By now almost everyone must know that black belts (like belts of other colors) are important status symbols in the practice of karate, judo, aikido and the rest of the Japanese martial arts. What they may not remember is that all these belts are also tangible pieces of athletic equipment that must be manufactured according to certain standards, put on the market and eventually purchased by the user. So if you've achieved black-belt status, where do you buy one?
In the New York area alone there are more than a dozen stores that cater to the martial arts, but the largest, most complete and one of the oldest is Honda Associates, Inc., established 12 years ago, long before the arts themselves got to be so "in."
Each year Paul S. Honda, a 4th degree judo black belt (and no relation to the motorbike Hondas), sends out a catalog that lists over 100 items. Honda is the sole distributor of the Tokaido karate gi, a uniform made with 65% polyester and guaranteed to be three times stronger than the 100% cotton gi. Mr. Honda, who does 80% of his business by mail, receives orders from as far away as Vietnam and has recently had his registered trademark, Martial Arts World, approved by the U.S. government.
Honda carries a full set of armor for the kendo (Japanese fencing) fan, including the official. shinai (bamboo sword), jiu-jitsu jackets and the hakama (protective skirt) for the practitioner of aikido. For the karate ka, there is the iron geta (for foot training), the tonfa (for strengthening the wrists), the hachimaki (hand band), embroidered rank belts, rubber knives, weights for wrists and ankles, the Makiwari punching board, punching mats, a kicking bag and even a Japanese towel, presumably for wiping off the sweat. For collectors, Honda even stocks a few bejeweled samurai swords.
For those who believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of karate, Honda carries a full line of protective equipment. It frowns on the old-fashioned elastic bandage favored by Joe Namath and other weak-kneed U.S. athletes (it is bad for circulation), substituting instead its own medically approved, snug but softly lined hand, arm, ankle and kneecap protectors.
If sales of equipment are any index, karate is currently the most popular of all martial arts. At Honda, the demand for karate items outnumbers all others. "Judo," says Mr. Honda, "is a better sport, and just as effective, but karate appeals to the American mentality. It's more spectacular."
Request for catalogs should be addressed to Honda Associates, 2 West 46th Street, New York, N.Y. 10036.