The Art of the Catch


If communism can be said to be socialism plus electricity, Catch Wrestling is Jiu Jitsu plus athleticism. Jiu Jisu is a brand. As a sport, or as a tool in the arsenal of a mixed martial artist, it is a collection of reversals, sweeps, passes, and submissions. As a philosophy, it gradates a series of positions that are progressively easier to attack from. Establishing mount and backmount are obvious goals as they provide a multitude of opportunities, not to mention points. But since BJJ exploded in North America following Royce’s success beginning in 1993, it has been gradually becoming more like Catch every day.

Ever since Esai Maeda emigrated to Brasil in the early part of the last century, Jiu Jitsu has been morphing from its Japanese model to a hard-nosed ground fighting art. It has been anything but static. After the Gracies had taken full advantage of the boom in Jiu Jitsu interest, the product was exported to all corners of the globe. It marginalized and demoted Karate and the other traditional arts, and claimed for itself the status of the best base for MMA. Like the English reworking of Godzilla, Brasilian Jiu Jitsu was accepted back as an evolved prodigal son by Japan.

But its veneer as being the most practical martial art was an engineered selling point. Like in Judo, the kimono was all-important. Judo with no gi is Sumo; Jiu Jitsu with no gi is a restricted variation of Catch. When the gi is not a factor, leverage is gained by technique based on training and maneuvers more common to wrestlers. The premise behind illegalizing neck cranks is that your opponent might be unfairly stronger. Therefore the Coleman crank, the double nelson, and the scarf-hold cervical choke have been extricated. Also, the neglect of leglocks demonstrates an unwillingness to be daring. They are altogether discouraged among beginners as too dangerous, even for teaching defense.

Watching early Ken Shamrock provoked in me the realization that submission was not restricted to gi-sporting bean poles. The gi adds an important, if pointless, dimension in its own right. Royce tapping Ken, and then “the Beast” was no mean feat. But Shamrock’s heel hook on Pat Smith inspired me to look into just what had been going on in martial art competition outside the North America paradigm.

On the old SEG (UFC) website, Pancrase was first revealed itself to me. If there can be said to be a polar opposite for wearing the gi, the rules of classical Pancrase (early- to mid-nineties) are it. The only Jiu Jitsu player I can remember having seen in the Pancrase of this era was Allen Goes. This had something to do with the gear – wrestling shoes, leggings, and tights. Needless to say, this encouraged leglocks. But its format was different too. There were no judges tallying up points gained by methodical attainment of position. Matches were fan-friendly strings of submissions and rope breaks based in large part on the now counterfeit rules of Pro-Wrestling. It took its name from classical Greek “No Holds Barred” pankration, but it took its philosophy from Catch Wrestling. Japanese fans had for years been aware of head-butting, groin-kicking Brasilian Vale Tudo, a fight sport much closer to the original pankration. They were thirsty for was something new. So, while the climate of the industry was tending toward “extreme” cage fighting, Pancrase instead chose to make Pro-Wrestling artfully un-fake.

An obvious shortcoming for Pancrase was the de-emphasis of the guard. But this came coupled with the benefit of a more dynamic form of competition that promoted athleticism over calculating and incremental progress. It was in this ecosystem that Masa Funaki, Frank Shamrock, Minoru Suzuki, and Minowaman flourished. The ‘hard-style’ of Japanese Pro Wrestling which was popular in the 1990s seems to have bequeathed to Pancrase the shape of its rules. This newer style of Pro-Wrestling India blurred the lines between what was genuine competition and prearranged demonstration. Kiyoshi Tamura and Kazushi Sakuraba both grew their styles competing, so-to-speak, in this style of promotion. Both went on to become the best catch wrestlers the sport had produced, and influenced the next generation which has at its summit Josh Barnett.

I consider Dustin Hazelett, ‘Mahem’ Miller, Genki Sudo, Shinya Aoki, and a host of other MMA stars as catch wrestlers. Many so-called jiu jitsu practitioners are widening their training and philosophy to include relevant techniques from other grappling arts, or not staying fixed to a moldy regimen. This is the essence of Catch Wrestling. It represents the purest form of grappling because it never stays its evolution. Eddie Bravo is by no means a catch-wrestler, but his innovations, his twister and rubber guard, and his impact on offensive half guard contribute to this evolution. The sport of Catch Wrestling remains as far away from Jiu Jitsu as Jeet Kune Do is from lists of katas. It stresses not a single set of universal moves that everybody must practice and employ, but a series of preternatural favorites that your body feels natural implementing. Using body type and the promotion of unique personal strengths are the keys to developing properly as a grappler, not adhering to a strict learning process. The process is rigged to promote the profitable swindle of belt gradations that has the sensei jealously withholding all authority. There is no dojo for the catch wrestler, there is only the gym. There is no place for the histrionics and esotericism of “the art”, there is only the application of what works for specific people. Science trumps art. Sun-Tzu, if he’d had a proper equivalent term for science might have named his treatise the ‘Science of War’. The Science of war, like grappling, is measured by its success.

8 Responses to “ The Art of the Catch ”

  1. I thought this was a great piece on catch wrestling by Chance Boudreaux.

    Chance will increase the MMA knowledge and vocabulary of any who read (or edit) his stuff.

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  2. Apollodorus says:

    This article is beyond bad bias.

    – You claim the gi is pointless, yet ALL the top nogi grapplers in the world swear by it. When was the last time a catch wrestler won ADCC? Will a catch wrestler ever get CLOSE to Roger Gracie’s ability? I doubt it.

    – You claim that leglocks, and even their defences are ignored in BJJ. This is a false blanket statement. Leglocks have been used by almost every big name in BJJ. Even the old guard, such as Rickson and Helio have been seen to use leg locks. What on Earth do you think they use in the 50/50 guard? Who is the best leg lock grappler on the planet right now? Rousimar Palhares, a pure BRAZILIAN JIU JITSU PRACTICIONER. I would also like to note that Palhares was NOT a catch guy prior to BJJ training (BJJ was his first grappling art) and Bustamante was never trained in Catch either, but was a pure CARLSON GRACIE black belt.

    -finally you decide that half of the best BJJ guys in MMA somehow qualify as catch wrestlers due to some strange theory you have invented. Shinya Aoki trains and teaches in gi judo and BJJ…Yet he is somehow a catch wrestler now? The only reason you claim this is because all the classic catch guys such as Sakuraba and Shamrock are either done or their style has been exposed, so you are attempting to claim the Brazilian Jiujitsu fighters as yours in an attempt to keep catch wrestling relevant.

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  3. Apollodorus says:

    Also if the hard style is so superior to BJJ (you are implying it is with this stupid article), why was your poster boy, Funaki, absolutely destroyed by a 40 year old Rickson Gracie? Yeah…we get it, you think his ACL was torn and that somehow caused the loss, but fact is Rickson passed and mounted Funaki in a flash, regardless of his knees condition. Funaki even said he thought he was going to die!

    You also claim that grappling is measured by its success, yet there absolutely no relevant catch wrestlers active in the grappling circuit today. What catch wrestlers are gunning to take the title at ADCC? Are any ‘catch wrestlers’ beating the big names at NAGA or Grapplers Quest? What about in MMA? The closest thing left is basically Josh Barnett, and I doubt hed pass the roids test…
    Its also worth mentioning that many grapplers, such as Sakuraba and Cobrinha can operate fine without their meniscus or acl, so using it as an excuse for Funaki getting chain raped not applicable.

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  4. Bc says:

    Brutal views by chance I agree with apool

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  5. Robin Black says:

    Interesting debate.

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  6. Cody Bargholz says:

    Competitive Catch Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are both sports where athletes work within a defined rule set to defeat their respective opponents. Adaptability, athleticisms and creativity are beneficial under both rule sets. This is true of all combat sports.

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  7. CB says:

    To Apollodorus
    My apologies for taking so long to answer, but I only read your well-thought-out and intelligible posts yesterday. I’ll try to address your concerns in the general order you posed them. This will give my response an unavoidable broken quality. To be frank, I had expected better orthography from someone with your username. All articles are biased. I had hoped mine was clear enough so as not to escape the awareness of the less-than lettered. Your litmus test has exposed it, which thankfully excuses you.
    The gi is not pointless – especially for people in Canada and generally in the northern climates. We typically wear snow suits the better part of the year. I myself often wear a terrycloth housecoat which could serve me if I’m broken into in the morning and I choose to Ezekiel the intruder.
    I think you may be counting the eggs before they’re in the basket with regards to Roger Gracie. I like him, he’s proven to be a finisher against competition groomed to suit his style. The Waterman fight was as close to a fix as legitimacy allows. When matched against smaller, one dimensional wrestlers, he takes their backs and chokes them out. In terms of style and substance, he falls short of Noguiera.
    That jiu jitsu barely encourages and rarely employs leglocks is neither a false nor a blanket statement. Rousimar Palhares is indeed one of the best leglock guys currently fighting. In this respect he is the first and best example which proves your counterpoint. But after him there is a tremendous drop off. His riskiness is so uncharacteristic of jiu jitsu practitioners that he is, in reality, a distant outlier. As a person, I believe Palhares’ real character showed whilst he held that hook on Drwal.
    The strange theory that I invented: the expansion in both theory and practice of grappling maneuver is a sign that even those that contemporarily practice the ossified stratagem of the dojo are now taking critical looks at what they are doing. MMA is a crucible that burns away all the useless bullshit. Some of that bullshit involves the politic of money-making and the perceptions of the public at large, especially parents. Belts are like currency – as long as you believe in its value, the scam works.
    Your words: ‘You think his [Funaki’s] ACL was torn and that somehow caused the loss.’ For the life of me, I’ve proofread the article more than once in search of where I defended Masa Funaki’s loss. One thing is for sure, Rickson made that long fight seem even longer. Rickson looked better against Takada and the cab drivers he fought previous to Funaki, in and out of the ring. I will admit this, though – Funaki did not at all look bad to me in his return. I wish he’d continue fighting if only to gainsay the late philosophy of stateside MMA. You later reference the same phantom comment to conclude your second, equally comprehensible post.
    Some catch wrestlers have debased themselves and entered ADCC. A couple of note is Megafumi, Sudo, Barnett. Tragically the best style and gameplan to employ for ADCC is Jeff Monson’s. It is an uncanny parallel that the North American MMA and most grappling competitions promote the kind of athlete – generally – that will take a winner’s purse even if it means he’ll be booed when his hand is raised.
    Koschek and Fitch are only exaggerated portends of a new era where MMA becomes as contrived as post-Tyson boxing (with Pacquiao and few others excluded). I blame society. I also blame you Apollodorus, for being a sheep in the Gracie Flock.

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  8. The Dude says:

    I stopped reading when CB said Judo with no gi is sumo.

    You have a knack for writing CB but you sometimes make associations that aren’t founded.

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