World champion Shootfighter Bart Vale, author of Shootfighting: The Ultimate Fighting System, is one of the true pioneers of mixed martial arts and reality-based combat in the United States. Vale began his training in kenpo karate in Miami in 1970 with the Al Tracy organization, eventually attaining a eighth degree black belt in kenpo. Admittedly having begun his martial arts career to improve his street fighting skills and give him an edge in the neighborhood brawls he never shied away from, Vale discovered the value of discipline and respect through his traditional karate background. He eventually became an instructor in his own right, heading up a chain of 11 martial arts schools throughout south Florida.
Still, the 6-foot 4-inch, 250-pound Vale maintained a taste for violent physical competition, fighting as a professional kickboxer, handling security for some of Miami’s tougher nightclubs, and even doing a brief stint as a pro football player in the now-defunct United States Football League (USFL). Vale’s quest for combat efficiency was finally fulfilled in the mid-1980s when professional wrestler and martial arts expert Masami Soranaka offered him the opportunity to train and compete in a new style that combined kickboxing with submission wrestling. He made his debut for the Japan-based Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF) in 1988, traveling overseas practically every month to learn the grappling secrets of this new system and to fight in matches against Japan’s best.
Progressing rapidly through the sport thanks to his size and athleticism (during his football days Vale could bench-press more than 500 pounds and run a 4.6 40-yard dash), Vale eventually won the world championship in 1992, defeating one of his own instructors, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, for the crown. Word about Vale’s success spread quickly. He was the subject of a short feature story on MTV and was profiled inMen’s Fitness and Muscle & Fitness magazines. He also stands out as one of the few martial artists to ever be featured in Sports Illustrated.
Not content to simply master his sport as a competitor, however, Vale set about trying to popularize the system that had given him so much. Along with Soranaka and Fujiwara, Vale coined the term “Shootfighting” (a registered trademark) to describe the art, which had simply been called the UWF-style in Japan. He set up the International Shootfighting Association to spread the system through affiliated gyms and martial arts schools throughout the United States and Europe. Currently, his ISFA has more than 70 member schools around the world.