Georges St. Pierre and Lyoto Machida are two of the most successful mixed martial artists on the planet today. Their blend of speed, skill, and technique put them in the upper echelon of fighters. But what is the connection between these two combatants? What’s the intermingling thing these fighters have that makes them into the warriors they have become?
They have both studied the art of karate. Both Georges St. Pierre and Lyoto Machida’s combat days started as children studying the art vigorously, and although it is certainly not the only factor contributing to their success, the studying of this fine art has led both fighters on a path to becoming the greatest fighters in history.
To be a top-tier mixed martial artist, it takes skills of all sorts. Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, boxing, and Muay-Thai are all key components to becoming a world-class fighter.
Karate, on the other hand, is rarely associated with mixed martial arts. Few fighters who have a background in karate and go on to be successful in mixed martial arts. But, as we can see from the examples of Georges St. Pierre and Lyoto Machida, the possibility of starting in some form of karate and moving on to become a world class combatant is obviously there.
Someone who trains in karate will be provided with all of the essentials to begin their training in mixed martial arts. The wider stance and hand placement are more applicable to mixed martial arts than the more common boxing stance; however, few fighters take advantage of this because of their lack of training in karate.
Along with the stance and hand placement, karate provides the basics for how to throw every variety of punches and kicks, and depending on which form of karate you are studying, may also teach elbows and knee strikes. Every other martial arts base starts in karate.
You cannot learn another martial art without picking up some part of karate. So why take a branch when you can have the root? Why take a fish when you can have the pond?
In this piece I am not arguing that the other martial arts are not important to become a top-tier mixed martial artist, as they certainly are. However, with karate one finds all the skills necessary to begin a solid training in mixed martial arts.
As with any mixed martial artist it takes traits from all disciplines to reach the top, but karate supplies anyone who trains in it with the necessary tools to branch out to other martial arts. It takes a root to grow a tree, and karate my friends is the root of all martial arts.
With this in mind, I’m going to describe in detail a little bit about the art of karate and how it can benefit you as a martial artist.
The karate stance does not match the one that is learned in boxing or Muay-Thai, as those stances do not take into the account the chance of being taken down. Rather, the stance is more comparable with a wrestling stance. The feet are wide apart (shoulder width or slightly farther) and instead of having one foot slightly ahead of the other, the stance is much wider.
There are a few major reasons this stance is more applicable to mixed martial arts than the common boxing stance. First, it supplies a much more secure base for the fighter. When being shot on, it keeps the second leg farther away and therefore makes it easier to keep your balance and avoid being taken down.
Secondly, this stance keeps you from being directly square to your opponent and therefore makes you a harder target to hit. This more secure base not only makes it harder to be shot in on, but also makes it harder to be knocked down by a low kick. Weight can more easily be distributed from leg to leg with less effort; therefore a kick can be blocked easier.
I recognize that this would need to be adjusted for mixed martial arts, as this stance would keep you farther away from your opponent and make it harder to do multiple strikes.
Lyoto Machida (above) has taken a unique stance adopted from his karate background. Instead of spreading the feet shoulder width apart, he likes to have them much closer to being parallel. This allows Machida to quickly disperse the weight from one leg to the other—depending on whether he wants to snap out a quick kick with his front leg or wind up for a more devastating back leg kick.
The stance that Georges St. Pierre uses is slightly more traditional than that of Lyoto Machida's. His feet are still more widely spread than usual and this allows for more "spring in his step" and more rotation on a punch. The above picture shows the wideness of St. Pierre's stance. With this stance he is able strike the more traditional Sherk by putting all his weight on the front foot and excelling into the overhand punch.
The hand positioning, like the stance, differs from that of boxing or Muay-Thai. The typical boxing stance (depicted above) has the hands pressed to the face, making it easier to block punches. This is not applicable for mixed martial arts because the hands are used for much than just punching. Hands are essential for blocking, shooting and catching and this is why a wide spread hand position is more ideal for mixed martial arts.
Instead of having the hands tucked to the chin, the hands are wider spread with only one hand tucked to the chin, while the other is extended from the face. This works to close the distance (less length to go for a strike) and also makes the hands more readily available for blocking a take down.
Georges St. Pierre and Lyoto Machida both have lengthy backgrounds in karate and are two of the most successful fighters in the sport today. Their beginnings in karate gave them discipline and all the tools necessary to branch out into other martial arts and become great warriors. So you thought karate could not lead to a successful mixed martial arts career? Machida’s and St. Pierre’s backgrounds have guided them to success. Why don't more mixed martial artists begin with karate? Will karate lead the next generation of fighters into the future? We shall see. Machida’s hand positioning in the cage led to the hand positioning he is displaying above and with mixed martial arts growing by the day, maybe we will see more karate fighters in the future.
Thanks for reading the article. Leave a comment either complimenting or complaining. I want to know your thoughts!
I'd also quickly like to thank Brian Oswald for inspiring this piece and helping with ideas.