All Hail Bart Vale
World Champion Shootfighter Bart Vale is one of the pioneers of mixed-martial arts in the USA.
Vale began his training in the 1970’s with the Al Tracy’s Kenpo Karate organization in Miami Florida. His current rank is 9th degree black belt. After competing as a kickboxer, Vale trained in grappling and freestyle fighting under Masami Soranaka and Yoshiaki Fujiwara of Japan's Universal Wrestling Federation.
Vale coined the term “Shootfighting” to describe this new mixed-martial arts style that combined kickboxing with shooting (to rush in and take down your opponent), or legitimate wrestling. He also co-founded the International Shootfighting Association to help promote the new sport.
Vale was one of the first foreigners to compete in Japan. In doing so he became the first American to win a World Shootfighting Championship in 1992. Vale has also competed in kickboxing and no-holds-barred matches in Japan, the United States and Russia.
In addition to being featured in numerous martial arts publications, Bart Vale is also one of the few martial artists to have stories appear in Sports Illustrated Magazine, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness magazines.
Other renowned veteran American martial artists, such as, JKD icon Sifu Larry Hartsell has told this reporter how much he truly admired Bart Vale for his intense power and expertise. Hartsell continued on to say how much he respected Vale's immense overall contributions to the sport of Shooto (Shoot-Fighting / Shoot-Wrestling) and martial arts.
Vale is the author of “Shootfighting: The Ultimate Martial Art.” His Florida based organization, the ISFA, has more than 40 affiliated gyms and martial arts schools around the world dedicated to promoting the sport of Shootfighting.
Exclusive AMAM Interview with Bart Vale:
1)AMAM: What was the catalyst that inspired you to begin your martial arts training?
BV: Well, when I was a young boy I was facinated with seeing these martial artists that could actually be able to stop one or two individuals that were much larger than them. My buddy's step-brother was already doing the martial arts. So, he started training us in his garage and I really started to enjoy it, and he told me of a couple other places to go. I started training at a formal school, which was the Tracy organization back in the 1970's.
2)AMAM: Please tell our reader's a bit about your various instructors.
BV: Alright, my buddy's step-brother was Joe Massey, he was the one who started me training. And then he couldn't teach any longer because he was going to be a soccer coach, so he told me to go to the Tracy schools. My instructor there was Tom Dunn. I was facinated with him because he would always just tell me what he's gonna do and then he would actually do it.
I was always impressed with martial artists that could actually do it rather than just talk about it.
Another person that I had the pleasure of training with was Moses Pal, who was a Jujitsu guy that was the same way. He would grab hold of me and do the movement on me and instead of telling me what or how he was gonna do it, and if I try to block he didn't try to tell me that wouldn't work because you did this or that, he would just make it work.
And then I got involved in kickboxing and trained with Tony Palamore, again another person who was able to do it as he showed you how to do it. Those instructors always impressed me.
I trained with alot of people that would tell me what they could do, but never could actually do it, and then I trained with people who wouldn't tell ya they could do it, they'd just show ya that they did it.
I was always impressed with that 'cause that's exactly what Gene LeBell would always do...let's just do it and here I'll show ya how it works.
When I got involved with Shootfighting, Soranaka did the same thing. He didn't really know me, he met me at a thing I was doing, invited me into a camp to train. There was a young Japanese boy there that was a lot smaller than me and he was throwin' me around. I said to Soranaka, "Man, this stuff is great! I need to know this style and how to do this."
Soranaka would just grab me and do these things, and I was a big boy! I mean, I'm not a little guy that you could just throw around and Soranaka was not that big. He probably topped out at 160 or 170 pounds, and when he said he was gonna do something, he just did it. And, I was trying to stop him! What if I did this or that, I said, and he always just showed me and I was real impressed with that.
I still wanna train. I'm still looking to train, I trained with Gene LeBell, I trained with Karl Gotch, another person who just did it to ya. The people who always told me what to do, but never did it to ya, I just kinda like shook my head and said, "Yea, that's great" and never trained with them again.
Fujiwara came along a little bit later in life because with the Japanese, they don't become real friendly with you right away. So, Soranka was considered above Fujiwara as far as "chain of command" however, as far as ability, I don't know. But, after time when on, me and Soranaka became reall y good friends. We were the ones who started the International Shootfighting Association. He was the President and I was the Vice-President. Then, Fujiwara was still back in the shadows.
One day over in Japan, someone Soranaka knew wanted to get Reebok shoes. But, he didn't want just black or white (shoes) so, Soranaka said, "Don't worry, Bart Vale get anything you want from America. So, Fujiwara came to me asked if I can get these shoes in different colors and I asked him what size? I think I came back with several of them in various colors. This kinda opened a door between me and Fujiwara.
One day, we're in the dojo having lunch and Fujiwara made all the young boys get out of the dojo and he gets up in the ring and calls me into the ring and Soranaka walks over because Fujiwara's English wasn't so good at that time, Soranaka's was real good. So, he told me Fujiwara wants you to do this and that, get in there and do that. That's when Fujiwara and I became really good friends. He would be another person who didn't tell you what he was going to do or how he could do it, he'd just grab ahold of you and do it.
We're going out there again to train with him this summer.
3)AMAM: Please describe the feeling you had during your very first professional competition.
BV: Alright, the first time I actually competed at a professional level was in kickboxing, and I think the feeling was just kind of a facinating feeling because I was actually at a spot where I was still working to do it. The outcome of my first fight was a draw. This whole time I'd spent trying to get to a place where I wanted to be and having all these amatuer matches along the way, I was nervous and kept telling myself not to throw up and all that stuff.
I think it was Tony Palamore or somebody that was there who said this match is no different than the (amatuer) match you did a couple of months ago. Just because you're going from an amatuer to a pro level, nothing has changed much, you just feel different. It's still gonna be the same as if it was last week or last month doing amatuer. But, you know what, I kept trying to tell myself that but I had such a different feeling inside of me...my stomach was filled with knots and I just felt like I was gonna barf.
When that bell rang and I started towards the middle of the ring, everything was gone. I had no more weird feeling inside my body, no butterflies, I couldn't see anybody around me, I could hear the referee but could only see my opponent....kinda like having tunnel-vision for a very very long time. I think it went on for a while, but coulda been only seconds.
It was really kinda cool.
As time went on, that slowly left and it was more of a comfortable feeling at a place that I've been before. This is nice, this is great, this is what I'd been training for, this is what I really do. Then, it became a really good feeling.
4)AMAM: How does Shootfighting and it's competitions differ from other martial arts systems?
BV: When I started competing in Shootfighting matches, it changed my whole world again. It wasn't five minute Rounds, it was a 30 minute Round. And, I was in good shape, or so I thought! When they yelled out five minutes has passed, I looked and thought I had been in there for twenty minutes already, this ain't no five minutes...it was just really strange.
I lost my first Shootfighting match.
When we first started Shootfighting, we did kinda what the UFC originally did, an 8-man competition sort of thing. But, for instance; you and me would fight Monday night while someone else would also fight on the same night. Then on Wednesday night, the winner of this would fight the winner of that. So, by Friday, we already knew who was fighting in the finals. You didn't know who was at what caliber, so they didn't want to have any mismatches, they wanted to make sure the fights were gonna have the top guys facing each other. That's how those elimations worked back then. It was the same thing when I fought over in Russia.
At my first (Shootfighting) fight in Japan, Soranaka said to me, "Don't worry, very small match. Small people, no problem." However, it was in front of 14 thousand people! I'd only fought in front of maybe 200 people up to then, okay. When I saw all those people I thought, "Are you serious?" (Laughs)
We were going to fight in Japan's Tokyo Dome where Mike Tyson fought in front of 40 thousand people. We were going to fight on a Wednesday at three in the afternoon. We had the Tokyo Dome sold out with 60 thousand plus people in that arena!
When I started my walk down into the ring with the music playing, I looked out across the arena and it looked like a two-mile walk down to the ring past all these tiny little heads! As I walked, they were all talking about me as I past by them. Unbelievable! It was really kinda cool.
The primary differences from most other systems is that Shootfighting teaches you not only the "stand-up" and the ground versions together, but, also the important transitions.
I see a lot of peole that train one night in Jiujitsu and then another night they go into the dojo and do only kickboxing. And, that's all really great! But, when you train in Shootfighting, you start on "stand-up" on one night and you end up on ground-fighting on the same night. And, you do the same every night. So, you learn to flow better from one to the other and vice versa and you learn the transitions that these things incorporate. Because, that's really hard.
I know our style is Submission-Grappling and a big part is from Catch-as-Can Wrestling, but things are a little bit different because we can't shoot in the same way a normal fighter can when we can also strike with a kick or our knees and elbows. So, the shoot has to be done differently.
The same thing in Thai-Kickboxing, those guys will throw a Roundhouse and completely circle. We don't wanna do that because guys step in and choke ya. So, we gotta draw back, kinda like what Bill Wallace used to do on his kicks where you draw back so that you don't end up putting your back to somebody where they could get at your back to choke you out.
So, I think the one thing is when people look at it and say to me, "That's just like Jiujitsu" and stuff, is the names may be a little different...Jiujitsu uses the Guard, we call it the Safety. Jiujitsu uses the Mount, while we call it the Saddle, a couple other things like that are different. All of our techniques work without a uniform, while alot of the Jiujitsu has to have a Gi to allow it to work.
The biggest thing is how we get from you throwing the kick to me taking you down to choking you out and the transition from that is what I think the biggest thing when you look at the whole picture.
Someone once told me a punch is a punch and a kick is a kick, whether it's called a Roundhouse, a Front or Wheel-Kick or whatever, but when it comes down to it, our techniques are pretty much the same. The thing is, how we get there is a little bit different. We don't start off sitting on the floor and grab it, we take it from the guy throwing the punch or the kick and begin from there.
AMAM: Bart, you mentioned the transitions and I'm a big believer in teaching this. As you've said, many schools seem to have a separate class for this and that. While that may have it's merits, do you feel some of those important transitions are being totally missed in a lot of schools?
BV: Absolutely. I see it all the time and some of the guys ask, "How do we get here to this spot from a guy throwing a kick at me, or how do I get outta this from the ground back to standing?" I think the transition is probably key.
I came out in Black Belt magazine once with what's the difference between Shootfighting and MMA and I basically stressed the same thing. It's the transitions that combine it all together, how can you do them all together well unless you train that way?
It's kinda like a theory type of thing, alot of Karate teachers think if I hit you, you should fall down. But, if I hit you and miss you don't fall down. So, you gotta be able to do this in practice, especially if you're just doing "stand-up" fighting and you've got a guy throwin' kicks and punches at you and you're fine blocking over and over, or you're only on the ground and you're grappling away and doing well.
But, to put it all together like in the UFC or any of these other kinds of MMA cage-matches, how you get from "stand-up" to the ground without getting caught in something goofy? That's what we train for in Shootfighting.
AMAM: Ladies and gentlemen, the sound that you're unfortunately about to be unable to hear is my hand about to "high-five" Bart's huge hand in appreciation for him emphasizing that particular information on the importance of learning Transitions...SMACK!
5)AMAM: When did the International Shootfighting Association develop, how did it come about?
BV: Back in the 1980s, I started doing Shootfighting, which was actually a form of wrestling called the Universal Wrestling Federation. We were talking about bringing this particular style to the USA. I felt that we had to have a name that was going to be better than mere "wrestling" because I was telling the Japanese that if we were going to bring it to the States most of the people would just say we don't want more wrestling.
So, we sat in the office in Japan trying to figure out what the name was going to be. Fujiwara wanted to call it Kick-Suplex-Submission Style. A very long mouth full that just didn't roll off the tongue too well.
As I sat there looking across the office, everything on those walls was in Japanese. Then, I saw a VHS case on a shelf that said "Shoot" in English.
Now, I'm thinking it was about shooting guns, so I wanted to take it to where I was staying, only because I thought it would be nice to watch something in English while I was out still out there. I asked Soranaka about watching this gun-shooting video, so he goes, "No" (hitting me on the head) and says, "Shoot-Wrestling." Explaining how a real good Wrestler, like Gene LeBell, Karl Gotch or Lou Theiz, were called "Shooters" because of the way they'd shoot in on their opponents.
Suddenly, "Shoot" and then "Fighter" just rolled out. It described what we were doing: Shootfighting. Soranaka loved it, Fujiwara said, "Stupid name. Kick-Suplex-Submission Style better name. However, even the President agreed with us and we won. Shootfighting was to be the new name.
Soranaka wanted to form a new organization where we could bring fighters into this company to fight over in Japan. He would be the new President and I was Vice-President and then our main objective was to get guys over there to compete in this particular style. It was my job to get Americans over to compete.
I met Ken Shamrock, who was wrestling with Dean Malinko. Dean told me they were trying to get Ken out of the company he was with, they didn't want him wrestling there no more and he was seeking to go to different groups. He was suposed to come tryout one afternoon over at Malinko's gym where I was going to meet him, however, he couldn't make it that time because the night before he got into a confrontation with some nasty boys that beat him up in his room because he was protecting some girl or something like that.
We decided to bring him over to Japan to where I could actually see that he's good or not, and he was. His Grappling was real good, his "stand-up" was no good at all. He needed some work on that and I'm sure he's better at it now. That's how it got started.
6)Where can those interested in ISFA learn more about its services and locations?
BV: We have a few liscensed schools throughout the states and Canada, some in Europe. The easiest way to find a real legitimate school is to go to our website at Shootfighting.com where there's a spot in there that says "Shootfighting" schools. Be advised that there are some schools teaching Shootfighting in a trial period prior to becoming fully liscensed.
They are all required to physically train with me on a regular basis to become associated in order to become liscenced.
AMAM: Folks, that's SHOOTFIGHTING.COM!
7)AMAM: Whom was the toughest opponent you've ever faced, and what was it about his fighting style that made it so?
BV: Alright, to clear it up, every fighter I've every fought was tough, okay. I never had one fighter that was a pushover. In fact, any other attitude would've stopped real quick after I fought this guy that was primarily just a wrestler. I figured this guy can't possibly hurt me and he came up with an elbow that broke my jaw! From that point on, I never said that there's any fighter I could simply "handle" with ease. They were all very tough!
The one that sticks out the most was the rematch with Fujiwara. When I fought him in the States, I basically beat him on a Technicality when he went out of the ring and didn't get back in the ring in time, so he lost. Everyone said "baloney" and even the magazines said Bart Vale could never beat Fujiwara there in Japan.
When we fought the rematch in Japan, he lost.
His story afterwards claims he thought that he was rolling off the ropes inward towards the center of the ring, when he rolled out of the ring. I mean, he actually fell on the floor like a kid doing "Stop-Drop & Roll" during a fire! He was on the mat already down when he rolled out and fell on to the floor, this is his story.
He gets up and didn't know where he was for a bit. He finally faced the referee, which was Soranaka, and says something in Japanese while Soranaka's counting. He slowly gets back up onto the apron after the ten seconds that was allowed. He didn't make it in time and Soranaka called it, I won on a Technicality. So, after that I was supposed to fight another guy, but I told Soranaka that I didn't want to fight again until I fought another rematch with Fujiwara.
So, we fought again in Japan and I choked him out. He didn't tap-out, he went out, he was knocked out completely!
As a young kid, I didn't do wrestling, I played football. I wish I woulda done wrestling because I woulda had a better idea of what was going on, but I didn't so I had to play catch-up. And, in that match I realized I wasn't gonna beat him just grappling with him, so that's why I started kicking him towards the head and body where I hit him a couple of good times and was able to get him down on the ground and got him in a Sleeper...and out he went. In fact, he stopped moving as I was sqeezing him and I even let go one time and then grabbed him again because I wasn't sure if he was out yet, finally realizing he was as the referee stopped it!
So, that was probably the best because he was always a lot better grappler than me and I tried to do alot less kicking and punching to beat him in that way. Being the first foreigner in Japan to beat him at his own game...that was really cool! That's the most memorable thing for me in my entire career.
8)AMAM: You were dealt a controversial Loss to Dan Severn in the Continental Freefighting Alliance Super Heavyweight / CF-1 "Collision at the Crossroads" in 2000, do you feel the referee and doctor made the right call by ending that match early in the 2nd Round?
BV: I think so. At the time, I was bleeding and the referee had no idea how bad that I was cut...and I didn't either. He called it and I say he made a great call. I was taught to respect the referee's decision in any sport. He's the guy in charge, whatever he calls goes. When I fought, the only guy more important than the referee is the doctor. So, you gotta listen to them. I hugged Dan and his corner along with the referee.
When my corner guy threw me a towl to wipe my face off there was quite a bit of blood! However, in the dressing room, I found there was only a small cut that didn't even need any stitches.
When I won a fight in the WCC, I'd head-butted a guy and he ended up getting 55 stitches in his face and lost a tooth, I think. I went back to the dressing room and the doctor tried to stitch up a little cut over my eye, he only got one or two threaded in then couldn't get anymore through...he said to me that I had tough skin and I told him he had a blunt needle.
I walked out of the medical area where they were sewing me up with a string hanging from my eye back to my dressing room where my corner guy at the fight, Tony Palamore, finished stitching me up.
9)AMAM: Do you have a favorite specific moment in your professional career?
BV: I can say that no matter who I fought, I know I just always had fun! I remember popular kickboxer Bill "Superfoot" Wallace once said to me, "You gotta retire when you begin asking how much you're gonna get paid for the next fight because it's at that point in time when you're not doing it because it's fun anymore, you're doing it because you're getting paid."
Later, when I'd fought in K-1 a couple of times, I once dislocated my arm and had to sit in the dressing room for almost three hours with my arm in pain. Finally, the doctor came in and said we should go to the hospital for X-rays.
At the hospital, I got colder and colder as it started hurting worse and finally the doctor came walking in with my pictures, holding it up in his hands with his eyes open wide and his mouth hanging down low...he said, "Your arm, your arm. It is out." I said, "No crap! I've been telling them this for hours!"
Then, they couldn't get it back in. They put 10cc's of novacaine all inside it while two little medics tried to pull it into place and couldn't do it. Then, they took me just outside of the Emergency Room where there was a pillar and put me up against it as members of the staff struggled to pull it again.
I said to them, "Why don't you take me into parking lot and get Toyota truck and maybe you do it with that?" Finally, they said there's no way they're going to be able to do it without putting me under. I'm thinking they're gonna put me under and take out my kidney's to sell it on the black market!
So, I had an Australian friend there who came to the hospital with me and made him promise to watch my back. He was bigger than me and refused to leave the room as they put me under. He said as soon as I went out, he lifted my arm up and felt it fall right back in place.
And when I was waking up, I thought I was still in the fight and reached over to a nurse that was doing paperwork next to my bed and lifted her over my head about to throw her when everybody yelled, "Mr. Vale, Mr. Vale!" My big friend grabbed her away from my grip and placed her back on the ground. It still took me a couple of minutes to realize where I was. (Laughs) It was incredible, a blast!
After that, I was asked to go back to Japan to fight another mixed-martial arts Grand Prix and I asked, "How much do I get paid?" That's when I realized that it wasn't fun no more because I was worried about how much money I'd make. They came back at me with a pretty good amount, but I declined. I told them that I'm done.
AMAM: I admire your integrity because that's always a hard thing to pull yourself away from, whoever you are ... when they're throwing dollar signs at you.
BV: Yea, absolutely. But, you know what, I'm having so much fun just teaching and training, getting guys under me. I've got guys training for Black Belts, having my students winning tournaments. It's a whole different generation. We look back and think, how cool that woulda been if only we knew this stuff 30-40 years ago. I'm having fun watching what's going on nowadays! (Beaming with pride)
10)AMAM: What advice would give to hopeful young martial artists looking to get directly in to Shootfighting?
BV: First, to get involved with a licensed school. So, again, they should go to my website to contact me.
AMAM: Must be the jet lag, my memory is waning. What was that web address again? (Smiling)
BV: WWW.SHOOTFIGHTING.COM (Laughs)
They can also call me directly at: (954) 746-0202 and ask me about any particular school they're interested in. My next bit of advice is to stick with it, alright. Now, you may not be able to change your whole life to do it, it doesn't happen overnight...what you wanna do is start to train even if you're only able to train one or two times out of the week.
Then, you can slowly get more into it as you progress. Slow and steady is the best way to finish the race without becoming too overwhelmed.
AMAM: Mr. Vale, I really appreciate this candid interview! You're just a unique personality and a legendary fighter whom I respect a great deal. So, on behalf of AMAM-MAGAZINE.COM, we want to thank you for taking this time out of your busy schedule to allow me the chance to do this...and, I'm anxious to start our training session now as well.
BV: Okay, let's go!
AMAM: Here we are in Sunrise, Florida choking...I mean checking out! (Laughs)