The Lost Art of Catch Wrestling

Aug 27, 2023Martial Arts

Lost Art of Catch Wrestling

Catch wrestling was once one of the most popular styles of wrestling, but over time it has faded into obscurity. However, there is a growing movement to bring back this effective martial art. Catch wrestling is a brutal grappling style that focuses on submissions and pinning combinations. Developed in Britain, it was brought to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Catch wrestling uses leverage and technique rather than brute strength to control opponents. With the right training, it can be an extremely effective fighting method. This article will examine the rich history of catch wrestling, proper training methods, the potential for a comeback, and the key techniques of this forgotten art.

The Rich History of Catch Wrestling

Origins in Britain

Catch wrestling has its origins in Lancashire, England in the late 1800s. The coal miners of Wigan and surrounding towns began developing a submission-based style that became known as “catch-as-catch-can.” The name comes from the concept that you win a match by catching your opponent in a submission hold, using any lock you can. Miners turned to wrestling as a way to supplement their income and gain notoriety through competition. The local rivalries between Wigan, Manchester, and other towns helped fuel the development of catch wrestling as each area refined techniques and strategies.

Catch Comes to America

When catch wrestling spread to America in the early 1900s, it quickly became a popular professional fighting style. Legendary wrestlers like Farmer Burns, Frank Gotch, and Billy Wicks toured the country taking on challengers. They issued “open challenges” where they would battle all comers under “catch-as-catch-can” rules. During the 1920s and 30s, nearly every professional wrestler in America had some training in catch wrestling. Stars like Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Joe Stecher, and Earl Caddock mastered the brutal submission holds of catch.

Catch Wrestling in Japan

In Japan, catch wrestling became intensely popular when it was imported in the 1970s. Japanese legends like Karl Gotch, Billy Robinson, and Nobuhiko Takada trained extensively in the art. Their catch wrestling skills enabled them to dominate early mixed martial arts competitions. Even today, catch wrestling lives on through MMA fighters like Josh Barnett and Erik Paulson. Clearly, catch deserves recognition as one of the most effective martial arts ever developed.

Proper Training in Catch Wrestling

While catch wrestling utilizes submissions and pins, it is distinctly different from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and modern freestyle wrestling. Learning catch requires specialized training in clubs under experienced coaches. Simply watching instructional videos or reading books is not enough to gain true proficiency. The subtle timing, reflexes, and reactions of catch can only be ingrained through extensive mat time.

Intensive Training

In the early days of catch, wrestlers would spend years perfecting their skills. Top fighters like Frank Gotch, Farmer Burns, and Billy Wicks spent their youth training and competing. Modern students of catch wrestling must be willing to commit similar time and effort. Attending a class once a week will not instill proper reactions. Intensive daily training sessions are required to engrain the techniques until they become second nature.

Building Wrestling-Specific Conditioning

Conditioning is also vital in catch wrestling. Extensive sparring is needed to build the cardiovascular endurance to keep fighting through grueling matches. Simple weight lifting and cardio exercises cannot replicate wrestling conditioning. The best way to get in shape for catch wrestling is by wrestling. This combat sport requires a unique physicality that can only be built through grappling itself. With the right attitude and training regimen, the lost techniques of catch can be revived.

The Potential Comeback of Catch Wrestling

In recent years, catch wrestling has been making a comeback, largely thanks to growing interest in mixed martial arts. MMA pioneers like Josh Barnett and Sakuraba utilize catch techniques to defeat larger opponents. Their success has sparked renewed interest in this grappling style. Now there is an opportunity to bring catch wrestling back to prominence.

The Emergence of Catch Wrestling Academies

Catch wrestling academies are beginning to offer structured training programs and camps. Intensive catch wrestling seminars teach this art’s techniques, submissions, takedowns, and strategies. With sufficient time and effort, the next generation can reclaim this martial art. Passionate teachers are working diligently to record and preserve the knowledge of old catch legends before it is lost forever.

MMA Provides Testing Ground

The ruled-based sport of MMA provides the perfect testing ground for a catch wrestling revival. Catch techniques are extremely well suited to submitting opponents in the cage. Armed with this knowledge, aspiring fighters can become true experts in submissions. Additionally, knowing catch wrestling enables one to defend against a wider variety of holds and locks. For modern martial artists, investigating the techniques of catch wrestling is certainly worthwhile.

Key Techniques of Catch Wrestling

While catch wrestling contains a vast array of techniques, certain core concepts and strategies define the style. Understanding these foundational tactics is key for anyone looking to learn catch wrestling.


The takedown is often the first phase of a catch wrestling match. Unlike striking-based arts, catch aims to bring the action to the ground as soon as possible. Catch wrestling utilizes leg trips, foot sweeps, and leverage-based takedowns to put opponents on their backs. From there, the wrestler can work towards a pin or submission. Executing takedowns smoothly while maintaining dominant positioning is an essential skill.

Pins and Turnovers

Pinning is a central part of catch wrestling. After taking an opponent down, the wrestler wants to secure a pin and win by fall. Turnovers allow the wrestler to transition from an inferior position back into a pinning hold. Having an arsenal of pinning combinations and turnovers enables a catch wrestler to maintain offensive pressure. They can then use strikes, leverage, and submissions to finish off an overwhelmed opponent.

Pain Compliance Through Strikes

Catch wrestling utilizes strikes to improve positioning and wear down opponents unlike sport grappling arts. Targeted head butts, knee strikes, and elbows are used to force a reaction and create openings. Pain compliance tactics drain an opponent’s will to resist, allowing the execution of submissions. Applying strikes judiciously within the flow is an important skill in catch wrestling.

Diverse Submission Arsenal

The ultimate goal in a catch match is to force the opponent to submit. To accomplish this, catch wrestlers use a variety of arm, wrist, leg, ankle, neck, spine, and shoulder locks. Catch submission arts contain hundreds of techniques including the stranglehold, reverse figure-four leglock, hammerlock, and double wristlock. Having a well-rounded repertoire of submission attacks from every position is vital.

The Lost Art of Catch Wrestling

Catch wrestling is poised for a comeback after fading into obscurity for much of the 20th century. This classic martial art offers a wealth of effective techniques for grappling and submissions. However, proper training is required to gain true proficiency in the art. Catch wrestling cannot be learned solely from books or videos. It requires extensive mat time under qualified coaches. For those willing to put in the effort, catch wrestling skills can elevate grappling ability to new heights. The lost techniques of catch deserve to be resurrected through passionate study and practice.

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Team Apex MMA Martial Arts Coach
Apex MMA is a specialist mixed martial arts gym focusing on Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Led by an experienced team of instructors, Apex MMA offers comprehensive training programs for students of all ages and skill levels. With Apex MMA's systematic teaching methods, passion for martial arts, and strong community relationships, you will gain the tools to succeed in the gym and beyond.
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