Catch wrestling is a classical hybrid grappling style that was developed in Britain circa 1870 by Mr. J. G. Chambers then later refined and popularised by the wrestlers of travelling carnivals who developed their own submission holds, or “hooks”, into their wrestling to increase their effectiveness against their opponents. Catch wrestling derives from a number of different styles, the English styles of Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling, Cornwall and Devon wrestling, Lancashire wrestling, Irish collar-and-elbow wrestling, Greco Roman wrestling, Japanese Judo & Jujutsu, styles of the Indian subcontinent such as Pehlwani and Iranian styles such as Varzesh-e Pahlavani. The training of some modern submission wrestlers, professional wrestlers and mixed martial arts fighters is founded in Catch Wrestling.
The British term “catch as catch can” is generally understood to mean “catch (a hold) anywhere you can”. As this implies, the rules of catch wrestling were more open than the earlier Folk styles it was based on and its French Greco-Roman counterpart which did not allow holds below the waist. Catch wrestlers can win a match by either submission or pin, and most matches are contested as the best two of three falls. Often, but not always, the chokehold was barred. Also just as today “tapping out” signifies a concession as does shouting out “Uncle!”, back in the heyday of catch wrestling rolling to one’s back could also signify defeat. Frank Gotch won many matches by forcing his opponent to roll over onto their back with the threat of his toe-hold. Some matches however didn’t include pins as a way to win but they were used for control and to get submissions.
However, in traditional Catch Wrestling, hooks are used rather than submissions. Hooks are a form of submission where the submission may be executed so fast that the loser has no time to tap out & were probably derived from the Rough & Tumble mindset. Therefore, another name for a catch wrestler is a “hooker.” A “hook” can be defined as an undefined move that stretches, spreads or compresses any joint or limb. Catch wrestling techniques may include, but are not limited to: the Arm Bar, Japanese Arm Bar, Hammerlock, Bar Hammerlock, Straight Arm Bar, Wrist Lock, Double Wrist Lock (this move is also known as the Kimura in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or the reverse Ude-Garami in Judo), Head Scissors, Chest Lock, Abdominal Lock, Body Scissors, Achilles Tendon Hold, Knee Bar, Leg Lock, Ankle Twist (or Ankle lock/hold), Abdominal Stretch, Toe Hold, Shin Lock, Key Lock (or Arm Scissors), Half Nelson, Full Nelson and almost infinite others. Almost all moves have their own variations and different predicaments they can be pulled off in.
Many of such novel techniques arose out of cross cultural exchanges with Japanese Ju Jutsu proponents.
The rules of catch wrestling would change from venue to venue. Matches contested with side-bets at the coal mines or logging camps favoured submission wins where there was absolutely no doubt as to who the winner was. Meanwhile professionally booked matches and amateur contests favoured pins that catered to the broader and more genteel paying fan-base.
The impact of Catch wrestling on modern day amateur wrestling is also well established. In the film Catch: The Hold Not Taken, US Olympic Gold Medalist Dan Gable talks of how when he learned to wrestle as an amateur the style was known locally, in Waterloo Iowa, as catch-as-catch-can. The wrestling tradition of Iowa is rooted in catch wrestling as Farmer Burns and his student Frank Gotch are known as the grandfathers of wrestling in Iowa. Modern International freestyle wrestling and American Folkstyle Wrestling are Amateur Catch Wrestling without the submissions.
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