noun: mojo; plural noun: mojos
- a magic charm, talisman, or spell.”someone must have their mojo working over at the record company”
noun: dojo; plural noun: dojos
- a room or hall in which judo and other martial arts are practiced.
They’ve got their “mojo working in the dojo.”
There is a definite mojo present in the dojo on 3217 Lucibill Road in Memphis Tennessee. The latest addition to the Elvis endowed privately owned places to visit while tracing Presley footsteps has a new and exciting name topping the list of must see sites to further envelope oneself in the Elvis experience.
If you’re like me, not proficient in martial arts terminology, the word “dojo” is a funny sounding name for a place to work out. My kids knew it but I didn’t – go figure. Back in the 70’s “mojo” was an equally comical albeit uncommon term, bet they don’t know that one. Not only do they rhyme and are both plain fun to say, they are fancifully connected beyond the linguistics twist.
While Graceland and the accompanying museums remain the mothership and the Memphis Man mecca, Elvis exploits went much farther than the Alabama fieldstone walls and further outside the musical noted gates. Just as Memphis is not just Elvis, Elvis is not just 3764 Elvis Presley Blvd. He did indeed venture out in that Stutz from time to time. You miss out on the motherlode if you remain relegated to the confines of EPE.
When Elvis was into something, all those around him joined in his pursuits, whether it be horses, slot cars, motorcycles or guns. This was no different. Friends and family became students, teachers, and sparring partners, dedicating themselves to the same interests.
In the late 50’s during his service years, Elvis was introduced to karate and as a discipline, continued to study it for the remainder of his life.
TigerMan Karate and Dojo Museum is a perfect gemstone. It is a working dojo (karate studio) but so much more. It is a time capsule of a period in Elvis history often only footnoted but one that predominated his mind, body and soul.
The TigerMan building is one of the same, this one not far from Graceland, where Elvis, under Master Kang Ree, founder of Pasaryu Karate, often practiced and trained and segments of “The New American Gladiators”, an Elvis planned Karate movie, were filmed there.
There are wonderful one of a kind Elvis specific artifacts and Elvis related items in the museum portion, a fascinating and informative glimpse into the workings of Elvis Presley. Portions of the museum also honor Master Kang Ree and his enormous influence into this compartmentalized world.
On a recent August morning, before the museum opened, some friends and I were invited for a personalized tour that quickly became a highlight of the Memphis trip. Honestly we had no idea what to expect and we were all more than pleasantly surprised.
One of the museum founders and owners, Billy Stallings (aka the Spa Guy) warmly welcomed us and he took great delight with perfect detail of displays, artifacts, memorabilia and anecdotes. This man is an Elvis historian but more importantly, it’s obvious he is a dedicated fan in every sense of the word. With respect to specific timelines, we were transported through karate training, gift giving, army service, childhood and adulthood, schooling, photos and objects displaying unusual and far from the run of the mill Presley owned and related items – and not a bejewel jumpsuit in sight (or missed).
Upon entering the museum, the tour begins in the den – the Jungle Room, where you are invited to sit rather than just see, touch rather than just look, period furniture from the same manufacturer. It’s surprisingly comfortable and homey, like transporting back to the day when the Graceland den was the gathering place. It was welcoming and familiar, adorned with some specific Elvis items on the walls, on loan from private collectors. The vibe was palatable and an authentic re-creation that took this 70’s girl back to a simpler time and place.
From there, the next rooms held displays and explanation of various Elvis karate Gi’s (ghee), karate certificates, patches, a beautiful full size cut out, gifts given and received, diplomas, photographs, and musical and film artifacts, as well as personal school years items, items belonging to Memphis Mafia members and Elvis family donated displays. Without going into specifics which could take up volumes, it was all especially fascinating and I geeked out on the little historic details. I’ll add photos to give you some idea of what all was there.
There were photos ops throughout and no question or explanation was off limits. If you know anything about Billy Stallings, you know his attention to detail and his love of Elvis history comes shining through in this labor of love project.
There is a large hall where film footage is shown, sit down question and answer provided, and also where current students train and practice. Our group anticipated an hour long event but amazingly, we soon realized we had been there over four hours and we could have easily stayed longer.
There is a gift shop area for tee shirts and related objects, all very reasonably priced and nice quality items with no plastic bobbleheads or glitzy dolls.
Now to the elephant in the room – the ambulance.
Through several years of research, dedication and a fair bit of luck, there is the much talked about, a one off Elvis item in this museum. A specific dedicated area holds the ambulance that responded to the emergency call on August 16, 1977 and transported Elvis Presley to Baptist Hospital. This one is hard.
While Elvis history is important and this is a part of it, it may not be for everyone. I will say this. It is very tastefully done, no photos of the back allowed, no hype or sensationalism present. It is tucked away and for those not wishing to see it, it’s not an issue. For me, I chose not to view the back of the ambulance but rather to remain near the front so I could hear the commentary and that was purely my own personal choice. I felt that was the best manner for me to pay my respects and that is all I will say on that. This is a museum that houses the ambulance, but not a museum that focuses on it by any morbid means.
While this project is on going and still changing and developing, my prediction is this place, once well established and better known, will remain high on the places to visit in Memphis, just as Lauderdale Courts and Audubon Drive and the Tupelo birthplace. I would gladly go back in a heart beat and take it all in again and again.
Mr. Stallings was the perfect guide and host, and I believe some of the Smith (Presley) relatives also have firsthand involvement. Overall, it must be added to your Elvis to do list or you are cheating yourself out of a quality experience.
The one thing I have said repeatedly about Elvis Presley is this. Whether it be music or films or records or a specific time period or concert events or personal anecdotes or stories, or the often, sadly overlooked global reach of Presley, there remains no end to what there is to learn, only a beginning. This place is the perfect example, a well done glimpse into the specific framework of an area normally glossed over but yet very important to the Elvis Presley epic.
For more information : http://www.thetigermanmuseum.com