Over a decade ago, there were very few Mixed Martial Arts fighters groomed in traditional martial arts. The belief at that time was simply that traditional martial arts techniques were weak and ineffective against fighters. At that time there were three distinct fighting styles which were shown to be effective in MMA; Boxing, Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jiu jitsu (as Royce Gracie demonstrated its effectiveness in the first three Ultimate Fighting Championships over 20 years ago).
This I believe all changed with one person, his name is Lyoto Machida. When Lyoto first came on the scene in MMA back in 2003, very few has seen his type of skill set. Raised and groomed from an extremely traditional Shotokan Karate background from the age of three, this techniques were seemingly unusual to many that were accustomed to seeing a brawling Muay Thai style. Furthermore, many perceived his style as boring and many criticized as being weak since he not employ a style that was crowd pleasing to watch. The one thing that could not be denied with Lyoto was the unpredictability of his style, what seemingly was a retreat type fighting style, usual ended up as being a strategy for their opponents to become vulnerable; as a result, Lyoto was winning and he was winning in brutal fashion as was the case with Rich Franklin back in December 2003. Because of Lyoto’s Kumite based style, he was undefeated from 2003 to 2010. During that period of time, he knocked out opponents in brutal fashion and became the UFC Lightheavweight Champion in 2009.
Though George St. Pierre should be credited for making traditional martial arts fashionable in mma, if one were to study him carefully, he often employed Muay Thai based strategy to the octagon and very few Karate based techniques, in exception for the spinning back kick. The biggest thing Lyoto brought to the world of MMA was his fighting stance. Instead of using the modern boxing/Muay Thai stance, he used (and still uses to a degree) a traditional kumite dachi stance. Since Lyoto, fighters such as Gunnar Nelson and Ryan Jimmo have reverted back to using this stance.
It is my belief that in the next decade, 40% of the typical mixed martial arts fighter will have some form of training in the following disciplines; Karate, Judoka, Kung Fu, Akido, and Tae Kwon Do.
List of active mixed martial arts fighters with traditional fighting backgrounds:
- Lyoto Machida – Shotokan Karate (3rd Dan), Sumo Wrestling
- George St. Pierre – Kyokushin Karate (3rd Dan)
- Gunnar Nelson – Goju Karate (Dan)
- Ryan Jimmo – Shito Ryu Karate (2nd Dan)
- Antonio Carvalho – Shotokan Karate (Dan) , Judo (Green Belt)
- Stephen ‘Waterboy’ Thompson – Kempo Karate (Dan)
- Justin Lawrence – Kempo Karate (Dan)
- John Makdessi – Shotokan Karate (Dan)
- Tarec Saffiedine – Shihaishinkai Karate (Dan)
- Michelle Waterson – Karate(Dan), and Wushu
- Anderson Silva – Tae Kwon Do (Black Belt)
- Benson Henderson – Tae Kwon Do (Black Belt)
- Anthony Pettis – Tae Kwon Do (3rd Degree Black belt)
- Dennis Sever – Tae Kwon Do (Black Belt)
- Daron Cruickshank – Tae Kwon Do (Black Belt)
- Stephan Bonnar – Tae Kwon Do (Black Belt)
- Ronda Rousey – Judo (4th Dan)
- Yushin Okami – Judo (Dan)
- Manny Gamburyan – Judo (3rd Dan), Kyokushin Karate (2nd Dan)
- Jung Chan-Sung (Korean Zombie) – Tae Kwon Do (Black Belt)