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Japan’s Rich MMA History: The Ken Shamrock Interview, Part 5 of 7

William Colosimo conducted the most detailed interview to date with Ken Shamrock, to unearth the origins of MMA in Japan, from the man who was there.
Japan’s Rich MMA History: The Ken Shamrock Interview

Japan’s Rich MMA History: The Ken Shamrock Interview (2015)

Part Five of Seven: Creating The Lion’s Den and Entering the First UFC

By William Colosimo |

William Colosimo: February 1993 was your last event for PWF-Gumi. Pancrase started seven months later, in September 1993. I know you needed people to train with for Pancrase, so how long after leaving PWF-Gumi did you open your first school- would that have been a couple months later? And, was it out of your home?

Ken Shamrock: I don’t remember- but I do know that I was already trying to train, even though it was the prowrestling stuff- I was still trying to work with the submissions and trying to get that down because I was really, really interested in that stuff because it was the real deal. So, I was always trying to get different guys to come in and work with me, upstairs in my house. And we were really trying to put that together, and it started to get real when the Pancrase organization had come around- that’s when I really started to try and find guys and get more intense and locked in on what I was doing with conditioning, shape, and all that. I would have to say it probably started more in late ’92. 1993 was where we were going full force.

WC: And when you were going full force, would you consider Vernon your first student at that point?

KS: Yeah, I would have to say that Vernon was actually my first one that I had brought in and really started to work with- and it took a long time for him to develop, but when he did man, he really did well.

WC: Then- before Vernon, when you were stateside training the submission wrestling for PWF-Gumi, where were you able to find the bodies from? Were you able to go to your dad’s group home- were there a lot of guys there that were pretty athletic and you could try stuff on?

KS: No, actually what I was doing was grabbing people from different places- whether they were from wrestling, judo, whether they were kickboxers, boxers- I would just basically work with them and then I would do my submissions on different people that would come in and roll with me because I lived in a town- there was a lot of people that I would talk to about what I was doing and show them videos, and they would go “Oh that’s cool,” and then I would get them down to the gym and roll with them but a lot of times it was mostly guys that had wrestling backgrounds.

WC: So during the end of your PWF-Gumi run you would find kickboxers, wrestlers- different guys to train with while at home- and then around December 1992 after Funaki and Suzuki left that’s when you started stepping it up and trying to actually get the fight team going so they could help you train, basically.

KS: Well, and a lot of that too- especially when I fought Don “Nakaya” Nielson- I had to go and find guys that I could take down and that’s really where I started getting to know different people that I might be able to work and train with before we even made a move to Pancrase.

WC: The Lion’s Den tryouts at the very beginning- I’m talking the end of PWF-Gumi and the beginning of Pancrase- was it the five hundred squats, push-ups, and sit-ups- or was it already at that point an hour of sparring with you? What was the early tryout?

KS: The early one wasn’t the squats, the push-ups- it was just rolling with me for an hour. Vernon did that, Scott Bessac did it, and I don’t remember who else. But, there was a lot of guys that came in- I’d say probably ninety percent of them never made it. So, when my brother Frank, and when Jason Delucia, and Guy, and those guys came in I had already moved to the squats, the push-ups, the sit-ups, the hills, the barrel walks, all the stuff that you would do for eight hours. And then you have to fight and grapple on top of what you have already done. I remember the reason why I made that change was because it was getting too dangerous for me to do it because lawsuits and different types of things- I was starting to understand that I became a figurehead to people who were now learning what I was doing, and that I was becoming more of a celebrity, and that I put myself at risk every time that I would beat somebody up in a tryout, that they could go and sue me. So, I had to rethink the way that I did my Lion’s Den tryouts.

WC: So you were pushing them to fatigue, and just wanted to test their heart- they weren’t necessarily supposed to pass- and then after all the conditioning, when you were beating them up for an hour- you were worried about lawsuits from that aspect of the tryout?

KS: No, they never had to do the squats, the push-ups, until after they went an hour with me. That was the very beginning one. I would work them over for an hour- fact is fifteen minutes in they were dead, and I would just keep working them over and over, keep getting them up off the mat even though they had nothing left, as long as they kept getting up. And then after they got done with that they did the squats, the push-ups, and the sit-ups and the leg lifts. Then, they passed.

What we moved to afterwards was they had to start doing like an eight hour- from the start in the morning till probably five in the afternoon- they did nothing but physical exercises. Running, push-ups, barrel walks, barrel crawls, sprints, standing on your hands- everything you could possibly think of. Carrying these big kegs around in a circle, I mean you name it- it was eight hours of nothing but work. Once they finished the eight hours which was usually around five o’ clock- we would take them to the gym, and a lot of these guys, halfway through they were spent- which is what was supposed to happen- and they would get to the gym and the reason why I did that was because when it was time to fight, and it was time to go on the ground- they were so exhausted they really couldn’t hurt each other, they could barely lift their arms and barely move their legs- so, when they actually fought each other they didn’t have any power, they didn’t have any ability to really hurt one another- but they had to keep going. They had to keep getting up and keep trying.

WC: Concerning the original fighter’s house- was that something on your property that was a one story building that had a few beds? How did it look?

KS: I had a twelve acre place outside of town. I had a big ranch house where my family stayed, and then about probably two hundred yards on the right side of the house there was a pool in the middle, then on the other side of the pool there was this little house that had three bedrooms. We would put two fighters to a room, sometimes we had fighters on the couch- so, we had anywhere from six to eight fighters in the house.

WC: Was there anything else in the three bedroom fighter’s house- say a kitchen or a living room?

KS: Yeah there was a living room, we had a roll out couch- we could put another fighter or two out there in the living room. Then, there was a good sized kitchen and dining room area- so it was a house. It was one of those butler houses, where it was on the property on the other side of the pool, and I was able to see those guys on a daily basis going to the gym and going back from the gym.

WC: Next question is on your school curriculum. I saw an article by Frank Shamrock from around 1998, and I think the same subject matter may have been in your first book also- the ten control positions of submissions. I’m wondering where that came from and if that was a main staple of your training?

KS: Well, it was actually eleven- but, then we were very young (laughter)- there was a lot of stuff that was very new. So, what I tried to do was make it a simple breakdown for people to understand, who had never been on the ground before- to put them in different positions that they would be in on the ground and then from those different positions, show them escapes and submission holds that could be put on them or that they could use to defend. So that’s kinda how I wanted to break it down to get people- especially people who had never actually been on the ground- where not to be and where to be.

WC: Jerry Bohlander had told me that before UFC 8, he had to have a no holds barred (NHB) fight at the gym with Pete Williams to see who would get to participate in that particular UFC. He said that after a few minutes they were throwing head butts at each other, and twenty something minutes in Jerry was able to get Pete in a heel hook. Did you film these gym matches, and were there other gym matches like this?

KS: Yeah, I mean I had them all the time. I brought guys in from Dallas; I brought guys in from everywhere to help me train. I would go full on fights with these guys that came in to train with me. It was because you didn’t understand who you were going to fight, you didn’t understand how long you were going to fight for, and you didn’t know how many times that night you would be fighting. We tried to make it as close to what we were going to face in the ring as possible and so I would bring guys in from different places that I didn’t know that had strengths in either the standup, or an Olympic wrestler, or whatever their strengths were- I would bring them in, and I would keep them there for a week, and I would say “OK, I want you to try to knock me out,” or “I want you to try and take me down,” or “I want you to try to punch me on the ground while you hold me,” stuff like that. We would keep it as real as possible, and that’s why I was able to go into these fights and be able to do as well as I did- because I faced whatever I needed to in the gym.

WC: Going along those lines, the matches you were just talking about in the gym- those, and the Lion’s Den tryouts- I heard at one point that they were recorded, and a former team member had the tapes. My question: are those gym fights and the Lion’s Den tryouts ever going to see the light of day?

KS: Well, I would love to. I know that I had some people that actually filmed those and that they are now gone. So, if they ever do show up somebody’s gonna be in deep trouble (laughter) because that’s my property.

WC: Oh- it’s your property, you want to put them out, but you don’t have them.

KS: No, somebody had actually stolen them. If they ever do come out, somebody’s going to be in some deep crap.

WC: I had seen some old Lions Den instructionals, filmed circa 1996. I heard there was maybe a black and white instructional also? Are those old instructionals ever going to come out for posterity?

KS: I don’t know. I know I still have those tapes. I think when the time is right, I’ll know.

WC: You had mentioned a number of times in the past that it was a Lion’s Den student who first told you about the UFC. Who was that student?

KS:Wow! You’re going way back. Shoot. I don’t remember, man.

WC: It’s been decades since all these events but I thought I would pick your brain- it’s maybe more of a fun historical fact.

KS:Yeah, now that you ask me, I’m kinda- now I’m curious! (Laughter) Who was it?

WC: Three days before UFC 1 you fought Fuke on Pancrase’s third show and had come out victorious with a RNC. At UFC 1 It looked to me that Fuke was in your corner, along with another Japanese gentleman. Can you tell me who he was and why they specifically were there?

KS: Okay, and this is a guess: I believe it was Fuke, and the doctor. The reason why the doctor came was because he was the doctor. And, Fuke came because, I don’t know- I beat him? (Laughter) He was just going to be there to work my corner- and I don’t know why Fuke was the one chosen, but he was. I believe that’s who they were, so...

WC: Before UFC 1, did the guys from Pancrase- Funaki, Suzuki, and the other guys that ran the show- when you told them you were going to UFC 1 did they figure, like you did, that it was going to be worked?

KS: No, I think when they saw the film with Royce Gracie that I brought down and showed them- they looked at it, and they had seen this before. They knew more about it than I did.

WC: The Gracie Jiu-Jitsu: In Action tapes?

KS: Yeah- they knew about it more than I did, and they were like “OK, if you’re going to do this...”- they tried to stop me from doing it. But I told them “Listen, man, I want to do this.” I pretty much just told them that I’m doing it. So one thing led to another, they started to support me on it- but they did know that that gi meant a lot- but when they saw it too they thought “Yeah, you’ll be able to beat this guy pretty well.” And I had confidence, too. But going into the fight, none of us knew that they’d be taking my shoes away, which is a lot of the set ups and the positions for my leg locks- being able to get my knee inside, being able to spin and push off, and being able to secure the leg. You take the shoes off, it’s like being on ice on the mat if you’ve never done it before, and that’s basically what happened. They said my shoes were a weapon- like the gi is not, huh? They said I couldn’t wear them, so when I went out there it was the first time I had ever, ever gone into a ring without a shoe.

WC: Once it was all said and done and the guys from Pancrase saw your win vs Pat Smith and your loss vs Royce- what was their opinion? What were their thoughts on the event?

KS: I think they were really disgusted with the whole set up of the fight. I was so involved with the fight, and I was so intense on that I was gonna beat this guy- I was very focused, so when they took my shoes away I said no big deal. Well, they were all very pissed off and upset because they obviously had a lot more experience than me in this fighting arena and agenda- Funaki did, and all those other guys from Japan- and I believe that they saw that that might be a bigger problem than I thought it was going to be. And, of course- I believe it cost me the fight. If I had the shoes on, I don’t slip and I don’t get caught with my hand in a gi because I’m able to pull it out, my feet aren’t slipping. Like I said, it happened. I accepted whatever it was they put in, and I lost the fight. So, it is what it is- I know they were not happy with the way things had played out, for sure.

WC: Other fighters had told me that in some of those early UFC’s, Royce had his own dressing room, with all other fighters in one larger room- and it was a little bit awkward in some of those earlier shows due to that.

KS: Yeah, it was definitely a promotion for jiu-jitsu.

WC: The UFC 1 tape has a bad camera angle of the end of that fight with Royce. How much was Royce using his gi for the finish? Was it a RNC where he was using the gi a little bit, maybe to secure a hold on his bicep- or was it a gi choke?

KS: No, the gi was completely wrapped around my throat. I don’t know what he grabbed on to, but it was almost like a rope around my throat- cause I can reach up and pull anybody’s arm off my throat, I’ve always been gifted in being pretty strong, and that’s what I was going to do- I was going to reach up and pull his arm off, and he would have never been able to choke me- but when I reached up there, all I felt was this rope sinking into my throat, and I couldn’t pull it off because I couldn’t get my fingers around it. To me, it was very, very odd and awkward that he was able to catch me with whatever it was that he choked me with.

Part One of Seven: An Introduction to the Hard-style Pro Wrestling

Part Two of Seven: The Professional Wrestling Fujiwara-Gumi

Part Three of Seven: Pancrase

Part Four of Seven: Pancrase Controversy

Wednesday - Part Six of Seven: UFC 2, UFC 3, and the Machado Family

Thursday - Part Seven of Seven: The Russian Bear and The Hammer

Visit Ken at

William Colosimo is a very part time writer who is always interested in interviewing fighters from either a submission wrestling lineage or the no holds barred era of fighting

Ken Shamrock is looking to reacquire all old Lion’s Den video footage- recordings of tryouts, gym fights, etcetera. If anything is in your possession, please feel free to contact him at