ED MCGRATH'S SCHOOL OF TRADITIONAL ISSHIN-RYU
“Against All Odds”
by Chuck Norris
with Ken Abraham
This book was an easy read for me, for several reasons. It is basically a review of his trials and tribulations during his childhood and the manner in which it affected him, in later years. The book is just 246 pages, plus the fact that during his tournament days, I met him often and did the blow-by-blow call from the microphone for his matches. On two occasions, he and his young wife Dianne joined my wife Gene and myself for dinner after the tournament. As you will realize, from reading this book, my wife and I found Chuck to be a pleasant, well spoken, although somewhat shy, polite gentleman. While he had been winning one tournament after another, he still preferred to listen to me regale him with talk of my dojos and, especially Master Don Nagle and the first dojo. I’m surprised that he, later, accepted my second invitation for dinner.
The first portion of the book details the incredibly tough, hard scrabble existence that he lived through, as a child. His mother, Wilma Norris, was the main architect of Chuck’s character. She was a small woman, who gave birth to Chuck at age eighteen. Oddly, Chuck was born as a “blue Baby,” meaning that he was not born breathing and in grave danger of his life ending before it began. However, the staff of the hospital staff pulled him through this dangerous time. His mother and Dad, Ray Norris, had him baptized Carlos Ray Norris and his closest friends and family, still refer to him as, Carlos. They had named him for the pastor of their church, Reverend Carlos Berry and the middle name, Ray, for his father. When released from the hospital Chuck was taken to the farm where his father worked. Just as he was described as Walker, Texas Ranger, Chuck was actually, half Irish and half Cherokee.
It seems that the problem was with his Dad, Ray, who seems to have had the soul of a gypsy, moving from town to town and city to city, for short periods of time and after each move, eventually returning to Oklahoma, on the Texas border, in order to live with Chuck’s Grand Mother. As Chuck mentioned to me during one of our conversations, his father had a serious problem with alcohol, which, undoubtedly, caused him to move from job to job. They lived on the edge of poverty and without his mother also working, they would not have had enough food to sustain them. Little did Chuck know that I sat before him, with the same problem burgeoning within me, after having torn my left knee to pieces during a demo for the Marine Corps and eight months later, was discharged from the hospital and the Marine Corps, simultaneously. The adjustment to this situation created a need that I covered with alcohol. Luckily, my wife stood by me and was the reason that after a decade of futility, I gave up smoking and drinking on the same day, a masochistic manner of straightening out. I will have my 30th anniversary on June 14, 2004, Flag Day.
Eventually, Ray and Wilma broke up their marriage. Luckily, shortly afterward, she became married to George Norris, a good man that, though he was only a stepfather, he brought a man’s presence to the family, with security and serenity. By this time, Chuck had two brothers Wieland and Aaron, the youngest. In the late 50’s Chuck was old enough to join the Air Force, which fortuitously, placed him in Korea, where he soon found a school, teaching Tang Soo do, under a Mr. Jae Chul Shin, where the remainder of the class paid no attention to Chuck, as though he was invisible, until finally he proved he could take the grueling training and had a flare for fighting. He had now become a member of the Brotherhood of the school. Prior to leaving for Korea, Chuck had married Dianne, who would join us at dinner years later.
On his return, the first cracks within his marriage surfaced, since he had been gone for nearly two years. They found it difficult to become comfortable with each other. After some time, this smoothed over and she stuck with him through some very hard times, while he began his first dojo, while working a day job, as most of us did. However, Chuck, with his determination to succeed, wanted to expand this first dojo, into a string of schools, which prompted him, in 1967, to partner with Bob Wall, not only another great competitor and really tough guy, who also was an astute business man. By 1970, Bob and Chuck were able to sell out their ownership of their dojos to a large corporation, each getting $60,000.00 and $3,000.00 per month to continue to run the schools. Now, with fortune shining upon him, Chuck realized that he and his wife Dianne had divergent interests. As it later turned out, Dianne was quite a businesswoman herself. They separated. However, at this point, Bruce Lee called Norris, to offer him the part of the bad guy in Return of the Dragon, which Bruce was also directing. Bob Wall accompanied him there and wound up with a part in the film. You will remember, that Bruce finally kills Chuck at the Coliseum in Rome.
My favorite part of the book is where Chuck discusses his psychological preparation for his matches. I had often guessed that he went into each match with knowledge of how he could win. There was always a look on his face that said, “No matter what you do, or what happens, I will win the match.” I once wrote that I believed Chuck played chess inside the ring and like a chess Master, he kept three to four steps ahead of the game. The manner in which he describes his preparation, conduct at tournaments, wherein, he would watch every match of anyone he might have to fight during the day, cataloging their strengths and weaknesses. Eventually, he got his opponent to stand in the position he wanted, moved his arms where Chuck wanted them, relaxed his vigilance for just a moment and bam, Chuck had him. He discusses his matches, in detail, with many of the people I knew and announced at the tournaments. People like Ron Marchini, Louis Delgado, Skipper Mullins and Chucks main nemesis, Joe Lewis, the perennial Heavyweight Championship. This is where I started to walk down memory lane, since for one; Skipper Mullins was one of my favorite fighters, outside of my own students. Marchini was a bruising, fast and determined fighter, while Skipper was fleet footed, quick, light as a feather, with a variety of weapons that he would double up on his opponents. Lewis was a former Marine, with the body of a body builder and the speed of a track star. He had a left side kick that was almost unstoppable, lightening fast and very powerful. It hit and hurt his opponents before they realized he had made his move, finishing you off with an excellent back fist. In the m one match with Louie Delgado, Louie threw a punch, as Chuck moved in, and Norris took it, literally, on the chin, breaking his jaw. Norris circled away and around him and then moved in quickly grabbing Delgado’s gi, sweeping him and according to the rules at the tournament went right to the floor with Louie. Chuck meant to follow the sweep with a quick punch to score and win the match. He succeeded, but in coming to the deck his knee came down on Louis’ arm and broke a bone in the arm. (There is a picture of that moment, just before Chuck lands on Louis on page 344 of Al Weiss’ book, The Official History Of Karate In America). They went to the hospital together and Chuck says that after being attended to they did not look like two karate champions when they left. Every match with Joe Lewis and Chuck Norris was a spectacle that every tournament Director, hoped would be the Grand Championship match. They got their wish and in the one where I was up close, ringside at the microphone to do the blow by blow call, with Bruce Lee sitting next to me, to do the color commentary. He turned out to be delightfully funny, with a great sense of humor and when the tournament ended, he, myself, Bill Chung and Jhoon Rhee went back to Bruce Lee’s hotel room and wound up snatching coins out of each others hand and I did some sticky hand moves with Bruce. The following week I received a letter from him, with an autographed picture which are both hanging up in my den. The final match that night was between Chuck Norris, the middleweight Champion and Joe Lewis, the heavy weight Champion. It was a tense match, since they had fought several times before in a similar situation, with Joe losing close matches, by one point. However, the outcome of this match was shocking and final, leaving no room for doubt, as to the winner. Both opponents were superb defensive fighters and Joe tried several times to get his famous side kick in, but Chuck either blocked them or moved aside. Chuck was stalking Joe and you could almost hear his mind racing through the scenario that he wanted for the final move. Suddenly, Joe moved in quickly to throw a cork screw punch to the solar plexus, but Norris blocked and threw a quick one two, left and right. The right was a powerful punch and caught Joe flush on the chin. He went down, like a building being imploded. Then, suddenly and to the horror of the audience, Joe Lewis went into convulsions. Bruce gripped my right wrist and said, “This is serious.” I turned to shout to the doctor, but he was already headed into the ring. He waved a capsule of smelling salts under Joe’s nose and Joe, not only revived, but jumped up, headed across the ring toward his corner, where his Sensei was moving toward the scene. To the shock and surprise of everyone at ringside, Joe suddenly attacked his Sensei, smashing him to the deck. Many of the audience felt that he did this because he lost and blamed it on his Sensei, however, I believe that he had just come out of a dramatic knock-out, was probably thinking he was still in the match and the first individual who approached him, was seen as his opponent. Chuck was declared the Grand Champion and again, proved he was the best in the world.
At this point, Chuck develops the disappointment of being without a wife and missing his children. He hated the dating scene and spent most of his time throwing himself into his work, which at that time had led to several movies and eventually, to his hit TV series, “Walker, Texas Ranger.” He also started up his increasingly successful children’s anti-drug program in middle schools, now called “Kick Start,” exactly the type of venture that his close friends George Bush and George W. Bush, have stated that the Federal Government should encourage, rather than take over and ruin. In this particular segment of his life, as in many others, we have followed the same path, as Conservatives, who want to see our Military supported and for Americans to take responsible for themselves. Likewise, since I discovered life without liquor, I pray daily to Jesus to keep my family and me healthy and serene. Chuck is totally dedicated to his faith in the Lord and the last chapters of the book demonstrate this faith and the discipline that it brings to his life, as well as his second wife, Gena, whom a friend introduced him to in order to end the dating game. They sound as if they have the perfect marriage, with love, Jesus on their mind, young twins to keep them on their toes and charitable organizations to oversee.
All things considered, Chuck has led a full life, dedicated to his family, friends and people he either admires around him, or those who need his help. He has pulled himself up, by his own bootstraps to become an Icon that children can actually look up to and emulate. Many years back, my wife and I went to see one of his movies regarding the Vietnam POWs. At one point in the movie and with him, as an actor, getting more comfortable in each movie he made, he goes into the water and a group of North Vietnamese soldiers are firing into the water. Then silence for a moment, when suddenly Norris bursts up out of the water, firing an assault rifle at the enemies’ truck, nailing all of them. I turned to my wife, Gene, and said, “Chuck has just become the new John Wayne, with that move.” Good luck and God bless a fine and generous man. Read the book and thrill with his battles in the ring and hang in their with him, as he finds his path and succeeds in life.