The following article and Q & A is a reprint of Paladin Press' June 2001 Author of the Month feature on Bart Vale's book Shootfighting: The Ultimate Fighting System.
World champion Shootfighter Bart Vale, author
of Shootfighting: The Ultimate Fighting System, is one of the true
pioneers of mixed martial arts and reality-based combat in the United
States. Vale began his training in kenpo karate in Miami in 1970 with the Al
Tracy organization, eventually attaining a sixth degree black belt in that
style. Admittedly having begun his martial arts
career to improve his street fighting skills and give him an edge in the
neighborhood brawls he never shied away from, Vale discovered the value of
discipline and respect through his traditional karate background. He
eventually became an instructor in his own right, heading up a chain of 11
martial arts schools throughout south Florida.
Still, the 6-foot 4-inch, 250-pound Vale
maintained a taste for violent physical competition, fighting as a
professional kickboxer, handling security for some of Miami's tougher
nightclubs, and even doing a brief stint as a pro football player in the
now-defunct United States Football League (USFL). Vale’s quest for combat
efficiency was finally fulfilled in the mid-1980s when professional wrestler
and martial arts expert Masami Soranaka offered him the opportunity to train
and compete in a new style that combined kickboxing with submission
wrestling. He made his debut for the Japan-based
Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF) in 1988, traveling overseas practically
every month to learn the grappling secrets of this new system and to fight
in matches against Japan's best.
Progressing rapidly through the sport thanks to his size and athleticism (during his football days Vale could bench-press more than 500 pounds and run a 4.6 40-yard dash), Vale eventually won the world championship in 1992,
defeating one of his own instructors, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, for the crown. Word
about Vale’s success spread quickly. He was the subject of a short feature
story on MTV and was profiled in Men's Fitness and Muscle &
Fitness magazines. He also stands out as one of the few martial artists
to ever be featured in Sports Illustrated
Not content to simply master his sport as a competitor, however,
Vale set about trying to popularize the system that had given him so much.
Along with Soranaka and Fujiwara, Vale coined
the term "Shootfighting" (a registered trademark) to describe the art, which
had simply been called the UWF-style in Japan. He set up the International
Shootfighting Association to spread the system through affiliated gyms and
martial arts schools throughout the United States and Europe. Currently, his
ISFA has more than 70 member schools around the world.
Q & A
Q. How did you meet Masami Soranaka?
A. I met Masami Soranaka at an exhibition kickboxing match for MDA at Aventura Mall. He commented that he had never seen an American my size kick so fast and so high and then proceeded to ask if I would be interested in fighting in Japan. My reply was "yes."
Q. How is the Japanese approach to training different than an American's?
A. In Japan the "approach" is a way of life. From Monday through Sunday, we'd start the day at the dojo at 7 a.m. and go until 2 p.m. conditioning; break from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. for personal time; report back to the dojo at 5 p.m. and work on sparring and techniques until 9 p.m. The only day we had off was the day after a fight. In the States the "approach" is that of a hobby.
Q. What was the biggest cultural difference you faced in Japan, and how did you deal with that?
A. In essence, I really did not have to deal, as I was training from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., at which point it was time to go home and rest. The biggest cultural difference I encountered was the language barrier and the food.
Q. How big is Shootfighting in Japan? Can it reach that point in the United States?
A. In Japan the order of popularity in sports would be sumo, baseball, and the UWF style (Shootfighting). We can only hope that, through sponsorship, the sport will reach as top-notch a position in the States as it has in Japan.
Q. What other countries have ISFA schools?
A. Switzerland, Sweden, Russia, Canada, South America, Finland, Germany, Iran, and Japan.
Q. Does the ISFA have annual international championships? If so, who are the current champions?
A. Yes we do. The heavyweight title is open, the middleweight is August Walden, and the lightweight is Noel Castillo.
Q. What is the key principle of Shootfighting that sets it apart from other styles?
A. Most styles work by theory, whereas Shootfighting works in theory and in practice. Shootfighting is a combination of Thai kickboxing and submission grappling. More importantly, it emphasizes effective transition from stand-up to ground fighting and from ground fighting to stand-up. We don't need any uniform to make our techniques work, and we work on our fighting techniques in real situations so we know they will work in such situations. Plus, Shootfighting trains you to fight against a trained fighter.
Q. Why did you use the term Shootfighting rather than sticking with UWF-style wrestling?
A. When we brought it to the States we decided that we did not want to cause confusion with the "choreographed" sport of professional wrestling.
Q. Can training for Shootfighting benefit the martial artist who isn't interested in competing and is more focused on practical self-defense for the street?
A. Yes. Again, we train the student under realistic conditions, so the techniques we teach are designed to work in real life.
Q. Do you have to be strong or athletic to excel in Shootfighting?
A. Yes and no. The way training is set up, students will eventually attain the physical strength required for the sport. But the style is such that we can teach a 135-pound person to take out a 200-pound person. And we can teach a woman who is definitely weaker than a man to neutralize him.
Q. Who are some of today's most skilled Shootfighting practitioners?
A. August Walden, middleweight champion; Robert Yard, middleweight contender with 4 wins/2 draws/0 losses; Barry Polonitza, heavyweight contender with 6 wins/3 draws/1 loss; Keith Curts, middleweight contender; John Busto, heavyweight contender with 4 wins/4 draws; Marcus Marinelli, middleweight contender with 6 wins/2 draws; Dan Bobish, super heavyweight (he would be champion, but there is no division as yet).
Q. What do you consider your greatest moment as a Shootfighting competitor (the highlight of your career)?
A. The rematch with Fujiwara. I took the title in Miami in March of 1992. The Japanese media said the first fight had been a fluke--that Fujiwara had never fought outside of Japan prior to that and only lost because he suffered from jet lag. There was speculation among the Japanese that I would never be able to beat Fujiwara in Japan. Because of this, a rematch was set for June of 1992 in Japan. There was a lot of pressure on me to prove to the fans that I was worthy of the title. I went into that second fight determined to beat Fujiwara at his own game. Fujiwara is known in Japan as "The Master of Submission," a title he deserves. Among the Japanese, he is probably the best ever at groundwork. I've never seen him submitted. Plans change once you're in the ring, though. Right away, I saw why Fujiwara was never submitted. Everything I did on the ground, he countered perfectly. Finally, I had to adjust. I landed a few hard kicks to the head that softened him up, then managed to get a choke hold on him and put him to sleep. Though he never actually gave up, I was still happy I was able to beat Fujiwara with any kind of submission hold. It told me I was finally a well-rounded fighter. I'm proud to be the first non-Japanese to excel at what I still consider to be the world's toughest sport.
The Ultimate Fighting System
by Bart Vale with Mark Jacobs