In relation to my column on Sherdog.com today, a reader forwards me an email he sent to Sherdog.com's Jake Rossen, but the argument being made extends beyond what Mr. Rossen wrote. To wit:
I couldn't agree with you more about your thoughts on the effectiveness of karate making it's way into martial arts through Lyoto Machida. I am a lifelong Shotokan Karate practitioner and have competed extensively at an international level. Nothing makes me happier than seeing our art validated through Lyoto Machida.
The problem with Shotokan Karate in MMA is that it is a style of fighting that takes a lifetime of training to master. The use of fixed stances, kata, 5 step sparring etc... are training techniques designed to develop a fighter over millions of repetitions and decades of time. And, there are no shortcuts. Unfortunately, in today's MMA scene if the fighters are strong and aggressive, they can learn enough technique in wrestling or boxing in a few short years to compete at a very high level. Why would any student choose to perfect their kata for 5 years over a three year highschool wrestling program and a couple years of boxing?
I am not saying that wrestlers and boxers are not dedicated. It's just that being a whitebelt in Shotokan Karate isn't exactly the most dynamic or inspiring place to be. There is very little interaction. There is no 'free sparring' kumite and you spend your entire class walking in a front stance doing thrust punch drills. It takes a huge amount of appreciation and a 'big picture' mindset to ever become proficient enough to acually 'fight'. In my opinion, learning to 'fight' doesn't even start until you attain blackbelt.
I really appreciate how the MMA media has embraced a new karate hero and I sincerely hope that karate experiences a resurgence. Unfortunately, because of lack of understanding about amount of dedication karate requires, I fear that Lyoto Machida may be karate's 'Last Mohican'.
This is my understanding as well and it's important to acknowledge the hurdles ahead. What we also need to keep in mind is that Shotokan's applicability, while narrow, isn't necessarily limited to less than a handful simply because the style isn't as easily grasped in smaller time frames. Others who have trained Shotokan from early youth through adulthood while adding modern MMA training to their repertoire over time could conceivably be talented professionals even if they never accomplish identical feats to that of Lyoto Machida. Would that be considered a failure? I sincerely doubt that.
So while Shotokan karatekas won't necessarily flock to MMA as amateur wrestlers have, we shouldn't let the admittedly considerable impediments to success dictate that only Lyoto Machida can make this style work. That could be true, but there exists room for hope that other Shotokan karatekas or wing chun practitioners or whoever can also make an impact now that Machida is blazing something of a new path. The next innovation doesn't necessarily have to involve a major paradigm shift. Even atomic adjustments can send big messages.