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Kathy Long: Fighting for Longevity

Updated: Dec 17, 2023

by Terry L. Wilson 

Old-School Martial Artists Offer Advice for All Who Plan to Train for Life! Part 3: Kathy Long

Kathy Long

In the United States alone, millions of people practice the martial arts. Each discipline — there are several hundred around the world — comes with a specific skill set that requires regular reinforcement. Unfortunately, life can get in the way and prevent us from training as often as we want in pursuit of that reinforcement.

One of the most common reasons we miss workouts is an injury incurred during training. This is readily apparent to anyone older than 40. Eventually, the human body pays a price

for the concussions, tweaked joints and broken bones that often accumulate over time. Black Belt wanted to know how veteran martial artists deal with careers filled with such damage. More importantly, we wanted to know how they have adjusted their training and teaching to account for those impediments. To that end, we spoke with four respected masters.

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Fortunately, at 57, I seem to be doing pretty good.” All told, Long had more than 40 pro bouts in a variety of fight sports, including muay Thai, boxing, kickboxing and MMA. Each one required her to dig into her bag of tricks, which she collected from training in different disciplines, and her time in each of those disciplines exacted a slightly different toll on her body.

“Several styles I’ve studied emphasize ‘go hard or go home,’ she said. “In kajukenbo, kenpo and shorin-ryu, it was just ‘hit hard, kick hard and keep going no matter what.’ If you break your hand in the ring, go to the hospital, get a cast, come back the next day and beat people with the cast!

“Kung fu san soo was very much like that, too. When we were on the ground, we weren’t trying to manipulate the person’s joints. It was gouge their eyes and then get out of the situation.”

Of all the styles she studied, the most injurious were kickboxing and MMA, she said. “For me, the most damaging sport was kickboxing because that was the sport I participated in the longest.”

To this day, Kathy Long cultivates a positive mindset that enables her to will away pain from injuries that occurred during her years of kicking and punching — and getting hit with kicks and punches. That mindset also helps her make sure those injuries never hold her back in her overall pursuit of happiness.

“I decided that I didn’t need to have arthritis, colds or flus, or nagging damage from my days in the ring, and my body is responding to that [decision],” Long explained. “Your mind is the

queen bee, and your body says, ‘OK, whatever you tell me to do, I’ll do.’ Once you understand that, you can ask your body to do whatever you need.

“I also tell my fighters, ‘For every hour of training, you must have at least one hour of maintenance.’ That requires stretching, taking hot baths and ice baths, getting massages or sitting in the steam room. Add proper food and sleep to that list.” 

This holistic message is one she’s stressed for years to everyone she coaches, as well as one she follows herself. “If you don’t do this, at some point your body is going to say, ‘I can’t take it anymore!’” said Long, who was Black Belt’s 1991 Woman of the Year and 1992 Full-Contact Fighter of the Year. 

“Something will break, snap or tear. When that happens, you won’t be able to compete anymore, and the injury could haunt you for the rest of your life.”

This focus on the long term is one of the reasons Long was able to retire from what could have been a brutal career and remain unhampered by serious injuries. “I think I was very smart,” she said. “Between contact sports, I would take several years off and occasionally train very lightly, not like I would if I was competing. It’s important to listen to your body. It will tell you how to respond to the constant punishment you take as a competitor.”

Her final bit of advice pertains to stretching. “Outside the dojo, it is vital for everyone, not just martial artists, to maintain flexibility,” Long said. “And it’s important to warm up before stretching. Never stretch when your body is cold.”

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