Yoshizo Machida is a happy man at 63. After leaving Japan at the age of 22 and bringing Shotokan karate to Brazil, he never imagined what his desires would lead to some four decades later.
Machida fell for a Brazilian woman, Ana Claudia, was married and had four sons -- Take, Chinzo, Lyoto and Kenzo. A seventh-degree black belt, he has popularized his art in northern Brazil and revolutionized the mixed martial arts world. One of his sons, Lyoto, now wears the UFC light heavyweight championship and remains unbeaten 15 fights into his professional career. The art his father taught him has served him well.
A few months after Lyoto knocked out Rashad Evans to capture the UFC crown, his father sat down for an exclusive interview with Sherdog.com in Belem, Brazil.
Sherdog.com: Did you see Lyoto rescuing the real Karate?
Yoshizo: Yes, because the fight canít only be about taking points from the opponent. For example, the guy can score 20 points in Judo, but if he takes an Ippon, he will loose, just like in jiu-jitsu. For what reason are the points important? If the guy is submitted or knocked out, itís over. I always tell Lyoto that he has to finish the fight, not just take points. Once it starts, he has to try to finish as soon as possible. Of course, sometimes someone who paid to see five rounds will probably be disappointed to see the fight end in the first round, but the real fighter wants to see the fight finished as soon as possible.
Sherdog.com: Can you describe your first trip to Brazil?
Yoshizo: It was a very hard trip, a total of 40 days. The ship stopped in Hawaii, Argentina, Uruguay, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and finally in Belem. The ocean was so powerful that I remember that I spent the first 15 days vomiting. When I was down to 120 pounds, someone gave me whisky. Then I found out that if I got drunk, I couldnít feel the ocean shaking the ship. After that, I got used to it and started to teach karate to everybody on the ship, and it was really nice.
Sherdog: What was it like after you arrived?
Yoshizo: When I arrived in Belem, I got a job thanks to Japanese immigration and a Japanese company that used to build roads. I worked on that for one year and then went to Rio de Janeiro, where I spent two weeks with Master Tanaka. Right after that, I went to Sao Paulo, where I met Inokiís brother, and I started to take care of their academy. Later on, I went to Bahia, where I opened my own academy. Since then, Iíve taught more than 10,000 students, but only 250 received the black belt. I arrived here with only two pairs of clothes, nothing else, and I only knew how to say three things -- good morning, good evening and hungry. I didnít sleep in the streets, but in the academies, without food, I dealt with hard times. After some time, I had my own academy and students. Today, I can say Iím a happy man. I believe every man has to do what he really likes in life, no matter if itís common or different from other people. You have to try your best to be different from others. Today, thatís very difficult.
Sherdog: How do people in Japan see karate today?
Yoshizo: In the past, karate was just for self-defense and was used in fighting. Today, itís much more like a sport and focused on competitions. I, just like many of my teachers, think the karate philosophy is being left out. Karate needs to be used to finish the opponent. Today, the fighters are faster, stronger and better prepared, but they fight to take points from the opponent. I think it should return to its origins in self defense.
Sherdog: How do you feel when Lyotoís fights go the distance and people call him a boring fighter?
Yoshizo: The fighters need to work on his defensive positions; thatís why my son has never been seriously hit. But for the promoter, sometimes it was not a good show. There are many strong guys out there, and each fighter needs to have his strategy. Against Rashad, I told him to forget about the belt and take him down as fast as he could, and thatís what he did. This is martial arts. Anyone who practices a martial art knows about it, no matter which martial art it is. Our son is not making a show yet because, to make a show, you have to be really superior. In his last two fights, he has given a great show. Now, he understands heís strong. I love Anderson Silvaís fights because heís an artist inside the Octagon. A lot of people donít like it because they think he wants to play and have fun. I donít see it that way. I see him as a showman whoís very strong. Deep in his heart, he knows he can finish the fight when he wants. Anderson was born like that. Lyoto is different. He wasnít born like that, but as he trains more, trusts his karate and believes in his style, heís getting more confident and is giving a better performance each time out.
Sherdog: As competitor, were you more like Chinzo or Lyoto?
Yoshizo: Certainly Chinzo, because I was really fast. Between 23 and 36, nobody could touch me. I used my wrists very well. Iím very small, and I used to fight against guys who were stronger and heavier; if they touched me, Iíd fall down, so I trained my speed a lot. Iím teaching that to Lyoto because heís big, but when compared to some of his UFC opponents, heís small.
Sherdog: You said Lyotoís defense is very good. Do you think he would have won as many fights in MMA if he had a style similar to you and Chinzo?
Yoshizo: No. He would have lost already. Me and Chinzo have a real offensive style. We attack. Lyoto is more cautious, and thanks to that, he developed a lot of his defense. One of the best things about our karate in MMA is that it combines defenses and attacks. Thatís why heís doing so well in this sport.
Sherdog: Whatís the difference between Machida karate and Shotokan karate?
Yoshizo: Shotokan nowadays is pretty much focused on competition. Machida karate thinks competition is very important -- we have many champions -- but we separate Machida karate. In the ring, our goal is to punish and take down an opponent. On the other side, Shotokan karate, which I also teach, is pretty much an educational sport.
Sherdog: Did you participate in any karate competitions in Brazil?
Yoshizo: I couldnít compete in the Brazilian national championships because Iím Japanese. But in 1970, I was invited to participate in the Champions of the Champions Cup, where I beat five state champions from Minas, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Bahia. In the final, I defeated the Brazilian national champion, Caribe, who was very famous at that time. Back then, the competition was much more violent; the goal was to take down the opponent.
Sherdog: We see a lot of fighters win championships and take 20- or 30-day vacations. But Lyoto, after nine months of training without break, could not even take an eight-day vacation. On the second day, he called his trainer and said he wanted to train.
Yoshizo: Lyoto likes the routine of training. He likes to train every day. His goal is to always improve, not only to defend his belt but to test new techniques; thatís very important in martial arts.
Sherdog: What about urine therapy. How did you start doing that?
Yoshizo: Actually, this technique was used in China and India a long time ago. I started doing that after reading a book about a Japanese doctor who was in World War II. When the medicines ran out, he told the soldiers to drink their urine, and it worked as a vaccine. I started doing that three years ago, and itís working fine. I never get sick anymore. Lyoto is doing the same, and he also likes the results.
Sherdog: Did your master send you to Brazil to make karate popular there?
Yoshizo: No, I wanted to go because I love to train. If I go two days without karate training, I get mad. When I got here, I received some support from Japanese friends who helped me financially so I could take care of the academy. There are other Japanese masters in Brazil who faced the same situation. Later, I was able to open my own academy in Belem.
Sherdog: Is it true that you took care of Conde Komaís bones?
Yoshizo: About 30 years ago, there was a heavy rain in Belem that destroyed Mitsuyo Maeda Komaís grave in the cemetery. His friend, Sakaeoti, who was about 80 years old at the time, told me about it. He always told me many stories about Mitsuyo, about how much he helped Japanese people who came to Brazil. Sakaeoti and I went to the cemetery, and I collected Komaís bones and cleaned them. With the support of Kokushikan University, which rebuilt Komaís tomb, we buried his bones again in a new grave paid for by the university.
Sherdog: Koma was a great fighter and was the man who taught jiu-jitsu to the Gracies. If it were not for him, we probably wouldnít have MMA or the UFC. Do you believe his Samurai spirit may be helping Lyoto in the Octagon?
Yoshizo: My family and I believe in spiritualism and reincarnation. Koma is probably helping Lyoto.
Sherdog: Having spent 70 days with Satoshi Ishii, do you believe he can become an MMA champion?
Yoshizo: I canít tell. Heís an excellent athlete. He never gets tired. I think heíll adapt really fast to MMA. In the beginning, he was getting beaten badly by Lyoto, but after two months, he improved a lot. I corrected his posture, taught him how to walk in the ring. Sometimes during training, he cried, not because he was tired but because of the high humidity near the Amazon. He has the Samurai spirit and always finished every exercise I gave to him. Iíve heard he visited and trained at the Renzo Gracie academy in New York and people liked him.
Sherdog: What do you expect from Lyotoís next challenge against Mauricio ďShogunĒ Rua at UFC 104? How long do you expect Lyoto to keep the title?
Yoshizo:I canít say anything because it depends on him. He has to train and believe because heís going to face Shogun, whoís also strong and well-prepared. Lyotoís preparation for this fight will be very important. He needs to be strong, not only physically and technically; his spirit and his mind also need to be well-prepared.
Sherdog: Do you think Shogun will be a tougher opponent than Rashad Evans?
Yoshizo: No, Rashad was much more difficult and not just because of the technique. Against him, we were also fighting against the pressure of the crowd. He was the local champion. But, for sure, Shogun is a very tough opponent who will give us a lot of work studying his game.
Sherdog: What was the party like here in Belem when Lyoto returned with the belt?
Yoshizo: It was a big party. The mayor even invited us to have breakfast with him. Last week, we were invited by the Japanese consulate to have dinner with the Japanese community in Belem. Itís very good to have my son so recognized, as long as it doesnít bother his training. If the event doesnít bother his training, he will go. I already explained to him that a lot of people want this belt, so he has to be in great shape always.
Sherdog: Besides your son, who do you like to see fight in MMA?
Yoshizo: I like [Antonio Rodrigo] ďMinotauroĒ [Nogueira] very much, because even when heís on the ground, he can solve the situation very calmly. Heís a real fighter. Standing up, I like Anderson Silva, because he plays with the opponent. Heís a showman.
Sherdog: How do you think a fight between Lyoto and Anderson Silva would play out?
Yoshizo: Itís hard to say. They have a similar style. It would depend on how well-prepared each one would be. I canít say who would win.