The current light-heavyweight king of the mixed martial arts is Lyoto Machida, a dyed-in-the-wool shotokan karate stylist. Sure, he’s also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, but when he’s on his feet and knocking people out, he’s mostly using shotokan karate techniques. Watching him take apart top fighters with his shotokan skills is definitely satisfying for martial arts pluralists like me, but it’s more than that.


Lyoto Machida’s career is one long lesson in how knowledge can limit us. We learn about the world through direct observation, but no one can observe or experience everything. That makes all personal knowledge finite. Because of that, we have to take the sum of our experiences and make judgments about truth based on our limited knowledge. That means extending the most reliable truths and assuming that they’ll continue to be true in the future. It’s called inductive reasoning, and it’s almost the default setting for how-to experts like martial artists.

But there are problems with induction. The most important one for us is that there’s no guarantee that any truth, no matter how reliable it’s been, will continue to be true. Lyoto Machida’s career in MMA is a good example of this.

After a period of style-vs.-style experimentation in the 1990s, MMA settled into a nice groove. Everybody learned from those matches, and people who wanted to win cross-trained in the winningest styles: muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing and Olympic wrestling. Because we learned that these ways of fighting had consistently worked well, we “knew” they’d work in the future. Other styles, like karate and kung fu, had failed miserably in MMA, and we “knew” they could safely be ignored.

But what happens when an Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder is a karate guy that no one can beat? We run up against the problem of induction. The classic example of this is the black swan. We see a number of swans over a stretch of time, maybe years. Every swan we see is white. Because we’re not able to observe every swan in existence, we reason from what we’ve seen that all swans are white. We even feel safe in saying we know that all swans are white.

Then a black swan shows up, and inductive reasoning looks pretty weak. It didn’t really give us the truth, and it didn’t prepare us for an anomaly like a black swan. Right now, Lyoto Machida is our black swan. He’s the guy who shouldn’t exist but does. He’s the champion who puts the lie to any blanket dismissal of karate in elite MMA competition.

It doesn’t matter if it turns out that Lyoto Machida is the only martial artist who can make shotokan work at that level. Just like one black swan changes what we know about swans, one karate guy winning the UFC belt is enough to change what we know about karate and MMA. In both cases, all it takes is one example to show us the limits of our knowledge and the need to learn and understand more.

Of course, there have been other black swans in MMA. When everybody knew that stand-up fighters were easy prey for wrestlers and jiu-jitsu stylists, kickboxer Maurice Smith won the UFC heavyweight title. When everyone knew that pro wrestlers were just entertainers who couldn’t actually fight, wrestler Kazushi Sakuraba was tearing up the middleweight division. When everybody knew that muay Thai was the best way to fight standing up, Manson Gibson was winning titles using a backfist, a side kick and lots of lunatic spinning techniques.

Sometimes these men changed our minds about what was effective, and sometimes they didn’t. What they didn’t change was the tendency to believe that the future will be like the past.

The lesson we should all learn from the black swans of the fighting sports is that inductive reasoning can take us only so far. After a point, it becomes a self-justifying circle (i.e., reasoning inductively because it’s worked in the past) and inadvertently limits knowledge. The way forward is to go beyond what we know and discover what impossible things we can make possible. If we’re as talented as Lyoto Machida, that way might lead to the top.

Keith Vargo is a freelance writer, researcher, martial arts instructor and author of Philosophy of Fighting: Morals and Motivations of the Modern Warrior.

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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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