The advent of the world wide inter-web was destined to threaten the print media industry at some point. The rising cost of paper, coupled with the techno-media-crazed-gadget-happy culture we have perpetuated has marginalized most of all print media. Newspapers, and now magazines are experiencing dropping sales and lagging interest.
Martial arts magazines are a niche market to begin with, and even now we are seeing huge shifts in the industry. Ultimate Grappling switched their focus along with their title to Ultimate MMA. The Journal of Asian Martial Arts will no longer sell in retail outlets, only by subscription. Overall the quality of articles and pieces in all martial arts magazines has dropped, perhaps the Journal of Asian Martial Arts being the sole exception. Quality is of course subjective and is subject to the mercy of a saturated market. But none the less one has to admit the information in many of these magazines is impotent, poorly articulated, and often looked at as nothing more than a self promoting tool.
It should be noted that I have written for most of these publications, so I try not to include any bias.
MMA is the hot trend in martial pop culture at the moment with tons of magazines dedicated to it such as: Tap Out / Sport Fight / MMA Worldwide / Fight / Ultimate MMA / Gladiator, etc. Unfortunately all these magazines basically cover the same fights, and their instructional articles tend to have neither substance nor depth. A lot of the more important aspects of martial training are rarely, if at all, covered by these magazines. Respect, honor, tradition, the martial way, these aspects are rarely seen.
Enter the one shining lite for the grappling community, Gracie Magazine.
The Good News:
In both Portuguese and English languages, Gracie offers the most comprehensive coverage of BJJ and submission grappling events sponsored by the IBJJF. Technique sections tend to offer great submissions, sweeps, and positional cues. And quite often authors tie in the philosophical and spiritual aspects of martial training. A humble, mature attitude is a constant theme within the articles.
The Bad News:
Obviously this magazine is geared towards one business within BJJ, and that business is the business of being a Gracie, or Gracie affiliate. Events covered give no mention of others who placed who are not part of the extended Gracie family (IE. pays money to be an affiliate). I cannot really blame them for showing favoritism (after all the magazine is named Gracie), but for journalistic integrity if you are going to give blanket coverage of an event, make sure it is even across the board.
Cost is a HUGE problem with this magazine. No retailer in the Seattle metro area carries it at the newsstand price of $9 US a copy!! Subscriptions will run you right around $90 for 12 issues!!
Both Black Belt & Journal Of Asian Martial Arts (JAMA) are geared towards the martial arts in general, and that is about where the similarities end!
The Good News:
In regards to Black Belt the best thing it has going for it is the low cost.
As for the JAMA it maintains a standard that so far has not even been close to being surpassed. Basically scholarly in its format and approach, the JAMA offers reviews, technical articles, philosophical / religious articles dealing with the martial arts covering a wide variety of styles and interesting pieces.
The Bad News:
Black Belt magazine used to be the premier martial arts rag, but the times quickly changed. It has become nothing but shameless self promotion of the next get rich quick schemes of the martial kingdom. Most articles are by teachers and schools selling products in the magazine. Again depth and substance are completely lacking!
As for the JAMA cost and availability are prohibitive. Printed every other month (6 issues a years) the quality of the product, and the thickness of the paper make the $9.99 newsstand price well worth it if their are articles that tickle your fancy inside. Now the JAMA has done away with offering the journal in retail stores, and this means we have to buy sight unseen. For people like me that is a turn off, though the JAMA has a loyal following, and it is left to be seen if this will affect their overall growth and strength in the market.
Enter the world of Chinese Martial Arts (CMA) and their respective magazines Tai Chi / Inside Kung Fu / Kung Fu Tai Chi. Again we are talking about a very select niche market, that compared to say MMA has relatively few events to cover. Yet the CMA have three separate magazines to offer.
The Good News:
In regards to Inside Kung Fu.... man.... I am really at a loss as to what to say. The quality has dropped in this magazine alone more so than in any other in my opinion!
Tai Chi magazine covers an even smaller niche, but arguably the most practiced and popular CMA, Taiji (Taichi). Articles on all five major styles are represented, as well as thorough event reviews and coverage. Though I have noticed reprints of articles written 5-10 years prior have been common over the last year or two.
Kung Fu - Taichi magazine is arguably the best of the bunch. Though goofy ass articles still plague its annals, overall the editor Gene Ching is often left looking for filler and cannot be too picky. Ching travels to almost every major tournament and event in the CMA community, and in terms of coverage nothing gets better.
The Bad News:
Inside Kung Fu... see Black Belt above!
Tai Chi magazine tends to lean towards the "woo-woo" Taiji practitioners, and shys away from practical application of the MARTIAL ART known as Taiji! I was once even told that my article offered too much application, and was "rather aggressive!"
Kung Fu - Tai Chi suffers from the same symptoms of most the rags, lack of quality info and writing! Overall though it is the one magazine maintaining a decent hold. And Gene is the greatest editor I have ever worked with!