The UFC, which debuted on November 12, 1993, was not the first mixed martial arts event of the modern era. There was parallel development in Japan. And it grew out of perhaps the most underappreciated aspect of mixed martial arts.
Most know that MMA draws from folkstyle, freestyle, and Greco-Roman wrestling, judo and jiu-jitsu, sambo and sanda, boxing, muay Thai, and karate. What is woefully less understood is the huge debt that MMA owes to professional wrestling.
Shoot, Work, Fix ... Shooto
A league in Japan featured real, highly-organized bouts that could end by submission on the ground, or KO from standing, or via a judge’s decision based on grappling and striking. The first professional event was in 1989. The first amateur event was even earlier, in 1986.
The organization was called Shooto.
The new sport grew out of professional wrestling, and to understand the name, some familiarity with 'rasslin is helpful. Pro wrestling bouts are "works" - the moves are choreographed. A real match is called a "shoot". And a "fix" would be, in for example professional boxing, a bout where one athlete is told to lose but the other is unaware. Shooto grew out of a work that turned into a shoot.
In 1985, Satoru “Tiger Mask” Sayama faced Akira Maeda in a worked, but hard, Strong Style bout. In Strong Style, the techniques are real martial arts techniques. Unlike the Clothesline, Camel Clutch, Mandible Claw, and other theatrical moves common to pro wrestling in the west, Strong Style uses properly executed strikes, takedowns, and submissions. Further, the matches are "stiff" which is to say real contact is made.
In the seminal contest with Sayama, Maeda suddenly started throwing real strikes, and intentionally kicked Sayama in the groin. Shortly afterward, Sayama disavowed professional wrestling, wrote a tell-all book exposing it as fake, and formed the world’s first modern MMA organization – Shooto.
Satoru “Tiger Mask” Sayama
Sayama was at one point a live-in student of Karl Gotch, known in Japan as "Kamisama" (God of Wrestling). Gotch is one of the most influential figures in what eventually became MMA in Japan. Some of his trainees founded the Universal Wrestling Federation in Japan in 1984, which showcased the shoot-style of pro wrestling. He taught both Antonio Inoki and Yoshiaki Fujiwara. His students Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki founded Pancrase in 1993, a name he suggested to them. And Sayama founded Shooto.
After Tiger Mask founded this new, real, promotion, years before the UFC debuted, students flocked to learn from him. However, the relationship between Gotch and Sayama soured, and you can see exactly why. It is not good when your instructor is an uncaring sadist.
This is a lowlight clip from Sayama teaching a class.
This is the longer, source material.
In martial arts, instructors are often believed to possess such superior knowledge that they are gurus, authorities on life. As such, unforgivable behavior is often forgiven. Don't. If anything like this is going on in your gym, leave.
There have been apologies made for this video. People say that training in Japan is tough, and that students knew what was going to happen, and that training like this makes fighting easy in comparison.
Training can be hard. It can be brutally hard. Although MMA gyms are evolving more intelligent training methods, old school MMA classes can involve getting knocked out regularly and choked out repeatedly.
However, this is not training. It is despicable bullying by a profoundly flawed man.