GSP and the Karate spirit.
The skillset of Georges St. Pierre creates an interesting paradox.
I truly believe the most significantly underrated aspect of GSP's identity as a fighter is his karate background. While Lyoto Machida has gotten a lot of the credit for being the first true "karate fighter" to win in the UFC, let's engage in a little revisionism for a moment; No matter what in-cage techiques employed enroute to victory, Georges "Rush" St. Pierre was the first true karate stylist to win a title in the UFC. This is true on several levels.
First and foremost is the mental aspect. As Georges often says his identity as a fighter is rooted in his kyokushin karate background. Starting his training at the age of six, he was a black belt by the time he was a teenager. Everything he is as a fighter and as a person was imprinted on him during these formative years. GSP's comments in a recent interview on the difference between a fighter and a martial artist ; GSP on dinosaurs and why Karate is the answer.
|"A fighter trains only when he has a fight. He trains only when he’s fighting. Me, I train for a lifestyle. Even when I’m not getting ready for a fight, I’m always in shape, I’m always in training. I do it as a lifestyle. I studied in Kyokushin karate when I was young and that’s why I think I’m like that."|
GSP often talks about the difference between a martial artist and a fighter. It's his lifestyle. It's who he is as a person. He doesn't need to hang onto ceremonial or less functional things like Kata religiously to still do karate. No matter what he's doing, he's doing karate. No matter what GSP is practicing technique-wise, he approaches it from a distinctly karate perspective. It's not just that he has adapted Karate to MMA, it's that he's adapted MMA to Karate. He has made MMA Karate. In an old interview before the second Matt Hughes fight(emphasis mine) ; Karate to the Core
|BB: Has karate affected your personal growth and discipline?
St. Pierre: I’m very happy that I learned karate when I was young. A lot of people told me that it’s useless in fighting, but they’re wrong. I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t be at this level today. Karate made me a lot stronger, and it made me flexible and athletic like I am right now. When I’m fighting, I’m not doing kata, but I use a lot of kicks and techniques that I learned from kyokushin.
BB: When did you begin to branch out and learn ground skills?
St. Pierre: I started learning jujutsu because when I was 12 or 13 years old, my karate teacher died. Before he died, he gave me my second-degree black belt. I stopped doing kyokushin and started doing muay Thai. I liked muay Thai, but then I saw the first Ultimate Fighting Championship with Ken Shamrock, and those guys inspired me to become a mixed-martial arts fighter. As soon as I saw the UFC, I wanted to train for it, but at that time jujutsu didn’t exist in Montreal. I decided to train in muay Thai, and later on I got my third-degree black belt in karate. When I was 16, I found a good place to do Brazilian jujutsu. When I was 18 or 19, I started wrestling and boxing.
BB: Do you find a lot of similarities between the disciplines you’ve learned?
St. Pierre: It’s all the same. Even in wrestling, even in striking, it’s all the same. If you look at all the techniques, you see a lot of similar things. In muay Thai and wrestling, all the techniques are connected. When it started, at the beginning of the beginning, it was called pankration. All the techniques were in one art. You had wrestling techniques, ground techniques and striking techniques. We just separated the different styles of fighting.
But beyond that, technique-wise, Karate colors everything in GSP's striking game. As a practitioner of a more serious, full contact style of karate from an early age his entire mentality towards fighting has been shaped because of it, for better or worse. One thing that is painfully obvious watching GSP fight is he is on the most basal levels programmed with zero ability to wade in aggressively with power punches. His striking philosophy is the absolute antithesis of Wanderlei Silva. Much like Lyoto Machida, GSP spent his formative years bloodying noses in full contact point fighting tournaments where one punch, one blow often meant the match. He's trained his entire life watching and reading an opponents impending attack and avoiding, and this is precisely why he is so elusive. Why he can see what his opponent is throwing before his opponent knows what he's throwing himself. The Machida factor.
Most of my first hand karate knowledge comes from watching my 8 year old son's two tournament victories, and his lessons, so take anything you read with a grain of salt. Much like GSP was likely taught, my son was taught the point of point fighting is not to hurt your opponent. My son has actually been penalized for landing too hard during competition. Damage and injury are fouls to be avoided. Also in point fighting, fluid boxing combinations are not taught, but rather frowned upon because it's easy to be scored on while trading blow for blow. GSP was a good student, so much so that he made these tenants intrinsic to his very nature as a fighter. There is a palpable dearth of malice and aggression in the way GSP approaches martial arts competition. Unlike many brash Americans who come from the smack-laden wrestling background, he truly respects his opponent. He doesn't want to hurt or knock them out. His striking style is still predicated on the values of a 9 year old in a Gi and a head-guard that barely fits. This is why GSP had such an issue with finishing Koscheck. He had him rocked and wobbled many times that were situations another fighter might have capitalized on with an aggressive offense. But not GSP. I think it's more than him simply being a cold, calculated figure who takes no chances and flips no coins, I almost think he can't pull the trigger on some level. GSP I think recognizes this and this is why he was so disappointed in his performance. Given this, I find it fascinating the admiration he has for Mike Tyson ;
|You brought in Mike Tyson to talk to your team on the show. What inspired that decision?
Mike Tyson was my idol growing up. I grew up watching him boxing and terrorising everyone in the heavyweight division. I learned a lot from him on boxing, and about mind games.
The reason GSP's Karate is overlooked is simple. Most of his recent opponents have spent the majority of the fight flat on their back feasting on GSP's elbow grease. But that too ultimately is facilitated on his Karate. The reason I knew Koscheck could bring in all the Ben Askren's in the world and he'd still be vulerable to GSP's takedowns - and ergo his striking - is because of this ;
|People think my takedowns come from wrestling but I’ve done karate for so long. You can use karate as a set up for punching people, to cover distance, or to put someone down. I use it to cover the distance and put people down, and I’m very good at it. A guy like Lyoto Machida does it too. So it’s more than just wrestling, it’s about fighting itself.|
GSP's stance is a modified karate stance that is specifically designed for MMA. It's better than Lyoto's in fact as it is less susceptible to leg kicks. There is a lot of efficiency of motion. His feints for takedowns and for a strike are almost the same. Because of speed and this efficiency, it's almost impossible to tell what technique GSP is attempting until the full extension of the attack. Because he has a point fighting based timing system, his only rivals in gangster ass geijitsu are Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida. However, the fact he has such a dominant offensive and defensive wrestling game, it gives a lot of weight to the argument GSP is better able to neutralize and take the heart of a fighter simply through deception and timing than either Machida or Silva. The only thing that could hold him back is his lack of a killer instinct. Silva's got it, the speed, the motion and the karate, but not the wrestling. Machida nearly had it all and for a short time added the aggression to near perfection, only to stray too far, forgetting his karate and exchange wildly with some guy named Shogun(bad idea). If only we could get just a little more Mike in your game Georges, just a little...you'd be perfect.
Well almost perfect. That title is reserved only for the Alpha Male of Planet Earth aka Alistair Overeem. But that is the subject for my next blog.
Originally posted at Ninja's Place