Friday 5ive: 5 Reasons Why SHOOTO Japan Wasn’t (Really) MMA (Back Then)

Shooto LogoBy: Albert Cameron – Right now, at this moment in time, you can log onto UFC Fight Pass and you can see Shooto Brasil, and it is glorious. Before Shooto Brasil, before Shooto Australia, and before Shooto Finland was SHOOTO Japan! In 1985, Satoru Sayama set out to innovate a new system of combat. He combined aspects of his professional wrestling, traditional catch (or shoot) wrestling, along with the complex submission techniques of Judo and traditional Jiu-Jitsu. What was born became known as Shu-To (translation: “Learn Combat”), and later SHOOTO.

It’s important to note that while many stars of MMA have competed in SHOOTO; stars like Anderson “The Spider” Silva, “The Fireball Kid” Takanori Gomi, Ivan Salaverry, and Erik Paulsen, SHOOTO wasn’t primarily a Mixed Martial Arts promotion as we may think of it in North America. SHOOTO was founded as a combat system to stand on its own, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) hadn’t been thought of and the Gracie Challenge was still a Brazilian concept at the time. For this week’s Friday 5ive, we’re counting down five special aspects of SHOOTO that kept them different from MMA for the longest time.

NOTE: This is one man’s opinion, opinions of others may differ. That’s what people do, they disagree. This article is written in the perspective of how SHOOTO Japan is different than North American MMA; North America being where the unified rules of MMA were tried and tested.

Weight LimitNo. 5: Weight Classes – This is more of just a mild annoyance for me than a sub-cultural rift between combat sports, hence its place on the list. In SHOOTO, there are no 265 lb. or 205 lb. weight classes. You must be asking yourself (actually, I know you aren’t, I’m just terrible at segues) “Albert, why didn’t you just say ‘Heavyweight’ and ‘Light Heavyweight’?” That’s because Heavyweight isn’t remotely on the SHOOTO radar and their “Light Heavyweight” equates to our Middleweight. The names and intervals between weight classes are the same, but they are named off sequence. Ever see those pictures of “Things that drive people with OCD nuts”? That’s what the SHOOTO weight classes are like for me; it’s kind of the same, but isn’t. Why can’t they just change the weight classes and be like the unified rules? Because SHOOTO is older than the unified rules. Then why can’t we change our names? For the same bat-shit crazy reason why the rest of the world uses the metric system and Celsius scale and we’re over here using pounds and Fahrenheit.

SHOOTO GloveNo. 4: Gloves – The modern MMA glove as you and I know it is essentially designed to be a grappling glove; a surface that can be used to protect the knuckles, but with enough mobility in the fingers and friction of the palm to be effective as a tool to secure submissions. The SHOOTO glove has something of a similar spirit, with the exception that the independent movement of individual fingers is eliminated; essentially, the Diaz brothers would have a difficult time flipping someone the bird with a SHOOTO glove. The gloves made the list for two good reasons. One, the MMA glove is essentially to technique and repertoire in the unified rules of MMA. The SHOOTO glove may be an essentially stronger device when it comes to striking, but lacking things that the North American glove finds essential. The second reason being, the North American glove is a visual identifier in the mind of the public at large. If you saw a poster with Mike Tyson and Chuck Liddell, not knowing who either of them are, you could tell the difference between their skills by the gloves they wear. The SHOOOTO glove would lead to ambiguity and obscurity in the eyes of the uninitiated.

Shooto PromotionNo. 3: Promotional Structure – The best way that I can really describe SHOOTO Japan is that it’s really more of a sanctioning body, akin to the sanctioning bodies of Western Boxing (World Boxing Council, International Boxing Federation, etc.). SHOOTO has had one of the most successful global expansions because of their promotional model; it’s not about one centralized SHOOTO organization, but instead getting as many groups together under the same umbrella together. The owners of SHOOTO Japan (at least the folks who do the leg work on promoting fights) are different than the owners of Shooto Brasil and Shooto Germany, and yet all of them are SHOOTO organizations. It’s a really wordy way of saying that SHOOTO can be thought of a franchise, like Subway or McDonalds.

In North America, promoters are very proud of the brands that they’ve built for themselves and work for the best of that brand. Co-promotion is not as much of a far-fetched concept as it used to be, but if a high profile fight can be obtained, it’s sure to be a fight to find out which banner that fight will be promoted under.

Shooto AmateurNo. 2: Amateur Division – There is one big deviating aspect to the SHOOTO amateur division, why it made this list. In the lower ranks of the SHOOTO amateur division, fighters used to have to wear headgear, like in amateur boxing. The argument against amateur MMA head gear has always been that it restricts the head movement that may be required to defend against submissions or generally be effective in a ground war. In Pennsylvania, we have a two tiered amateur system (even more relaxed in other states that sanction the sport); SHOOTO had three. The lowest two tiers of SHOOTO Japan had specialized scoring and point systems; it equates to using the Albert Cameron point system when the pros are still going to be held to the 10 Point Must System. The differences even extend beyond the amateur classes; the pro fights had two tiers on which competition could occur. I want you all to remember this when you think Greg Sirb is being too tough on you.

Rule Book Or Policy Guide Manual

No. 1: The Rules – This. This is the granddaddy of differences between SHOOTO Japan and the North American Unified Rules. By definition, this is the difference. By principle and foundation, this is what ousted SHOOTO Japan from being truly mixed martial arts in the North American sense of the word. These are rules that SHOOTO Japan used to be contested under:

  • Rabbit punches were allowed, sort of. Strikes to the back of the head in SHOOTO were tolerated until the mid-2000’s to a certain degree. It’s not to say that Rumina Sato could unload a 12-to-6 elbow on the base of Takanori Gomi’s skull, but rabbit punches (as crusaded against by the WBC recently) were tolerated a little more.
  • SHOOTO Japan had a standing “eight count.” Yes, just like in traditional boxing. A lot of MMA purists, myself included, had always praised the unified rules for not allowing the standing eight count because the knock-down-get-up-repeat occurances is allegedly where the soft tissue damage and other maladies that turn the brain to mush occur.
  • Forearm strikes are illegal. …what? Forearm strikes? Am I thinking of a Muay Thai elbow? I guess that could be a forearm type attack. Forearm Strikes being illegal sounds like a bias against Popeye the Sailor Man, or trying to keep him from having an unfair advantage over someone.
  • (At first) strikes to a downed opponent weren’t allowed. During events with foreign competitors, the founder of SHOOTO saw how effective ground and pound was and decided an exception to that rule was necessary.

Since about 2008-ish, SHOOTO has adopted a lot of the Unified rules for their own. Strikes to the back of the head are no longer allowed, the standing eight count is gone, and with the exception of the gloves, the rest of the differences are negligible. With that being said, it is worth your time as a fan of combat sports to check out old SHOOTO Japan fights. Anderson Silva was a SHOOTO champion, as was Takanori Gomi. It’s worth your time to see Rumina Sato’s flying arm bar in SHOOTO; perhaps you’ll discover something new about combat sports you’ll love again.

Until next time: Fights, Cameron, Action!