Fame can be a double-edged sword; along with the notoriety and finical rewards that accompany stardom also comes a loss of privacy. In addition, a person in that position often becomes a target for the rumor mill just because he or she is a celebrity.
Nobody knows that better than martial artist Bob Wall. For decades the mere mention of his name has fueled the fire of some of the most outrageous stories ever to hit the headlines and to shake Hollywood’s golden circle of action stars.
Bob and I have crisscrossed paths for more than 20 years, and during that time I too heard all of the tall tales associated with the man whose best friend lists includes Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. A member of the old guard, Bob has trained with the legends of karate, judo and jujitsu. He was also a member of Karate’s first World Championship team consisting of Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis, Skipper Mullins and Mike Stone.
While Bob was in the ring winning championship after championship I was in a nearby control truck directing many of those fights for television. Although he and I ran in the same circle until recently we have never sat down and spent any time getting to know each other.
For more than five hours we yaked about old times, old friends and compared old war wounds. During that time Bob was kind enough to set the record straight on many of the stories, true and false, that have surrounded his career as a martial artist, actor and businessman. Everything you read in this article comes straight from the horses mouth, and according to Bob anything else you’ve read comes from the other end of someone else’s horse.
One of the questions Bob is most often asked is how he met Bruce Lee. His well publicized friendship with the Kung Fu superstar started in 1963 when Bob went to China Town in Los Angeles with fellow martial artist Bob Osman.
“We were going to see a demonstration from a kung fu teacher who didn’t think much of karate people,” Bob recalled. “There were only a handful of Caucasians in the place everyone was Chinese. So this guy gets on stage and does his demo then he says ‘I smell karate people here’. Next he barks out a challenge, ‘I want to show you why kung fu is so superior to karate. I invite you karate people to come up here and hit me and I’ll show you that karate is powerless against kung fu.’”
Bob went on to detail how three karate students volunteered, but when they threw a shuto strike against the Kung fu masters extended arm it didn’t even phase him. Then the Kung Fu man said ‘now let me strike you’. The karate volunteers refused to let the man strike them and they returned to their seats.
This caused the Kung Fu instructor to boast even more. He said loudly that no karate man would dare allow himself to be stuck by the power of Kung Fu. That was all Bob could take. He pushed his way through the crowd and extended his arm and said, “Go ahead. Hit my arm.”
“I’ve got to admit I was pretty cocky at the time,” Bob chuckled. “So I held my arm out and he hit me across the wrist, not the arm. I have a very low threshold of pain and I kept telling him that he wasn’t hurting me and to go ahead and take another whack.”
After four or five smacks Bob slapped the Kung Fu man and suggested that that settle the dispute in the ring.
“I said, ‘let’s fight that’s what I do.’ He babbled something about not being able to fight because he was too deadly,” Bob recalled. “I’d had as much of his BS as I could stand, so I reached out and slapped him upside the head. He did a full spin then got off stage very quickly. Now I’m on stage alone and I noticed that I still have my drink in my other hand. I never even spilled a drop. When I returned to my seat Ozman said that we’d be lucky to get out of here alive. So I was prepared for a real battle as we walked toward the door. I spotted the very strong looking Chinese guy coming toward me looking very intense. I was prepared to clock him when he suddenly stuck his hand out and said, ‘Hi I’m Bruce Lee and that was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.’ We went outside and spent several hours talking. He was a fascinating guy. Bruce said that he liked me because I was almost as cocky as he was. And that was the beginning of our friendship.”
Bob’s relationship with Lee went from the training hall to the big screen. At Lee’s insistence Bob was hired to co star with him in Game of Death, Return of the Dragon (which also co-stared Chuck Norris) and Enter The Dragon, making Bob the only martial artist to appear in three of Lee’s films.
“Something a lot of people don’t know is that Chuck (Norris) was originally offered the role I wound up with in Enter The Dragon,” said Wall. “Chuck didn’t want the part because his character was going to get killed. Chuck had decided to become a star and didn’t want to be killed again, because he’d already been killed once by Bruce in Return of the Dragon. When Chuck turned the role down Bruce told the movie’s producer that he wanted me to have the part. The producer wanted a bigger meaner looking guy for the role, but Bruce insisted and that’s how I got the part in Enter The Dragon.
The movie made a martial arts icon out of Wall, but that too came at a price. During the filming of Enter The Dragon a rumor began to circulate that Bruce Lee was angry with Bob for cutting him with a bottle during the famous fight-to-the-death scene. The studio executives flew to the set and begged Bob to get out of town before there was bloodshed. That was the rumor, this is the truth.
“That whole thing about Bruce saying that he was going to kill me was a lot of B.S.”, said Bob. “It was a rumor started by the world’s worst director, Robert Clouse. He really was not a nice person. There was an ongoing battle between him and Bruce during the entire filming of Enter The Dragon. Bruce was a perfectionist, and he stayed very much involved in every phase of the movie and Clouse didn’t like that. He felt like Bruce was encroaching in his territory and his ego couldn’t handle the fact that Bruce knew more than he did. In fact, Clouse didn’t even like action films so it was ironic that he became famous for directing an action film. Clouse didn’t give any martial artist any respect. He even went so far as to give Bruce dialogue that contained words Bruce had difficulty with.”
The clashing of heads between star and director came to fruition during the filming of the scene where Bob breaks two bottles and Bruce kicks them from his hand. On the 6th take Bruce got cut due to a mistimed move.
“It was a real serious cut,” Bob recalled. “We had to stop filming for a week. Well Clouse took advantage of the situation to cause some more trouble. He immediately spreads the rumor that Bruce is pissed and is going to kill me. Which was absolutely ridiculous. The Producer came to the set, he said ‘I can’t have anyone killed on the set, you’ve got to leave town’. I explained to him that I’d been over at Bruce’s house every day since the accident and the rumor was just that, a rumor. But to this day I still hear the story about how I cut Bruce and he was going to kill me over the broken bottle accident.”
Another story that the rumor mill had stretched six ways from Sunday was about a run in Bob had with a woman at the Shopping Mall he owns. The rumor: Bob was in his Beverly Hills office when a woman pulled up and parked her Rolls Royce in his parking space. When he asked her to leave, she refused. At that point, Bob was said to have produced a baseball bat and began smashing the car, injuring the female in the process. That was the rumor, this is the real story.
A woman pulled her car, (not a Rolls Royce) into a handicapped parking space in Bob’s shopping center in the San Fernando Valley, not Beverly Hills. The woman parked in such a manner that she took up two handicapped spots. When the security guard politely asked her to move the car she refused with language that would make a sailor blush.
“It happened on Memorial Day in 88,” Bob recalled. “The woman was a con artist and she had pulled this scam three time before, once at McDonalds, then at Sears and again at Bullocks. Her thing was to pull into a busy center, park in a handicap space at such an angle that she also blocked the parking space next to it. When the security people approached she created a scene and fell down, claiming to be pushed. She sues, and most companies not wanting to go to court pay her off. Well not me.”
When Bob approached her she refused to move. Bob gave here chance after chance to leave peacefully. The foul mouth woman continued her verbal assault then she turned on her auto’s burglar alarm. Bob called the cops several times but they never came. Two hours had passed and Bob’s tenants were irate over the never ceasing squeal of the car alarm.
“The second the car alarm would stop, she would turn it right back on,” Bob said. “I said ‘look lady this is nuts you’ve go to turn off that alarm or I’m going to arrest you for disturbing the peace and parking illegally.’ I went to my office to call the cops for the third time when my office manager rushed in and said that the woman had run over my assistant, breaking his foot. When I got down stairs she ran over the guard as well breaking his leg too. To me that was criminal assault with a deadly weapon so I jumped in front of the car and tried to stop her. She hit me, slicing my knee to the point where it required 18 stitches. Well enough was enough. I went to my car and got a hammer and broke her window. Unfortunately for me the window exploded cutting my forehead. That took 16 stitches to close. I reached inside the car grabbed the keys and held the woman till the cops arrived. Guess what? Her son was one of the cops. They arrested me and refused to do anything to the woman.”
The newspapers had a field day with this one. The headlines read “Youthful Kickboxing & Karate Champion attacks a middle age woman over a parking dispute.”
“It turned out that the woman was responsible for the false headlines too,” said Bob. “She called me everyday saying that if I would give her 15 grand she would go away. I told her ‘lady you’ve made a big mistake.’”
The case went to trial Bob was found innocent of all charges. He in turn sued the woman and won. However no one reported that story; it wasn’t as good of a headline as the Karate Champion beating up on an old lady. So once again Bob Wall was stuck with another barb from the press that was never allowed to heal.
What really ticks Bob off is the lack of professional follow through by some reporters. Point in case, a well-known martial arts publication did a story on an incident where they said several things about Bob that were untrue. The article was written seven years after the incident had occurred and according to Wall they got most of the facts wrong. The result produced an article that was an assault on Wall’s character and he didn’t like it one little bit.
“I wrote the publishers of that magazine a three page letter giving them the facts, which they ignored,” said Wall. “I told them ‘your story is hogwash. I went on to tell them that when I was the editor of my high school paper we were taught to check the facts. You never called me, you never called my attorney, what you did was yellow journalism.’ One of the things they said was that I lost my real estate licensee, well that simply wasn’t true. I am still very much in the real estate business. I was upset especially considering how many times I’d been on the cover of their magazine, for them to do this to me was garbage. I told the publisher, ‘for you to treat me like that with your tabloid style of journalism was incredulous.’”
To make a long story short, Wall’s Company had been embezzled by a bookkeeper that Wall had arrested. The bookkeeper was put in jail where he died seven days later of AIDS.
“The bottom line is he embezzled us for over 400 grand,” said Bob. “However it was my company, which made me responsible and I eventually made it good to my clients. But those facts were omitted from the story.”
The firestorm that resulted from the article fell directly upon the magazine that published the story. Many of Bob’s very famous martial arts amigos threatened to boycott the magazine if steps weren’t taken to make amends. Subsequent apologies were given, and an editor lost his job as a result of the protests. However in the wake of this storm and even greater controversy was brewing.
The incident between Bob Wall and actor Steven Segal has been well documented. Bob freely admits that he in fact did square off with the big screen star at a large Hollywood event being held at CBS Television Network.
The fireworks started when Segal said to Bob Wall ‘if you want to fight me come to my studio.’ Wall replied “No let’s do it right here right now. Segal then said he didn’t want to fight Wall and apologized and that ended it. Standing next to Wall during this incident was Bob’s close friend Howard Jackson.
“I don’t want to rehash this thing, sufficient to say that we eventually shook hands and since then we’ve let the incident die,” Wall said. “I am rated as a hot-tempered person but in reality that’s not true. I beat up people because they need it. I am not raging mad, sure I might be ticked off, but I never lose control. Like the time a gang member insulted my daughter and punched out her male friend. I chased him down and showed him the error of his ways and in the process I may have made him a better person for it.”
As Bob and I chatted the conversation turned from his love-hate relationship with the press to his long time friendship with Chuck Norris. From the first word out of his mouth it was very apparent that Bob is not only Chuck’s good friend, he is also Chuck’s biggest fan.
“I think Chuck Norris is the finest man I’ve ever met,” Bob exclaimed. “He is just as loyal as a person can be and his word is his bond. He is a very sensitive and quiet man. I’ve never heard him utter a curse word. Chuck has never done a mean thing in his life. He’s a true Christian. I like to say that Chuck Norris is the Pat Boone of martial arts.”
Bob recalled the first time he ever saw Norris in action. Little did he know at the time that the man he was so taken with would one-day wind up being his best friend.
“In 1965 I started watching Chuck Norris and I thought to myself ‘man this guy is amazing,’ never in a million years did I ever think he would wind up being my best friend.
A few months after Bob first saw Norris in action, Bob met and began training with Joe Lewis. Over the years, Bob has trained with some of the best martial artists in the world including Chuck Norris, Gene LeBell and Bruce Lee.
“The first thing Joe did was to break my rib,” Bob laughed recalling the incident. “He was tough, but that’s what it took for me to learn how to be a good fighter. After training with Joe my fighting skills improved so much that I took 3rd in the world championships. It was amazing to me how much my skill level improved just because I was training with someone as talented as Joe Lewis. I was the first person ever to make black belt under Lewis. In fact I believe there are only two other people who have ever made black belt under both Joe and Chuck (Norris). I don’t believe there is anyone else who has ever made black belt under Joe Lewis, Chuck Norris and Gene LeBell.”
“Joe Lewis and Gene LeBell made me tough,” explained Bob. “They worked a lot of blood sweat and tears into my training but Chuck was my finishing school. Chuck turned me into a complete martial artist and in the process taught me a lot of life’s lessons. One of the things he taught me was never to brag about myself. He said I should let my deeds speak for themselves. Chuck leads by example and he doesn’t believe in violence. In my mind Chuck is the greatest karate fighter of all time but he will do anything to avoid violence. Chuck is also a true friend. He’s the kind of guy you could call at 4 AM and he would be there for you.”
Bob is the first to admit that martial arts has been very, very good to him.
“I’ve had a phenomenal life as a result of the martial arts,” Bob said wrapping up our conversation.
When I was a kid I never finished anything I started,” Bob confessed. “I was so disgusted at myself for not having the discipline to finish things that when I started martial arts my whole goal was just to make blue belt, then to make green belt then to make brown belt and so on.
When Bob got his green belt the instructor put “P’s” on it; when Bob asked what the P’s were for he was told they stood for “poorly” because he did poorly on his test.
“I said to him, ‘With all due respect I’d rather fail than to wear a belt with P’s all over it and have to explain what they meant’. He said he respected my decision and failed me. That inspired me to always be the best at whatever it is I do whether it’s in martial arts or anything else.”