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Global Training Report


Shootfighting: The Ultimate Fighting System

By Bart Vale 

with Mark Jacobs

Reviewed by Roberto Pedreira

  Being huge can be an advantage in a fight, although it didn't help Bart Vale against Murakami Kazunari in Extreme Fighting 3. Kazunari is a judo guy with no boxing skills, but at 217 lbs., he is big enough to throw a hard punch and being huge won't stop you from getting knocked out if you don't block or avoid the in-coming ordnance, which Bart didn't do in that fight.   

  Bart was more impressive in an earlier fight against Kapu Kuialua stylist Brian Bitonio. Well, he won the fight anyway. Despite having a 17 percent weight advantage, Bart was too battered to continue into the next round where he would have met Renzo.  It's probably just as well that he didn't.

  But you can't judge a fighter on the basis of two fights. If you did, you might say that Royce,  Royler, and Renzo, and a lot of other guys, including almost every boxer in history, who we know are great, sucked, just because your sample (the fights you saw) didn't accurately represent the population (all of their fights, or more abstractly, their actual fighting ability). Royler makes a similar observation concerning his younger brother Royce. Royce is better than Wallid and would beat him 99 times out of 100, Royler says, but unfortunately, the one time they actually did fight is the time that Wallid's one win happened. Which shows that you can't always judge someone's skills by one fight.

  And moreover, even if someone does suck, it doesn't mean he can't teach you what you need to know. What he knows might not work for him,  but it might work for you.

  So, on to the book.

Part I

  First, it is a slim book, 91 pages, and most of it is photographs and most of them are in the technique section, Part III.

  Part I explains the history of shootfighting, the rules of matches, and some comments about his own career. The history is ok, but short. If you are interested, you should access the article called "The Japanese Pro-Wrestling/ Reality Based Martial Art Connection", by Sam Chan, which might still be available on the site. It gives more details than Bart does, and is better written too. 

  One of the keys to winning in shootfighting, according to Bart, is confidence. Confidence comes from time, training, and experience. Bart was confident that he would beat Kazuo Yamazaki in 1990 because he "trained extremely hard" for the fight (p. 17). I don't doubt Bart when he says he trained hard, but how did he know that he had trained hard enough to be confident that he would beat Yamazaki, without also knowing how hard Yamazaki had trained, given that Yamazaki had already beaten him twice before?

  Because no matter how hard you train, your opponent might be training equally hard, and if he is, and if he is also better than you, then he is probably going to win the fight. 

  Training extremely hard doesn't give you any reason to be confident. But not training hard enough should probably give you a reason to be unconfident.

  It might be better to say that being less confident than your preparation and actual abilities, relative to those of your opponent's, justify, can be detrimental to your fight performance. You could turn out to "underachieve" as a result of attempting less than you might accomplish, or making less effort, or giving up sooner. Conversely, over-confidence can be disastrous--preparing inadequately, not focusing on the task at hand, maybe even in the matter of taking on challenges that are beyond your capabilities no matter how much you prepare or how much effort you make. Having an invincible will to win doesn't guarantee victory. Some opponents are just too big, or too good. And they might want to win just as much as you do.

  Confidence is like self-esteem. It really doesn't matter much unless it's totally out of joint with reality, and then it can make a difference for better or for worse. If your assessment of your preparation and capabilities is pretty much accurate, than confidence is redundant. If you think you can do A and you can, then you will do it, which is good. If you think you can't do A and you can't, that is also good because you can then spend your time and energy more productively on something that you can do. The problems happen when you think you can do A but can't (and so waste time and energy, and maybe get hurt, in a futile attempt), or think you can't but can (and therefore don't try at all, or not enough).

Part II

  Part II explains conditioning, training in Japan, and warming up.

  Conditioning is important, according to Bart. In other words, a shootfighter needs strength, flexibility, and endurance. To acquire these essential attributes, Bart advises the aspiring shootfighter to lift weights, stretch, do a lot of push-up, sit-ups, and squats, and to run and wrestle. 

  Training in Japan could have been the most informative part of the book. After all, we all know that conditioning is important, and most readers of the book will already know most or all of the techniques in Part III. But how many of us have had a chance to train at a shootfighting gym in Japan? 

  But unfortunately, Bart and coauthor Mark Jacobs merely skim the surface. The training chapter is a skimpy three pages long. Half of the first page is the chapter heading, half of the next two pages are actually pictures, and the last page consists of one quarter of one column of text.  In other words, there isn't much meat here, but what there is is worth commenting on.

  At the Fujiwara Gym in Tokyo, where Bart trained, shootfighters devote the first seven hours of their training day (7:00 to 2:00) to conditioning (weights, running, push-ups, etc.). They take a three hour break and then resume at 5:00, continuing until 9:00. The second segment is devoted to skills work, although kicking the bag is the only training activity Bart mentions. 

This is a grueling training routine, Bart implies. If it sounds tough to you, consider the "light" training schedule of a certain foreign Muay Thai fighter, Dale Kvalheim: in the early morning, 10 miles of roadwork; in the late afternoon, 6 rounds of arm exercises, 6 rounds of shadow boxing, 6 rounds of heavy bag, 5 rounds of pad work with trainer, three 5 minute rounds of clinch sparring, capped off with some light shadow boxing. Dale was accused of under-training, but he believed on the contrary that he was successful (a 70 % win record under Thai rules, in Thailand, against Thais) because everyone else was over-training. 

  Bart wants to impress us with how hard the Japanese train ( p. 29), but he has fallen victim to the linear function fallacy ("if some is good, then more is better"). Because more is not always better. Everyone who trains knows that over-training can be just as bad as under-training. Preparation is a curvilinear function of training--you get better with training up to a point, and when you go past that point, you start getting worse.

  In any case, the fact the Japanese do something one way is not a reason for anyone else to do it. The fact that someone trains one way and reigns supreme does not mean that he reigns supreme because he trains that way, and even less does it mean that you will reign supreme if you train like him. To evaluate the effectiveness of a training routine, you have to compare it to another routine. To eliminate the personal variables (what works for one guy might not work for another), you have to compare the results you get with one routine with the results you get with another, done at the same time (to eliminate extraneous variables including the effect of having already done the other routine). This is obviously impossible. To establish the effectiveness of a routine in general, you'd need to randomly sample from the relevant population, randomly assign them to treatment groups while holding everything else constant, and then compare the results. If this could be done, which in the real world it can't, it would suggest which routines are more effective then others, but not which is best (since not every possible routine can be tested at one time). Most importantly, it wouldn't tell you which one was best for you, only which one is best for the "average" person. You might not be average. Which means that no one can know what the best training routine is, for themselves or for anyone else, but one thing that is safe to say is that the fact that the Japanese expect their training to be a miserable ordeal is not any form of proof that the same thing is going to help you get better.

Part III

  Part III explains the techniques of shootfighting, including stand up fighting, groundfighting, and wrestling and counter wrestling.

  Bart describes his style as a combination of "Muay Thai style kickboxing" and grappling. I have no idea what he means by "Muay Thai style kickboxing". Muay Thai is Muay Thai and if you call it "kickboxing" the Thais will take definite exception to that. And when Bart is profiled training on the Extreme 3 pre-fight promo segments, the only thing Muay Thai about it are the pads held by his trainer. Bart's kicking is Korean, his knees aren't Thai knees, and his punches do not suggest that he has ever set foot in a boxing gym.

   What Bart says in the book is that the founders of Japanese shootfighting, before it was known as shootfighting (Bart coined that term), were experts in various arts, including "Muay Thai kickboxing", as well as judo, karate, and Gotchism, which they had learned directly from "The God of Professional Wrestling" in Japan, Karl Gotch. It was their concept to combine all of these arts into one commercially viable package. 

  But Bart does not call the two kicks he teaches in the book Muay Thai or even Muay Thai style, but simply "front kick" and "roundhouse kick". They are your basic taekwondo/karate/kenpo kicks. Similarly, the elbows and knees are done "martial arts" style.

  The jab, rear hand punch and hook punch are taught via one picture each. The pictures show correct form. This isn't real helpful however. If you can't get to a boxing gym, the next best thing is a good instructional video, one that is designed specifically for boxers rather than martial artists who want to absorb something useful (which is not a bad thing, if you absorb it from the guys who know how to do it right. Don't box with boxers, as Dan Inosanto says, but most definitely learn your boxing from them. The Kenny Weldon tape series is the best GTR has seen).  

  In Part III, 20 submissions are shown.  They are (1) figure 4 armlock, (2) chicken wing armlock, (3) front T armbar, (4) bent arm neck crank, (5), leg sleeper (aka triangle), (6) arm sleeper with leg  extension, (7) double armbar from safety position (aka "guard"), (8) sleeper from safety position, (9) heel hook, (10) knee hyperextension, (11) keylock armbar, (12) head to cheekbone, (13) figure 4 body scissor, ( 14) rear naked choke, ( 15) punch, headlock, takedown, choke combination, (16) block opponent's punch to take-down to armbar, (17) kick, takedown, kneebar combination, (18) block opponent's kick, take-down to knee crush, (19)  tackle to calf crush combination, (20) cross face counter to opponent's tackle, into neck crank.  

  All of the submissions look serviceable, although basic. Each and every one appears capable of making a man tap, if you can get into position to do them. Bart doesn't have anything to say about getting and keeping positions, which some people think is really the crux of this whole "fighting" thing. It is especially ironic that Bart doesn't teach how to execute a basic double-leg take-down correctly (attempting to imitate his example on page 89 might be hazardous to your health). Because, as he says, a prerequisite to applying your submissions on the ground is getting your opponent there, with you in control.

 If you are interested in Shootfighting, why not check out Bart's student Nick Stark's tape set Hardcore Submission Fighting? And as always, the opinions expressed above are those of the author only. The book might be exactly what you are looking for. Judge for yourself.





(c)2001, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.

Revised February 6, 2002.

Revised November 1, 2009.

Revised May 27, 2013.

Revised May 13, 2015.