Lyoto Machida practices Shotokan Karate. It is an art known for power punches, strikes and kicks, previously thought of as a traditional martial art that most likely wouldn't work in MMA. However, Machida quickly proved that theory wrong. For this reason, I suppose, he is a hero to those of us who have practiced those Karate kicks, strikes and punches thousands of times at the Dojo and felt disheartened when the champs of the UFC were always grapplers and kickboxers, seeming to leave our training obsolete.
One reason that his Karate works in Mixed Martial Arts tournaments is because he practices a specific brand of Shotokan. His father, a master in Shotokan, migrated to Brazil when he was in his early 20s; he found, in the rough and tumble environment of Brazil, that he had to modify Shotokan to better suit his new home. Therefore, Yoshizo Machida added the use of varying angles to the Art. He realized a fighter had to take angles for purposes of defense and to be put in position for offense.
And you can certainly see his son doing exactly that in his fights; taking angles that protect him and put him in line to attack his opponents' openings.
Let's look at how Machida has made Karate work in MMA.
The Karate Kid Kick Against Randy Couture
In Kenpo we call this kick a chicken kick. It's a standard Karate kick; you pick up one foot then kick with the other one. It was made famous in the Karate Kid movie and most people joked about it and would never have believed it would ever work for real.
When Machida pulled this kick off against a seasoned fighter like Randy Couture, it seems the whole martial arts world was shocked. And many of us were happy. Lyoto pulled off a basic Karate kick and it scored a knockout against a hulking grappler. Like a dream come true.
The reason it worked is that Lyoto perfected it. He's perfected all of his Karate moves. His father raised him and his brother on Shotokan, Machida has been doing it since he was a little kid.
Also, he wears down his opponents and frustrates them. They are just wanting to get in on him but his defense is too good and, at the same time, he harasses his opponent with kicks and strikes. All his opponent, especially a grappler, wants is to get their hands on him. They become sitting ducks for his techniques. When they are thinking of grabbing him, he kicks them. With style.
Also, the whole point of that kick is to fake the opponent out with the first lift of the foot, then the other foot scores. All Machida needed was a split second, and Couture was off-guard long enough for Lyoto to sink in that front kick. No one expects anyone to try that kick either, so there was an element of surprise.
His Counter Fighting
Machida draws his opponents in. He is a defensive fighter and excellent with counters. If his opponent is aggressive or just falls for the bait, he has them. Essentially, he controls both distance and timing, which every fighter must do. He is never there for the opponent to hit him, but when they are in range he nails them.
The best example of this is his fight with Tito Ortiz. He harassed Ortiz with kicks to the legs and, at the same time, successfully defended himself from being taken down by Ortiz. Then, when the time was right, when Tito was frustrated and eager (and desperate) to take Machida down to the mat to grapple, Lyoto nailed him with a knee to the body as he tried to enter for the take-down. Brilliant! That powerful knee sent Tito to the mat and Machida circled safely around Ortiz to get in position to finish him. And that was the end of that fight, with Lyoto on top.
The best defense is a good offense and Lyoto nails them when they are coming in for him, like he did to Bader, which you can see near the end of the video below.
He Takes the Angles
One of Machida's main advantages is his use of angles. He tests his opponents at different angles, takes various angles for defense and then changes angles as he goes on the offense, making it difficult for his opponent to reach him but giving him a clear line to his opponents' targets.
This is what he did in his fight against Thiago Silva. When Thiago attacked, Machida side stepped, threw a punch which was blocked, so he angled in and landed a heavy punch that put his adversary down. He wore down Thiago quite a few times nailing him with strong punches, and by taking various angles, and eventual swept him to the ground and came down on him with a knockout punch.
Lyoto Machida has spent almost his entire life practicing martial arts. His father began teaching him when he was a small boy and he also learned Sumo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai along the way. He is truly a well-rounded fighter with a good base in Karate which he has proven is effective in full-contact bouts in MMA competitions.
He also is in tune with the psychological aspects of martial arts and the way of the Samurai. He has said that he goes into a state of No-Mind, or Mushin, when he fights. This principle is taught in Zen Buddhism and some martial arts, it is a state of mind in which you are totally there in the moment, no thought, just action. Clearly he's applied this to his fights: He's swift and flows from one range to another, pulling off technique thought impossible; but not impossible to someone truly present and capable of instantaneously seeing vast possibilities.
Machida is the best well-rounded fighter out there, I think. He isn't afraid to execute straight Karate technique, but also is smart about how he defends himself against strikers and grapplers. It's as if he's lived up to the Karate ideal of not getting hit but hitting hard; taking as little damage as possible but delivering maximum damage to the opponent. He's proven that he can do just that, with his counter-fighting, his elusive and impenetrable defense, his smart strategy and his burned-in-down-to-the-bone technique.
At the same time, he remains humble and has great regard for the men he goes up against in competition. He is a true martial artist. Many of us are glad he came to the world of MMA.