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July 17,  2017   -    Commercial Appeal  /  Elvis Express Radio
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

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

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

"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.

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