The success of Lyoto Machida in the UFC has spawned the idea that there will be an increased interest in Karate.Whether or not that happens is yet to be seen, but is Karate something that the Reality based self-defense exponent should be looking into?How about the Mixed martial Art competitor? I would say if yes if they are able to distinguish the functional aspects of Karate from the nonsense.
There are many different styles of what we label Karate and different schools may have greatly different programs.Having a good Instructor is crucial,but the novice usually has trouble distinguishing the legit expert vs the con-man, so do your homework. Machida is an expert in Shotokan Karate,which was the Martial Art which formed the roots of my Martial Arts odyssey.It did form my foundation and I trained in and taught the Art over many years,but I realized early on that Shotokan has severe limitations in actual application,so I started supplementing it with other arts. Machida is advertised as a "The Karate Guy", but he has also extensively studies Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
I was watching several of Machida's fights last weekend and it was obvious that he did incorporate a lot of Shotokan Karate into his fighting.Chuck Liddell's roots were also in Karate and you see it when he fights,but for some reason people don't recognise the Karate influence on Chuck's style.Maybe it's simply because he doesn't wear a Gi and has a Mohawk that they don't associate him with Karate despite having Kempo Karate tattoed on his arm.Look at how he fights,not how he looks to see his training background which like Machida's is mixed. Machida's stance is very much a Karate type stance as uses a wider and longer stance than most MMA fighters.The upright,even leaning back posture is very common for Karate fighters.He shifts in & out from an outside distance like a Karate fighter would and he uses a lot of retreating/veering off defensive movement as the opponents attacking to let him time the distance & technique of his opponent for a counter.Karate techniques are usually linear,very controlled and no wind up,but usually lack the driving power that Thai techs do.
Joe Rogan's comments were right on the money mentioning the posture, leaping in & out from far away,non-telegraphed kicking since they throw from the stance vs winding up as Thai does & the moving back/counter style of fighting.
Karate stylist primarily use "controlled" techniques as compared to ballistic ones although the "shifting" footwork would have to classified as ballistic.What that means is that they try to use leverage and linking to derive speed & power instead of throwing their whole body/weight into the tech.A Shotokan roundkick is like a whip whereas a Thai one is more like a baseball bat.The Karate stylist wants to able to shift his body weight or redirect his techniques instantaneously. Ballistic techniques will carry you off balance should they miss since you commit your weight demonstrated by having to perform a spin if your Ballistic Thai Kick misses.There are also techs that are in between being either controlled or ballistic & the great majority of techniques cannot be labeled completely one or the other since momentum & leverage are two dynamics that are part of just about every movement of the human body.The key is knowing where and when you apply the different types of techniques.Controlled techniques work great at a distance and allow for good recovery & readjustment,but in close it's harder to generate power like you could with a ballistic technique.Also,in close if your less likely to miss & even if do,your not overextended like you would be at a greater distance.Both techniques have their pros/con's & you should learn both methods,but just learn when to use what.
Rogan also commented that there are some very good things about Karate,but the beginner won't know what they are & a Karate Instructor will generally sell you on the idea that it is a complete art and you need nothing else or that it is better to learn only one style.I think the UFC has been useful in showing that a well rounded eclectic approach is better than sticking to a sole system & the same applies to Defense.If one is just starting training,I would recommend training in other systems along with Karate, so they are better able to see what is useful & what isn't and a reality based is ideal.
In terms of MMA,well have to see if other Karate stylist surface and become successful in competition.The merits of a system or fighting style can be judged by how many representatives of it are successful to show if it's more of the individual or the art itself that is effectiveness. The large of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu fighters tells me that the Art itself is very good.Royce was dominant in early UFC's due to his training since I personally don't feel he himself is a naturally gifted fighter. Sakuraba was a good fighter,but no one else in his camp was,so I attribute his success to be likely from his natural ability & athleticism. If nobody else training like Machida does any good,then it's probably his talent rather than his system that is effective. Of course,natural ability ability and an effective adaptable fighting style is the ideal and most current Champions will likely have both since the competition has become so great.