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Machida Karate: Old-School Shotokan (long read)

I found this on another site. Found it insightful

Machida Karate: Old-School Shotokan

Welcome to the first of a two-part series on Karate. I am proud to get the chance to collaborate with kyokushinMMA on this subject, as he has graciously supplied an in-depth analysis of both full-contact and point karate. I defer all technical questions about Karate to his expertise, my contributions here are mostly thematic, directional, and stylistic.

There is a tendency in the mixed martial arts community to not give traditional karate its due, even when it is demonstrated within MMA. This is in great part due to the fact that a majority of MMA fans simply do not understand Karate beyond what they learned as a child in a McDojo. We have heard many times that GSP does not use karate in his striking, which couldn’t be more false – a subject for our next article. Even more frustrating, however, is the common belief that Machida does not use Shotokan Karate, but rather “Machida Karate.” Machida Karate, in our opinion, is still Shotokan Karate in the same sense that 10th Planet and Guerrilla Jiu-jitsu are both still part of BJJ, merely with a slightly different emphasis or a few particular adaptations.

What are these adaptations? Well, first of all the venerable Yoshizo Machida moved to Brazil from Japan when he was 22, and suddenly his height of 5’6” became a significant disadvantage, so he worked to resolve that with increased footwork. But more importantly, he brought out the old-school focus of point karate – finishing an opponent.
Point karate is often criticized on the grounds that it does not require a powerful blow. Similarly, modern Olympic foil fencing technique has lost much of its prior combat relevance, because of electric sensors. As long as you make enough contact to trigger these very sensitive vests, victory is yours, and damage is unimportant. So long as you stab your opponent fast enough for the electric sensors to detect your strike before his lands, you can take what would have been a fatal blow and be the victor. Predictably, this leads to some techniques that would have been very odd on a battlefield. Like fencing, however, point karate used to have a slightly different set of rules – a point wasn’t simply a cleanly landed strike, it was a single, clean finishing blow. You won a match by completing a coup de grace and nothing less. This is the “killing blow,” the ki.

I trust that the ability to avoid taking any damage and land a single finishing blow is not lost upon anyone reading this article. That is the height of striking prowess and it is the old-school focus of point karate that Yoshizo has brought back and taught to his sons, without losing the many lessons he learned in Shotokan Karate.
Note in this video that some of the strikes are not damaging, but many here are single shot KO’s or knockdowns:


The stances are wide so that kareteka can slide and hop so as to sneak in and out much faster. This footwork and stance is called shiko dachi, almost like a horse stance on an angle. This allows faster movement, especially when hopping, and you will see many fighters in Shotokan bouncing on their feet ready to spring in and out at will, using feints and kicks alike to set up that critical mistake of over-committing to a strike. This stance and constant training of the counter attack is what makes Shotokan fights so unbelievably fast and frustrating to fight.

The reason they do not hold their hands like traditional boxers is because the point is scored by who hits first, the one who theoretically hits the "finishing blow" first. Usually they will be attacked by one strike with their foe’s full power and energy behind it instead of a combination of half power shots as is common in many full-contact styles. Because whoever hits first is so important, holding your hands up to protect your head would be stupid, as they need only go low get the body shot and win the point. Instead, they generally hold their hands at mid level, one high and one low, so they can react fast to defend any location on their body.

This is why Lyoto is so successful - he wants you to walk in punching away, committing to a strike. Many people say the key to beating Machida is hidden in the idea that he only attacks once you finish, but this is completely false. Shotokan fighters will often interrupt the attack with a counter in the middle of committing to it as they can side step and hit you with their technique.

One of the major differences between Shotokan and other styles is the frequent use of leg kicks, so the wide shiko dachi stance can get torn apart by Kyokushin or Muay Thai style low kicks. The same wide stance that allows Shotokan fighters to move swiftly back and away from head and body punches leaves the legs exposed for a longer period. This is what allowed Shogun to step to the side and hit those leg kicks so often in their bout. As Machida Sr. pointed out, they had expected Shogun to use far more punches and so had practiced their stance’s weakness the least.


Shotokan footwork consists of a lot of hopping in and out on the balls of their feet. They jump out when you strike, wait for you to plant and commit, then come back in with a hard strike to counter. Most boxers and Muay Thai practitioners in MMA plant their feet before a big strike, which is just what you should not do in Shotokan competition. Lyoto uses Shotokan’s effectiveness against that style very well, he countering strikers like Rashad who plant and throw big strikes.

A major difference between Shotokan footwork and that of MMA is the use of the side step, as opposed to moving backwards. In Shotokan they like to keep things direct and linear - punch straight on, go right for the target. But in MMA moving straight back leaves you open for a shoot or eventually backs you into a cage wall or the ropes. Thus Lyoto had to develop a shorter shiko dachi to move side to side with, he collapses the stance then almost shifts to the side, throwing his hands up in the air for more balance and shifting away. I’m sure you have seen him put his hands up like he’s being held up at gun point when he side steps. That’s for extra balance because the shiko dachi is hard to move fast from on a side angle.

As can be seen above, Machida is more stationary than many Shotokan practitioners. While many Shotokan fighters tend to be very aggressive, Machida patiently waits to unload that shoryuken Streetfighter punch. Machida is very relaxed, moving back and waiting for the PERFECT moment to counter - not just any moment to counter, as is common, but the perfect moment. On the negative side he doesn't hold his lead hand high enough to catch a fast high kick from a feint step up high kick; that low lead hand has also been considered a possible weakness in MMA.


The key to winning in point Karate is being elusive and utilizing feints. As Machida demonstrates you must feint and make your opponent commit to a block or attack and then counter with the "Coup de grace."

In many Shotokan point matches you will see them using the lead hand as a fake punch, sliding the legs up, and finishing with a mawashi geri (high kick) to the head of their opponent. They use the fake punch to make their opponent commit to blocking the punch and then attack the vulnerable head.

To read your opponent is all about using those feints again, making a lot of jerking motions towards your opponent. Unlike boxing and Muay Thai, where you are always watching the head or target, in Shotokan you watch the body and the feet, watch the steps in and out, in order to see if a kick is coming or simply a punch.

DanielH, a Shotokan practitioner on points out that, “all good boxers know there is a time when an opponent can be attacked and they cannot defend, it is a moment when the mind is in reset mode so to speak, and in Shotokan there is a name for that moment. In boxing there is not. I remember training zanshin, and training how to measure and time a strike or counter strike not just based on physical moments, but by your opponent’s breathing, his eyes even would tell you when they are ‘blanked out’ or in ‘reset mode’ and can be attacked. I remember kyo as Machida put it.” Such categorization shows the specialization and focus in Shotokan on reading an opponent.

Link to the BE analysis here:

More traditional teachers will teach you to look into their eyes and "read their soul" so to speak; they say a fighter who is hardened enough can see into his foe’s mind and predict what he is going to do. I have had mixed success with this but it did work for me on occasion. You can almost see the aggression in the eye before a big hit, it’s amazing actually.


The whole concept of the finishing blow is that, if trained properly, you can throw all your power and weight behind one shot, including use of the kiai. It is an extrapolation of the belief that one well-placed, full-power strike can ko your opponent. The targets are usually the jaw, temple, liver, kidney, solar plexus, and throat. It’s all about efficiency: block, wait until they plant and commit, the counter-attack with a single blow to end the fight.

That move Lyoto used comes right out of the kata. Note that in the kata the top hand shows the push down, because you are pushing down on the arm – this is not a breathing exercise, but a practical technique. The hand comes either over or under and counter attacks EXACTLY like Lyoto did. I would know, as I have learned the exact same move.

And on to the kiai, which is used both as a feint and commitment. A kiai is meant to startle the opponent, and not just so that he may be thrown off balance. Consider that you are facing your foe, the situation is tense and everything is quiet…then out of nowhere he lunges forward, screaming! It will startle you and this causes your body to naturally breathe in - this is when the coup de grace or killing blow comes into play. A strike to the throat while breathing in will collapse the windpipe and certainly drop an opponent, if not kill or maim them outright. The same concept applies to striking the solar plexus while breathing in; it only takes one full power punch to this location to drop a man, if it is timed right. This is the combined concept of Ki, the killing blow, and kiai's.
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