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Lyota Machida and Shotokan Karate

by on September 13, 2009

Whenever UFC and karate come up in the same discussion, its also certain that someone will mention how “very Shotokan” Lyoto Machida is. I’ll start by saying that Machida is one of my favourite UFC competitors, but a pure Shotokan fighter, he is not.

The only thing “Shotokan” about Machida (and please keep in mind that even he calls it Machida Karate) is his strategy in avoiding attacks from his opponents. His punches, kicks, blocks (or lack thereof) are the same as many others in UFC and other MMA leagues. Freeze-frame a few techniques and you’ll see that they aren’t “pure” Shotokan at all. In fact, if you didn’t know he was a Shotokan practitioner, you wouldn’t say most techniques were characteristically Shotokan.

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Shotokan instructor: his shoulder, hips, and leg are out of alignment / LOLcat: pour form? He haz it!

His strategy of shifting away from an attack, something he does better than anyone else in UFC (NSFW), is about the only trace of “pure” Shotokan that exists in his fights.

So why do so many Shotokan folks hail Machida as the primary evidence of Shotokan Karate’s effectiveness? People rally behind him and say “SEE? This is why Shotokan works!” or “You can defend yourself too! Just look at Lyoto Machida”. Try to compare yourself to him. Lyoto Machida:

  1. studies several types of martial arts,
  2. spends several hours a day, 5-6 days a week training,
  3. engages in weight lifting and plyometric training,
  4. has several personal coachs,
  5. operates and trains in a club, and
  6. fights against some of the best UFC fighters available on a regular basis

… among other activities (probably eats right). If you, or anyone you know, do 3 or more of these things then you might stand a chance to be as proficient as he is. Otherwise, venerating a false god could be dangerous. Just go back to your semi-weekly classes and unquestioning faith in what is taught and you’ll be better off.

From → competition

7 Comments
  1. Hey, you have a great blog here! I’m definitely going to bookmark you! Thank you for your info.And this is **Do Karate** site/blog. It pretty much covers ###Karate## related stuff.

  2. henry permalink

    It’s modified shotokan. He does a lot of techniques that are shotokan. You have to know shotokan to know what it is. Shotokan is neither not effective nor is it the most effective. It’s just a different base. However, since a lot of people do not practice it, or automatically dismiss it, they fail to practice an effective counter against it.

    The problem with shotokan is it evolved into a sport with point sparring in mind. The older karate which it was based on had completely different techniques that were lost in stylized kata application. Machida tried to re-examine and re-apply practical techniques that were lost to the sport.

    During the early 80’s even prior to UFC I had tried to do the same. Sparring or fighting with different Martial Artist and applying it to actual street fights. What I noticed is that the techniques(shotokan) does work, but must be modified depending on your opponent. Much like Pure boxing is a bit different than boxing in MMA.

    Watch Machida’s fight with Sam Holger to see what are shotokan techniques Machida uses. Both fighters kick, punch and grapple. Too see which is shotokan, see what Machida does differently.

    • I’ve watched a lot of Machida bouts and I see only the elements of Shotokan that I mentioned in the article; mostly the way he shifts in and out of range.

      Regarding Shotokan’s evolution: I’m sorry, but you may be misinformed. The kata are no more stylized than they were when Funakoshi created it. As an example, check out this 1924 video of funakoshi doing tekki shodan. WIth minor changes (not major stylized ones), its the same kata: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNrslr9LWIw

      And kumite practice existed in Shotokan since its beginning. What didn’t exist, and was added by Master Nakayama, was a point sparring system for tournaments. This addition didn’t change ANYTHING about the existing Shotokan style, but only added some things for adaptation in tournaments. Readers are encouraged to read Sensei Funakoshi’s autobiography, or Sensei Yaguchi’s book, “Mind and Body – Like Bullet”. It’s all in these books.

      • To expand upon Phil’s point, never has it been said in Shotokan regarding techniques within a kata that these are THE techniques. I have always heard it said that the kata represents one version of the technique and you have to modify it to suit the specific practical application / real world scenario. Also, I find it hard to believe that katas have become more “stylized” given that I’ve seen the videos of Funakoshi and others and they seem pretty darn similar to what we do today.

        I wonder, though, what you mean by “since a lot of people do not practice it”… do you mean in the MMA world specifically? I can’t speak to that but I would say quite a few people practice shotokan to date…

        Also, modern shotokan has not “evolved into a sport with point sparring in mind”. That is a gross generalization which I cannot agree to. Yes, in some clubs around the world point sparring IS the main focus, and in these perhaps it HAS become more a sport, but in a large number of organizations the root is still training as a martial art. By way of example, when Nakayama Sensei first instituted the Tournament Rules of the JKA (now also followed by the ISKF, and many other Shotokan organizations the world over whose roots are the JKA) the entire reason that he made sparring matches only last for 1 point was to preserve the martial arts origins and prevent it from becoming a sport. The logic here is that if you only get one point – one chance – you will fight as though it really is a life or death situation.

  3. jd stanley permalink

    i have watched machida many times fight. i also have trained shotokan karate for 24 odd years. he is the closest to the real thing. we cannot as karateka practice strick style while in the midst of battle. as there is always constant change . we do however maintain a somewhat basic fundimental style while in battle. i myself have faught many street battles and always have had a basic stance or strike or footwork of somesort while in battle. these things just come from regular training and practice. there is no getting wawy from this if you train diligently. relying on what you have learned is the way to test out your techniques in actuall combat. so i say brave on machida and take the rightful place in rank and may the brave step forwards.

  4. KarateFFighter permalink

    KarateFFighter (“KFF”) on, “Lyoto Machida and Shotokan Karate.”

    KFF practices the Korean karate of Tang Soo Do (TSD). Shotokan karate and my TSD share many similarities and could be considered ‘sister karates.’ These similarities, IMO, share techniques and hyung (kata), often based on linear or angular movement & reliance on heavy physical force.

    KFF believes that Lyoto Machida’s MMA competiton style is heavliy based on his Shotokan Karate Kumite point fighting methodology. However, Lyoto has adapted his solid karate base to the sports-based MMA platform by blending in boxing & kickboxing-ype, strikes & other attributes.

    KFF believes that a good portion of Lyoto’s reason for doing this is to conform to the full contact MMA competition while providing a margin of safety to the opponent. Pure karate technique, full contact, could likely kill or maim your adversary.

    Incidently, people argue over kata (hyung) and all its implications. What they need to do is practice, and seek to understand & reap the benefits. A karate practitioner who really excels @ kata / hyung [REALLY] will destroy (problably) any top MMA fighter. Karate, for all its faults and apparent impracticality, affords the serious practitioner incredible abilities.

    KarateFFighter

    • KarateFFighter permalink

      KarateFFighter (“KFF”) Added Comment:

      PhilipObrien’s article about the ‘layers’ of kata training points right to the truth (KFF believes!), on the proper way to practice & train karate, traditional martial arts in general.

      Sports-based fighters, like MMA, or traditional martial artists should reference you website for their training. This website, among others, explains in understandable terms how to approach karate. Karate critics should spend some time here before they talk down or dimiss karate as a practical fighting art.

      With respect, KFF

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