This article is sort of a sequel to the one featured earlier in this blog, Utilizing Taekwondo in Stand-Up Fighting. I will not reiterate my points about Traditional Martial Arts vs. Modern Martial Arts, you may re-read the previous article for a refresher. I will however breakdown the Karate techniques utilized in a world class competitive environment, ie. the Ultimate Fighting Championships, and mainly the only man who is able to make use of such techniques in former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida.
I will breakdown the most important moves that the rest of the MMA / new school fans unaccustomed to Karate will find “elusive” and “weird”.
1. The Stance
2. The Karate Straight Punch
3. Modifications for MMA
Before we begin we must look into the origins of the style of Karate, as it matters why its techniques came to be what it is today (you’ll see what I mean later).
Little do people know, a Chinese Shaolin Monk from the southern part of China (Fujian, Fuzhou more specifically) first taught Japanese students the art of White Crane Fist Kung Fu. You may start to realize the connections between Karate stances and techniques being that of a crane… long, lunging, pinpoint, accurate, and if done correctly, extremely deadly.
The Japanese students brought it to their home of Okinawa, Japan, and through many years of refinements and branch-off styles it became what is now known as Karate. Lyoto Machida is trained under the Shotokan style of Karate, which is more linear, lunging, and point-based (like fencing); unlike Kyokushin or Seidokaikan which is full contact and knockdown based (more like kickboxing). Both types of Karate have their uses but over the course of rise in popularity of kickboxing / full contact prize fighting, the softer styles of Karate (and Kung Fu in general) have been widely perceived as irrelevant.
Enter Lyoto Machida.
The Machida family claims they have stuck to the roots of Shotokan Karate techniques (away from the point-fighting sport style you see today) and in their own development created what is “Machida Karate”. Check out the following video:
The stance Machida uses is pretty much standard Karate. It is wide, which allows for quick lateral movement and the ability to shuffle back and forth to both avoid strikes and deliver strikes. The philosophy behind this stance (and the Karate style) is that back in the day warriors did not duel with just their hands, but with swords (or other bladed weapons). If I cut you with my sword, no matter how severe or minor, you will be either severely injured (and about to die) or die immediately.
Therefore, the whole point of this stance and Karate based point fighting is to never be touched. That is why Machida takes little to no damage in his fights because he trains with this philosophy in mind. Staying elusive, and only striking when there is an opening… which leads to the dreaded Karate Straight Punch.
The Karate Straight Punch is used in deadly fashion and at its highest technical form by Lyoto Machida. In the video, Ryan Bader rushes in to attack Machida with some slow and sloppy hooks… which is exactly what every counter puncher (and even more specifically a Karateka) wants. Machida steps back just enough to give Bader that space he needs to rush in… and fires a counter Karate straight punch right to his jaw.
The force of a person rushing in + the power of the straight punch + the element of surprise = a knockout.
This is the philosophy of cutting your opponent without being cut yourself. If you watch closely, this is the exact same punch Machida uses every single time to catch his opponent with. Just ask Rashad Evans, Rich Franklin, Quinton Rampage Jackson, Thiago Silva, Stephan Bonnar, BJ Penn, Jon Jones, Mauricio Shogun Rua, and now Ryan Bader.
The only real weaknesses in Karate are that if you mistime yourself or miss your counter punch, it either doesn’t hurt your opponent (they see it coming) or that you are left wide open for a counter hook (the Mauricio Shogun Rua fight). Having a wide stance also means you are susceptible to leg kicks.
Now, Machida is smart. He knows that only having a straight punch in the fight game is not enough. Therefore he has modified his Karate techniques to work in MMA. He not only has a straight punch (for long range attacks), he uses front kicks to keep his opponent off balance (following the kick up with a straight punch is another classic Karate combo), a knee to counter an opponent rushing in for a takedown (as a short range weapon), and lastly Karate sweeps to further off balance his opponent or for a takedown.
Watch closely, and all that is mentioned above can be found in this one highlight reel:
His famous knockout of Randy Couture using the Karate front snap kick (aka the Crane Kick; now you see why knowing Karate came from White Crane Fist Kung Fu is important) is the stuff of legends.
Long live Kung Fu… I mean, Karate.