Click to open Show Notes for Episode 21

Show 21 Notes

The Truth About the Martial Arts Business book

Black Belt Management book

Who Killed Walt Bone? book


00:03:37 What makes you the Bam?

00:04:41 Early years in Baltimore

0:08:46 Burying deep pain

00:10:12 Bruce Lee, The Chinese Connection

00:11:39 The influence of martial arts magazines like Karate Illustrated

00:12:01 The control factor (John Graden)

00:13:40 Willie seeks and gets sponsorship

00:15:15 Willie takes the bus to Madison Square Garden and wins first place

00:16:56 What Willie calls bullying

00:18:42 Misconceptions martial arts instructors have about teaching inner-city kids

00:18:59 The massive influence of martial arts on hip hop

00:20:50 Talking ninja dance with Stephen K. Hayes

00:22:14 Who Killed Walt Bone?

00:22:43 Why each generation is more violent and thoughtless

00:23:54 Faking Kung Fu with street gymnastics

00:24:30 Making up Kung Fu forms

00:25:29 Master Dennis Brown’s influence

00:26:41 Getting picked up at the bus station by Sunny Onowa, Nasty Anderson, Linda Denley, and Arlene Limas

00:27:33 Bam loses his sponsorship

00:29:31 Master Dennis Brown sends Bam to China

00:31:16 All of Bam’s friends were becoming big time drug dealers

00:34:01 Bam defeats Charlie Lee in kata

00:35:07 Bam’s best friend is shot dead

00:36:00 Bam’s big decision

00:36:24 Preview of part 2

PODCAST: The Truth About Martial Arts in the Inner-City

Podcast: The Truth About the Martial Arts Business

Podcast episode 21: The Truth About Martial Arts in the Inner-City (part 1)

Host: John Graden

Guest: Willie “The Bam” Johnson

In the ultimate “fake it till you make it” scenario, podcast guest Willie Johnson was so desperate to escape Baltimore’s inner-city that he actually made up his own kung fu techniques to compete against black belt experts in martial arts tournaments. 

As a teenager, Willie would climb on a bus to travel for days to compete in major tournaments around the USA. His dream was to become a karate champion and get out of his violent, drug-infested neighborhood. That dream eventually became a nightmare.  

Podcast host John Graden says, “I was at that event and remember being impressed with Willies’ performance. Like the rest of us, I had no idea what kind of world he lived in. This is a great story I know our listeners will enjoy.”

The newly crowned US Open Champion was not greeted with fanfare after his big win. Instead, he was met with a shower of bullets that left his best friend dead at his feet. His neighborhood crew gave him a dire ultimatum. Continue to do martial arts, or rejoin them and sell drugs to junkies.

Caught up in the emotion of the murder, Willie chose revenge for his friend over another tournament win. It was a fateful decision that sent him spiraling down into the dark world of hustling and muscling drugs. Overnight, he went from karate king to drug lord.

Though he knew it was the wrong decision, Willie spent the next three years as a violent stoned-out drug pusher until he was arrested for fighting with the police and sentenced to a year in the maximum-security prison. 

It was in that prison that Willie turned his life around. He kept to himself in his cell rather than mix with the prison population in the day area. He spent his time practicing his martial arts and setting goals for his future as a martial arts school owner and world champion. 

Willie “The Bam” Johnson went on to win seven-world championships, author books, and become a highly respected master martial arts teacher to his students, including many from the same inner-city neighborhood that he grew up in.

Willie “The Bam” Johnson shares his story in a three-part series on John Graden’s The Truth About the Martial Arts Business Podcast.

In addition to his martial arts experience, Johnson describes the harsh truth about martial arts in the inner-city.

He clearly explains the stark difference between what a martial arts black belt may think would happen in a ghetto street fight and what is most likely to go down and it’s not favoring the black belt.


John Graden

The Truth About the Martial Arts Podcast