A History and Style Guide of Shootfighting

There was really only one true competitor to Royce Gracie and his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu style of fighting during that initial UFC tournament way back in 1993, and that person was a shoot fighter or shoot wrestler by the name of Ken Shamrock. Shamrock would eventually become the first Pancrase organization champion, immediately making him a part of shootfighting history. Though he fell quickly to his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu counterpart at UFC 1 and in the process lost a key style vs. style match up, his ability to submit kickboxer Patrick Smith with a heel hook solidified shootfighting as a martial arts style worth studying.

Shootfighting History

Shootfighting does not have a long history, even if the catch wrestling style that it was born from does. In the 1970's, a catch wrestler by the name of Karl Gotch taught several Japanese professional wrestlers catch wrestling. This style of fighting was often termed "hooking" or "shooting". Later, a rather famous professional wrestler by the name of Antonio Inoki- if you're wondering if he was the guy that fought Muhammad Ali in that now famous exhibition match, you're right- hosted several mixed martial arts matches where these techniques were put on display. Along with this, the style of martial arts used in these types of matches began to spring up everywhere, as did various fighting organizations backing it. This style of fighting was often termed shoot wrestling, shooting, and/or shootfighting.

That said, Bart Vale deserves formal credit for using the term shootfighting in a more formal sense.

After a three year run as a Japanese professional wrestling champion, he returned to America and used the term to describe his own fighting system, one which consisted of the techniques of shoot wrestling in conjunction with kickboxing and karate. Along with this, Vale founded the International Shootfighting Association.

Shootfighting Styles and Organizations

There have been several shootfighting or shoot wrestling organizations that sprung up since those formative days, even if the most obviously named of these is the one started by Vale. Though the styles of fighting practiced in these organizations have morphed from pure shootfighting or shoot wrestling to a more mixed bag, many of those that compete in these organizations still consider themselves shootfighters or shoot wrestlers. Some of these organizations/tournaments are:

 

  • Pancrase
  • Shoot boxing
  • Shooto

Characteristics of Shootfighting

Different organizations that house shootfighters sometimes have slightly different rules, which really make up the characteristics of shootfighting. Still, competitions are generally held within a ring where competitors are allowed to strike with kicks, elbows, and knees to any part of the body with the exception of the groin. Some shoot style matches even allow headbutting. Since there are no gloves, similar to Kyokushin karate matches, punches are only allowed to the body. That said, open hand strikes and slaps to the face are allowed, and MMA legend Bas Rutten certainly showed that these kinds of strikes can be dangerous if thrown correctly.

Takedowns, throws, and many submissions are legal

The Goal of Shootfighting

To stop an opponent via knockout, or perhaps more often, submission. Shootfighters, depending on the organization they fight in and/or their background, tend to possess a wide array of leglocks. Further, they are often very good wrestlers with strong takedowns, takedown defense, and ground control skills. These skills are all used on the ground to disable opponents as quickly as possible.  In that sense, those from this discipline are more aggressive submission combatants than let's say Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners.

Famous Shootfighting Legends

 

  • Masakatsu Funaki: Funaki is the co-founder of the Pancrase organization along with Minoru Suzuki. Funaki has defeated a host of fighting legends including Bas Rutten, Frank Shamrock, and Ken Shamrock.

     

  • Ken Shamrock: Shamrock was the first Pancrase champion, the first UFC Super Fight Champion, and the first person to fight Royce Gracie and not lose in modern day MMA competition (he fought to a draw with him in a rematch at UFC 5).
  • Minoru Suzuki: The other founder of Pancrase, Suzuki was once involved in a match that many believe was fixed in his favor against Ken Shamrock. He is also a highly decorated professional wrestler.