Combat Wrestling spawned from the world-renowned Kiguchi Dojo in Tokyo, Japan, during the 1990's. It was there that its founder, Noriaki Kiguchi, developed a rule set where tacticians from different forms of grappling could test their skills against each other on an even plain.
The first tournament took place in 1993 and many others followed.
Mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters like Takanori Gomi, Rumina Sato, Masakazu Imanari and Genki Sudo all rose to prominence under Kiguchi's tutelage in Combat Wrestling tournaments before showcasing those skills in MMA competition. Several of those aforementioned names competed in PRIDE, Shooto, DREAM and UFC competition.
"Mr. Kiguchi was the first wrestler to come with a submission grappling rule set, not based on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), long before BJJ even got popular," Ivaylo Ivanov, the president of the International Federation of Combat Wrestling (FICW), recently told MMAmania.com. "He is the original creator of a style, very popular in Japan in the 90s."
Ivanov was exposed to grappling at a very young age due to his uncle being a International Greco-Roman wrestling referee. In addition to spending 10 years in Japan, training under Kiguchi, he traveled other parts of the world and competed in Judo, Sambo and BJJ, and spent three years in China as well as two in Mexico, training and learning with many a great athlete.
After the turn of the century, Combat Wrestling was on a considerable down stroke in terms of popularity, participation and interest. And that was due in part to the "global rise of BJJ-esque grappling rule sets," Ivanov said.
"A few years ago, though, Sambo came back strong on the international grappling scene and ever since, there have been a quest for the ultimate grappling rule set, able to provide a common ground for competition to all grappling styles, without taking away anything from their arsenal," he explained.
The seasoned grappling veteran, along with his team spent a great deal of time analyzing all competitive grappling formats before the creation of the FICW. From there, they laid out the current structure of Combat Wrestling.
"We took the Sambo rule set, extended it with a few positions and submissions from BJJ, added higher pin scoring, to satisfy the judo and wrestling practitioners, keeping in mind, that simple is best. And after we came with the final draft, I realized I have seen something similar, while I was living and training in Japan: Mr. Kiguchi's Combat Wrestling."
After careful consideration, the FICW decided to honor the original creator and asked Kiguchi to join their efforts, and the revered originator "gladly accepted," said Ivanov, who added that was in 2014, about a year after he began the first steps to create the FICW.
On August 22, 2015, the first World Championship of Combat Wrestling will be taking place in Varna, Bulgaria. As of now, 12 countries will be bringing in grapplers to compete, including: United States, Canada, Germany, Philippines, Russia, Japan, Mexico, Bulgaria, Italy, Nepal and Malta. Each country will hold a team trial tournament to select who competes in the World Championship on August 22.
Ivanov touched on the process to launch the world championship.
"It took a lot of time to test a few different scenarios and variations of the rule set, mat, etc; and get the dedication of all the team members and combined efforts to organize not only the championship, but also national team trials and club tournaments," Ivanov explained about how he began to assemble the World Championship.
Combat Wrestling is a No-Gi competition, and matches are five minutes in length. Grapplers wear wrestling shoes, something that is prominent in Sambo, wrestling, and catch wrestling. Its unique rule set is submission-based like most grappling competition, with points being awarded for throws, pins and positioning. Submissions like heel hooks and neck cranks are prohibited (full rules here).
A huge difference from tournaments that follow the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) rule set, is the disallowance of the closed guard position. Combat Wrestling encourages action. If two competitors are at a stalemate, they will be restarted from a standing position. If a grappler is stalling, he/she will receive a warning. A second warning will award a point to the opponent and a third will lead to disqualification.
Stephen Koepfer, the president of the American Sambo Association, who will be hosting the U.S. team trials in Lowell, Arkansas on April 11, 2015, has known Ivanov through the Sambo community for years (U.S. Team info here). Koepfer also has a relationship with Masashi Yoshizawa, the Japan FICW representative, and Kazu Watanabe, a three-time Japanese Sambo champion, who came from the Kiguchi Dojo.
Koepfer spoke very highly of Kiguchi, his Dojo and Combat Wrestling.
"I have never met Mr. Kiguchi, but I have incredible respect for him," he said. "I have known about combat wrestling for a very long time. It was actually very influential for me in my own grappling style. The rules push for a very action packed and dynamic style of submission wrestling."
"Many of my favorite MMA fighters and grapplers have come from Kiguchi Dojo and Combat Wrestling tournaments. I do not think modern fans of MMA and grappling sports realize just how influential he has been in our sport. It is an extreme honor to be working with him now on taking Combat Wrestling international."
Koepfer also spoke to MMAmania.com about the Combat Wrestling rules and how they are alluring to different grappling styles.
"I tend to think that the more diverse a set of options an athlete has to choose from, the better it is for the athlete," said Koepfer, who is also the head instructor at New York Combat Sambo in Manhattan, NY. "Even with my own team, we compete under every rule set possible. It is the only way to become a complete submission wrestler. Rules that limit some areas will foster development in others. I don't find it helpful to complain about what a particular rule set may lack.
"I don't see Combat Wrestling as being better that any other set of rules per se, but I do think the rules are extremely inclusive and attractive to a wide variety of athletes," he continued. "I certainly don't see Combat Wrestling replacing BJJ, Sambo, Judo wrestling or Catch. In fact, I see it as the perfect no-jacket submission wrestling sport for all these folks to meet and compete against each other. It is a phenomenal neutral zone as it were.
"I think the rules are attractive because they value all aspects of the submission wrestling match: The throw and takedown are qualitatively valued, pins are valued, dominant positions are valued, and of course the submissions are valued. Oftentimes in other rule sets one of these is compromised or sacrificed."
On May 23, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, the Canadian team trials will be held. Overseeing those efforts will be Kris latskevich, the head coach and co-founder of the International Submission Wrestling Alliance (ISWA). The ISWA has held many Catch Wrestling tournaments in the U.S. and Canada, but this will be its first experience in Combat Wrestling and he is thrilled to be a part of it (Canada trials info here).
"I'm a fan of Combat Wrestling, always have been," said latskevich. "When you look at the number of standout grapplers and mixed martial artists involved, and then look at the format of Combat Wrestling and how dynamic the sport is, it is easy to understand why anyone would become a fan. I remember watching Combat Wrestling matches back in the 90's and wondering how I could get over to Japan to compete in it.
"I love the format, I think the rule set is absolutely awesome and gives anyone from any background a chance to compete successfully. We are lucky to have Combat Wrestling make its way as an international sport and I am proud that the ISWA will take part in helping the FICW grow internationally. This is all very exciting news for the grappling community."
Former UFC fighter, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Season 8 cast member and BJJ black belt, Rolando Delgado, is not familiar with Ivanov or Kiguchi and all the history of Combat Wrestling. But, after learning about it, he feels it closely resembles the "type of style that wins in MMA." So, Delgado will be taking several members of his Westside MMA team — which is based in Little Rock, Arkansas, to the U.S. trials on April 11th.
"There needs to be an option for grapplers that have wrestling, Judo, and Sambo bases to display their skills," said Delgado. "I like the rule set and I'd love to see this take off. We are at a little of a disadvantage to the Sambo guys since we play a more Jiu-Jitsu based game, but we are always looking forward to new challenges at Westside MMA."
With hugely popular and world-renowned tournaments already existing like Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) and now Metamoris, Ivanov believes Combat Wrestling can stand among them as far as popularity and admiration from the grappling community goes.
"In terms of popularity, absolutely," the FICW president said. "I believe our format gives equal chances to win for all styles of grappling, with minor adjustments. ADCC and Metamoris are great tournaments, but been created and based off BJJ, they are not really convenient as a rule set, for wrestlers or judo and Sambo guys."
"I believe it has the potential to be huge," said Koepfer, who said Kiguchi was very influential in his own grappling style. "But, of course it is all an experiment and what we do now in the beginning will have great impact on our future success. This will depend on the hard work and dedication of all the national representatives and, most importantly Ivaylo and his team at the FICW headquarters.
"Additionally, trends in today's combat sports world have really aided in pushing Combat Wrestling onto the international stage. To me there is no doubt that the popularity of grappling sports and events like ADCC and Metamoris coupled the over-saturation and discontent with contemporary MMA have set a stage for this."
Ivanov pointed out that the FICW is a non-profit organization that is seeking to be recognized and included by United World Wrestling (The International Wrestling Federation), and says the goal is to "work closely with the already existing national wrestling-judo-sambo federations."
Ivanov is currently in Japan meeting with Kiguchi as well as handling logistical obligations like forming a referee committee, preparing the first federation congress and organizing trial dates with different country members. He says the vast network of FICW was "naturally created" by his years of travel and the many great athletes who shared his enthusiasm.
Combat Wrestling has been receiving a great response thus far from all the countries that will be bringing a team to Varna, Bulgaria, on August 22nd. And Ivanov was happy to report that the man responsible for its inception is pleased with the positive reaction.
"We had a very detailed meeting," he said. "Mr. Kiguchi is very happy with the recent global development of Combat Wrestling."