"As real as it gets." Often used as the tag line for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, it refers to the fact that the event's bouts are as close to a real fight as the law and the fighters' safety permit. The catchphrase also refers to Spike TV's reality show, The Ultimate Fighter. In this classic interview, former UFC champ Randy Couture talks about what it takes to mold someone into a MMA fighter. Black Belt: How do you start training someone who wants to be an MMA fighter? Randy Couture: The first thing you need to find out is if he has a background in wrestling or judo or some other combative sport. You can play off that and develop other skills. The person's basic fitness level is also important. You have to teach the kind of fitness needed for MMA competition through cardiovascular training, anaerobic training and inner-strength training. Black Belt: What kind of athletic background besides combat sports would be an advantage? Football, sprinting, long-distance running? Randy Couture: All those sports bring a particular foundation, at least at a fitness level, that you can play off, but I'm not sure any of them offers a distinct advantage in MMA. However, it’s important that the person has competed in something and has a competitive spirit. Black Belt: Is competitive spirit something a person either has or doesn't have? Or can it be taught? Randy Couture: You can certainly test it. There are so many innate qualities that a person either has or doesn't have, but you can still educate him, push him and see how far he can go. And you can constantly push that wall back until he can go further and further. Most people can go a lot further than they think. Black Belt: Once you evaluate the person and learn about his background, where do you go from there? Randy Couture: Being at the top level in this sport, I've developed some tools and techniques for conditioning a fighter’s body the way it needs to be conditioned and for developing the skill sets he needs to be well-rounded. So the next step is to set a training regimen that builds conditioning through sprinting, running, biking, weightlifting and circuit training. It also includes time on the mat, light sparring, mitt work, ground training and wrestling. The goal is to develop skills and tools he can rely on when he needs to. Black Belt: Do you agree with those martial artists who insist you can get all the strength and endurance you need from doing your art, as long as you do it enough? Randy Couture: To some extent that can be true. There are plenty of examples of people who don't do any of that extra stuff. But when you get to the higher levels and want be the top dog, you have to do the extra stuff that will distinguish you from the others. You have to do those extras like increasing your foot speed and improving your dynamic, explosive power. Black Belt: What comes next for the budding MMA fighter? Randy Couture: Light sparring and putting him in different situations. You have to ensure he has an open mind and checks his ego at the door. He has to believe that he's always going to learn something, and he has to put himself out there. He has to risk being tapped out, risk losing-not only in training but also in fights that will challenge him. Black Belt: Say you're training a grappler who's got some decent skills. Do you try to perfect his grappling techniques, or do you focus on striking because it's his weakness? Randy Couture: I would spend more time-and this is the perspective I have as a wrestler who'd never been in a striking sport-on striking. Weaknesses have to be made into strengths. But the second you neglect one area of his training, somebody will point it out to him in competition. With a grappler, I would spend a lot of time on his hands and his ability to stop takedowns. Black Belt: For the grappling portion of his training, which arts would you draw from? Randy Couture: Certainly wrestling and jujutsu would be big components. I've also learned some things from judo players that I've found applicable. Wrestling is great because of the mat sense and intensity it brings, as well as the ability to take opponents down and control them from the top position. Jujutsu will teach him how to be on the bottom, how to fight on his butt and back, and how to find ways to not only submit his opponent but also to sweep and change positions. I would couple that with Greco-Roman wrestling, especially the clinch position, because in mixed martial arts, a fighter's posture is so much more upright than in most grappling sports. It applies very well for infighting and being able to take an opponent down while controlling him. Black Belt: What about for striking? Randy Couture: Western boxing and kickboxing are the most effective striking arts for this combative sport. Black Belt: Why not Thai boxing? Randy Couture: I think Thai boxing fits with what Greco-Roman and clinch fighting do best: infighting. The elbows and knees are very effective tools at close range. Black Belt: What are the essential skills and martial arts techniques you would cover? Randy Couture: The fighter needs good balance and footwork. He has to be able to defend himself, use his hands and elbows to cover his head, parry punches, and slip punches, kicks and knees. He also needs to be able to throw a proper punch and execute good combinations of kicks and knees. From there, he should move into clinch range, where he works inside control, neck wrestling, trapping and ways to not only strike but also take his opponent off his feet. He has to meld wrestling with striking, especially from the open position. He can't just go out with the intention of setting up his opponent and taking him down. It's too obvious to work, too easy to counter. Black Belt: Is that because fighters these days are too smart to fall into the traps that might have worked during the early days of the UFC? Randy Couture: Yeah. Everybody's cross-training, learning wrestling skills, learning to counter takedowns. A fighter's got to be prepared and understand that his opponent is going to know what's coming. And then he's got to work at being adept on the ground-whether he's on the top or bottom. He's got to be able to scramble, sweep and get back to a neutral position-and find in those transitions opportunities to submit his opponent. Or if he gets his opponent down, he's got to be able to keep him at a disadvantage so he can chip away at him. Black Belt: Would you also teach him how to use the environment—the fence and the mats—of the octagon? Randy Couture: There are definitely tactics for fighting in a ring and a cage. There are things he has to watch out for and things he can take advantage of. Black Belt: How do you approach strategy? Is there one you always teach, or are there four or five ways you would introduce? Randy Couture: It varies from opponent to opponent. Obviously it's more difficult training younger fighters because you don't have a lot of experience with them and their capabilities, and you generally don't know much about their opponents. But as a fighter moves into the higher ranks, you get the opportunity to see a lot of tape of his opponents. You notice their tendencies and how their strengths and weaknesses will match up with your fighter's strengths and weaknesses, then you figure out ways to win. They have to be willing to break themselves down and be honest about [their abilities]-and then go to the gym and do what it takes to execute that game plan. Black Belt: Did you encounter any special challenges while filming The Ultimate Fighter? Randy Couture: There were a lot of challenges for the athletes that created some challenges for me. Guys came in with different levels of conditioning. Some were really prepared and ready to go, and others had no idea what they were getting themselves into and consequently suffered physically, which made it difficult for me to push them. Some guys had better skill sets in some areas versus others. If I tried to focus on their weaknesses without singling out individuals, I couldn't spend the proper amount of time with others who didn't need that extra training. In general, I put them through a peaking phase as if, at the end of this, they were going to have a big fight. I tried to get them physically in the same kind of shape I get in for a fight. Black Belt: What have I left out? Randy Couture: The biggest piece that guys miss is the mental skill it takes not only to get through a training camp, but also to deal with the adversity of competition. They have to deal with the negative self-talk, and the jitters and the pressures of going out and performing in front of a bunch of people. They have to relax enough to do what they're trained to do. Black Belt: At the beginning of the UFC, it seemed like it was average guy against average guy, art against art. But now it's Superman against Superman, and everybody knows every relevant art. Seeing how much the whole sport has progressed, are you limited with respect to how good you can make an average person who might weigh 170 pounds and have done 10 years of karate? Randy Couture: It depends on the individual. We're all blessed with certain gifts and abilities, and that average guy has those things, too. Maybe he just hasn't tapped into them yet, and for some people, it's going to take longer than others. There are so many variables that play into making a good fighter; mind-set is probably the most important. What does he think his limitations are? Is he willing to do the work to get where he wants to go? It's almost more important than any physical gift he has. Black Belt: What's the optimal age to attend a training camp like the one shown in The Ultimate Fighter? If you're a champ when you're 40, that's one thing. But if you start when you're 40, that might be totally different. Randy Couture: Again, it depends on your background: What did you do in that 40 years? I'm 41, but I've spent my entire life since I was 10 competing in sports. To take a 40-year-old guy who's never competed in anything and get him up to speed physically and mentally for this combative sport is a big challenge, but it could be done. Will he be a world champion in a year? Probably not. Will he be able to compete within a year? He probably could. Black Belt: What advice would you give to people who will read this article and aspire to compete in the UFC? Randy Couture: The environment is a huge factor, so they should find a place where they're comfortable and where they're going to be exposed to all the pieces of the mixed-martial arts fight game. They should find a group of guys they can trust, guys who are going to teach them things and help them progress as a person and a fighter. You're only as good as your workout partners. Black Belt: What about advice for people who aren't quite ready to move into a training camp? What about that 16-year-old in Kansas who thinks, "When I'm 20, I really want to be a fighter; but now I'm living at home and training three days a week"? Randy Couture: It's not too early at 16; he still has to find that right place, and hopefully it'll be fairly close to home. It'll be a little more accessible when he turns 18 because he can go his own way. If he has a wrestling program in his school, that's a good place to start because it's an organized sport, and most programs are pretty good at developing at least one piece of the game. Black Belt: What about other options like going to the YMCA and doing boxing two days a week? Or lifting weights at home? Randy Couture: Those are all pieces of the puzzle. If all he can work on where he's at now is striking, then he should go to town on that and look for a different situation to add the other skills down the road.
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.
Twenty-year-old prodigy Elisabeth Clay stole the show claiming double gold at the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Pan American No-Gi Championships Saturday in Texas. Clay won the women's black belt medium heavyweight and open divisions while scoring six submissions in as many matches.
On the men's side, Giancarlo Bodoni won a referee's decision over Lucas Barbosa to capture the heavyweight black belt division after losing to Barbosa in the finals last year. But Barbosa turned around and defeated Bodoni 4-0 in the semis of the open weight class on his way to capturing gold in that division.
Held under the IBJJF's new rules, the tournament allowed for knee attacks and heel hook submissions. Clay made good use of the new regulations winning five of her matches by leg locks while Estevan Martinez-Garcia also claimed gold in the men's roosterweight division winning by heel hook.
Watch Some of Elisabeth Clay's Highlights:
Video courtesy of BJJ Trickster on YouTube.
In a back and forth battle, Charles Oliveira finally claimed UFC gold winning the lightweight title against Michael Chandler in Houston, TX Saturday night. And Oliveira, the UFC's all time submission king with 14 wins via that route, did it on his feet knocking Chandler out in the second round.
The Brazilian opened with low kicks but Chandler quickly took the fight to him scoring a damaging left hook. He then dropped to the ground attempting a guillotine choke but Oliveira worked out of it to take Chandler's back. The American was eventually able to explode out of the position and regain his feet though, from there raining punches down on the prone Oliveira.
Oliveira managed to get back standing but was quickly put down again by Chandler's punches seemingly on the verge of being stopped. Somehow surviving to the end of the round, Oliveira came out looking fresh to start the second and after missing a right hand, followed up with a textbook left hook that dropped Chandler. Though he got back up he was finished moments later as Oliveira captured the title in his 28th UFC bout, a company record for the most fights before claiming a championship.