Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wikileaks is not a terrorist organization for crying out loud

Wikileaks is releasing around a quarter of a million diplomatic cables from the United States. A lot of people, mostly Republicans, definitely want something done about this . . .

I oppose, altogether, government secrecy. As such, the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, is nearly a hero of mine. He clearly agrees that secrecy stinks and has done something about it.

I don't think that government secrecy works. Government "secrets" are not generally very secret. Publicly available sources of information are almost always better than information gathered through secret means. This is the reason that science is very nearly totally transparent, it's the best way to improve the quality of information. This is true of all other fields, as well. So, hidden information is far, far more liable to be rife with errors and lies than publicly available information that can be robustly checked.

The criticism that is almost universally leveled against Assange and Wikileaks are these leaks threaten life. That's idiotic. What threatens people's lives are the often downright fucking insane foreign policy decisions of the US, not the person who reveals these foreign policy decisions. In the history of Wikileaks, not a single person has ever died because of the information released. When asked who has died because of the published leaks, a vast silence falls or, more commonly, a mindless rant against the person who dares ask for proof. (Which is kind of the elephant in the room -- proof. I am always suspicious of people who attack people who either have proof or who refuse to give proof, but so prostituted has our government become that the idea that proof is meaningful has been almost entirely erased. This disturbs me profoundly.)

These diplomatic cables are mostly just . . . very slightly embarrassing. They're private communications between diplomatic staff. Any country in the world that has a diplomatic staff can look at their own cables and they'll find the exact same kind of frankness. It's a total tempest in a teapot. Sure, a few egos are no doubt bruised but that's gonna be it.

Overwhelmingly, what we're finding out is these things are tedious. Is it a shocker that a lot of US-allied Arab leaders don't want to see Iran get nuclear weapons? No. Absolutely not. This has been publicly available information for years, now. Is it a surprise that Israel seriously thought about bombing the Iranian nuclear plant? No. It's not even surprising that Saudi Arabia has both urged the US to attack Iran while at the same time continued to support al-Qaida. Everything these documents say is either more or less irrelevant -- "Kim Jong Il is a flabby old chap" level nonsense -- or already known.

But you have people saying that Wikileaks is a terrorist organization. Terrorist organization . . . ? That's right. Publishing the truth makes a person a terrorist in the eyes of a disturbingly large number of Americans. Even though the information published ranges from the slightly embarrassing to the publicly available.

I think what's really going on here is that these leaks point out that the government lies. Oh, this is also no surprise to people who pay attention, but when you get it from the horse's mouth it does contextualize things. So, it was a big deal when some documents were leaked that demonstrate pretty clearly that the British government knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and then continued to use the fear-mongering mushroom cloud argument. It's a big deal when these leaks demonstrate that the US knows that its troops are committing war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan but do nothing about it. Our government gets away with a lot with the justification that, hey, we just don't known.

What Wikileaks documents provide is proof that they did know, that they do know, and they're lying to our faces. However, anyone who's been in a bitter argument when they're wrong has probably had the experience of inventing charges against their opponent then inflating them to distract from the truth while justifying one's actions. So, rather than looking at these leaks and going, "Hey, maybe we should clean up our act" what the government does, instead, is say, "They're TERRORISTS who are KILLING AMERICANS." Yeah, the charge is idiotic -- how can they be terrorists if there's no damage done to anyone and what is being revealed is, in truth, reasonably unremarkable? -- but they have a big pulpit from which to shout.

(This is particularly true because of the complaisant media. One of the big stories about this whole Wikileaks thing is that it isn't big news organizations that are breaking these stories, but a couple of guys with a website. A big story in this is that the multi-billion dollar news empires that control most news content are being repeatedly and savagely beaten to the punch by seven unfunded volunteers. Let's face it, news corporations suck. That's a big story, here, that you won't see the news talking about!)

They so shout and the pimps in the traditional news media repeat their shouts, acting as an amplifier, so instead of talking about how it's clear the government is really, really lying to us about what they do and what they know, we end up talking about how Wikileaks is or is not a terrorist organization. The diplomatic cables are mostly banal, except when they confirm how often the government lies to us, which should be the story. That and, y'know, why the big news corporations are time and again being scooped by part-time volunteers.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Never Surrender is a very bad movie

We just watched a movie called Never Surrender. Here's the cover:

I know most of the people who read my journal -- or, more precisely, look at the titles of my journal articles, hehe -- don't follow MMA. But it is normal for the jackets of movies to actually show the people actually starring in the movie. And there's a lot of MMA talent on this cover, let me tell you, ranging from the pretty good with Heath Herring (far left in back), to the really good with BJ Penn (back center) and Quinton Jackson (front left) to the best in the world with Georges St-Pierre (front right) and Anderson Silva (back right).

Now, all of them are in the movie. Heath Herring has the most screen time and actually qualifies as a "in" the movie, but the rest? Rampage Jackson is in the movie for about two minutes, GSP and BJ Penn are in slightly more, perhaps five minutes total for each of them and Anderson Silva is in for about two minutes with no dialog . . . which isn't too strange since he doesn't speak English, I suppose.

The movie actually stars this guy:

Hector Echavarria is his name. Who is he? I have no fucking idea. His Wikipedia page claims he's won a lot of competitions, such as the "World Vale-Tudo Kickboxing Champion of the World". None of his various world championships are sourced. Uh-huh. And I've never heard of such a thing as "World Vale-Tudo Kickboxing Champion of the World" and, perhaps more relevantly, Google has never heard of such a thing. It doesn't even make any goddamn sense! Vale tudo is basically Brazilian for "mixed martial arts" (though a little crazier). Vale tudo and kickboxing would be like saying the World Boxing Judo Champion of the World. Ugh. I mean, seriously? World Vale Tudo Kickboxing Champion of the World? Isn't that a bad Monty Python joke?

Other things Google has never heard of? World Kung Fu Championship. While there is no National World Tae Kwon Do Federation champion (c'mon, dood, is it national or world!) there is a WTF, which means World Tae Kwon Do Federation. I couldn't find Hector on the WTF webpage or any reference that seemed legitimate when googling them together.

There was a United States Karate Association up until 1999. From the 70s to 1989, however, it was functionally replaced by the Professional Karate Association and became the organization of Shuri-ryu karate (which was the style of the founder of the ISKA). From 1989 to 1999, the leadership of the organization was disputed after the founder of the ISKA died and in 1999 it was dissolved entirely. Uh-huh. I could probably get away saying I was an ISKA world champion, too, on account that the organization no longer exists.

I understand that martial arts isn't frequently very online. And his credentials are good enough so that Black Belt magazine recognizes him training Quinton Jackson and Chieck Kongo. His Wikipedia page also says he's working with BJ Penn . . . which is plausible since he got Penn in his silly little movie. But you compare Echavarria's Wikipedia page with, say, Penn's Wikipedia page -- and Penn's career is sourced out the wazoo. It says who Penn trained with and gives sources. So when Wikipedia says BJ Penn beat Brazilian jiu jitsu world champions, there's a sourced link to NBCSports.com. And, of course, it's superficially easy to find sources that acknowledge BJ Penn fought in the UFC and has held the lightweight and welterweight belts. And, interestingly enough, on Penn's Wikipedia page it makes no mention, at all, of Hector Echavarria training him. Neither does Rampage Jackson's page mention Echavarria as a trainer. Argh. This Echavarria is a tool.

This is just too good. I've got to quote: "Born in Corrientes, Argentina on December 6, 1969. Asthma troubled Echavarria as a young child, and his parents had to take turns rocking him at night just so he could breathe. His father sought help for his son with acupuncture treatments, and thereby came to know the first Shaolin monk to flee China, Grand Master Tung Kou Tsao. Although Hector was only four years old, Kou Tsao recommended that Hector learn Tai Chi Chuan because it would help alleviate his asthma by strengthening his breathing. For that reason, Hector started taking lessons in Tai Chi Chuan and Chinese Boxing with Kou Tsao. By the age of six, he was training in Judo and Jiu Jitsu under Grand Master Mayamoto of Kodokan." Holy shit, this guy's a fucking liar! Trained by Shaolin monks? Really? Grand masters of Kodokan started personally training him when he was six? Uh, yeah, right.

In addition to being a liar, he's also a lousy director and actor. I mean, I know that's what this article was supposed to be about but I was totally derailed by what a giant liar this guy is! Oh, excuse me, I'm sure that the article has no connection at all to Echavarria . . . *rolls eyes so far back I can see my brain*

But it's a lousy movie. Instead of being about all those MMA guys I like so well, it's about Hector and his MMA fanfic. Because that's what the movie is, MMA fanfic and he's the Mary Stu. Totally no kidding. So, he's the bestest MMA fighter ever and he hangs out all the time with a bunch of MMA guys, no, really! And they all just love him and think he's so cool and tough!

But MMA isn't badass enough for Hector, nope! He gets brought into an illegal tournament where he doesn't have to fight by any pansy rules! And for getting into the league, he gets to have sex with a hot girl! And when he wins, he gets to have sex with the other guy's hot girl and his own hot girl is totally okay with that! And he gets paid so much better than MMA fighters, who are always there for him and . . . he can beat up Anderson Silva! That's how tough he is!

It's totally fan fiction that somehow got filmed. The fights aren't particularly good -- so it's also a waste of talent, too.

Oh, god, the whole movie is like that. And it's awful. And I got suckered by the stupid fucking cover with guys I like on it. And there's a sex montage about every fifteen minutes. I think there are four of them in the movie. It's like, "Another fifteen minutes -- so here's some titties!" It's like a fourteen year old boy's power fantasy.

Anyway, the article rambled because I found saw Echavarria's lies about himself. The movie sucks. It's cover is a lie. A piece of my soul died today.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Beauty in MMA

I almost wrote a post about how unfair it was that female MMA fighters are judged on their looks, unlike male ones. But then I realized that's not true. If anything, the men are judged far more directly and frankly according to their appearance than the women. The commentators go on at great length about how good certain fighters -- like Alistair Overeem -- look. I kid you not, the term "rippling muscles" has been used to describe the glorious physique of more than one powerfully built MMA fighter. Comparisons to male bodybuilders and Greek gods abound. Mind you, many of the best MMA fighters don't look that great. Sure, some of them look like this:

That's Alistair Overeem. But others look like this:

The second guy is the better fighter (or was, as he might have finally had his lust for blood and souls sated) -- indeed, the second guy is the divinely gifted Fedor Emelianenko. MMA skill does not particularly respect our idea of beautiful bodies. All manner of basically lumpy guys kick ass. So for every Georges St-Pierre:

There's a BJ Penn:

(Or, to contextualize their relationship:


MMA announcers are swift to point out when a guy looks good. (And it's not to say that the other guys look bad, either. It's just to say that fighting prowess does not respect our notions of beauty.)

I don't think it's particularly sexism to point out that the women also look good. Frankly, as a group, they look better than the men (tho' there might be a bias there . . . and admitting that many MMA fighters do look really, really good). All of them I've seen are very lean without the belly roll many male fighters can get away with.

However, the description of the women is curiously non-specific or centered above the neckline. At first, I thought it's just prudishness. You see the same thing in fantasy novels all the time, though if you want a particular bad example of it just peruse the first hundred or so pages of the first Wheel of Time novel. The author, Robert Jordan, very specifically talks about the physiques of the men, but the women all have beautiful hair and eyes without the least reference to their bodies at all. In Jordan's world, men primarily exist as muscular bodies and women as pretty faces.

With MMA commentators have a better reason -- the MMA commentators are hopefully refraining from crude sexualization of the women as a slight to their abilities. For the uniformly male MMA commentators to notice with too much emphasis physiques of the women fighters would be an unseemly sexualization of the contest, diminishing the skills of the female fighters from athleticism to mere spectacle for the sexual titillation of men -- a kind of bloody mud wrestling.

I am also refraining from reading homoerotic subtext into the (uniformly male) MMA announcers' appreciation of the male physique. Even as women can appreciate the style and beauty of other women without it being gay, men can appreciate the physical beauty of a strong man without it being gay. Just as a man looking at a stylish and beautiful woman sees her as sexual in a way a straight woman, looking at the same woman, will not, women can look at the physical beauty of athletes and feel a sexual tension absent when straight men admire the physique of the same athletes. It's kind of an Internet thing to misread the sexual context of all manner of situations. For the purposes of fiction, this isn't a big deal. I honestly don't care about slash fiction and I say that as a genre writer. When I publish Revolutionary Boy Martin, I really won't care how much Martin/David slash shippers there are out there because none of that touches the intent of my work and, of course, you can't (and shouldn't really try) to control how people interpret literature. But it's simply untrue that appreciation of the male physique by straight men has any homoerotic context. When Frank Shamrock comments on another man's physique, he does it as a man who has worked incredibly hard on his own body, for the purposes of winning MMA contests, for health and to appear attractive. His work has made him sensitive to fitness issues. It would be an insult to the commentator's sexuality to project values into their appreciation of masculine beauty.

So, right now, at least, I'm having trouble complaining about MMA's "fixation" on feminine beauty. Not only do they also do it to the men, so if it's unfair at least it's not sexist, let's be honest. MMA fighters have the physiques, as a rule, we should all aspire towards. They're actually a really good standard for a beauty standard -- strong, enduring, limber, they've got it all.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Let's talk steroids!

I'm starting to wind myself up for the Georges St-Pierre vs. Josh Koscheck fight on December 11 and I was doing some background reading. Apparently, BJ Penn opined to Koscheck that GSP uses steroids.

It was not explained how a guy who lives in Hawaii knows what a guy who lives in Quebec does or does not take and, really, the whole exchange sounded like sour grapes. Both Penn and Koscheck have lost to St-Pierre. Penn, twice. However, the truth is, it's quite possible that St-Pierre roids up . . . though the same can be said of Penn and Koscheck. A lot of professional athletes hit the steroids.

It makes sense, of course. Someone comes to a pro athlete and says that, for a couple of grand a year, tops, they can make that athlete stronger, faster and with better endurance, that they can roll back the clock and return to an aging athlete the physical prowess of their youth, that athlete is going to seriously consider steroids. After all, the pressure to perform is intense. The crowds want to see people doing things that we have no chance of doing. We want to see feats of strength, speed and endurance more fit for superheroes than mortals. The people who can deliver that kind of performance stand to make a lot of money as well as gain ridiculous praise for it . . . if they can only keep their steroid habits secret.

For my part, I don't much care if athletes take steroids. Go ahead, guys! Gear up! But the arguments against steroids, and other "performance enhancing drugs", are two-fold. The first is, it's "cheating". The second is, it's not healthy. Both arguments are bullshit.

If you follow the Olympics, you will find that the US does very, very well in sports, which is weird because our population is in the worst shape in the world. Americans are, as a group, fatter than people anywhere else -- yet we excel in sports? While the US is out of shape, we are a very rich country. So our best athletes get the best training. We have large, well-funded gyms with all the best equipment, staffed by sports nutritionists and sports doctors and kinethesiologists. Whereas in countries that have much fitter, but poorer, populations, they lack this. So, the US does better than virtually any other country on earth because we happen to be rich (and this is true of virtually any rich country, of course). While this is not technically cheating, it's definitely not fair. It isn't cheating only because the rules don't give a damn about fair.

(Not to mention that almost all Olympic sports are European sports. The athletic games of other cultures are notoriously poorly represented in the Olympics. There are a few token events like judo, but almost all of the events are sports with cultural significance only to "the West". How is that fair? To make Asians and Africans play our sports? That's not cheating, either. That's "fair".)

My point is the idea that athletic competitions are even and fair is foolish. Rich countries can, and do, simply buy events through the mechanism of providing their athletes with kinds of training, diet, medical care and conditioning poor countries cannot.

In this environment, the objection to steroids becomes that, with them, even people in poor countries would do as well as people in rich countries. They are so powerful and so cheap that all other training aids become far, far less significant. You don't really need a really careful diet if you're roided up -- your body will roll those calories over into muscle all by itself in the normal course of exercise.

Indeed, the injunction against steroids was initially anti-communist. Communist nations were roiding up their athletes before it was against the rules of competition to do it, which gave the communist nations huge boosts, obviously. Inventing the argument that steroids weren't "fair" -- when in truth the problem is they were communist -- Western nations, lead by the US, were able to make steroids against international competition rules. This isn't hypothetical. Anti-steroid rules were put in place because the people who control the international athletic bodies are overwhelmingly anti-communist. (This history of drug regulation is chock full of this kind of thing; the earliest anti-drug laws in the US were really anti-Chinese laws, and the earliest anti-marijuana laws were really anti-Mexican laws. It's crazy.)

So I just can't buy the fairness argument. If we were really interested in fair athletics competitions, we'd work to insure that training was standardized. You see something like this in car races. Nowadays, car races aren't about testing technology but testing the drivers, the cars are very standardized, nearly mechanically identical. You could do the same thing with all training for all sports but no one even mentions this kind of possibility, at least not in America which, of course, greatly benefits from the current rules environment.

The fallback argument against steroids then becomes health. This is, if anything, an even more idiotic argument.

Without doubts, steroids have side-effects. Some of them, like "roid rage", seem to have little basis in fact. It is true oral steroids can damage the liver, but the onset of symptoms is clear and easily reversed by discontinuing the drugs and generally the result of incredible overuse. Massive overuse of steroids causes damage to a valve of the heart, but that's also correctable and only shows up in massive doses. There are also lesser effects, like oily skin and temporary bitch tits.

A steroid program also throws your body's hormonal homeostatis out of whack for a while after you discontinue use. Your body recovers in a couple of weeks and the biggest "threat" of this is losing the gains you made under steroids.

(Women face other problems with steroids, such as "virilization", stuff like growing beards and permanent enlargement of the clitoris and require special care in use. This is where the "gender tests" idea for female athletes came from; early female steroid users, many of them East German, had various virilization effects.)

On the other hand, steroids also have many, many benefits. Steroids improve a person's immune system. They promote, kind of obviously, the development of lean muscle mass. They improve red blood cell count, increasing oxygenation of the blood and promoting greater endurance. They improve flexibility and help with healing injuries. They also increase a man's libido and might help with clarity of thought. I'm not making this stuff up! All of these properties are present in even very moderate doses.

Oh, and to retouch the "cheating" issue -- using steroids is hard. Because your body is thrown into hormonal imbalance when you use them, when you stop using them it takes a while for your body to regain homeostasis. So it's really easy to lose all the gains you made while on steroids if you're not deeply committed to exercise. You generally have to work out harder after a steroid program than during it, especially during that time when your body is readjusting to hormonal homeostasis.

Which means, medically, it's not possible to say "steroids are uniformly bad". They have side effects, yeah, and some of them are unpleasant and a couple are actually dangerous (though they present only in massive use). But when you look at the list of positive effects it's hard, I think, to just dismiss steroids as bad for a person's health.

This is crazier because many high-level competitions are also awful for your health. How many football players have knees that resemble jigsaw puzzles? What about skiiers? Boxing, as a sport, is entirely about getting punched, usually to the head. Those guys face such happy conditions as detached retinas, skull fractures, brain swelling, broken knuckles, etc. Yet, despite the various physical damage that they do to themselves that regular people don't do, they're generally in much, much better shape than we are. That a training technique carries with it some (extremely manageable) risk is simply irrelevant considering what athletes already do to themselves.

So, does Georges St-Pierre use steroids? I dunno. Looking at the guy, I can't dismiss the possibility. He looks really good and he looks that way all the time. On the other hand, he's also famous for his work ethic. After getting his head punched off by Matt Serra, he was back in the gym after two days. In interviews, he has made it clear he views himself as a martial artist and not a fighter, the distinction being that he's always in training, looking for ways to improve the art. But, man, he does look ripped, like, all the time. Given his job, you can't automatically reject the idea. (Just like I can't reject it for Josh Koscheck or BJ Penn. It's their job, too.)

What I do know is I'm looking forward to GSP knocking the shit out of Koscheck. I hope Georges St-Pierre pounds a hole in Koscheck's skull. I want a bloody finishing move or at least a rag doll knockout like the one GSP did to Matt Hughes when GSP Cro-kicked his head off. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Soylent Green is made of ham!

Last night, Adrienne and I watched Soylent Green, which is a sci-fi movie classic. I had watched it, before, when I was ten or something, but remembered very little of it except the "Soylent Green is made of people" part. I'm certainly changed since then.

For those of you who don't know, Soylent Green, the movie, not the product, takes place in 2022, in a dystopian future where overpopulation has gotten entirely out of control with Manhattan, alone, having twenty million people. There are also unspecified soil and water pollution that make feeding this mass next to impossible, save with the use of the soylent products -- including the eponymous solyent green. Despite the constant food shortages, the people seem pretty well fed, including some fat people. I'm not talking the rich people, either, but the poor ones, too.

Well, the story takes the form of a sci-fi noir and might classify as proto-cyberpunk insofar as the protagonist -- played by Charlton Heston -- is a police officer fighting against a giant corporation. A rich man is murdered and when Heston's character, Thorn, tries to solve the case he's told to back down by the establishment but doesn't, man, 'cause that's the kind of guy he is! Eventually, he discovers that soylent green is made of people. It seems that the environmental degradation is getting worse, so they need a new food source to make up for what farms and the oceans are no longer providing, so they're processing the dead into a high-energy food source.

To me, this was a big, "So what?" It wasn't like they had murder squads going around killing people for the specific purpose of feeding other people. They were content to use people who died in ordinary ways. I mean, right now, every time we eat something, we're eating people who have been reprocessed by the earth into food. Make no doubt, some of the molecules in the food you eat are recycled people. That's the goddamn cycle of life! Sure, the movie uses it a little less naturally, but they've got a food crisis on their hands.

I mean, it gets out that soylent green is people, this is what the company is going to do. They're going to say, "We have a choice. Environmental degradation is getting worse. The other products aren't able to keep up with food demand. So, you can either eat soylent green or do without. Those are the only options." I bet a couple meals later, people will go, "Eating people. I can handle that." Starving people will become cannibals, though the kind of cannibals they are is pretty abstract, making it much easier. Add in some billboards about how they're sorry about the deception, and the whole matter would be swept under the carpet in a few weeks. The big reveal isn't that big a deal, if you ask me.

In truth, the movie isn't very good. It's unfocused, with lots of dead end sub-plots, many of them inherently idiotic. For instance, the murdered man is supposed to be partnered with the governor of New York, and the governor gives a vague nod to goons to "do what needs to be done" to protect the secret of soylent green. We never return to the governor or his association with the murdered man. And there's this incredibly long scene where one of the characters, an old comically Jewish man, goes to a euthanasia center where he's executed to what appears to be an Imax theater experience showing clips of nature the way things used to be before the various environmental catastrophes. In includes a weepy Charlton Heston going on about how beautiful it all had been, damn it!

And the title of this little rantfest comes from Heston's acting "style", which is to show a lot of teeth and ham it up as much as humanly possible. Seriously. There are actual pigs out there going, "I'm less ham than that."

The movie is also deeply sexist. Every woman with dialog is "furniture", meaning prostitutes who come with a living space. I know it was meant to show how, in this dystopian future, people are low grade commodities, the massive population combined with massive unemployment turning humans into sexual commodities. But our "hero" treats the women like shit. He's mean to these literal sex slaves and wastes no time intimidating them into having sex with him. One, of course, falls in love with the hero because he's slightly less abusive than the concierge of the building she belongs to. But even that ends up being a dead-end sub-plot.

I know much of this came from the adaptation from the novel (which I haven't read) to the screenplay. I suspect the novel has these things tied up more completely. And I know the screenplay is trying to show the detail of the sci-fi world that is different than our own and trying to demonstrate that the protagonist is a man of his times, a corrupt cop made corrupt by an awful system. None of this matters. It is possible to write non-sexist scripts about sexist times and the job of a screenwriter and director is to make a good movie, which would have meant cutting out all the crap about euthanasia centers and "furniture" and every bit with the governor.

The movie also has that comical seventies style action. It's like punching didn't exist in the seventies, I swear. People will throw these wild haymakers and when they land, the people will throw themselves to the side, their arms flinging up . . . we all make fun of Kirk's action scenes, but Kirk's action scenes were sublime compared to this stuff.

All in all, it wasn't a very good movie. It's a perfect representation of the horrible crap that sci-fi fans had to put up in the dark years between the end of the original series Star Trek and Star Wars.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rampage Jackson vs. Lyoto Machida UFC 123 Recap -- and I know how to beat Machida's style

Spoiler alert! If you haven't seen the fight and want to, skip this post.

I'm not particularly thrilled at the way Machida fights. It's way too defensive for my tastes. I like a good, canny defensive fighter, such as Anderson Silva or Mirko Cro Cop in his PRIDE FC days, but Machida is a level of defensive beyond even Anderson Silva. For the first two rounds of the fight, all he did was dodge Jackson's blows. Jackson clearly wanted to mix it up, but Machida was having none of it. It's his style. He zips around the the other fighters, waiting for them to throw the punch or kick that allows him to launch a decisive counterattack. This is opposed to someone like Cro Cop or Anderson Silva (when he's not goldbricking, such as happened with the Demian Maia fight), who will stalk the other fighter across the ring, pressing them, putting themselves in a position to be attacked so they can do the devastating counter. Machida is content to more or less run around the ring, forcing his opponent to do all the work, to both press the fight and launch the attack so Machida can counter.

No one can say that Machida can't make it work. He's 16-2. Almost all of the time, it wins him fights. However, now that he's at the highest level of competition, I am less certain it's even a winning strategy because he lost the fight with Quinton Jackson. The first two rounds, Machida avoided almost everything Jackson threw at him. Oh, a few blows landed, and some of them -- including an uppercut in the second -- could have been fight stoppers. But since none of them were fight stoppers, the fight continued on with Jackson winning the first two rounds on points. And not even very many points at that. Machida was able to frustrate most of Jackson's attacks.

In the third round, Machida was able to stun Rampage. He followed it up with a takedown that lead to a full mount. Instead of going for the ground and pound, Machida spun to an armbar attempt . . . which was a mistake. Jackson is way too strong and nearly Rampage slammed Machida, who at least had the brains to stand up out of it. Machida won the third with a lot of contact and action. He punched Jackson down and dominated him on the ground.

If I was to judge the fight holistically, I would have given the fight to Machida (with some trepidation). But the UFC has rules and part of those rules are judging on the 10-point must system. At the end of a round, the judges decide which fighter won that round and, not going into the details of the 10-point must system, the basic fact is Jackson won two round and Machida won one round. So, with some trepidation, Jackson won the fight because two of the three judges agreed that Jackson won two rounds (and, honestly, I don't know which fight the third judge was watching). By those rules, Machida's fighting style will become, I think, less tenable when he's fighting very skillful opponents. Well, he's now at the point in his career where he's going to be fighting the best guys and the light heavyweight division has a lot of great guys.

Worse for Machida, his system can be gamed. What Machida's fighting style entirely relies upon is the other fighter's innate desire to go forward. If Machida fought his mirror image nothing would happen. (In some ways, this mirrors the situation in the early 00s with Brazilian jiu jitsu. In the second Shamrock vs. Gracie fight, Gracie was unable to do anything because he kept Shamrock in the closed guard, and Shamrock refused to do anything because he didn't want to play Gracie's game.) To win against Machida, all it requires is some initial aggression in the beginning of a given round and then, well, mockery. This can be combined with before fight interviews to sway the judges. It is against the UFC rules not to fight. It's technically called "timidity" which does include avoiding contact with the opponent. You don't point out that Machida is being defensive, you point out his style is inherently timid. Just like being on your back with your legs open hoping someone leaps into the closed guard so you can submit them with a triangle armbar.

I don't say this with particular hostility towards Machida or, really, his style. As a self-defense style, it's great. On the street, the "winner" is the survivor and an art that teaches a person how to avoid damage is a splendid idea. But UFC fighting isn't self-defense fighting, it's a sport fight, and that requires contact. I think a fighter that presses Machida in the beginning of the round and then fights like Machida at the end of the round would hammer the point home. Machida's style would become a massive liability, because of it's inherent timidity.

Karate fighters in MMA

Watching the prelims to UFC 123, with the main event being Rampage Jackson vs. Lyoto Machida, there was a bit where I believe it was Greg Jackson who said, "We learned a long time ago that karate sucks." Which is interesting because Machida is a karate fighter and ranked #2 as a light heavyweight.

It goes back, I think, to this "a long time ago". That being seventeen years ago, around about UFC 1. I haven't seen every UFC. I saw the first and was sorta "meh" about it at the time. In particular, I had trouble believing the fighters they got were, with the exception of Royce Gracie, actually top representatives of their styles. So, as the representative of karate and/or savate they had Gordon Gordeau . . . who kind of famously made up a bunch of fight credentials, indeed, perhaps all of his pre-UFC fight credentials. I'm not precisely saying that Gordeau isn't a good fighter -- I am sure he would destroy me quite completely were we to meet -- but without doubt Royce Gracie was one of the best Brazilian jiu jitsu fighters in the world at the time. Heck, he still is. In UFC 1, the only other fighter that was for real, in the sense of being fit to represent his style, was Ken Shamrock.

In the early UFCs, there were some other karate guys but . . . they weren't really the best. A lot of styles of karate reject that kind of competition and, really, why would a really skillful karate fighter want to fight in the UFC? Additionally because, in Japan, MMA had unpleasant associations with pro wrestling -- puroresu -- because the first Japanese MMA-esque fight promotions originated in pro wrestlers wondering, amongst themselves, who would really win in a fight. While Shooto and Pancrase would become pretty popular, in the eyes of "serious martial artists", of which Japan has many, it was seen as a kind of prostitution of the skills. (Indeed, Machida labors under this very problem. Many of the big shots in Shotokan karate want to see him give up MMA and return to the art.)

So, what I am alleging that Machida might be the first really skillful karate fighter to try to fight in a karate-based style in MMA. Most Japanese karate masters are against the kind of fighting that happens in the UFC (mostly for bad reasons -- such as the class-based unwillingness to be associated with low-brow prize fighters and pro wrestlers). So, unsurprisingly, the top karate fighters -- who make pretty good livings off of the traditional styles of karate that they teach and who are heavily invested in the existing karate establishment -- avoid MMA.

I say this because Machida (whose style of fighting I don't particularly like, I should note) does things that I have long wondered why other MMA guys don't. Like . . . long front kicks. The most common MMA stance is mostly facing your opponent because you've got to have a good base in case someone shoots for a takedown. Fighters generally hold their hands in a boxer's raised position. Which means there's this line straight in that's . . . kind of vulnerable to straight attacks to the midsection. A hole, if you will, and one of the ways to exploit that hole is a straight forward kick from long range . . . which also minimizes the chances of a counterattack. From a fairly long range you snap a straight kick in. It attacks a weakness in your opponent's stance. If they fade back, there's almost no chance of them catching your foot. If you don't do any damage or they block or dodge, you're far enough away that they can't launch too many counterattacks. It's a good, solid move. It's not a kickboxing move because kickboxers have a far more sideways stance, presenting profile, and the lead arm blocks a lot of the effective target area. But it's definitely a karate move and Machida uses it. He'll snap in with long forward kicks. Then he'll move away from any possible counterattack, looking for another long strike that minimizes his risk.

In an MMA fight is this particularly exciting? No. But neither is Brazilian jiu jitsu. BJJ is extremely defensive and it's fairly easy to neutralize the guard by doing nothing. Still, it would be wrong to say that BJJ teaches no useful MMA skills. It absolutely does. I feel the same thing about karate.

Which is to say, I think Greg Jackson is wrong when he says that "karate sucks" and it's been "proven". I think what's been proven is that karate masters are a bunch of class obsessed jerks who think their style is "too good" for the rednecks and street fighters of the UFC. I think the only reason why BJJ is so well represented in MMA is the Brazilian in Brazilian jiu jitsu -- the Gracies were prepared by their long association with vale tudo events. A lot of Asian martial arts feel they're "above" MMA. Which doesn't mean it's been prove their art sucks. It just proves that they don't feel any particular urge to compete in MMA events.