The Birth of Martial Arts' Most Influential Institution: Black Belt Magazine

Black Belt Magazine

When Black Belt Magazine was born in 1961, the Beatles were a start-up band, Sergeant Elvis Presley just left the Army, 77 Sunset Strip and Bonanza were the hot TV shows, and phone numbers started with letters. The mainstream martial art of the era was judo and the Dead Sea was just sick.

Black Belt Magazine is the martial arts' most popular and influential publication and has been so since the early 1960s when the first issues were published. From the contents of those early issues, readers recognized that honor and integrity was behind this new martial arts resource and that its objective was not just profit-making or commercialization. The 1960s work here includes three phases in Black Belt's development. Phase one spans 1961 thru 1964 prior to Black Belt becoming a monthly magazine. Phase two spans 1965 and 1966. Phase three is 1967 thru 1969.


Black Belt's founder and original editor, Mitoshi Uyehara, was an avid martial arts enthusiast who practiced judo and aikido. A team of advisors was assembled consisting of dan (black belt) holders of judo, kendo, aikido and karate. These advisors provided the magazine with a resource for trustworthy accounts of the traditions and techniques of authentic martial arts while helping to weed out what was bogus and unreliable.

Judo – The Power Presence in Martial Arts.

Judo 1960's


A primary theme established at Black Belt back then was that the current state of the martial arts be reflected in its pages. The prominent martial art was judo while aikido, kendo and karate trailed behind. In those days, most people were involved in martial arts as a competitive endeavor, or, purely defensive purposes which included soldiers or law enforcement officers. Nevertheless, there were those who enjoyed doing martial arts for recreation or entertainment. Judo tournaments were the typical martial combat sports, which makes sense as judo was slated to become an official medal event in the 1964 Olympic Games. Naturally, judo instruction and competition were common subjects reported and written about in Black Belt early on.

Black Belt's very first issue came out in April 1961. It was 68 pages printed in 5" X 8" format and consisting of seven articles, a short story, and an editorial. On that first cover an artist had drawn an illustration of a judo player throwing another using a modified shoulder throw. The editorial introduced the magazine to the public and the lead story featured Kododan judo and its founder Jigoro Kano. Judo topics comprised four articles and the short story while aikido, kendo and karate had one each. There was a report about the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) Judo Championship along with stories regarding judo programs in San Diego, California and at San Jose State College. There was a short story written by Air Force General Thomas Power. Readers found it interesting that judo had become a big presence in the United States Air Force and airmen the Strategic Air Command had been doing defensive tactics judo courses since 1952. The long standing relationship between Black Belt and all branches of the United States military began with that story. Aikido's topic featured expert Koechi Tohei. Kendo was about Torao Mori who excelled in both kendo and fencing. The karate story introduced Ed Parker who expounded on his kenpo karate style.

In these early years, photographs of top artists and competitions were scarce making it very challenging to illustrate the articles. Available photos often had to be used repeatedly. Because of this lack of illustrations to depict training stories, artists were often utilized to create drawings to fill this void. As for covers, a large number of them were paintings. Using a painting rather than a photograph was often more practical considering the problems associated with getting subjects who live overseas to Los Angeles for a photo shoot. Another bonus with paintings was that the dramatic aspect could be heightened helping to catch the eye of potential readers browsing the newsstands. Black Belt was doing creative long before Pixar.

Eight months passed before issue the next arrived in January 1962. Subscribers, anxious for their copy, were surprised to discover that Black Belt was now a conventional size magazine and the cover was in full color. On that cover was an artist's rendering of a two people; a karate man smashing tiles and a kendo practitioner wielding a bamboo sword. Inside were six judo stories which included a piece on "Judo" Gene LeBell, a new section called Boys Judo and a story about a wrestling coach. Aikido, kendo and karate had two articles each and there was a new women's section titled Practical Self-defense for Women.

Two more issues were published in 1962. By this time, readers had been enlightened about these legends who were no longer living; Jigoro Kano judo, Moreihei Uyeshiba aikido and Gichin Funokoshi shotokan karate. Featured regularly back then was Koechi Tohei, a high ranking student of Uyeshiba and Hidetaka Nishiyama who was a prominent student of Funokoshi. Judo player, Philip S. Porter Major USAF and secretary of the Air Force Judo Association, penned the first of many judo articles on his way to becoming a prominent judo figure in American.

Hawaii based William C. C. Hu, Black Belt's unofficial martial arts historian, gave readers much to absorb in his article, "Historical Roots of Karate". Hu gave much readers much more to ponder with his three part series The Origin of T'ai-Chi Ch'uan. During these early years, Black Belt's east coast editor, Robert Wells, contributed articles and provided tournament coverage. Within a few years, Wells was promoted to Executive Editor of Black Belt. Taking over for Wells on the east coast was Mel Applebaum who would make significant contributions to Black Belt.

Here comes karate.

Chuck Norris Joe Lewis


Two more issues of Black Belt were published in 1963 and six more came out in 1964. Problems associated with production and distribution were worked out pleasing the growing legion of subscribers. Highly vocal Japanese karate-man and founder of kyokushin karate, Masutatsu Oyama, made his presence felt in 1963 by telling readers of Black Belt that he had announced a challenge to schools in his homeland that they compete in no holds barred contests in which the winner would take over dojos of whoever were the losers. It was no surprise that no one took him up on it. Oyama then wrongly claimed that all styles of karate would be unified into one system within ten to fifteen years. Oyama and Ed Parker were both wrong in their predictions that karate would be in the Olympics with the next ten years.

A photo in the March 1964 issue shows, Airman First Class, Carlos "Chuck" Norris, breaking a board during a tang-soo-doKorean karate demonstration at March Air Force Base in Riverside California. Norris, a shodan (first degree black belt) and leader of the demonstration team, was reported to be a well organized and capable. Norris commented that tang-soo-do offered many benefits including confidence, speed, alertness and coordination of mind and body. Later Norris appeared in Black Belt'sInstructor Profile section where it mentioned that he was running his own karate academy in Redondo Beach, California. No one knew that Norris would become the most well-known karateka (practitioner) in America. Norris appeared on the cover twice during the 1960s.

It became a busy time for judo in America as the United States Olympic judo team was announced. Ben Campbell, George Harris, Jim Bregman and Paul Maruyama earned the honor of representing the America in judo at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. Karate tournaments were also on the rise. Ed Parker's Long Beach Internationals was slated to be held for the first time, the results of which will be found in phase two.

Phase one: wrap-up.

By the conclusion of phase one, a couple of departments in Black Belt had become established while some hit the chopping block. "Boys Judo" and "Practical Self Defense for Women" were dropped as was panel of Technical Advisors. New departments were the Promotions section where a dojo could submit its latest list of graduates and another called Dojo News. World Wide Tournament News became popular because of its coverage of tournaments from around the globe. The most popular section of Black Belt was the "Letters to the Editor". Readers love it, however it was not always a favorite to some of Black Belt's contributors who were on the receiving end of a letter writer's complaint.


Wong Ark Yuey


1965. Jan/Feb. Black belt becomes a monthly magazine and kung fu fans are happy to see the legendary Wong Ark Yuey (above) grace the cover. New department Black Belt Times is launched. The editorial in this issue begins a long line of well deserved tongue lashing and chastising of promoters of karate tournament because of poorly run events and bad officiating: "Either get the refs together in this country or keep the contestants apart" it says. Directed to those deemed as poor sportsmen, Mel Applebaum pontificates the following in the editorial, "one can always be defeated in competition, but in terms of the art, and, in terms of oneself - it is never necessary to lose." Here Applebaum is speaking about personal development and the notion that one who learns from the experience of competition is not a loser.

Ed Parker's 1st Annual International Karate Championship (IKC) in Los Angeles features demos by Bruce Lee and rising taekwondo star, Jhoon Rhee. Hawaiian karate man, Mike Stone, won this first IKC and would go on to win again the next year. Top artists mentioned in Black Belt's profile section were Peter Urban, S. Henry Cho and Daniel Inosanto. Philip Porter's 18 pages of judo coverage from the 18th Olympiad in Tokyo, Japan showed the domination of the host countries judoka (judo player) while detailing the feats of the US Olympic Judo Team and middle-weight bronze medal winner Jim Bregman.

1965, March/April/May. Gordon Doversola of Hawaii makes the controversial claim saying his art Okinawa-te, the forerunner of modern karate, was designed more for attacking than for self-defense. He said, two thirds [of the art] was based on aggression and one third was based on defense. Instructor profiles of prominent figures include Jhoon Rhee, Wally Jay, Tim Tackett, Bill Ryusaki, Ed Parker, Chuck Norris and Robert Trias. The May cover was judo player and beauty queen, Linda Carpenter, who was married to David Chow. Chow is the man who would became the martial arts consultant to the 70s Kung Fu TV series starring David Carradine. Black Belt receives a nice compliment from a letter writer, "it takes guts to print the truth", he says.

1965. June/July/Aug. Takashi Ozawa discusses kendo's migration from Japan to America. Kendo would never catch on because Americans would rather wield a golf club or Louisville Slugger than a sword he said. Choi, Sea-oh shows off hapkido (aikido's sister style founded by Choi, Young-sul of Korea) and performs some of the art's spectacular kicking techniques. The August cover features AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) National Champion, Hayward Nishioka, flipping his opponent. Nishioka gives an informative interview on the state of judo competition in America. Big name artists appearing in Instructor Profiles include aikido's inheritor Kisshomaru Uyeshiba, Kim Byung-so, Choi, Hong-hi the founder of taekwondo and Jimmy Woo who launched a chain of kung fu san-soo studios. Woo could often be found at his box at California's legendary horse race track, Hollywood Park.

1965. Sept/Oct/Nov/Dec. Karate is featured in three of the next four issues. In one a karate-man is doing kata (form). A flying side kick is performed in another. The most dynamic is Tak Kubota's September cover where he smashes a block of ice with a hammer fist strike. A new book by Mas Oyama, This Is Karate, receives great reviews, "an opus of monumental proportions". Bruce Tegner's book on aikido does not fare as well as Oyamas book, it is said to be "too far fetched". An editorial criticizes Ed Parker for pulling out Tsutomu Oshima from judging the finals at the Long Beach Internationals and doing it himself. Not surprising as Parker never backed away from a little controversy. Mike Stone wins that tournament again. S. Henry Cho, the Korean karate expert and host of the big All American Karate Championships in New York City, makes the claim that the Korean karate students are more disciplined than the American karate students.

1966. Jan/Feb/Mar. The biggest happening is the March cover in which Gogen "The Cat" Yamaguchi poses in his famous low kata stance. The goju ryu karate great is highly respected for doing all aspects of his art. In part two, Yamaguchi, the head of the goju karate school talks about "Icy Waterfall Workouts and does spectacular breathing forms. Tsutomu Oshima answers a tournament question – Are they a threat or boon to Karate – "do them right or don't do them his says." In another story, Honolulu police say they prefer judo over firearms.

William C.C. Hu pens several articles about Shaolin kung fu. One is a four part series dissecting the I-Chin–Ching and is about the origin of martial arts said to have been started by a Buddhist priest from India named Bodhidharma around 500 AD. Several letters and an editorial rip some Bogey phony black belts who are deceiving the public and giving the legitimate belt holders a bad name. A group forms in Buffalo, New York to police the issue, some of whom make plans to strip the false ones of their belts.

1966. Apr/May/June. Judo, aikido and Korean wrestling art ssirum all make the covers of the next these issues of Black Belt. Renowned Judoka Isao Inokuma, the Japanese World Judo Champ says his favorite moves are the tai-otoshi (ankle block) and the ippon seionage (shoulder throw). His also states the following words of wisdom, "Whether a man is Japanese or not, it's folly to underrate any opponent." Next comes some bad and good news. The bad is when official word comes out that judo is to be scratched from the 1968 Olympic Games. The good news is that judo will make it back in the 1972 Games.

An editorial expounds on karate tournament leaders in America and their failure to unite together to create a true National Championship instead of the plethora of so-called Championships that are held all over the country. Easier said than done, just look at college football.

1966. July/Aug/Sept/Oct. The July cover story by William CC Hu The Fighting Code of The Samurai is a great read. Judo player Anton Geesnik of Holland graces the August cover. Septembers cover is a portrait of Mas Oyama fighting a bull. Oyama statement "karate is for the rugged" is also shown there. A karate man doing a sidekick to another man's neck is on the September cover. It is announced that Ed Parker, Jhoon Rhee, Tak Kubota, Fumio Demura and US Senator Milton Young, are making plans to start an organization with the intent to do away with much of the bickering and infighting between the leaders of the martial arts scene in America. Critics warn that efforts might fail because of the collision course with large groups already in place. Such groups include Robert Trias and his United States Karate Association and Hidetaka Nishiyama's All American Karate Association which is affiliated with the Japan Karate Federation.

1966. Nov/Dec. Ancient body guards of Hawaiian Kings are the topic of the November cover and feature article. These body guards are said to have employed the secret Lua (Bone Crushing) techniques in their defensive tactics. In December, the covert art of Nin-Jitsu is introduced on the cover and inside. Controversy surrounds karate tournaments and refereeing. One ranking instructor said, "It's a sad state of refereeing in America. Promoters must stop handing out top refereeing positions as ceremonial functions to those who either don't want do it or are not qualified. It is not a disgrace for a man not to be a top referee".

Phase two: wrap-up.

While sport karate and tournaments gained steam, judo remained the primary topic in departments such as BB Times, WW Tournament News and Black Belt Times. Letters seemed to be more karate related and all the various conflicts surrounding tournaments. While this seems like karate was being given a lot of black eyes, one can't help but wonder if it wasn't nearly the same for pioneers such as Funokoshi, Mabuni, Miyagi and Matsumura as they hammered out similar elements some forty years back. There were some editorial changes as Norman Fogel and David Lee each assumed the role of Editor during this phase.


Ed Parker Elvis Presley


1967. Jan/Feb/Mar. Ninjitsu movies provide plenty of action and Ninja Spy is no exception says a Black Belt movie reviewer. Fred Bleicher discusses the philosophies of Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism. Russian sambo, depicted on the cover of the February issue, spreads to Japan and then on to the rest of the world. Ed Parker defends his IKC tournament against recent complaints about judging and other criticism. Joe Lewis disagrees saying judging is poor at the IKC. Savate, the foot fighting system from Paris, combines kicking with traditional boxing. Tom LaPuppet claims victory in a Canadian tournament. More big news comes when Hidetaka Nishiyama bars Joe Lewis from his tournament.

1967. Apr/May/June. Japanese Zen Archery (kuydo) is the subject of the April cover story. The cover is a portrait of an archer on horseback. The top ten karate fighters in America are announced and Joe Lewis is number one on the list. Los Angeles television station KCOP presents a documentary about judo and karate. In it Ed Parker (above with Elvis Presley), Chuck Norris and Tak Kubota perform the karate techniques while Hayward Nishioka and his partner demo some crisp judo moves. Readers learn about shorin-ryu karate master, Hohan Soken, known as the White Swan, and his disciple Fuse Kise. Judo is the focus of the May cover and the upcoming World Judo Championship. The June cover is a painting of Chuck Norris and Joe Lewis squaring off for battle.

1967. July/Aug/Sept. Tai Chi Chuan (grand ultimate fist) is the topic of the July cover and features, Tung Fu Ling, who says that his style is among the most widely practiced. Sean Connery aka James Bond wielding a staff in the film You Only Live Twice makes the August cover. The actor becomes the first of high profile celebrity covers. White belt karateka, Danny Stewart, dies while competing at a tournament in California. "A shot to the sternum did him in" says the medical report. Joe Lewis lands his first solo cover in the September issue. The karate fighter is shown doing a front kick. Another article offers insights into infamous Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. There's good news from a letter writer who says, "referring has become more fair at tournaments."

1967. Oct/Nov/Dec. The Bruce Lee invasion begins as two images of the Little Dragon appear on the October cover. One is a picture of Lee wielding a nunchaku and the other is a silhouette of Lee portraing Kato of the Green Hornet TV series. Lee is described as a real gung fu expert. During his interview Lee says, "As far as the TV show is concerned, it's flashy [the martial arts moves] and full of showmanship. Some of the techniques are not what I practice in gung fu. For instance, I never believe in jumping and kicking. My kicks in actual gung fu are not high but low to the shin or groin." Letters cascade in after that interview begging for more Bruce Lee and gung fu.

Judo, Chuck Norris and gung fu are topics of the November cover. Bruce Lee does another amazing demo at Ed Parker's IKC while Chuck Norris battles his way to victory bringing Mike Stone's grip on the title to an end. Fumio Demura wields the sai (three pronged truncheon) on the cover of the December issue and introduces the traditional Japanese weapon to readers. Karate-man Aaron Banks hosts his "Oriental World of Martial Arts" martial arts show in the Big Apple and is a huge success.

1968. Jan/Feb/Mar. Big stories included Joe Louis training 25 women from the Playboy Club at his Sherman Oaks dojo – and Pennsylvanian George Dillman wrestling a 350 pound bear in an exhibition and getting pinned by the bear in 20 minutes. Surely Joe had the better of those two deals. Other news is LAPDs (Los Angeles Police Dept.) use of pressure points in defensive tactics. Too bad for Dillman that he had not yet become the "pressure point king". Chuck Norris continued his winning ways in the tournament circuit with a win at the 2nd Annual Tang Soo Do tournament in Washington, DC.

After Black Belt's editor position was held by a couple more journalists, in March 1968 Mitoshi Uyehara took back the position. In the future Uyehara would employ those willing and capable of doing the job on a long term basis. Jim Coleman and then Robert Young would become Black Belt's Editor In Chief.

1968. Apr/May/June. Sumo gets more ink as Hawaii's Jesse Kauhaulua, with his cauliflower ear flapping, scowls in his cover photo. Gogen Yamaguchi's reputation has kept growing as thirty three hundred martial artists endure the rain while waiting to see the goju ryu legend perform a demo at the US Goju-kai Championship in San Francisco, California. Another cover features Chuck Norris and Joe Lewis as the two are shown battling it out in tournament competition.

Rumors were swirling about the upcoming announcement that Black Belt would be sponsoring the International Convention of Martial Arts. Part of the mission was to promote the martial arts in a positive light as it proceeded into the next decade and another was to improve communication between instructors and organizations. Additionally, there would be a martial arts film screening, and for the soon to be born Black Belt Hall of Fame, a banquet was planned to honor the recipients. Was it true?

1968. July/Aug/Sept. Jujutsu expert Toichiro Takeuchi, says hitting a man when he's down an important component to that art's effectiveness. Great news comes when Mas Oyama agrees to speak at the Black Belt International Convention of Martial Arts. The July cover and its related story are about the growing number of women in the martial arts. More celebrities than ever are handing Bruce Lee $500 bucks for ten lessons of training. Burt Ward who plays Robin in the Batman TV series tries his cape on at karate and earns his purple belt. Chuck Norris is crowned champ at S. Henry Cho's All American Karate Championship in New York City. Norris, a real gentleman of karate, had this to say in a piece titled The Practical Art of Losing (not that he lost very much), he says, "When you lose, no matter what, it's better to lose to a polite and gracious winner."

1968. Oct/Nov/Dec. The biggest news yet was Black Belt's five day International Convention of The Martial Arts held in Los Angeles, California which launched the Black Belt Hall Of Fame. Inductees were Frank Fullerton, Man Of The Year; Kiro Nagano, Judo Instructor Of The Year; Tsutomu Oshima, Karate Instructor Of The Year; Koechi Tohei, Aikido Instructor Of The Year and Chuck Norris, Karate Player Of The Year. The Dojo of The Year was The Detroit Judo Club. Chuck Norris, Jhoon Rhee, Richard Kim, Hayward Nishioka and Aaron Banks offered presentations at the event.

The December cover featured kickboxing demonstrations held in Japan. Top karate players Thomas LaPuppet and Tonny Tulleners begin making names for themselves. And Joe Louis continues his rise to fame. Louis and Ron Marchini are involved in separate melees with groups of foreigners when they thought they'd been disrespected at a tournament. What a way not to end the New Year.

1969. Jan/Feb/Mar. Japanese karate expert, Tatsuo Suzuki, who made the January cover says that it's easy to down an opponent in free sparring if you know what you are doing. Bruce Lee, whose consulting in a Dean Martin film, offers some love to his karate friends by giving some of them jobs in the movie. It's good to know Bruce Lee. Other news is the launching of the Black Belt Yearbook which will honor Hall Of Fame recipients and offer a number of articles and facts about events that occurred throughout the year. Fumio Demura has another weapons cover in March and is shown choking a man with the nunchaku. Park, Mohn-suh, introduces the Korean kicking art of tae-kyon to the US for the first time.

1969. Apr/May/June. A gangly guy begins making waves in karate tournaments after beating Joe Hayes and Steve Sanders at a karate tournament in New York hosted by Aaron Banks. The fighter's name, Bill Wallace, who will become the legendary "Superfoot". A lone karate fist lands the May cover and plans were laid for the Black Belt sponsored 2nd International Conference Of Martial Arts, however this time it was to be held in New York City. Capoeira is the subject of the June cover story.

1969. July/Aug/Sept. The July cover shows a martial artists wielding the traditional Japanese weapon called the tonfa. The theme for the 2nd International Conference of Martial Arts was Bridges to Progress and was set to be held at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan. The event which had gained lots of interest by martial artists worldwide was a huge success. Other news was Chuck Norris, Bob Wall and Mike Stone presenting the Four Seasons Karate Tournament in Torrence, California. The team who won the whole enchilada at the Four Seasons included Arnold Urquidez, Armondo Urquidez and Bill Ryusaki. Praying Mantis kung fu is the topic of the August Cover while two karate-ka are shown battling it on the September cover. Inside is mention of the loss of aikido founder, Morihei Uyeshiba, who passed away at age 86. Joe Lewis continues his rampage of winning by taking Jhoon Rhee's National Karate Championship in Washington, DC, while Bill Wallace gains more recognition on the circuit as he and his team win in Kentucky.

1969. Oct/Nov/Dec. Pat Johnson punches his way onto the October cover. Johnson, who trained with Chuck Norris, would earn the reputation as one of sport karate's most capable referees. More actors including Kirk Douglass (who would portray a boxer) are getting their training from martial artists to help them prepare for movie rolls. Karateka Louis Delgado makes the November cover. The fighter talks about being awed by Bruce Lee. The December cover shows men with the chain and sickle which are said to be tool used by Japanese farmers for self-defense. Lewis takes another title at the 1969 Grand National Karate Championship. Big news is Chuck Norris retires from competition.

Phase three: wrap-up.

Black Belt Hall of FameBlack Belt Hall of Fame Member Profiles (1968-1990)


Karate tournaments were on the rise. Several unique martial arts styles had been discovered and written about. Black Belt Hall of Fame had been launched. Early martial arts pioneers had become recognized internationally and future legends were born. Black Belt Magazine was influential, authentic and bona fide, a supreme institution. No other was as influential or played a more important role for the growth and popularity of all of martial arts. Black Belt Magazine would remain the leader of the martial arts worldwide for the remainder of the 20th Century and beyond.

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