Keeping tradition alive… Paul’s bringing iconic British wrestling to his gym

For Paul Bridges tradition is important, a lifelong martial artist he believes it’s vital to learn from the best; from those who understand what they are teaching at the most fundamental level.

One of the UK’s leading Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructors Paul hasn’t got to where he is today without putting himself through some tough training sessions over the years, but rather than rest on his laurels he has recently undertaken a new challenge. He has added to his already formidable skillset to learn the techniques of an almost forgotten UK fighting system, one that was devised in the latter years of the 19th century and remained popular in the north of England through until the 1930 and 40s – he’s been away to learn the skills of Catch Wrestling, or to give it its full title Catch as Catch Can and plans to start teaching it in his Earl Street gym.

Paul Bridges.

While for many people UK wrestling conjures up the vision of pantomime villains in lycra, performing scripted routines with predetermined results the origins of UK wrestling are actually far more serious and many of today’s top Jiu Jitsu and MMA fighters incorporate elements of Catch Wrestling in their armoury of techniques.

“For me it’s all about learning, about growing and improving all the time,” says Paul, “once you think you’ve learned it all you’ve had it,” he says.

Of course Paul knew about Catch Wrestling. He knew that men from the UK had taken on and beaten some of the most skilful exponents of his beloved Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) by using their Catch Wrestling skills.

“It was something that came to fascinate me, I did a lot of reading around the subject and watched videos that were available. The more I looked in to it the more I saw the connections between Catch and BJJ,” he says.

In fact the links were far greater than just between Catch Wrestling and BJJ, the techniques and styles that were developed in places like Wigan, in gyms known by names like The Snake Pit, have travelled all over the world.

Billy Robinson was famous all over the world.

The armlock known in BJJ as the Kimura for example came to prominence after Masahiko Kimura, a Japanese Judo expert and professional wrestler used it to great effect in his famous victory over Gracie jiu-jitsu pioneer Hélio Gracie and had the technique named after him. But Kimura, from Japan, had learned the technique from German wrestler Karl Gotch, who had in turn learned it from Wigan’s Billy Robinson who is acknowledged around the world as a master of the art of Catch Wrestling.

So all this led Paul to want to find out more, to find out what there was in the UK’s Catch Wrestling system that he could bring in to his teaching. But if he was going to learn then he wanted to learn from people who knew what they were talking about and as very few people practise Catch Wrestling these days – and even fewer teach it – finding those masters of the art was not an easy task.

Paul’s dogged determination eventually uncovered the men he decided he wanted to learn from and a few weeks ago he attended a course run by Jake Shannon and Sam Kressin of Scientific Wrestling.

Paul Bridges with his coaches Jake Shannon and Sam Kressin of Scientific Wrestling.

Jake and Sam had travelled with, and trained with, the iconic Billy Robinson and they’d learned their skills directly from the master which was exactly what Paul wanted. Teamed up with what he describes as a ‘great training partner’ a pro fighter called John Hathaway the course was tough but Paul says he learned ‘so much’.

“Jake and Sam taught us the exact style they had been taught by Billy Robinson so it was as close as I’m ever going to get to learning first hand from the master.

“I’m a patriot and I really want to keep alive something that is such a strong and traditional British martial art. I live for BJJ and I would never stop doing it but I love the methodology of Catch Wrestling and I’m planning to start teaching a small class at the Earl Street gym very soon,” he says.

During training met Lee Bronson a one time a regular on televised wrestling bouts in the UK

“I want to open people’s eyes to what a fantastic and amazing martial art that has been under their noses all these years.”

Paul says there are some very big differences between BJJ and Catch Wrestling not least in the strategy employed by the fighters. There is more attacking and less waiting to take advantage of an opponent’s mistakes: “They want you to be able to win a submission from any part of the body that is available,” says Paul.

When his classes start he says he is not looking to teach Catch Wrestling to a big group, rather he wants to teach it to a group of people who want to learn the techniques and fighting styles that are so much part of British heritage and tradition and that have, without people every really knowing, been exported around the world to be used as the fundamentals of many other martial arts systems that we are so much more familiar with today.

Kazushi Sakuraba with Billy Robinson who was working with Sakuraba in Japan as his coach.
And Kazushi Sakuraba and Royce Gracie competing in what would become the longest MMA fight in the modern era At Pride Fighting Championships Open Weight Grand Prix in 2000. Sakuraba eventually won after 90 minutes.


Find out more about Paul’s classes at his Earl Street gym by going to and if you think you might want to find out more about the traditional British art of Catch Wrestling then Paul’s classes start next Tuesday, October 15th, at 7.30pm call him for more information on 07967 659867.  





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