Saturday in Las Vegas, Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida will call upon generations of martial arts wisdom and practice as he attempts to defeat Rashad Evans and claim the UFC light heavyweight title.
The 30-year-old Brazilian, undefeated in 14 professional mixed martial arts contests, won't need to look further than his corner for inspiration. Standing there, as he has every step of the way in a life rooted in the Samurai mindset and principles of Shotokan karate, will be Lyoto's 63-year-old Japanese father and martial arts master Yoshizo Machida.
Speaking on the eve of the most important fight of his son's impressive career, the Machida family patriarch shared his philosophies on martial arts as well as his strong belief in family and son, whose karate-influenced style has made him one of the most unique -- and criticized -- fighters in MMA today.
SI.com: What is your approach when Lyoto fights? Are you thinking emotionally as a father, or are you there as part of the team, part of the corner, someone's who's there to help prepare Lyoto to win?
Yoshizo Machida: The moment when I start talking about and thinking about fighting, at that point it's not a father-and-son relationship. It's a master-and-student relationship.
SI.com: Was it difficult to separate the emotional aspect of it?
Machida: The way I was raised in Japan, my parents brought me up with a Samurai style. When I went to Brazil at the age of 22 all by myself, and I eventually had children it was an easy transition because of the teachings my parents raised me with.
SI.com: Can you explain the Samurai lifestyle, and how it's applicable to Lyoto's life and fighting career?
Machida: One of the greatest things about the Samurai lifestyle is humbleness and mannerisms and education on how to treat people. Every time Lyoto competes and gets another victory, he should leave the ring or the Octagon being more humble than when he walked in. The minute you stop being humble is the minute you're going to stop moving forward as a fighter and a person. You're going to become stagnant at that point.
SI.com: Lyoto has also mentioned how tough you were on him and his brothers growing up.
Machida: In the days of the Samurai, the way they used to treat their children is the first 10 years of their lives, it was a father's responsibility to determine and sink in their habits. So I was very strict with my kids the first 10 years of their lives. After 10 years, not that I wasn't strict, but I laid down that foundation. After 10 years old, you start becoming smarter, you read things, you talk to your friends. The first 10 years of life it's almost like a clean canvas, so I was very rigid and instilled the morals that are going to carry him on the rest of his life. Everything that I've ever told my kids to do and all the discipline I've ever done, I've always done myself. I'm not the type of father who just tells his kids to do something without doing it first and showing by example.
SI.com: Did you envision Lyoto becoming a professional fighter?
Machida: In the beginning, I was totally against Lyoto becoming a fighter, simply because there weren't very many rules for MMA and I thought it was a violent sport where the referee would never stop a fight even if someone was in danger. But as the sport evolved and as they started putting rules in, I agreed more with how the refs were working. At that point in time, it wasn't what I wanted or didn't want. I saw it was something my son really wanted to do. Once they started applying all the rules, regulations and sanctioning, then I felt much more comfortable with it.
SI.com: Do you see any parallels between Lyoto representing your family's karate and Royce Gracie representing his family's martial arts style?
Machida: There are a lot of similarities, especially the way that Helio Gracie and the Gracie family learned from the Japanese and instilled those same morals. My family is a very tight knit similar to the Gracies. There are similarities the way the families prepared the fighters.
SI.com: It seems Lyoto has made changes to apply the karate you taught him to work for MMA. Did it take time to get comfortable with the idea of adapting karate to be useful for mixed martial arts?
Machida: Lyoto's base is karate. That is where his foundation is, and that's pretty obvious. But in mixed martial arts you can't just be focused on one art. Judo, jiu-jitsu, boxing, Muay Thai, karate -- all these martial arts have one thing in common. The spirit of the martial art is the same. However, a lot of time instructors focus on technique and strength, but they don't focus on the mind and spiritual side of it. I like to incorporate everything, because a lot of it is spiritual and mental when you're going in the ring. How do you control yourself? A lot of times the fighter enters the ring nervous, not knowing what his opponent is thinking. With family being around to offer support and love, that can make him feel a lot more relaxed.
SI.com: How did you teach the mental aspects of martial arts and competition to Lyoto?
Machida: The first thing I taught him was his breathing. The way you breathe is very important. Once you get breathing patterns and the breathing process down, then you have to have your posture. And then the third thing is imagination, focusing and visualizing. Visualizing is very important part of how you're going to win the fight; when you're going to win the fight; what moves you're going to do to win the fight. And visualizing raising your hand. Basically, visualizing the entire process, from beginning to end. Blocking everything else out of your mind. A lot of people don't prepare the mental state of their body. So many people are focused on the technical aspect and strength aspect, and they don't work on the mental aspects.
SI.com: His style has drawn some criticisms. Do you have a response for critics who call Lyoto boring?
Machida: Criticism is always there. And I always sit back and look at peoples' criticism. I look at it like a sport. They say something, and I say well they have a point. I put a point in their column. And I'll sit there sometimes and disagree and put a point in my side. Really, at the end of the day, I come from a background of martial arts. I always taught my children that in the Samurai days, if you were to get touched it would have been with a sword or a blade and you would have died. So the whole thing is to eliminate getting touched and that's what I've always instilled in my sons. Let's not pretend it's a punch. Let's pretend it's a sword. If you would have been hit by the sword, you'd be dead. That's how I trained him.
SI.com: Didn't you say prior to Lyoto's fight with Thiago Silva that your son needed to be more aggressive. Why did you feel that was necessary?
Machida: I felt at times Lyoto was such a defensive fighter that he didn't really want to hurt his opponents. He just wanted to win. I had to explain to him, even though you're trying to be a defensive fighter, you have to be more aggressive because you need to prove to the world that our art works. That's what he did. A lot of people that are in the game and fighters and professionals understand Lyoto's game. It will take some time for fans to catch on, but I think that's happening.
SI.com: What is your assessment ofRashad Evans, and what kind of fight do you expect Saturday?
Machida: From what I can tell, Rashad Evans is a compete fighter, a technical athlete. He's very fast. Very strong. I respect him very much. What I can't see is how strong he is mentally or spiritually. So, with that being said, that is where Lyoto is going to go after Rashad. He will attack his spirit. I respect Rashad Evans a lot. Lyoto has to be very careful when he's inside the Octagon with Rashad, because he's a dangerous fighter.