Around late 1993 or early 1994 I was working out in a New York city boxing gym when out of the corner of my eye I saw something a bit strange. The place had several boxing rings, including a professional wrestling ring and it was common to see guys getting ready for their wrestling shows in that corner. However, the two guys that caught my eye on that day were doing something different.
To make a long story short, they were Japanese and were part of a group trying to bring “stiff style” to the US. Apparently the US audiences never learned to appreciate this style, and the promotion never quite took off. But these guys were in that boxing gym about 4 months.
Japanese “stiff style” wrestling, while “fake” (i.e worked), was the direct predecessor to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in Japan and in fact a lot of those wrestlers became MMA fighters. You had pseudo MMA leagues like RINGS and Pancrase and you had Japan’s first legit MMA organization SHOOTO.
The Japanese style, particularly back in the 1990’s, featured a lot of foot and leg locks. This was a result both of the popularity of Russian Sambo in Japan in general and the influence of Karl Gotch and “catch wrestling” in Japanese pro wrestling in particular. It’s why Ken Shamrock uttered his infamous “I’m a brawler and a leg locker” line. Japanese grappling was not Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, especially when it came to foot locks.
After getting to know those “stiff style” wrestlers I picked up a few techniques, it was my first real submission training (if you don’t count learning one arm lock when I was a little kid doing Judo!). At the time I didn’t know the “politics” or much of this stuff so when I ended up trying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes later on when I put on a foot lock I wasn’t prepared for the back lash. I actually got kicked out of one school for trying a foot lock!
Thus, I was pleasantly surprised the other night when our new Jiu Jitsu instructor put a leg lock on one of the guys during rolling. I’ve always liked them, always thought they were effective, and never got why they were “dirty”? It’s ok to break your elbow or use your clothing to choke you but if I lock your leg I’m a bastard? Really?
NOW GO TRAIN!