More adults are taking up the sport. Everyone, after all, knows that it improves flexibility, coordination, muscle strength and reflexes, and that it gives practitioners a mental edge by increasing their confidence, patience and relaxation.
But 39-year-old Dirk Cowan, for example, took up karate a couple of years ago, practicing with a group of guys from the office as an attempt to let off some corporate-generated steam. "What I went down there for was to hopefully bash around a few coworkers," he says. "But these guys are my friends. And you can't really convince the bosses to go in there," he adds.
Cowan's foray into martial arts began years ago with jujitsu, a fighting system that employs a wide range of grappling techniques. He did that for almost 10 years in Texas, until his knee became too weak to continue.
As a former wrestler, it's karate's hand-to-hand combat that appeals to him. "I think part of it is that when you're into contact sports, and into something that's sort of violent, it doesn't really go away," he says. "Many people [with that background] can't just go pick up a game of tennis or golf."
Sensei Gregg Brown, who's been a devotee of the Japanese tradition for 23 years, debunks the myth that it takes years to become adept at the sport.
"I had a guy walk in wanting to take up karate. He was there every morning when we opened until the time we closed for a week," Brown says. "Come to find out, the guy was going to jail -- he definitely saw the value and importance of what he had to learn. And he learned a lot.
"It takes 40 days to make a habit," he adds. "But it only takes one time to make up your mind that this is something you want to do. From there, it's discipline." That's why age doesn't really matter, he says.
Cowan was lucky to find a group that was a good match for him. But for Kill Bill fans who only recently have become obsessed with the sport, aiming to stage assassination re-enactments, Brown offers some advice.
"If you just want to get in shape, you can go pretty much anywhere," he says. "But if you want somebody to really train you, you need to go to someone with experience. You need to ask, 'Have you ever used karate to restrain a 6-foot-8-inch, 300-pound guy on the street?' If the answer is no, then that's not the place you want to go."
Under Brown's direction, Cowan says he's undergone some changes. "It's a sense of knowing your body," he says. "I'm just physically better now -- maybe not better than when I was 19, but better than I've been in a long time."
The emotional gains are a little harder to articulate. "There's definitely something spiritual about it that I don't understand that well at my level," Cowan says, hedging a bit. "But it does make me feel better mentally.
"Maybe it's youth," he says. "The majority of us are in our late thirties, early forties -- but we still have a little bit of that physical ability yet, enough to make it interesting and fun."