Shootfighting is a combat sport and martial art, with competitions governed by the International Shootfighting Association (ISFA). Shootfighting incorporates techniques from a multitude of traditional martial arts, the most principle of these being Muay Thai and Catch Wrestling.

Shootfighting was previously used synonymously with mixed martial arts competitions in Japan, as opposed to shoot-style professional wrestling competitions.

This usage of the term is retired from common usage because it became a registered trademark of Bart Vale, who uses it to describe his hybrid fighting system derived from shoot wrestling. However, it is still sometimes used colloquially.

Examples which were once considered shootfighting styles, tournaments or organizations are Pancrase, Shoot boxing and Shooto, where many fighters still considered themselves to be shootfighters.

Ken Shamrock is possibly the most recognisable shoot fighter, as this was the discipline he was credited as using in the early days of the UFC.

History of shootfighting: Shootfighting as a synonym for mixed martial arts, had its genesis in the 1970s, when Karl Gotch taught a group of Japanese professional wrestlers catch wrestling techniques, called “hooking” or “shooting”.

In 1976, one of these pro-wrestlers, Antonio Inoki, hosted a series of mixed martial arts matches. This led to an increased interest in real and effective technique, and eventually led to the creation of shoot wrestling, with some shoot-style professional wrestling organizations hosting legitimate mixed martial arts bouts, called “shoots”. In the 1990s the interest grew, and certain shoot-style organizations like Pancrase evolved into pure “shoot” organizations. The term “shootfighting” was frequently used to describe these events and styles.

The word “shootfighting” was however coined by Bart Vale, an American with a background in wrestling. He was the Japanese Professional Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi (PWFG, a Japanese shoot-style professional wrestling organization) champion for close to three years. Upon moving back to America, Bart Vale used the term “shootfighting” to describe his own hybrid fighting system, which was a combination of the shoot wrestling techniques he had learned in Japan, and his experience in American karate and kickboxing. He also founded the International Shootfighting Association to promote shootfighting as a combat sport.

The origin of current shoot-style wrestling can arguably be traced back to April 10, 1984, when a group of professional wrestlers, led by Akira Maeda, formed the Japanese group UWF. A couple of months after that, Satoru Sayama, who had already gained an immense success as the original Tiger Mask in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and Kazuo Yamazaki joined UWF. With the later arrival Yoshiaki Fujiwara and Nobuhiko Takada, the group moved from professional wrestling into a stiffer, stronger style. The outcomes of the matches were predetermined, but the bruises and submissions were real.

By the end of 1985, the original UWF had broken up. On September 2nd of that year, Akira Maeda had a match with Satoru Sayama that went horribly wrong. Maeda threw several intentional kicks to Sayama’s groin, and the match went from shoot-style to a true shoot, with the two men trying to kill each other. Maeda was fired from UWF. The UWF had their last show nine days later, at fabled Korakuen Hall. Many of the wrestlers were unhappy under the selfish leadership of Sayama, but didn’t have the organization to keep the promotion alive when Sayama left on October 11, 1985. Many of these shoot-style wrestlers, including Fujiwara, Maeda, Takada, and Yamazaki, went back to their roots in New Japan Pro Wrestling.

The second incarnation of UWF started on November 27, 1987, when Akira Maeda (once again) intentionally kicked wrestler Riki Choshu in the face, breaking three bones. Maeda was suspended, and then fired in March of 1988. In April, Maeda, Takada, Yamazaki and others formed the new UWF. The group began to thrive with the addition of wrestlers Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki in April of 1989. The UWF’s peak came with their show “Atlantis” at Tokyo Dome on October 25, 1990, a show that pitted Akira Maeda v. Masakatsu Funaki, Nobuhiko Takada v. Yoshiaki Fujiwara, and featured wrestlers Yoji Anjoh, Naoki Sano, and American Wayne Shamrock. On December 1st, 1990, UWF president Shinji Jin fired all of the wrestlers after a show in Nagano, Japan, and disbanded the promotion.

On March 4, 1991, Yoshiaki Fujiwara formed Professional Wrestling Fujiwaragumi (PWFG) with Funaki, Suzuki, Yusuke Fuke and American Bart Vale. Shortly after that, the other two major names in Japanese shoot-style wrestling formed their own promotions. Nobuhiko Takada formed the Union of Wrestling Forces International (UWFI), using most of the leftover UWF talent. Akira Maeda created RINGS, using a lot of sambo players and kickboxers from Europe. The two Americans made important moves in 1992. One, Bart Vale captured the PWFG title, a title he would hold for the better part of three years. Wayne Shamrock left UWFI to join PWFG in 1992 as well, uniting with Funaki, Suzuki, and Yusuke Fuke.

These four men left PWFG and formed Pancrase. Led by Masakatsu Funaki, they were looking to establish a wrestling organization that had no predetermined outcomes, the first of its kind since the early days of pro wrestling in the U.S. Pancrase had their first show on September 21, 1993, and became a big success, culminating so far in their first U.S. PPV in April of 1996. With Shamrock becoming a star through his involvement in the Ultimate Fighting Championships, Pancrase has developed a lot of momentum for the future.

Without four of their major stars, PWFG started having fewer and fewer shows. Yoshiaki Fujiwara went back and appeared on professional wrestling shows for New Japan, in order to help finance PWFG. They had their “official” final show on November 19, 1995. Bart Vale has had successes with his “Shootfighting” organization apart from PWFG, and continued establishing his style with a good performance at the World Combat Championship PPV.

Currently, UWFI is enjoying a strong resurgence after nearly going out of business early in 1995. They have combined with New Japan Pro Wrestling, putting on several joint shows, including one in front of a record 67,000 fans at the Tokyo Dome. Nobuhiko Takada won the IWGP title, the top belt in the New Japan promotion, and helped save UWFI, but in the view of some fans, compromising the UWFI style.

With the burgeoning success of Pancrase and UWFI, the RINGS promotion has had a tough time in the past couple of years creating its own niche in the shoot-style market. Akira Maeda is still the icon of the promotion, but none of the Europeans brought in have been fully embraced by the Japanese fans. It will be difficult for them to return to prominence without a new, preferably young, star.

With three established shoot-style promotions in Japan, plus Sayama’s “Shooto”, Fujiwara’s new “BattleArts”, Submission Arts Wrestling, coverage of the Ultimate Fighting Championships and others, shoot appears to now be firmly entrenched as a true sport in Japan. Next stop: the United States.

Rules: Currently professional shootfighting matches consists only of a heavyweight (200 lb or more) division. But there are lighter divisions for amateur competitors. Pro matches run 30 minutes non-stop, amateurs 10 minutes. Held inside a standard wrestling ring, competitors are allowed to kick, knee or elbow any part of the body except the groin, as well as headbutt.

Punches are allowed to the body. Since no gloves are worn to facilitate wrestling, punches aren’t allowed to the head, although open hand palms and slaps are allowed. Any type of throw or takedown is legal and competitors are allowed to hit a downed opponent. Additionally, any type of joint lock is legal as are chokes against the side of the neck. The only foul consists of punches to the face, eye-gouges, techniques against the windpipe and groin strikes.

Fights are won when a competitor is knocked down for a 10 count, knocked down 5 times or forced to submit. A fighter caught in a submission hold may grab the ropes to break the hold, but this counts as a 1/3 of a knock down. Grabbing the ropes 15 times equals a loss. Bouts that go to the full time limit are declared a draw.