The Mentor and the Myth: Yoshizo and Lyoto Machida

Fightland Blog

By Nick "The Tooth" Gullo


Seven Samurai is the baddest film in cinema history. That’s a bold claim, sure, but if you doubt, you doubt the likes of Quentin Tarantino, George Lucas, and the entire Wu Tang Clan.

Samurai tells the story of a desperate village, continually plundered by bandits: their crops taken, their men beaten, their women raped. After protracted debate, the villagers decide to seek out rogue samurai to defend them.

What makes the film so great, is its mediation on the changing guard—set in feudal Japan, the country is at the precipice of the modern world, a world in which samurai are no longer needed.

Which brings me to yesterday, when I walked into the private Blackhouse gym: In the octagon, I found Lyoto sparring—hands wide, parrying and feinting, striking from the oddest angles—and cage-side, issuing instructions, stood his father, Yoshizo Machida.

Or rather, his lifelong martial arts mentor.

Every hero story needs a mentor. In Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, it’s Kambei, the oldest of the seven samurai tasked with protecting the village. Like Morpheus, or Obi Wan, Kambei demonstrates technique, drops knowledge—and just like them, he’s a figure from a much older world. A world that most doubt.

At sixty-eight years old, Yoshizo has trained Shotokan karate his entire life. A seventh degree black belt, he’s taught over 10,000 students. But don't assume he’s the solemn master. The little bastard is sly, quirky, and quick to laugh—and he drinks whiskey or wine every night, so yeah, we hit it off.

Forget Lyoto, I wanted to know how he stays in such incredible shape. From his cloth sack Yoshizo unveiled a simple resistance band, hooked it to the cage and demonstrated kicks and punches. Cool, but nothing earth shattering. Then he threw a punch. Breathed deep, and threw it again, and the air warbled. No shit. I’m stone sober, and when he summons his chi (my description, not his), and let’s loose with a punch, I can feel it.

“Speed and power are the result of elasticity, not muscle,” he explained (as translated by Blackhouse co-owner Jorge  Guimaraes), “Forget lifting weights and cross training. I did that when I was young, bench-pressing, curling. But power comes from flexibility, just as it comes from the core.”

To demonstrate, Yoshizo drops to the mat and effortlessly performs the splits. Or damn close to it. Mind you, this dude is nearly seventy years old.

Lyoto smiles at my disbelief. I point to the fighter, and ask Yoshizo what advice he’s given his son regarding next week’s Middleweight UFC title bout. Yoshizo laughs. “Just relax. Forget winning and losing. Forget money. His state of mind is better than ever. He used to be worried about the pay, or worried about the travel. But now he is relaxed. That’s when the fear and doubt disappears. When your mind relaxes, your body relaxes, and you can execute the techniques you’ve trained.”

Lyoto concurred. “I no longer think about my opponent. When I enter the Octagon, I am there to complete my techniques. My opponent doesn’t matter. He only provides the canvas.”

Okay, I can’t wait to see the fight. It’s gonna be amazing. But, turning to Yoshizo again, I want to know how he stays in such amazing shape. “Is it true you drink your own urine?”

He smirks and nods.

“That will keep me young?”

Yoshizo insists it will. But here’s the thing about mentors—they often also fill the ‘trickster’archetype. Which means, follow at your peril. Still, in the interests of hard-hitting journalism and the ongoing quest for the fountain of youth, for a week I agree to follow his sage advice.

Check back next Friday for my coming installment of, Gaining the Edge: Yoshizo Machidas Urine Therapy.


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