There’s no denying that Jim Arvanitis is a skilled martial artist. He moves like a 30-year-old both on his feet and on the ground, where he flows from technique to technique with an ease you seldom see outside a high-end grappling school. And there’s no denying that he’s a martial arts historian par excellence. One look at his most recent book, The First Mixed Martial Art: Pankration From Myths to Modern Times, reveals that he’s intimately familiar not only with pankration, the fighting system of his Greek ancestors, but also with the rise of the martial arts in the West.
But neither of those is the reason I admire him. What struck me the first time we met was his honesty. It’s starkly illustrated in the following passage, which was lifted from a yet-to-be-published article he wrote: “In 393, pankration, along with gladiatorial combat and all pagan festivals, were abolished by an edict from the Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I. In terms of an Olympic sport, pankration had been practiced for some 1,000 years. While there’s proof that wrestling persisted in Hellenic society after the conclusion of the Olympic Games, little evidence supports that either boxing or pankration continued. It’s safe to assume that pankration vanished for the next two millennia.”
Nick Hines, Jim Arvanitis’ senior student, penned a paragraph that continued the story—and reflected his teacher’s truthful approach to the history of his art: “Although it’s been claimed that various clans in Greece attempted to assemble what remained into a martial art, not until the 20th century was it regenerated into a tangible form and introduced to the martial arts world. Jim Arvanitis … spent years researching the history, modifying the training methodology and codifying pankration into a contemporary form of hybrid fighting.”
Such honesty is rare. In most parts of the world where martial arts developed, you can find masters who claim to teach ancient fighting arts that exhibit techniques that are identical to those of other arts, yet they deny there was any cross-pollination. And here we have Jim Arvanitis, openly admitting that many of the specifics about pankration’s techniques were lost in time and that he had to patch those holes.
“With my continuing research, I noticed ‘voids,’ or areas that necessitated modification,” Jim Arvanitis said. “That’s where the inclusion of modern resources came in. I never intended my revival effort and personal interpretation of the ancient form to be an exact replication. Having been defunct for some 2,000 years, how could it be? Why should it be?”
Which sources did he rely on to fill those voids? Boxing and Greco-Roman wrestling, as well as muay Thai and judo, especially its ne waza (grappling techniques), he says. “I also studied tactical knife fighting with some skillful Greeks and Massad Ayoob for the battlefield component, and Massad Ayoob and I have worked extensively on handgun disarms since 1974.”
Such is the martial art that Jim Arvanitis teaches—through classes and seminars, as well as via video and the printed word. Throughout the years, his message has been essentially the same: The ancient Greeks had their own style of combat, and if you try it, you’ll find that it’s every bit as comprehensive and effective as anything in Asia. He says his goal is to bring credit to his ancestors for their contributions to the martial arts, and he’s doing a fine job of it.
The staff of Black Belt is pleased to induct him into its Hall of Fame as 2009 Instructor of the Year.
Black Belt Magazine has a storied history that dates back all the way to 1961, making 2021 the 60th Anniversary of the world's leading magazine of martial arts. To celebrate six decades of legendary martial arts coverage, take a trip down memory lane by scrolling through some of the most influential covers ever published. From the creators of martial art styles, to karate tournament heroes, to superstars on the silver screen, and everything in between, the iconic covers of Black Belt Magazine act as a time capsule for so many important moments and figures in martial arts history. Keep reading to view the full list of these classic issues.
The First Cover - 1961
This is where it all began. This 34-page first issue contained feature articles about kendo, aikido, and the AAU National Judo Championships. Legends like Jigoro Kano, Ed Parker, and Koichi Tohei are all mentioned. The first page even explains where Black Belt got its name!
Tak Kubota - September 1965
The September 1965 issue had some international flavor, with articles featuring karate practiced "The Tokyo Way" by Tak Kubota and a piece titled Judo in Yugoslavia. There is also a write-up about the All-Japan Judo Championships and a story on the Judo icon Wally Jay.
1st Chuck Norris - June 1967
Black Belt tried out a hand-painted art style for many of the covers in 1967. This cover was the first to feature Chuck Norris after he narrowly defeated Joe Lewis at S. Henry Cho's North American Karate Championship. The final score was 27.5 to 25.5.
1st Joe Lewis - September 1967
Joe Lewis would avenge his loss to Norris earlier in the year by winning Jhoon Rhee's U.S. Karate Championships with Bruce Lee in attendance. The feature article tells how Lewis defeated John Wooley in the finals in front of 8,000 fans in Washington, D.C.
1st Bruce Lee - October 1967
The first issue featuring Bruce Lee on the cover had to be one of Black Belt's most iconic issues. Action fans everywhere were tuning into The Green Hornet and "Kato" was a superstar. Also, the results of a survey showed that karate was gaining popularity over judo in the U.S.
1st Fumio Demura - December 1967
Young kobudo master Fumio Demura shared the secrets of the sai in a feature article that included photograph tutorials of various grips and techniques. A four-year judo university called "Yudo College" in Korea was also featured in this issue.
Capoeira - June 1969
In this issue, Capoeira was described as an art that captured Brazil's history and culture. Another sign of the times, a study was published suggesting that karate can be learned from films for the first time. Pat Johnson described films as the "finest single aid to karate training".
Jhoon Rhee - July 1970
The cover article of this issue featured the legendary Jhoon Rhee, who was deemed the "Father of U.S. Tae Kwon Do" in the story. The Bornean Dyak tradition of Kenjah was also featured, which prepared boys for murder in a bloody ritual that was required for manhood.
Gene LeBell - August 1971
In the first issue featuring Gene LeBell on the cover, he compares judo and its limitations to professional wrestling. Another feature article provides self-defense information from law enforcement advisors after recent increases in violent crime were observed.
Kung Fu TV Series - January 1973
David Carradine was prominently featured in the cover piece about the Kung Fu television series. Black Belt also claimed that Japan's reign on Olympic judo had ended, as Dutchman Willem Ruska took two gold medals and the Russians won four total medals (one gold).
Bob Wall - January 1974
In this issue, Bob Wall of Enter the Dragon tells all about how mastering pain helped him achieve success in competition, business, and acting. Black Belt also sponsored the "First Oriental Fighting Arts Expo" with 35 martial artists performing for over 10,000 fans.
Ed Parker - February 1975
The Father of American Kenpo is prominently featured in a piece titled And in the Beginning There was Ed Parker. There is also a forward-thinking article about informing the media of martial arts in order to grow participation in martial arts schools and tournaments.
Bill Wallace - April 1975
"Superfoot" gets his own Black Belt cover and discusses his fighting career. He said that he liked the then-new innovation of safety gear because he can "really hit the guy". Successful martial arts businesswomen Pauline Short, Julie Webb, and Py Bateman were also featured.
Dan Ivan - September 1976
Southern California karate pioneer Dan Ivan gets a a cover article about his career in this issue. The magazine also contains advertisements for Jhoon Rhee's Safe-T gear and Braschi protective equipment as endorsed by Chuck Norris, early competitors in martial arts supply.
Chuck Norris - December 1977
Chuck Norris finds himself on the cover of another issue and is famously quoted in the feature article stating, "I would really like to become a white Bruce Lee". The issue also shares a photograph tutorial for elbow techniques designed to defend women against rape.
C.S. Kim - March 1979
Tang Soo Do gets a national spotlight as C.S. Kim graces the cover of this issue. Century Martial Arts had their classic Kickin' Jeans advertisement featured. The art of Chi Kung is also prominently featured in the piece Harnessing Internal Powers with Chi Kung.
Joo Bang Lee - May 1981
Joo Bang Lee shares his knowledge of Hwarangdo and how it can be used for knife defense in his cover piece. There is also a write up about Mas Oyama's 2nd World Karate Tournament, where overtime bareknuckle matches were determined by breaking competitions.
William Cheung - April 1983
A four-part feature series about William Cheung concluded in this issue as he was pictured on the cover. The issue also contains an exclusive interview with Hirokazu Kanazawa, who was one of the premier instructors in the Japan Karate Association.
Ninjamania - December 1984
The ninjutsu craze earned Ninjamania the cover, but this issue included other big stories like Chuck Norris reflecting on his toughest opponents and the U.S. Olympic Judo team making history by winning their first-ever silver medal.
Benny "The Jet" Urquidez - March 1985
Benny "The Jet" Urquidez lands on his first Black Belt cover in this issue and stresses the importance of striking to the legs when fighting. There was also a special update piece on previous Hall of Famers, such as Ed parker, Joe Lewis, Jeff Smith, Ark Wong, and more.
Thai Kickboxing - November 1986
Thai boxing gets some notable American press in this issue, and Jhoon Rhee is featured again for teaching multiple United States congressmen. Fumio Demura is also pictured in the issue breaking glass for an article titled Hand Strikes of Karate.
Masaaki Hatsumi - January 1987
Masaaki Hatsumi continues the 80's ninja craze on the cover of this issue. The WUKO World Championships were also covered, where American superstar Hakim Alston defeated an opponent in under 22 seconds. This prompted a drug screening that he passed without issue.
Mike Swain - October 1988
Judo legend Mike Swain gets the cover in October of '88 as the United States Olympic Judo Team gets a spotlight for all of their members. The U.S. Taekwondo team was also given a feature, recognizing notable athletes like Jimmy Kim and Arlene Limas.
Hee Il Cho - March 1990
Taekwondo Master Hee Il Cho shared his art's amazing jumping kicks for this cover. Various martial arts weapons also received a spotlight in articles about lesser-known Samurai weapons like the sickle and chain, as well as a Kung Fu piece about the Wu Dang sword.
Ted Wong - July 1990
Ted Wong is featured on this cover as he tells Black Belt about his training under Bruce Lee. Another feature article tackles a question that is still prevalent today- What's Wrong with Tournament Karate? in an attempt to figure out how to make martial arts a mainstream sport.
Suh In-Hyuk - September 1991
Suh In-Hyuk graced this cover because he was a notable professor for the Rockwell College of Applied Arts and Science that offered doctorates in martial arts through the mail. This issue also provided one of the first major national spotlights for Gracie JuJitsu.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - July 1992
The NBA's all-time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, is featured on this cover for an exclusive interview in which he talks about training with Bruce Lee. Other features include a piece about stunt performers and cross training in martial arts for other athletes.
Kathy Long - August 1992
Kickboxing champion Kathy Long tells all in this issue about being the stunt double for Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. David Lea is also prominently featured for his work as a stunt double for Michael Keaton in Batman and the sequel, Batman Returns.
Brandon Lee - July 1993
Brandon Lee wields a three-sectional staff on the cover of this issue shortly after his tragic passing. In addition to the memorial, champions on the tournament circuit at the time such as Cynthia Rothrock and Kenn Firestone share secrets about designing a winning tournament form.
Royce Gracie - December 1995
UFC 1 tournament winner Royce Gracie gets the cover in this issue as he explains why he had been inactive at the time. There's also a write up of the Ocean State Grand Nationals, where over 1,000 competitors attended while Richard Branden and Mafia Holloway won titles.
Ken Shamrock - March 1996
MMA legend Ken Shamrock is pictured on the cover with challenger Kimo Leopoldo in the background ahead of their superfight. In other news, Team USA took home multiple WAKO world titles as Richard Plowden, Mike Chaturantabut, and Willie Johnson all won gold.
Marco Ruas - February 1997
This cover features Marco Ruas as he tells the Black Belt readers about Vale Tudo, an intense martial art that helped him earn the title of King of the Streets. Another feature article discusses the appeal of martial arts movies and what made them so popular in this era.
Rickson Gracie - May 1998
Rickson Gracie, arguably the greatest jiu jitsu practitioner of all time, is seen on this cover for his feature article about the No-Holds-Barred Fighting association. A fascinating article about learning Tae Kwon Do in Korea is also featured in the issue.
Shannon Lee - February 1999
Shannon Lee, daughter of icon Bruce Lee, is featured for her piece that dives into her training in a variety of martial arts. Gary Alexander, winner of Mas Oyama's first North American Championships, also earns a prominent feature to discuss the state of martial arts at the time.
Steve DeMasco - February 2000
Steve Demasco shares how Chinese Kempo maximizes striking power in the cover issue. In another feature, Meredith Gold shares one of many women's self-defense articles. Century's iconic BOB also makes one of its first advertising appearances in the issue.
Steven Seagal - May 2001
This cover features Steven Seagal after his return to the big screen for Exit Wounds, and discusses his influential role as a promoter of Aikido in the United States. Bare-knuckle karate is also featured as part of the classic debate between Budo and Bujutsu.
40th Anniversary - July 2001
Black Belt celebrates four decades of martial arts history with a mosaic of many impactful covers over the years. A feature article explains how grappling skills are useful for self-defense and "Hwa Rang Do's Golden Child" Taejoon Lee landed an article/photo tutorial as well.
Michael Jai White - February 2002
Michael Jai White credits his Hollywood success to mastery of traditional karate and kobudo in the cover piece of the February 2002 issue. There is also a somewhat controversial piece about the art of trapping and wether or not it is effective in the real world.
Joe Rogan - December 2002
The now ultra-famous podcast host Joe Rogan gets the cover in this issue when he was the host of Fear Factor and was known for training in Taekwondo and Jujutsu. There is also a story about a martial arts "Celebrity Roast" to honor Bob Wall featuring the likes of Chuck Norris.
Helio Gracie - February 2003
Co-Founder of Gracie Jiu Jitsu alongside his brothers, Helio Gracie, graces the cover of this issue for an article about his life and legacy. Also, after new rules were implemented by the World Karate Federation, John Fonseca shares his kumite secrets.
David Carradine - December 2003
Following the release and success of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Volume 1, David Carradine gets a long-overdue feature on the cover of Black Belt. In other news, K-1 legend Bob Sapp confronted Mike Tyson after knocking out Kimo Leopoldo.
Liddell & Couture - March 2005
Ahead of the premiere of The Ultimate Fighter, UFC stars Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell appear in the cover article and give tips for any readers that may want to give the reality show a try. A feature article titled "High-Tech Training" discusses the use of instructional DVDs as well.
Jet Li - June 2005
Wushu superstar Jet Li sheds his hero archetype in Unleashed and gets a spot on the cover for it. The legendary Morihei Uyeshiba is also prominently featured in an article that details the striking and pressure points used in Aikido.
Scott Adkins - February 2011
Leading up to Black Belt's 50th anniversary, this issue is the second in a series of five that features a decade-by-decade timeline of martial arts history as told by Black Belt. Scott Adkins gets the cover as one of seven featured individuals that define the "21st Century Martial Artist".
50th Anniversary - June 2011
Martial arts icons like Jhoon Rhee, Stephen K. Hayes, Dan Inosanto, and more write personal notes to Black Belt in celebration of the 50th anniversary. There is also a prominent write up of Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster starring Donnie Yen.
Mike Dillard - August 2011
Black Belt's 2011 Man of the Year and the founder/CEO of Century Martial Arts, Mike Dillard, is featured on the cover of this issue. Anthony "Showtime" Pettis is also featured in the issue after his signature knockout of Ben Henderson by jumping off the cage with a round kick.
Ronda Rousey - May 2012
Ronda Rousey gets featured on the cover after medaling in Judo at the olympics and having some early MMA succes, but before fighting for the UFC title. Sport Karate legend Steve "Nasty" Anderson does an exclusive interview about the Superman Punch vs California Blitz.
Kayla Harrison - November 2012
Kayla Harrison lands on this cover after winning her first gold medal and bringing United States Olympic Judo to prominence. The 2012 Black Belt Hall of Fame is also announced in this issue, featuring Jae Chul Shin, Ronda Rousey, Sage Northcutt, and more.
Master Ken - December 2014
YouTube superstar Master Ken dons the signature red Ameri-Do-Te sleeveless uniform on this cover. He and his true self, Matt Page, answer questions separately in a truly one-of-a-kind feature article. The rest of the 2014 Hall of Fame class is also announced in this issue.
Cobra Kai - February 2021
This brings us to 2021, the modern era of Black Belt. The stars of Netflix's Cobra Kai are featured as their show captures the attention of martial artists and fans around the world. Black Belt celebrates their 60th anniversary and looks ahead to many more years of martial arts.
Despite losing fighters from the card due to everything from rough weight cuts to COVID, the Ultimate Fighting Championships was back on ESPN again Saturday night from Las Vegas with some entertaining match-ups headlined by Marina Rodriguez's unanimous decision over Michelle Waterson. Though both women are ranked strawweights, the match was contested at flyweight where Rodriguez appeared to be the bigger, stronger fighter landing some hard punches and muscling Waterson in the clinch to garner the win.
The co-main event saw popular veteran Donald Cerrone continue his losing ways, eating looping right hands from Alex Morono until the referee stopped the welterweight bout toward the end of the first round. Cerrone is now 0-5 in his last six bouts with one no contest. The undercard had probably the most talked about performance of the night as lightweight Gregor Gillespie set a frantic pace of constant takedown attempts and ground scrambles to simply run Diego Ferreira out of gas in the second round of their fight.
The Art of the Sword and the Silver Screen
There can hardly be a more iconic action scene in an action film, but especially in a Samurai action film, than Tatsuya Nakadai in Sword of Doom (1966) as he walks purposefully along a misty path, eyes forward, as if in a trance, a death-stare, and methodically slices and cuts all the opponents in his way (scene below).
Samurai action films are a genre that brought actors like the aforementioned Nakadai and Toshiro Mifune to prominence in America, but the artistry of the flashing steel is actually an art in and of itself. The art of Tate (Tah-tay) is the well from which most of those amazing sword battles were drawn.
What is Tate?
Tate is not just another martial art, but rather a martial art with a specific purpose. Literally translated, Tate means choreographed sword battle. Although the techniques can be used for fighting, Tate is meant to be theatrical, and so it is intended to adorn the stage and screen.
Enter Tate swordmaster, and actor Yoshi Amao. Amao is an expert practitioner of Tate and explained the difference between the cutting techniques of traditional arts like Kendo and Iaido and the art of Tate. Amao tells, "We needed to add something different. It's not a realistic way to fight, but it can look gorgeous, amazing, dramatic, or funny." While fighting stresses the economy of motion and effectiveness of technique, choreographed combat seeks to embellish with elaborate and beautiful flourishes.
Yoshi Amao wanted to be an actor. And so he left Japan for New York in 1990. It wasn't until years later, at an audition for a film, that his planned course would take a detour into the martial arts. Teaching the choreography for his audition was legendary actor Mako Iwamatsu "He showed me some movement with the sword, and then he handed the sword to me and said, "OK? You do the same thing." I tried to do the movement like him, but I couldn't do it. I was so disappointed. I felt like it was something I really wanted to learn. It's very beautiful, and as a Japanese actor, I felt I should learn to do this. That was my inspiration."
As destiny sometimes provides, an actor friend, with knowledge of Tate came to New York. Amao asked if he would teach him privately. Eventually, a class on Samurai sword was established drawing actors, stunt people, and sword enthusiasts alike. At first, Amao assisted, but eventually, he began teaching the class with his teacher's blessing. Wanting to learn more, Amao went to Japan to study, and after a couple of teachers ended up as the disciple of Master swordsmen Waki Tahei Sensei.
As spectators and filmgoers, many of us have likely seen Tate and never realized it. There are some classics of the genre, specifically the aforementioned, Sword of Doom and also Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961), with Yojimbo being quite possibly the most borrowed from (note: not ripped-off) film ever made. The entire film was remade twice, first as A Fist Full of Dollars (1964) and then in the 90s as Last Man Standing (1996). The cantina scene in Star Wars (1977) where Obi-Wan cuts off the gangster alien's arm is lifted directly from this film, as is the ending of The Warriors (1979) where Swan throws the knife into Luther's gun-wielding arm. Clearly, Tate is not so unusual or theatrical as to make it inaccessible, but rather it adds the warrior spirit to conflict in a visceral way that the viewer understands intuitively.
Sword epics are hard to come by these days, but hopefully they will return and the art of Tate will live on in film and on stage bringing new practitioners and new masters.
To find out more about Yoshi Amao's Tate classes and more, click here.
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