In this new martial arts history video, top martial artists and industry leaders share how the iconic Black Belt magazine changed not only the martial arts industry at large but also each of their paths along the way.
Actor Michael Jai White, Olympic judoka Kayla Harrison, MMA fighter Tim Kennedy, self-defense expert Tim Larkin, wing chun grandmaster William Cheung, martial arts film director Isaac Florentine, tang soo do master C. S. Kim, cane master Mark Shuey, Deadliest Warrior co-host Geoff Desmoulin, sport-karate champion Steve “Nasty” Anderson, kyokushin karate shihan Brian Bastien, Olympic judoka and two-time Black Belt Hall of Fame inductee Pat Burris, and Century Martial Arts CEO Mike Dillard graciously offered their thoughts on the history and influence of the world’s leading martial arts magazine!
MARTIAL ARTS HISTORY VIDEO
Michael Jai White, Kayla Harrison, Tim Kennedy, Tim Larkin, William Cheung, Isaac Florentine: How Black Belt Magazine Influenced Their Martial Paths
Another industry leader who's been a fan of (and helped shape) Black Belt magazine over many years is its executive editor, Robert W. Young. In his editorial for the magazine's 50th Anniversary issue, he extolled the community aspect of Black Belt and highlighted the publication's evolution. We present his editorial in slightly adapted form here:
I wasn’t around in 1961 when Mito Uyehara was solidifying his vision for Black Belt Vol. 1 No. 1, but it must have been an exhilarating time. Small as the martial arts in America were, I doubt he had any idea he was about to make history by launching Black Belt magazine — a publication that not only would survive for half a century but also would be the industry leader its entire life.
By the time I entered the picture in 1993 as Black Belt's assistant editor, Uyehara had retired and moved to Hawaii. He’d drop in once or twice a year and chat with each member of the staff, but the subject of the conversations was never the genesis of Black Belt. He preferred to talk, with me at least, about his time with Bruce Lee and Koichi Tohei and how their arts, jeet kune do and aikido, had kept him fit and flexible over the decades.
Why no discussions of Black Belt magazine’s rise to dominance? I can only surmise it’s because Black Belt had been the leader of the pack for so long it wasn’t even worth mentioning. What was worth a conversation — in fact, many over the years — was its recipe for success.
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Former Publisher Michael James frequently reminded me that Black Belt's mission was to cover all the arts, even those that don’t award black belts. He emphasized the need to focus on the positive — the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of training and not just self-defense and competition. That formula continues to guide us as we select and present content.
Another strength of the magazine is one that seldom gets noticed by outsiders. Contributing editor Floyd Burk might be the person who unknowingly offers the most evidence of it. A typical voice mail from him goes like this: “So-and-so called to ask if we’d like to do a story about xyz. Do we want to cover that?”
Note the use of the word “we.” And just so you don’t think it’s restricted to old hands, several of our newer columnists have done the same thing. For those who don’t know, these writers are not in-house, yet both feel compelled to use words like “we” and “us” when talking about Black Belt.
They’re not alone. Dozens of writers and probably hundreds of readers have contacted us and used the same two pronouns. I believe it’s because Black Belt magazine is the glue that holds the martial arts community together.
But it goes beyond that — Black Belt's readership is like one big extended family. It shows in the reactions we get when we set up a booth at a trade show. It shows in the phone calls and emails we get from people who are pleased with a story. It shows in the responses we get on Black Belt's Twitter and Facebook pages.
There’s a well-known bit of wisdom that pays tribute to one’s predecessors for laying the foundation for one’s own success — Isaac Newton phrased it like this: “If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Black Belt continues to be the patriarch of the martial arts because its staff is privileged to stand on the shoulders of giants. That list of giants includes, of course, Uyehara and James, as well as former Assistant Publisher Geri Simon. It also includes two fallen friends: Albar Genesta, who worked wonders as the magazine’s art director from 1980 until the end of 1993, and Debbie Brown, his successor and the woman who defined the look of Black Belt magazine from 1994 until 2010.
They are among the people who paved the way for Black Belt's current publisher, Cheryl Angelheart, to carry on the tradition while ensuring the magazine stays on top and for our creative director, Alexander Norouzi, to re-imagine the publication's user interface for the 21st century.
I can think of no better people to be working with as Black Belt magazine begins its second 50-year run.