You may have heard of Catch Wrestling through the exploits of Josh Barnett or the legendary Kazushi Sakuraba and now you are interested in learning the martial art. In this article will explore how to best learn Catch Wrestling and whether or not this infamously brutal style of wrestling is easy to learn.
Is Catch Wrestling easy to learn? Catch Wrestling is not easy to learn as there are very few gyms, even fewer knowledgeable coaches and limited amount of opportunities to compete. Catch Wrestling is also difficult to learn as the sport is famously brutal with tough conditioning sessions lasting for hours and endless drilling of painful submission holds.
Takedowns are one of the 3 foundational aspects of Catch Wrestling. If you want to learn Catch Wrestling you need to learn takedowns. Takedowns are difficult to learn as they often involve multiple steps (positioning, set up, execution) and your opponents can implement a number of strategies to defend against them.
To learn takedowns you first need to know how to stand move in a proper wrestling stance. This requires significant leg and strength combined with a high cardio capacity. To test this get into a wrestling stance (crouch, straight back, one foot in front of the other, shoulder width apart) and practice moving in different directions and lowering and raising your stance.
Within a minute your legs will be on fire and your heart will be racing. It can takes months if not years until you develop fluidity in your wrestling stance where you can move effortlessly for long periods of time without exhausting your muscles and lungs.
Once you have got your stance set up you then need to learn how to set up a takedown. The set up phase involves you moving your and your opponent’s body into an ideal position to attack. Takedown setups are largely focused on off balancing your opponent and creating an angle so your opponent is unable to defend against your attack. There are thousands of ways to set up a takedown.
The most common way to set up takedowns is to establish bodylocks, underhooks, overhooks, snap your opponent’s head and push and pull your opponent to off balance them. Set ups take years to become a master of and without them there is no way you will be able to takedown a decent wrestler.
The final stage of learning of takedowns is practicing the finishing phase of the takedown. This is where you will actually execute the takedown technique and get your opponent down to the mat. Executing takedowns requires a lot of coordination, speed and strength.
Takedowns will often completely fail if you don’t perform a step correctly. When performing a takedown you also need to practice how to land safely as it can be easy for beginners to fall incorrectly and end up hurting their neck, knees, ribs and arms.
Takedowns require a lot of skill and athleticism making them difficult to learn. They can take years to master as they have many steps. If you want to be a good Catch Wrestler you need to be an expert at takedowns.
Submissions are an important part of Catch Wrestling as they can be used to win a match and also force your opponent to turn their back to the mat allowing you to establish a pin. Submissions are not easy to learn as they can be dangerous leading to nasty injuries such as broken arms, shoulders, and legs.
Submissions like takedowns have many steps and if you get one step wrong the whole movement fails. Submissions are also much easier to defend against then execute so it take a long time before a beginner has developed sufficient technique to allow them not only remember all the steps but to executive them against a resisting opponent/
Pins are the major way in which Catch Wrestlers win matches. Even though compared to takedowns and submissions pins are far easier to learn they are still quite tricky. The secret to pins is to learn how to manipulate your body so you keep your balance and force your opponent to carry your weight. Pinning is less about technique and more about feel. You need to train for many years to develop that sense for pinning. If you don’t get your balance right when trying to pin an opponent in Catch Wrestling they can easily roll you over or escape.
To learn a sport you need to be taught by someone. A good coach will be able to take an untrained athlete and within a few months teach them the fundamentals. Your development as an athlete is closely related to the skill of your coach and the amount of time they are willing to invest in you.
Unfortunately there are very few high level Catch Wrestling coaches. Catch Wrestling is a very niche sport whose glory days were in the past. This has led to a situation where skilled Catch Wrestling coaches are few and far between and the ones who did exist have passed due to old age including the great Billy Robinson and Karl Gotch.
Just as an athlete needs a good coach he also needs a good gym. A gym is where an athlete can develop and practice his technique while also stress testing his abilities against other athletes. A gym provides an environment where athletes compete and motivate each other to improve.
Catch Wrestling not only has few coaches but it is also has few gyms. Finding a good Catch Wrestling gym is like finding a needle in a haystack. Without a good gym it is incredibly hard to learn any sport let alone something as difficult as Catch Wrestling.
It is not easy to learn Catch Wrestling as the training is so taxing and brutal. Very few people will be able endure the training consistently and for enough to learn the sport.
Karl Gotch considered to be the godfather of Catch Wrestling designed a calisthenics workout as a warm up to his often 3-4 hour long wrestling workouts. It was known as the Gotch Bible (see below).
Begin by shuffling a deck of cards. Each suit has a corresponding calisthenic movement.
Continue until you go through the entire deck.
- Spades: Squats
- Clubs: Jump Squats
- Diamond: Judo Push ups
- Hearts: Iranian Push-ups
- Joker 1: 40 Squats
- Joker 2: 20 Iranian Push-ups
- Black: Double the reps.
- Red: Face value reps.
Red Ace of Diamonds = 10 Judo Pushups
Black 8 of Clubs = 16 Jump Squats
To achieve a decent standard of Catch Wrestling you will need to train for 3-4 years. Do you think you can handle doing thousands of body weight squats, Judo pushups and bridges while being agonizingly stretched in submission holds for hours day after day.
Competitions are a great way to reveal where your strengths and weaknesses lie as you get to practice your techniques against fully resisting athletes who are motivated to win. You may think you have a great double leg takedown as you can hit it on your training partners however once you compete you may find it isn’t as good as you first thought as you struggle to finish the attack. Competition can highlight your technical deficiencies which you then can fix in training allowing you to progress as an athlete.
Catch Wrestling does not have an established competition scene. Competitions are sporadic and the brackets are often very shallow. If you are lucky to find a Catch Wrestling tournament you will most likely have 1-3 matches and then you will struggle to find another competition for a number of months. To learn a sport efficiently you need to be competing regularly. This is a reason why learning Catch Wrestling is difficult.
Catch Wrestling is not easy to learn. To learn Catch Wrestling you need to become an expert in takedowns, submissions and pins all of which take years to master. This is made even more difficult by the fact there are very few Catch Wrestling gyms and only a handful of high level coaches in the world. If you want to learn Catch Wrestling you are better off learning folkstyle or freestyle wrestling and combining it with submissions learnt from No-Gi BJJ.