. The crowd exploded into a deafening cheer. My escort whispered that it was time for me to present the roses and trophy.
It was my first time wearing the new crown, and I was a bit nervous, but I smiled broadly as I walked up to Joe, handed him the roses and the trophy and whispered, “Congratulations.” He said, “Thank you,” and without diverting his gaze from mine, handed the roses and trophy to the referee. With fresh blood pumping through his veins, his bright green eyes victoriously ablaze, he blushed and asked me for a kiss. I love men who blush… I nodded “yes” and smiled. He put his large hand behind the back of my neck, delicately catching strands of my long dark hair, and slowly touched his lips to mine. Instinctively, he moved his body closer to me while his other hand found the arch of my back, and with the fervor and feel of Rhett Butler taking Scarlet O’Hara in “Gone With The Wind,” he kissed me deeply, passionately and lovingly. My knees buckled and I surrendered. The audience was silent; having just witnessed Joe Lewis conquer Chuck Norris using the power and precision of black belt karate, they were now watching the passion of two new lovers blossom in the same arena. It was, indeed, a magic moment!
The Beginning of a Beautiful Relationship
After the very public and passionate kiss, we could not take our eyes off one another. Joe was spontaneous and electric — sensual, sensitive, and charismatic, not to mention the most confident man I had ever met. Chemistry bounced from our bodies and the relationship was on…
Sometimes, two people meet, they come together and it’s a perfect fit. It can be lust, love at first sight, or admiration and respect. No one can explain why: it just happens. I call it destiny. I was meant to present the roses to the Champion. Joe was meant to win the fight. We were meant to be together…
I was from Mississippi. He was from North Carolina. We had a mutual understanding of our forefathers, our Southern roots, respect for our fellow man and our country. He did not judge me. He only wanted to please me and make some of my dreams come true. I did not judge him. I only wanted him to be the best man he could be. That’s what he wanted, too. He was easy, fun, comfortable, secure, protective and loving… and we were both on top of the world at that moment in time.
The following night we had dinner and went to the most frequented club in Dallas. When we walked through the door, I could see my ex-boyfriend, Craig Morton, Quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, and several of his teammates sitting with him. I became tense. Joe noticed and asked what was wrong. I told him that I had been dating the guy in the corner, but it was over. He smiled and said, “Don’t worry about it. You’re with me!” then lead me onto the dance floor. We were laughing and having fun when a few minutes later, Craig came closer and wanted to dance with me. When a love affair is over, it still carries a brief history. This was Craig’s hang-out, his territory, and Joe Lewis was a stranger in town.
I don’t think that Joe appreciated the request. Something happened, I’m not sure what. A few words were exchanged and the next thing I remember, we were all outside… Craig and Joe were in a heated argument when someone took Craig aside and told him that Joe could not fight him. I asked Joe what was happening and he said that his hands were insured as lethal weapons and he could not fight a non-professional. Obviously, the night was ruined, but this Southern Gentleman inspired great love with his chivalry. He was so cool and calm. After all, discretion is the better part of valor.
The Grueling Exercise Regime
Within a matter of days, Joe was staying in my apartment on Turtle Creek Lane. It was a two bedroom and I had a lovely roommate who was attending art school. The apartment had a big kitchen with a high counter and stools, and we all spent a lot of time in that area listening to music, laughing, chatting and cooking great meals.
Every morning, Joe would wake up and begin his intensive work-out. Since I was a ballerina starting at age three, his regimen was foreign to me, but I wanted to learn and he wanted to teach. That morning, I joined him for a jog thinking how easy it would be. Well, it was the most difficult run I had ever had. Joe said with each stride, “Lift your knees… higher, higher, keep lifting.” I thought I could run, but Joe taught me how to maximize the muscles properly to avoid injury and get the most from the exercise. After five miles, I was wet with sweat and breathing heavily. I told him I was exhausted. He laughed, and then swooped me up in his arms and carried me all the way back home…
The next day, he bought me some weights and taught me about weight lifting. After the work-out, he made an amazing protein drink. I have no idea what he put in it, but my body responded to his teachings and to his drink. I was more taut, more lean and stronger than before.
My mom called every day, and one day Joe answered the phone. He charmed my mom, and when he handed the phone to me, she insisted that I bring him home to Mississippi. I asked. He accepted. I have rarely ever taken before or since, any man to meet my parents, but Joe was delighted and we took a trip down South.
My parents picked us up at the airport and I said, “Joe, I want you to meet my Dad, Joe Venus!” They laughed, shook hands and I could see my mother’s eyes twinkling. Joe turned his attention to her and said, “You look exactly like Ava Gardner and she was a beauty!” He made her day.
Out of respect, we stayed in separate rooms at my parents’ home. But, as soon as they left the house, we flew into one another’s arms. My Dad, being a Southerner, a sportsman with a love for boxing, and one of the first Navy Seals, had a lot in common with Joe. Daddy was genuinely curious and asked about Joe’s stint in the Marines, his childhood, his family, etc. Joe said he had four brothers, and being the fourth of five, he got beat on and teased a lot. He and his brothers were always fighting in the backyard. In fact, they ran so wild in Raleigh that their father, a North Carolina State professor, moved them out to a farm in Knightdale when Joe was about ten years old. My Dad and Joe were kindred spirits in that respect. My Dad was also the youngest of four, often fighting and getting in trouble on the streets.
Joe and I Became Inseparable…
One afternoon we were swimming in my parents Olympic pool — the one that my Dad had built for me when I was in high school. Suddenly, Joe asked if I wanted to go to Los Angeles with him. He needed to see Bruce Lee for a training session. I was filled with excitement and said, “Of course, I’d love to go!”
I had heard of Bruce Lee and admired his craft, but to know that Joe was one of his best students and that I would soon be watching them spar made a huge impact on me. Although Joe spoke of Bruce with great respect, Bruce was one of the many masters with whom Joe had studied. He spent his life learning from the best. Joe was an eternal student as well as being a great teacher. Wise men never stop learning, or improving their methods… and Joe was very wise, indeed.
We took the first plane and arrived at night. I had not seen LA by night, and the magnificent view flying over the ‘city of lights’ for the first time took my breath away. I held his hand as we landed. We were picked up by his friend who was driving a sports car, so I sat on Joe’s lap for the ride. We both had such fun speeding down Sunset Boulevard winding around the curves and turns of the longest street in California. We settled in and the next day, we drove to Bruce Lee’s house… and it was one of the most unforgettable days of our stay in LA.
Hollywood quickly discovered Joe’s talent, and he became the flavor of the year with many offers for starring roles in films. Later, I was offered a role in Clint Eastwood’s film, “The Eiger Sanction,” and I believe it was mostly due to the training that Joe had instilled in me. He opened my eyes, broadened my horizons and lead me on a path that I continue to follow. We were both being pulled in many directions and then we were pulled apart.
The time I spent with Joe will forever inspire me. I still follow the strict exercise regimen that he tailored for me and have a protein drink every day. Even this morning, I took a run and I heard his voice saying: “Pick up your knees… higher Brenda, higher…” I smile and pick them up as though he were running beside me, laughing. I am truly grateful for his patience, care and concern. It made me a better athlete, a better person, and kick-started what was to become a lifelong career.
Yes, we kept in touch through the years… Our conversations were always delightful, a little sexy, and full of respect. He would often tease me about a certain thing he had read or heard about me. During one of those conversations, I asked about the role of the villain, Colt, which Bruce Lee asked him to play in the film, “Enter the Dragon.” Joe said he refused the role because it went against his beliefs, both as an ex-Marine and as a World Champion. Joe believed that his reputation to his fans prevented him from playing the role of a villain. He had a lot of integrity concerning the legacy he worked hard to achieve. It was a matter of honor.
When I look back on it, I see that Joe was right in turning down the role. He has millions of fans all over the world who respect and honor his integrity as a man and as a martial artist, and they would not want to re-wind a piece of footage to be played over and over again where their hero loses a fight… even to the great Bruce Lee. He made a wise decision, and Chuck Norris accepted the role and was terrific in the part.
Chuck Norris later said: “Joe and I fought one more time at Allen Steen’s tournament in Dallas, Texas. I attacked Joe, but he defended magnificently! Joe was a great fighter with superb technique. This time, Joe beat me for the Grand Championship. I graciously congratulated him on the win and, from that defeat, we finally became friends… In my mind, Joe was the greatest fighter the tournament scene has ever had, and the greatest to this day, as far as I’m concerned!”
Joe “The Man”
Joe was shy, tender and brave, but above all he wanted to do the right thing. He did not brag about his prowess, even though he was the embodiment of power and strength. He was fearless, yet humble. A brave man is one who conquers his fear, and Joe Lewis was a very brave man. He was hailed as the greatest Karate fighter of all time — the Muhammad Ali of Karate – a 10th Degree Black Belt, Grandmaster, and the most respected name in American Martial Arts. He was the first world heavyweight karate champion and the guy who made Bruce Lee’s theory work. He was the guy Americans looked up to and would say, ‘If Joe can do it, we can do it.’
His convictions were sacred, the axis of his soul, and a place where no man ever trespassed. He was a kind, loving man with a wonderful sense of humor. He was a man of action and few words who loved to laugh, had a heart of gold and a highly determined character.
Whatever he wanted, he worked hard and chased it with discipline and focus until he got it. He invented, he created, he changed the world of Martial Arts with his new ideas and innovations, and he changed the lives of many who were fortunate enough to cross his path. He made people better human beings. His gift was to teach, inspire and instill confidence, loyalty, honor and character into those with whom he had contact. He touched my soul, changed my life, and left his imprint on my heart. He was an attentive lover — sensual, open, unselfish and giving. His hands were hardly lethal, rather full of love and tenderness. I loved him deeply, and thanked him for beginning my new life.
Our Last Words
This guy, Gerald, sent me a message about you. It said, “IT IS FUNNY THAT YOU MENTIONED BRENDA VENUS. I ALWAYS THOUGHT SHE WAS ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMEN I EVER SAW.. SHE USED TO COME BY THE DOJO OCCASIONALY… SHE WAS FROM A PRETTY PROMINENT FAMILY. SHE WAS SO PRETTY THAT I WAS ALWAYS AFRAID TO TALK TO HER MUCH. I WAS AFRAID TO SAY SOMETHING, STUPID.” You know how hard it is to squeeze a compliment out of me, but you deserve everything he said.
In our last letter, Joe said, “Hi wonderful one,” and asked if he should leave a photo of himself up on facebook. It was stunning and gorgeous and the one that I liked the most. I said, “Yes, you should leave it up. It’s simple, elegant, powerful and beautiful. It demonstrates the perfection of a CHAMPION! You are all that and much more…!”
Then he replied, “You said, ‘Simple, elegant, powerful & beautiful.’ Brenda, for a second… I thought you were talking about your picture, ‘Elegant,’ as in refined grace. You’re still the romanticist. I hope you always stay that way & much more…
Yes, I will, Joe… I will…!