Lyoto Machida

Improve Your MMA Training With Lyoto Machida’s Shotokan Karate Techniques and Tactics (Part 3)

In Part 3 of our three-part analysis of Lyoto Machida’s fighting techniques, we look at his boxing, sweeps, kicks and fight plan. (Be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series!)

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,” says Lito Angeles, author of Fight Night! The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Mixed Martial Arts. “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 for Your MMA Training: “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.


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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 for Your MMA Training: 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 for Your MMA Training: 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 for Your MMA Training: 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 for Your MMA Training: Vow never to fight your opponent’s fight. Do whatever it takes to make him fight yours.…

Improve Your MMA Training With Lyoto Machida’s Shotokan Karate Techniques and Tactics (Part 2)

In Part 2 of our three-part analysis of Lyoto Machida’s fighting techniques, we look at his grappling, timing, striking and counterfighting. (Be sure to read Part 1 of our analysis!)

The shotokan karate stylist has made it work for him in the octagon. Read on to see how you can incorporate Lyoto Machida’s tactics and shotokan techniques into your traditional or mixed-martial arts training. Lito Angeles, author of Fight Night! The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Mixed Martial Arts, serves as your guide.


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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 for Your MMA Training: 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.”


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Action for Your MMA Training: 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 for Your MMA Training: 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 for Your MMA Training: Even if you’re not one of the most powerful strikers out there, you can enhance your effectiveness by using 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.”

To be continued in “Improve Your MMA Training With Lyoto Machida’s Shotokan Karate Techniques and Tactics (Part 3).”

Improve Your MMA Training With Lyoto Machida’s Shotokan Karate Techniques and Tactics (Part 1)

Lyoto Machida’s figured out how to make traditional karate work in the octagon. At the Ultimate Fighting Championship 129, the shotokan karate stylist 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.)

With the help of this three-part analysis of Lyoto Machida’s shotokan skills, you’ll be able to incorporate Lyoto Machida’s 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 for Your MMA Training: 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.


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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 for Your MMA Training: “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 in 2011, Lyoto Machida was No. 2 on their list of MMA athletes who get hit the fewest times per minute in the ring. (Fedor Emelianenko was No. 1 and Anderson Silva was 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.”


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MMA Workouts 101: How to Start an MMA Conditioning Program for
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Action for Your MMA Training: 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.

Continued in “Improve Your MMA Training With Lyoto Machida’s Shotokan Karate Techniques and Tactics (Part 2).”

Learn 3 Grappling Techniques From UFC Star Chael Sonnen

Chael Sonnen isn’t your typical politician. For one, he actually answered our questions. But more important, the All-American wrestler from Oregon taught us some of the best tricks from his playbook.

Despite his reputation as one of the UFC’s loudest stars, he doesn’t have a bad word to say about any martial art or training. We hope you’ll enjoy his interview with Lito Angeles, a Southern California-based police officer, mixed martial artist and author of Fight Night: The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Mixed Martial Arts.

—Jon Sattler

Lito Angeles: I read that you started wrestling at a very young age.

Chael Sonnen: I come from a family of wrestlers—my father, my uncles, my cousins were all very good. I begged my dad to get me into wrestling, but he wanted me to do karate or boxing. Finally, he let me wrestle when I was 9.

Angeles: Did you wind up doing any karate or boxing?

Sonnen: I got into boxing later, but not then.

Angeles: And you stayed with wrestling all the way to the collegiate level, right?

Sonnen: Yes. I wrestled through high school and got a scholarship to the University of Oregon. In 2001 I graduated from college and was working out at a gym in the back of a car lot. There was one mat and nothing else, but Randy Couture and Dan Henderson worked out there every day. It was an hour and a half from where I was living, and I made the drive every single day to wrestle with them. We were all trying to make the Olympic team. They let me in, and it was the three of us. After college, I went back to training with them, and they were wearing MMA gloves. I just put on a pair of gloves and continued practicing.

Angeles: Does that mean you recommend wrestling as the best foundation for MMA?

Sonnen: Well, it has to be some kind of grappling. There’s a statistic: 100 percent of fights start standing up, and 80 percent of them end up on the ground. Jiu-jitsu and wrestling have done really well in MMA, but I don’t know that any form of grappling has been proven to be better.

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The grass always seems greener—I wish I knew more of other disciplines than wrestling, while other fighters probably wish they knew more wrestling. I wish more judo practitioners participated in MMA.

Angeles: Why?

Sonnen: Jiu-jitsu and catch wrestling are well-represented. All three styles of wrestling, from collegiate to Greco-Roman to freestyle, are, too. I know judo is a good, competitive sport. I wish there was more judo in MMA so I could see how it stacks up.

Angeles: After a student develops a grappling base, do you recommend muay Thai or boxing—or something else?

Sonnen: I’d say boxing. Muay Thai is good, bit it’s very hard to practice. There aren’t a lot of muay Thai guys around—it’s not in high schools or colleges or the Olympics—so it’s hard to find guys to practice with. Elbows are effective, but you can’t do them in practice without hurting someone. Same with knees. With boxing, however, you can put on the gear and find a partner, and it seems to do well in MMA.

Angeles: But then you give up kicks. …

Sonnen: Kicks aren’t as effective in fighting. If you land one, great. You can do good things with it. But kickboxing had to put in a rule that you had to kick a guy three times per round or you’d lose a point. The reason was, guys quit kicking. They just boxed because boxing is more effective. With that said, I spend the majority of my time doing kickboxing and muay Thai. But if I was mentoring a young fighter, I’d tell him to spend more time on boxing. That doesn’t mean I would ignore kickboxing—you still need to learn the defenses—but in stand-up, it’s hard to beat good, solid boxing.

Angeles: How is muay Thai boxing different from Western boxing?

Sonnen: The big difference is head movement. In muay Thai, there’s not a ton of head movement. You use your foot to get the guy off-line, then you step out and sweep his leg to off-balance him. In boxing, you just shift out of the way and use that momentum to come right in and attack. Head movement is so important, especially when you’ve got those little 4-ounce gloves on. If you just land one shot, you can break the guy’s nose, open a cut or knock him out.

Angeles: Does knowing wrestling and boxing cover all the bases with respect to technique, or should a person add other arts like karate or sambo?

Sonnen: I would never close the door. …

Shotokan Karate Black Belt Lyoto Machida: 2009 MMA Fighter of the Year

It’s satisfying to watch someone work his way to the top in his chosen field, especially when it’s something as unpredictable as the mixed martial arts. It’s even more gratifying when that person exemplifies qualities you respect and wish more people would emulate. So it’s with no small sense of excitement that I exercise the privilege to talk about fourth-degree shotokan karate black-belt Lyoto Machida, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s light-heavyweight titleholder.

Back in 2006, when MMA’s popularity started to spike, Lyoto Machida wasn’t even a blip on the radar. He was a stealth competitor who quietly devoured his opponents one by one. He made no splashy headlines with his decision finishes, but he gradually became the kind of MMA fighter his peers hope they never have to face. Undefeated in MMA, he scored a string of seven victories in the UFC. With every win, he garnered more accolades and more admiring fans.

Just when people were beginning to define him as an elusive, contact-shy tactician who preferred decisions to finishes, the half-Japanese half-Brazilian displayed his knockout power by dispatching Thiago Silva, a frighteningly physical specimen. Thiago Silva, a thickly muscled pit bull of a man, was seen as the most dangerous opponent he could face, someone who’d push for a stand-up battle. In pre-fight interviews, he predicted he’d knock out Lyoto Machida. Cynics and doubters thought Lyoto Machida’s shotokan skills would render him less than courageous and figured his downfall was inevitable.

Instead, Lyoto Machida controlled Thiago Silva in every possible sector. He put him on the ground twice and then, faced with a defensive clinch against the fence, he kinked Thiago Silva’s knee, sending him to the floor. Lyoto Machida followed him like a diver, perfectly timing a blow that knocked the beast out cold just as the horn sounded. Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a better finish.

Lyoto Machida followed that seeming anomaly with a spectacular knockout of reigning light-heavyweight champ Rashad Evans, another undefeated mixed martial artist. The equally easy-looking win signaled his arrival at the pinnacle of success. From this point on, he’ll have to adopt a new approach to competition—namely, the more challenging task of defending a title, one of the true tests of a champion’s caliber.

Along with Georges St-Pierre, the current UFC welterweight champion and an exponent of kyokushin karate, Lyoto Machida has become the martial arts’ standard-bearer and ambassador to the world of MMA. His family tradition and lifelong commitment to training, improving, meeting challenges and overcoming them epitomize what it means to be a martial artist and what dedication and discipline can achieve.

Any martial artist who enters professional competition is treading on thin ice. On the one hand, he’s putting his skills and education up for public scrutiny and even ridicule. On the other hand, he risks being branded an opportunist who’s sold out his training for profit and fame. Lyoto Machida is safe from those perils. He’s able to employ not only his karate but also his sumo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills, proving that he’s thoroughly rooted in the martial arts. He isn’t likely to suffer from the temptation to brawl or begin a new discipline to shore up a major gap in his knowledge. Money won’t sway his focus because this is the culmination of a lifetime of preparation.

Some may claim that Lyoto Machida enjoys an unfair advantage, having been raised in a household of martial artists, yet the choice to follow this path was his. He’s the one facing danger alone in the cage, standing up to the tireless media focus on this or that attribute, always searching for the slightest weakness to exploit. More than ever, this is the time when his training will be tested. It’s up to him to demonstrate that it’s possible to participate in combat for public entertainment and still maintain all the qualities that have made him a champion.

For all his accomplishments and the balanced, samurai-deadly philosophy that he embodies, Black Belt has named Lyoto Machida its 2009 MMA Fighter of the Year.

(This profile originally appeared in the December 2009 issue of Black Belt.)