Since the dawn of man
, man has wrestled. For sport
, and for self defense
, human beings
, like all other animals
, wrestle each other. And as the civilization
s that took root on the planet evolve
d and became more stylized and subtly different, so did their styles of wrestling
. The Greeks
s, and English
all shared basic similarities, but were arranged differently, and had different emphases. For example Russian
styles had more techniques that utilize strength, because Russia has a lot of big guys. Whereas jiu jitsu
styles all favor tight, fast movements and favor the little guy.
The county of Lancashire, England saw its inhabitants practicing a style known as Catch-as-catch-can, where matches were played without time restrictions, and were won not by a pin, but by getting the opponent to verbally submit. This way there was no question as to who was the victor, as opposed to a temporary pin of someone who can just get back up and continue wrestling.
People from other lands would wrestle the grapplers from Lancashire and complain that they were too rough. Indeed, in the absence of pinning, the style became much more like fighting than wrestling.
As the name implies, you catch your opponent any way you can. If you can grab an ankle, you can take the whole leg. If you can grab a wrist, you can get the whole arm. You could use chokes or sleeperholds, you could use neck cranks, toe holds, all manner of arm locks, but that's getting ahead of things.
The style could be broken down into takedowns, including trips and throws, hooks, or submissions, which would include all the toe holds, knee bars, arm locks, wrist locks, shoulder cranks, neck cranks, choke holds, and strangle holds, and ripping techniques, which are the nitty gritty of the Lancashire style and what made it so rough.
Specifically, ripping is utilizing the hard, bony parts of the body to inflict pain on the opponent while negotiating a position. These include kneeing the ribs, elbow grinding to the sternum or back, using the bony edge of the forearm to rake the eye socket, pressing on the bridge of the nose with your palm, arm or chest, and even 'checking the oil', which I won't go into. There are also a multitude of moves used in controlling the opponent, simply clinching, these are known as tie-ups, including the bear hug, overhook, underhook, grapevines, rides, and variations on those. Finally all these moves have counters and reversals, and reversals to those reversals. There are literally thousands of techniques.
Billy Riley's Snakepit in Wigan, England trained some of the toughest wrestlers in the world at the time, which was the 1950's. These included George Hackenschmidt and Karl Gotch.
Catch also took root in the lucrative melting pot of America. Wrestlers would travel with fairs and carnivals duping people into wrestling them for a chance at cash. As more and more wrestlers with real skills began challenging such wrestlers, wrestling for money became its own thing, and the matches began to attract huge turnouts. One of the greatest such wrestlers was Martin "Farmer" Burns, a 'barnstormer' who, once his reputation preceded him, would go into towns under a fake name, take on as many bets as he could, beat the challenger, and leave town with thousands of dollars, and this was the American 1900's and 1910's. His winnings would have been worth millions today. Burns' student, Frank Gotch, no relation to Karl Gotch, was also a great champion, combining Burns' expert training with his own youth and strength.
Eventually professional wrestling as it came to exist in America dwindled in popularity. The catch style or folkstyle of wrestling was toned down to be less injurious to the competitors, and became known as 'freestyle' wrestling. The submission holds were barred, the roughousing banned, and the goal returned to points and pins.
There are a few martial artists today, like Matt Furey, who studied under Karl Gotch, who continue to practice this style, but the closest thing in spectator sports to it is pancrase or pride or the ufc. Except for the punching and kicking, they are using many of the original techniques, though certainly not all of them. Most of the grappling styles in UFC and Pride stem from Brazilian ju jitsu or olympic wrestling. However, Karl Gotch trained many wrestlers in Japan during the eighties and nineties, and in this sense, the catch style can be seen in his students, who make frequent use of the double wrist lock (also known as the Kimura) and toe holds.
Ultimately, Catch is a game, a very rough, freestyle game of catching your opponent and submitting them. Thanks to the recent flare-up in popularity of submission wrestling, the treasure of the original Catch techniques have a better chance of surviving into the next century. But even if few remember or know of what it was, its spirit lives on in modern wrestling.