“No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be...”– Isaac Asimov

I began training in the martial arts in the summer of 1965. Months earlier, I had broken my lower back in a weightlifting contest and the doctor told me to stop lifting weights and to try something less violent on the body. Therefore, I began karate training.

In the United States in the mid 1960s the martial arts, karate in particular, was in its infancy. Most people had not heard of it and would furrow their brow in confusion when they did. “Karate? Is that some kind of Chinese food?”

“No,” I’d say with growing impatience. “Chow Mein is Chinese food. Karate is a fighting art.” Then I would quote the late Peter Urban, an eccentric karate master who helped bring Goju Ryu to the East Coast in the 1960s, “Karate is the art of fightin’ real good.”

Many of the fighting styles that sprang up all over the country in the 1960s were brought here by returning servicemen, military folks who had served in exotic Asian locales. They brought home this new fighting art and, along with it, the same teaching methods under which they had learned. Most often their ways were extreme, harsh and injurious. It was not that these martial arts pioneers were cruel, though some were; it was that they were simply employing the only teaching methods that they knew.

Karate: Author’s Early Years of Tough Training

My first few years of diligent training were done without protection for the hands, shins, feet, teeth, head, and the groin. Our white uniforms were often splattered with blood, our blood and our partner’s, which we wore unwashed to show the world our red badges of warriorhood. The delicate tops of our hands and feet, our shinbones and forearms, and our foreheads were almost always covered with “walnuts,” a name we gave those swollen lumps that littered our bony surfaces. And bruises? We had so many that our bruises had walnuts and some of our bruises had their own bruises.

One day one of us got an idea of going to a mattress warehouse and buying a large square of foam rubber. We cut off chunks and taped them to the backs of our hands and over our shins to protect especially swollen injured areas. My instructor—a product of old school training—would not let us cover anything that was not already injured.

Most of us took our broken fingers to a doctor while busted toes were just shrugged off and taped to a healthy one on either side. A hand with a broken finger would be stuffed in our belts behind our backs and we would train with the remaining arm. I remember several occasions when I had to place both arms behind my back and spar only with my feet.

Old-fashioned exercises and training methods hurt many of us, too. Exercises like squatting with a training partner on our shoulders, “duck walking” (squatting down and running laps), training-partner-assisted forced stretches, and pushing our bodies past fatigue and into the red zone of overuse.

We did not know any better, nor did our teachers. We were pioneers, forging a path littered with torn muscles and strained ligaments, broken bones and, in some cases, irreparable damage, damage that cut short martial art careers or that still haunt us old warriors years later. As I begin my fifth decade of martial arts training, I give thanks every day for over-the-counter painkillers.

Karate: Today With Safety Equipment

Let us jump ahead to the new millennium. With today’s vast array of marvelous safety equipment, you would be hard pressed to find a martial artist with mattress padding taped to his shins. For less than a hundred dollars, you can pad your critical body areas with lightweight, space-age material in a rainbow of color options. If you want to invest a thousand dollars, you can cover your entire person in the stuff, though your mobility is pretty much limited to a slow, simple shuffle.

Back in the early years, constant injuries slowed progress, sometimes stopped it. Students either stayed home until they healed, or they struggled through classes picking and choosing what they could and could not do. This rarely happens today. With ever-improving protective equipment, sprains, jams, hyperextensions, and breaks are few and far between. Sure, stuff still happens. After all, the study of martial arts is the study of fighting, not flower arranging. Nonetheless, today’s injury count is nowhere near the scale of the old days. Now that students can practice in relative safety, they have greater confidence to push themselves, to try new things, to take chances.

When American service members and Asian masters first brought the fighting arts to the United States, few debated the science and wisdom (or lack of it) of what was taught. Thankfully, that was not to last. American martial artists began to ask questions, to debate, and to challenge. Martial art techniques were to be scrutinized in the scientific community: Where do they get their power? Their speed? How can martial artists get faster, stronger, better? Meditation seemed to work, but why? How can it be made more relative to the fighting arts?

Sports medicine entered the picture and along with it modern training methods. Nutritionists told us how to eat better for growth and recovery. Trainers with master’s degrees and doctorates taught us the value of recuperative sleep, healthful and stamina-building nutrition supplementation, weight training for speed and explosiveness, specificity of movement exercises, aerobic and anaerobic training, and the importance of cross training. Psychologists taught us about the powerful link between mind and body.

When I began training in the mid 1960s, there were only a few books on the market. Video and DVD technology were still a few years off from their invention, as was the Internet and sharing of information through websites, blogs, and streaming film clips. By the end of that decade, there were dozens of books on the subject and numerous magazines. Jump ahead to the present and today’s modern martial artists can avail themselves to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books, training videos, and DVDs.

Karate and the Information Age

Today we are in the information age and it can be happily reported that the martial arts have kept up. Today’s kicking taekwondo student can learn exotic hand techniques from kung fu by simply inserting a disc into a DVD player. A hard-punching karate stylist and his training buddy can add to their grappling techniques by garnering applications from books on standup jujitsu locks, Brazilian ground fighting techniques, Chinese chin-na moves, and gravity defying aikido throws. A grappler can learn powerful muay Thai kicks from videos taught by well-known champions.

Cannot remember how to hold your foot when you sidekick? Unlike just 15 years ago, you no longer have to lose training time by having to wait until next week to ask your instructor. Simply Google “sidekick” into your computer and you are instantly bombarded with thousands of websites that show experts throwing that same move.

As modern technology continues to affect the martial arts field with new and improved training equipment and teaching aids, the one aspect of martial arts training that has not changed is the one that is arguably the most important. Without it, all the fancy-schmancy workout gear, books, videos, and DVDs are meaningless, worthless. I’m talking about discipline. You have got to train and then train some more. Then you must train some more after that.

When you can say no to parties, the movies, and the undeniable pleasure of sprawling on the sofa and surfing the channels to make yourself train one more time, you are on the way to being the best you can be. Making that journey just a little bit easier and virtually pain free is a vast amount of modern safety equipment and training information to take you to heights unimagined when the Asian fighting arts landed on our soil just a few decades ago.

The above is an excerpt from The Way to Black Belt: A Comprehensive Guide to Rapid, Rock-Solid Results by Lawrence A. Kane and Kris Wilder.

This content was provided for the book by Loren W. Christensen