At the Ultimate Fighting Championship 129, shotokan karate stylist Lyoto Machida knocked out UFC Hall of Fame member Randy Couture with a front kick to the head. (If you’ve seen The Karate Kid, picture Daniel’s signature crane kick.) Lyoto Machida’s figured out how to make traditional karate work in the octagon, and with our help, you’ll be able to incorporate his tactics and shotokan techniques into your traditional or mixed-martial arts training.
Lyoto Machida’s Footwork
Observation: Lyoto Machida’s footwork gives him the ability to control distance, says Lito Angeles, author of Fight Night! The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Mixed Martial Arts. “He can keep a certain distance between himself and his opponents so they can’t even touch him.”
Explanation: “His footwork comes from shotokan karate—his father is a shotokan master,” Lito Angeles says. “He stays back from his opponent, and once he attacks, he maneuvers away before the other guy can counter.”
Action: Start your sparring sessions a safe distance away from your opponent. Practice darting in, attacking and moving back before he can counter. Focus on speed and accuracy rather than power.
Lyoto Machida’s Lateral Movement
Observation: “If you watch his UFC 84 bout with Tito Ortiz—or basically any of his fights—you’ll see that his opponents can’t get a bead on him because he’s always moving,” Lito Angeles says. “When he retreats after an attack, he uses lateral movement to avoid getting hit.”
Explanation: It’s another shotokan forte. Practitioners of the Japanese martial art know that when they constantly move side to side, they can dictate the action. “They make their opponent follow them around, and then when they’re ready, they suck him in and—boom!—they attack,” Lito Angeles says. “Then they’re out [of range] again.”
Action: “If you’re not a shotokan stylist and want to develop that kind of lateral mobility, watch videos of Machida’s fights,” Lito Angeles says. “However, the ability may be innate. It’s not like other UFC fighters don’t know what he’s doing; they just can’t do the same thing as well as he does. To some degree, though, the skill can be developed through training.”
In sparring, work on making your attack path shaped like a T, Lito Angeles says. Scoot forward, strike, then scoot part way back before angling off to either side.
Lyoto Machida’s Evasion Skills
Observation: Lyoto Machida absorbs very little punishment in his matches.
Explanation: According to FightMetric.com, he’s No. 2 on the list of MMA athletes who get hit the fewest times per minute in the ring. (Fedor Emelianenko is No. 1 and Anderson Silva is No. 3, in case you’re wondering.) “It’s the footwork and distancing factors,” Lito Angeles says. “Machida is very elusive; he’s an in-and-out fighter.”
Action: Remember those old-time instructors who would tell their students they have to learn how to take a punch? Forget them. It’s better not to get hit. Work on your distancing and maneuverability, as well as your bobbing and weaving for when things get a little too close for comfort.
Lyoto Machida’s Grappling Skills
Observation: “Machida is a seasoned grappler. He received his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu in 2007. However, he doesn’t choose to focus on ground skills in the octagon,” Lito Angeles says.
Explanation: “He uses grappling as a support system,” he says. “Like other mixed martial artists, he trains in all the disciplines to empower his brand of fighting, which is stand-up.”
Action: Be like Lyoto Machida and take up Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Don’t forget to work on your clinch-fighting skills. Then you’ll know that if you lock up with your opponent and go to the ground, you’ll be OK.
“Even if you don’t like grappling, learn enough to thwart takedown attempts—which is what Machida does,” Lito Angeles says. “Also learn how to get back up quickly if you are taken down. And if you get stuck on the ground, be able to defend against the most common submissions until you can get up. You don’t have to focus on submissions—I don’t recall any fights in which Machida [used one to win]—but you need to be able to stop them.”
Lyoto Machida’s Counterfighting Skills
Observation: Lyoto Machida is a consummate counterfighter.
Explanation: “He obviously has the patience to wait for his opponent to make the first move,” Lito Angeles says. “That makes him very hard to beat unless his opponent has the patience to out-wait him. He makes you fight according to his rhythm, and once you do, he pulls you in.”
Action: When you spar, work on the patient approach. Don’t jump in and attack. Wait for or encourage your opponent to leave you an opening, then exploit it.
Lyoto Machida’s Quick Strikes
Observation: Lyoto Machida seems to be able to read his opponents’ intentions and often uses a quick strike to stop them from finishing their attack.
Explanation: It’s one of the benefits of having a background in a traditional martial art. You learn about telegraphing—both how to take advantage of your opponent when he does it and how to avoid doing it yourself.
Action: Study Bruce Lee’s fighting methods along with shotokan. “Jeet kune do teaches you to attack your opponent before he can complete his attack,” Lito Angeles says. “That’s why it’s called the ‘way of the intercepting fist.’ ”
Lyoto Machida’s Timing
Observation: “Machida’s timing is impeccable,” Lito Angeles says. “When he decides to attack, he makes every shot count. He’s a very efficient fighter.”
Explanation: The champ knows that taking a few shots is a great way to save energy without sacrificing effectiveness—as long as you land them.
Action: Even if you’re not one of the most powerful strikers out there, you can enhance your effectiveness by utilizing the principle of addition of velocities, Lito Angeles says. “When two cars meet head-on, their speeds are added together. That’s why Machida tries to time his techniques to catch his opponents while they’re coming in—it makes the impact more powerful.”
To apply that concept to your martial arts training, you’ll need a partner who likes to go on the offensive. Play the counterfighter against him and concentrate on your timing. A great place to do that is at your local point tournament, Lito Angeles says. “If nothing else, point karate teaches you timing.”
Lyoto Machida’s Boxing Strikes
Observation: Lyoto Machida likes to use straight shots.
Explanation: “He knows that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and he uses that,” Lito Angeles says. “That’s not to say he doesn’t do anything else; it just seems to be his main thing. Note that the straight punches he uses are more boxing than shotokan.”
Action: “In sparring, move in and out and from side to side, and when your opponent follows you, blast him right down the middle with a straight shot,” Lito Angeles says.
Lyoto Machida’s Shotokan Stance
Observation: When Lyoto Machida is far from his foe, he tends to hold his front hand at shoulder level and away from his body instead of near his chin, where most fighters keep theirs.
Explanation: “Sticking his front hand out like that may be from his shotokan background, or it may be his way of lulling his opponent into thinking there’s an opening,” Lito Angeles says. “It could be both. In either case, he uses it as a feeler or a range finder.”
Action: If you really want to experiment with an extended lead hand, make sure you have the requisite speed and timing to nail your opponent when he comes in for what he thinks is the kill. “But I don’t recommend trying it in a fight,” Lito Angeles says. “Machida makes it work because he’s been doing it since he was a kid.”
Lyoto Machida’s Foot Sweeps
Observation: Lyoto Machida loves the foot sweep.
Explanation: “It’s another trademark of shotokan,” Lito Angeles says. “If your timing is right, it can work. If not, it can still off-balance your opponent for a moment, giving you a chance to hit him.”
Part of the reason the foot sweep is effective is almost no one uses it in MMA, Lito Angeles adds. That means few fighters are prepared to defend against it.
Action: Get thee to a shotokan tournament. It’s a great place to hone your foot sweeps against a live opponent.
Lyoto Machida’s Round Kicks
Observation: Lyoto Machida favors the round kick.
Explanation: “Shotokan is all about basic techniques—the round kick, front kick, reverse punch and foot sweep,” Lito Angeles says. “When shotokan practitioners fight, those are the techniques you see the most.
“He often uses the kick to set up punches. He doesn’t step in to deliver his round kick like Thai boxers do; instead, he flicks it out from wherever he is. It’s not as powerful, but it creates an opening for him to lunge in.”
Action: Head to the dojo and spend time kicking the heavy bag, then polish your technique on a sparring partner. When you’ve got it down pat, use it in combinations.
Lyoto Machida’s Fight Plan
Observation: “Some people have criticized Lyoto Machida for not being exciting to watch,” Lito Angeles says, “but he’s got a formula that works for him.”
Explanation: “There are still questions about how good he is on the ground, whether he has a chin and if he’s good in the clinch,” he says, “but his skills are such that he doesn’t let his opponents get him in positions that would reveal any weaknesses.”
Action: Vow never to fight your opponent’s fight. Do whatever it takes to make him fight yours.