Josh Barnett: ‘Jiu-Jitsu Is With The Gi, Without a Gi, It’s Whatever Else. For No Gi, Catch Wrestling Is The Way To Go’

Josh Barnett: ‘Jiu-Jitsu Is With The Gi, Without a Gi, It’s Whatever Else. For No Gi, Catch Wrestling Is The Way To Go’



UFC heavyweight and Metamoris heavyweight champion Josh Barnett is rumored to be defending his belt 2013 ADCC champion Roberto Cyborg Abreu at the next Metamoris event.

In this lengthy interview with MMA Fighting‘s Luke Thomas, he explains what catch wrestling is, where it came from and how it’s both similar to and different from jiu-jitsu:


How was the Metamoris experience? Did you get out of it what you’d hoped?

I did. I think I really did. Even better than I’d hoped. Dean was everything I expected and very strong, very tight, smart and crafty. It was easily understood to me why he was one of the absolute best grapplers in the entire world.

Can you walk us through the final submission? It appeared to be a variety of a head and arm choke with some crank.

It’s called a head and arm. It’s a very basic amateur wrestling hold with a little bit of some small technical adjustments made to it. From little kids to full on collegiate wrestlers, everybody knows it. It is one of the earliest holds you learn in wrestling.

Normally it’s simply a ride or pin, but with some finesse to it, you can turn it into a very heavy pressured chest compression, diaphragm choke with some heavy leverage on the neck as well.

But even wrestlers who get into jiu-jitsu go for the head and arm variety where their opponent is flat on their back and they angle off on top. Why isn’t this variety more common?

What you described is the side choke, a.k.a. the kata gatame in judo, which is a different sort of choke altogether. That’s a blood choke. The kesa gatame, or head and arm, a lot of the time almost all of these jiu-jitsu schools would say, “Don’t ever use this position. It’s terrible. You can easily take the back and escape.”

First off, it’s a ride. You have to learn how to ride in that position, hold and pin with it first. Once you understand the dynamics of holding that position and being able to pin your opponent underneath you from there, one, they won’t be taking your back any time soon or doing any fancy escapes. And after riding them enough you can work your adjustments to getting the shoulder lifted and up and off the mat, the head elevated and then applying the the pressure on the diaphragm and the neck.

So, let’s take a step back from what happened at Metamoris 4 and look at the state of catch wrestling today. Is the sport in a healthy place?

It’s healthy, but it’s far less successful in terms of creating more students, creating competitions and garnering the necessary coverage in comparison to, say, Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It’s really got a long way to go, but I think that we’re making good strides with it and starting to become more and more popular, starting to increase the amount of practitioners out there and get people to see it for the legitimate grappling art that it is.

Another trouble is that we don’t have a lot of high-level instructors in it yet either. It takes high-level competitors and high-level trainers. It sucks to get high-level trainers if they don’t have enough competition experience either, so that’s a really difficult scenario whereas with jiu-jitsu, that’s such a more established and more effective competition culture and environment that it’s so much easier to find a person that has both the competition experience, so they know how to hold and work in the real world, and actual, just formal technical knowledge.

How did it get this way? Was there an age where catch was significantly more dominant, more dispersed throughout the world?

Unfortunately, professional wrestling became much more worked than show matches and that became more of a viable entertainment and monetary option than it did to do them for real. Back in the day, there’d be times – 1800s or 1900s – where a match would go on for hours with no man being able to get a real advantage over the other. Obviously after a few of those things the crowds started to wane and it became more interesting for folks to see more pomp and circumstance, more drama, more expected outcomes that could be controlled.

Then with things like judo and jiu-jitsu, in the 40s and 50s and really even earlier than that, became quite popular, but of course some of that is simply a matter of things being exotic, a different way of looking at things. People are often drawn to something that is new or different from them, although wrestling is wrestling, so there’s a lot of similarities no matter what the art it is.

How would you describe the differences, in a fundamental capacity, between catch and jiu-jitsu? Where are they similar and where are they different?

As much as I will say catch really is more of a violent art opposed to the gentle art of jiu-jitsu, when it comes to jiu-jitsu at the highest level, it’s so funny. Everyone talks about all this skill and technique and gentleness, man, the top dudes in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, they all do the same techniques that a lot of folks do, especially if they’re all the same belt levels, except they do them all stronger, faster, harder. There’s a ton of strength dudes in all the games of all the top jiu-jitsu guys. It just wouldn’t work otherwise.

It’s the absolute truth. I think it was Karl Gotch who said “technique within strength”. If you lack the strength to pull the technique off against your opponent, then it won’t work. I remember from a very young age rolling with some of the best jiu-jitsu guys in the world whenever I got a chance to, and just being like, ‘Well, for an art that’s supposed to be so gentle, these guys feel like they’re fuel-injected, super charged funny cars going hauling ass, doing everything to discard everything in their path that they possibly can whenever the opportunity arises.’

So, I guess they’re not all that dissimilar from what we do, but the catch wrestler, we try to punish you, break you down, wear you out. You want to be as heavy on top as you can absolutely be, you want your opponent to carry as much of your weight as you can because that’s exhausting. It wears a person out. It doesn’t give them the opportunity to rest in a position and gather their wits.

The other thing is using the elbows, the shins, the bones of your body to crank and discomfort, apply pain to a person with the properly used half of an elbow when you’re on top in side control, you can maybe use the point of the elbow to dislocate the mandible on somebody’s face. Or drive into the orbital bone on their eye socket and crack it. There’s a lot of techniques like that. If a guy is too tough and he won’t open up, then you find a way to make him open up.

A less violent one, but also effective is simply you’re going for your double wrist lock or kimura, as they call it in jiu-jitsu, and someone’s planting the arm on the mat or they’re putting it on their hip, you can drive the point of your top elbow into the top of the shoulder in the delt[oid muscle], into the connective tissue and there’s a little nerve spot there that’ll actually make their arm straighten out, which can get it off of their hip and allow you to better isolate the arm before going for the submission.

You’re a second-degree black belt in jiu-jitsu, is that right?

I am. I was awarded a second-degree black belt in jiu-jitsu by Rigan Machado.

You have a background in catch, but what did you pick up from training in jiu-jitsu that supplemented your overall grappling game?

Some of the ideas and techniques from working off of my back, but for the most part, I consider jiu-jitsu to be with the gi. For me, it’s been more learning how to counteract it, defeat it and implement my own game plan than it is to wrestle in the same style as everyone else.

I’ve done judo before, too, so the idea of grip fighting is not unusual to me. Even when given the opportunity to compete in a jiu-jitsu setting, I don’t really compete entirely in the same manner. My goals out there are not the same as the average jiu-jitsu guys. I don’t have any problems scoring points on people. It’s just that my idea of scoring points is to increase panic in my opponents to force them to give more opportunity up to me.

Do you think guard pulling is detrimental to jiu-jitsu?

I think the lack of stalling calls has made jiu-jitsu worse. I think they’re competing within the environment of the game they’ve created, so better, worse. I don’t really know. I guess if you’re a jiu-jitsu purist, it’s probably worse because jiu-jitsu would be more throws and takedowns on your feet, more aggressive guard playing and guard on your back would be to just sweep or establish a more dominant position or submission, not to stifle and stall out.

There’s no incentive to actually wrestle on your feet all that much in terms of jiu-jitsu. It’s too easy to just get down.

I would say this. What it really has done is has diluted the idea of jiu-jitsu as a combat art and more of a sport art very specific to what it’s doing.

What would say to curious jiu-jitsu practitioners who might want to try catch, but have concerns about things like training neck cranks. Would you say that’s the same fear that some of those schools have about leg locks?

Just train with good people. I’m sure there’s plenty of guys out there doing jiu-jitsu who’ve gotten their arms blown out by getting some jerkoff trying to omaplata them really, really hard. Or getting their throat wrecked from someone being way too aggressive about a putting on a sleeper or rear naked choke. Don’t train with assholes. You’ll be fine.

It’s not all about going in there, banging heads and see who comes out on top. It’s about learning the intricacies of the technique and then applying it under a controlled scenario so that you can learn it and eventually use it in full speed application.

Jump in! Do as much catch, read catch stuff. Give it a try. Do as much as you can. And not even just catch. Sambo, judo, anything you want to. Go. Do it. Don’t limit yourself with certain concepts. If you want to be the best jiu-jitsu player in the world, by all means, if you want to spend most of your time doing jiu-jitsu, that absolutely makes sense. But, for one, don’t consider just because you may be the best in the world at what you do, that doesn’t make what you do the best in the world. There’s a lot of factors that go into things like that. Nonetheless, there’s always an opportunity to learn something new in one’s art.

Getting back to Metamoris and given the success your techniques and some of Eddie Bravo’s techniques, do you think they should invite guys from different grappling backgrounds to show how much there is to the grappling universe?

I think there’s absolutely a value in doing that. It creates interest, it’s something new to your audience. Let’s be honest, Metamoris is going to be jiu-jitsu competitors and it is the more popular art, so it would only make sense. I don’t think Ralek [Gracie] is opposed to such an idea. He’s been asking me to do Metamoris since the very first event and wanting me to go out there and show my skills.

I like the fact that he had Saulo [Ribeiro] and Comprido compete, the two legends in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, although they’re definitely not over the hill. Some other ideas that I’ve actually brought up to him, he seems quite amenable to it. I know that it is essentially a jiu-jitsu styled environment, but even still, Ralek’s intention is to try and create an open platform for anybody to compete.

In a way you could say everyone’s just going to pull guard if they can’t wrestle and that is true. That’s just something to be taken into account and hey, it’s competition. Figure out a way to beat it.

Dave Camarillo once told me one of the best guys he’s ever rolled with was Flavio Canto, a judoka. I’m wondering if you think there’s a person in judo, sambo, catch or whatever who you’d like to see compete in Metamoris?

Flavio Canto is fantastic. He’s awesome. I’d love to see a student of mine, Satoshi Ishii, go and compete. He’s an Olympic gold medalist in judo and he’s been training catch with me when he’s here in the states for his MMA. So you could see some of the blend of the two arts, which has a history of being bitter rivals. Ever since Ad Santel went over to Japan and beat the crap out of the Kodokan judo champions and declared himself champion of the world in judo until he finally had enough draws and had lost a match or two and decided to stop labeling such, to continue to have to battle with these tough as nails judo players.

I’d love to see some of the top NCAA talent, but unfortunately without the submission aspect, they’re really at a disadvantageous position even if they could go out there and never get caught in something, they lack the ability to fully win the match. That’s not fair to them.

I’m sure there’s plenty of amazing sambo guys. I know that sambo in the U.S. is incredibly small and scattered, but sambo in Europe and Eastern Europe, especially, seems to be doing quite well and is very strong right now.

How do we get catch wrestling to grow? How do we get it five or six times what it is today? If you were in charge of the sport, what has to happen to get us from A to B?

At one point, catch was the dominant art of wrestling all over the world. It was also known as professional wrestling back in the day and it is the reason why so many judo and jiu-jitsu guys from Japan made the trek all over the world, even to Brazil, to eventually start Mitsuyo Maeda to teach Carlos Gracie, which would eventually become Gracie jiu-jitsu.

Catch used to be a huge spectator sport with even competitors from India being the most dominant ever, but to make catch go we need to create the right infrastructure, properly accredited teachers and coaches, and it’d be the kind of thing we could piggyback and see side-by-side with our already established wrestling community: folkstyle, freestyle, Greco-Roman. And not be considered a separate sport, but a separate style.

That would be, in my opinion, the best way to grow it because with that, then you would create regional, national, world championships to  go along with this style of wrestling as with what they already have for Greco-Roman, freestyle.

Catch wrestling’s been in the Olympics already on multiple occasions. I think it would be a perfect wrestling style to make it back into the Olympics, just as much as I think jiu-jitsu would be fantastic to have in the Olympics, but to me, jiu-jitsu is with the gi. Without a gi, it’s whatever else. When it comes to being out there in a no gi environment, catch is the way to go.

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