Martial Arts History seminole FL

The History of Jim Graden’s Martial Arts & Fitness

by Jim Graden

Jim Graden’s Martial Arts & Fitness represents my 30 plus years of experience in martial arts and fitness.

I have been extremely blessed by those who taught and influenced me: Walt Bone, a national forms and fighting champion, who gave me a solid foundation in traditional martial arts, the legendary Joe Lewis, who I give credit for making me a World Champion, and Doctor Kenneth Kroll, a Harvard medical trained surgeon and anti-aging export, who became my nutritional guru.

                 Dr. Kroll and I 

I have also had the privilege of being coached by, and teammates with, some of the very best martial artists in the world, including World Champions, Bill “Super Foot’ Wallace and Jeff Smith, who both coached me on the United Stated Karate teams. Jeff Smith also had a tremendous influence on me in the business end of martial arts. Joe Lewis, Jeff Smith and Bill Wallace are considered founding fathers of American martial arts and were the first true World Kickboxing Champions.

   Bill Wallace, Jeff Smith & Joe Lewis at the 1st 

     World Full Contact Karate Champiopnships

These kinds of influences, combined with my 15 years plus experience creating effective martial arts fitness programming, brings me to what I feel is the pinnacle of my career, the creation of the Jim Graden’s Martial Arts & Fitness.

This school is the culmination of all of my experiences. I have taken everything I know that works inside the ring from being a World Kickboxing Champion, and everything that works outside the ring from my many years training thousands of people in the martial arts and fitness. Please indulge me and let me give you some details about my martial arts and fitness background so you know exactly where I’m coming from.

From the Beginning

My first instructors were national forms and fighting champion Walt Bone and his student Hank Farrah.

My first instructors Hank Farrah, Walt Bone and Richard Jenkens

Forms, also known as Kata, are an artistic expression of traditional martial arts. Mr. Bone was a stickler for detail in forms and all aspects of his martial arts teaching. What made him unique was his willingness to embrace modern fighting concepts, but at the same time honor the history and tradition of the martial arts.

Mr. Bone was a good friend of my future instructor, Joe Lewis, who is, in my opinion, the foremost expert in modern strategies and advance fighting theories.

     Master Jhoon Rhee

Mr. Bone first started studying martial arts in Texas from a man named Alan Steen who was trained by Grand Master Jhoon Rhee. Because he brought Tae Kwon Do to the U.S., Master Rhee was named by the Immigration Service as one of the top 200 most influential immigrants to come to the United States.

Mr. Bone moved to Seminole, Florida in 1972 and opened the Florida Karate Academy. He, along with his wife Debbie, and his chief instructors, Hank Farrah (my first instructor) and Richard Jenkins, dominated tournament martial arts in the state of Florida in the 70’s.

I began training at the Florida Karate Academy in 1976 along with my brother Mark and John. One of the things I will never forget about Mr. Bone was his giving nature. Mr. Bone was someone who put people first. My brothers and I could not afford to pay for our tuition so he allowed us, and many others like us, to clean the school for our tuition.

Mr. Bone was my inspiration for creating a children’s charity called the Project Action Foundation along with my partner and friend Kevin Walker.

I knew from the very beginning that martial arts was IT for me. I fondly remember when I took a career test in the 8th grade, the question was, “What career do you want when you grow up?”. They didn’t have martial arts instructor or world karate champion listed so I wrote it in myself.

I achieved 1st degree black belt in American Tae Kwon Do in 1980 at the age of 16 and started teaching professionally at the age of 17 at a local YMCA. Also, at 17, I fought my first kickboxing match which was televised nationwide on ESPN. I was knocked down in the first round with a spinning back fist, a technique I had never seen before. I got off the canvas, dropped my opponent twice and won by a unanimous decision. I was never knocked down in a kickboxing match again.

In 1982, age 18, I was awarded my 2nd degree black belt from Mr. Bone. I was also rated as the number one tournament fighter in Florida by Karate Illustrated magazine. Later that same year, tragedy struck when Walt Bone was killed in an airplane accident.

In 1983, at just 19 years old, I opened my first martial arts studio, the Florida Karate Academy of Largo.

Training with a Legend

In 1984, I began training with the legendary Joe Lewis. In a Black Belt magazine poll, Joe Lewis, was voted by his peers, including Chuck Norris, as the greatest martial arts fighter of the 20th Century.

Not only did Joe Lewis dominate competitive martial arts in the 60’s, 70’s and the beginning of the 80’s, he was also considered an analytical giant when it came to fighting strategies and theories.

         Joe Lewis with Bruce Lee

Joe Lewis is the only person to be named to “Black Belt Magazine” Hall of Fame for both competitor of the year and teacher of the year. Joe, who trained with Bruce Lee, is also considered the father of American Kickboxing and was the first professional World Heavyweight Kickboxing Champion.

I trained with Joe for a solid ten years while he lived in Florida.  Joe also trained me on and off for another 10 years when he lived in North Carolina. Many of my training sessions with Joe included grueling boxing and kickboxing workouts at the famous St. Pete Boxing Club, which is home to many boxing champions, including World Middleweight Champion, Winky Wright.

After Joe moved to North Carolina, I would visit him and his wife Kim and stay at their house. Joe and I would work out at the local boxing club or in his garage until the wee hours in the morning.

The workouts started paying off for me. Soon after working with Joe, I won the Florida State Heavyweight Kickboxing title and the Southeastern U.S. Kickboxing title.

United States Karate Team

In 1985, I was greatly honored by being named to the United States Karate Team. I went on a ten-day tour of Europe fighting in packed arenas all across Europe. The team was made up of some of the world’s greatest martial artists including World Boxing and Kickboxing Champion Troy Dorsey, Ray MaCallum, John Longstreet, Steve “Nasty” Anderson (considered by many as the greatest tournament fighter of all times), Linda Dentley and was coached by Joe Lewis.

During the tour, I won the Pasqua Del Budo in Venice, Italy, one of Europe’s largest and most prestigious martial arts tournaments. My record for the tour was 12 – 1, losing only on the last day of competition

The same year I was again named to the United States Karate team which competed in the World Kickboxing Championships in London, England. I won a personal silver medal and the U.S. team won the team World title.

Two years later and for a third time, I was named to the United States Karate team to compete in the World Championships. This time the championships were held in Munich, Germany, which happens to be my birthplace.

In just two days I fought fighters from four different countries: Greece, Yugoslavia, Germany and Hungary. Each fighter being the national champion from their respective country.

With Jeff Smith and Bill Wallace in my corner, I beat the hometown favorite from Munich in front of ten thousand spectators to advance to the finals. But I came up short and lost a close split decision in the finals to the fighter from Hungary. I again won a personal silver medal and the U.S. team won the team World title.

I then attacked my goal of winning a personal world title with a vengeance fighting whoever and whenever I could. Once I even promoted an event, did the TV commentating for the first half of the show, and then climbed in the ring and fought the main event with a guy who was 7-0 with seven knockouts. I dominated the bout and for the next month the fight aired on local TV.

 Becoming a World Champion

In 1990, all the hard work finally paid off when I won the International Kickboxing League (IKL) World HeavyWeight Kickboxing Title with an eighth round TKO of Bruno Patiglia in Palermo, Sicily.

After achieving one of my lifelong goals of becoming a world champion at the age of 27, I then changed directions and focused on building my martial arts school. For over ten years, I had a large thriving martial arts school with a large staff of instructors and over 400 active members, 80% of those students being children. I personally promoted hundreds of students to the rank of Black Belt.

Giving Back

    Being Presented the Governors Award 

 In 1994, I co-founded a “non-profit” children’s charity called the Project Action Foundation. The Project Action Foundation helped at-risk children get involved in the physical arts of dance, gymnastics and martial arts. Project Action, in 1997, won the Governors Award Presented to Kevin Walker and I by then Governor Lawton Chiles, as one of the top new children’s charities in the state of Florida.

Cardio Karate

In the mid 90’s I would again change directions in my career. I wanted to find a way to attract more adults into martial arts. So, along with the National Association Of Professional Martial Artist (NAPMA) I developed Cardio Karate. Cardio Karate was my first attempt at the integration of martial arts and fitness training.

We had great success with Cardio Karate with me personally certifying over 6,000 instructors over 5 year period to teach it in every major city in the U.S. and conducting certification seminars in Canada, England and Australia.

 During that time I also co-hosted a nationally distributed fitness video, “Kickboxing for Fun and Fitness”, with women's World Kickboxing Champion Kathy Long. We received excellent reviews from the fitness and martial arts community.

I also hosted the NAPMA Cardio Karate Video series, a monthly video that was distributed to over 2000 subscribers worldwide, for over five years. I then became a monthly columnist and consultant for Martial Arts Professional magazine.

Cardio Karate was a great workout but limited to being just a martial arts workout set to the rhythm of fast paced music. The challenge with Cardio Karate is that it is incomplete, if a student takes the class but then go’s home and consumes a whole pizza, they aren’t going to get the results they want.

They are probably going to blame it on the class and not their bad eating habits. The public needed a more complete program that takes all of the guesswork out of what it takes to become fit, along with personal support.

Ultimate Body Challenge (UBC)

I then took all the knowledge I acquired from Cardio Karate and being a martial arts athlete and created the Ultimate Body Challenge (UBC). The UBC combines fitness kickboxing with resistance training, flexibility and a sound nutritional program. It takes all the guesswork out of what it takes to get fit.

We put students on teams with coaches along with team challenges and fun social events. The goal is to make fitness fun, not drudgery. We currently are offering the Ultimate Body Challenge (UBC) and are starting new courses all the time, if you want to get in great shape fast there is no better way.

We had great success with the UBC with martial art and fitness studio's licensing to run the UBC in every major city in the US, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia. 

The only problem with the UBC is that it’s only a ten-week course. I can’t tell you how many times someone has taken the UBC, got outstanding results but then quit training because they thought of working out as a destination not a journey.

 The UBC should be seen as a start not a finish. This is where the Personal Empowerment Black Belt Program comes in.

Personal Empowerment Black Belt Program

This cutting edge program includes the Joe Lewis Fighting Systems Combat Sequences and fight strategies, the Modern & effective Cobra Self Defense system, and the Nutrition and Fitness goal setting of the Ultimate Body Challenge (UBC). All rolled into a course that will have a major impact on your life.

 In this course we will engage your mind as well as your body and work on perfecting modern martial arts techniques in a safe and controlled manner that has massive health benefits.

This Black Blet program is designed for anyone that really wants to achieve something more for the time and effort they put into fitness training.

 A cutting edge system that combines short-term goals (2-3 months) that led to the ultimate goal of Black Belt in just 3 years.


As you can see I have been a martial arts professional for a long time and have had some real successes in my career.

 I am reaching my peniccle with my Martial Arts and Fitness school. Everything that I have expierenced and learned is being taught here and I personally feel I am teaching at my highest level.

If you are reading this and think you might want to train with me in one of our programs like Fitness Kickboxing, Junior Martial Arts, Adult Martial Arts, COBRA or the Ultimate Body Challenge (UBC) then I highly recommend you give us a call or sign up for a free class. I would love to have the opportunity to show you just what my Martial Arts & Fitness school can do for you and your family.


Jim Graden