I have always believed that it is critical to have hero’s/role models in any area in which you desire to be accomplished. They motivate, inspire and teach you what it takes to rise to their level – success has a blueprint. One of my all-time favorite martial artists is “Judo” Gene LeBell. In his 70’s now, Mr. LeBell has certainly seen it all and done it all! Check out this Karate Illustrated interview that will give you some insights into the man called by Chuck Norris “the toughest man alive.” – Kyoshi
The only way to capture the flavor of Gene LeBell is to present a one-on-one interview. The main problem is that Gene has a reputation for realism in his interviews, i e., to really understand the technique, you have to experience it In other words, there is the ever-present specter of pain looming over the horizon. Oh, well That’s why I’m being paid the big bucks (Which one of you just chuckled?).
“Judo” Gene arrived with his entourage early one morning When he left, I had suffered no major dislocations or contusions and only minor abrasions. I had also acquired a great deal of knowledge which had eluded me in my 20year study of the arts. And now I can safely state that any know-it-all who smugly shakes his head and turns his back on the knowledge of Gene LeBell is most definitely ignoring invaluable knowledge and is most likely reacting to the threat of having some myths shattered LeBell, who teaches one night a week at the Welcome Mat Dojo in Los Angeles, was surprisingly bright and articulate, After all, in spite of the crazed impression he gives off to maintain the professional wrestling image, he is a teacher and a scholar. He also threatened to “stretch” me it I told anyone what he was really like, so I hope you appreciate the risk I’m taking in the name of journalistic integrity.
Inside Karate: “Judo” Gene, in most of your pictures you have a bit of a crazed look is that for professional wrestling image purposes?
Gene LeBell: It’s because I am crazy! Seriously, that’s part of why People pay money to see a professional wrestling match and they deserve to be entertained. But there’s also a martial purpose for it. (At this point. Gene got a wild look m his eye and stepped forward, touching my shoulder. I reacted by backing away.) You see, I actually didn’t use any pressure at all But because I looked out of my mind, your defensive instincts kicked in. Your subconscious wanted to protect you and it triggered a reaction. Looking crazy or menacing can give you a real edge In a fight because the guy’s subconscious will be screaming, “Get the heck out of here!” On the other hand, looking afraid can make the other guy relax so you can catch him off guard. If you put your hands up and start pleading. his defenses aren’t up Then you stretch him ! Acting is an important part of martial arts, believe it or not
IK: You’re a high-ranking judoka. Do you still believe in traditionalism?
GL: To a point. Like everybody, I have my likes and dislikes I think judo is one of the most effective martial arts around. A guy can take a punch or a kick maybe, but can he take being dumped on his head? Can he take being choked? I’m not real big on kata. I think it develops bad habits. I know in Japan when I first tested for my black belt, we had to spend hours doing kata after kata and prove we could do it. Then we got to fight for our belts.
IK: So what you teach is very modified.
GL: Well, of course. Most of my finishing holds would be illegal in judo. I’m interested in ending the fight. That was actually taught to me by a dog.
IK: A dog?
GL: Uh-huh. I asked what’s the best fighting style and he said, “Rough, rough, rough.” Just remember, Knute Rockne said, “it matters not if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Gene LeBell says, “The only thing that counts is the final score.” In the street, there are no referees. Another thing that bugs me about traditionalists is the way they stick to their techniques. The best strategy is to beat them with what they don’t know.
IK: So you take the eclectic approach.
GL: Actually, I take the knife, club, gun and vial of poison approach. And if that doesn’t work, fight dirty. When different martial arts were introduced in this country, they were very effective because nobody knew them. A street fighter didn’t run up against a man who could kick, and when he did, he didn’t know how to deal with it. Now, through movies and television, most people have some basic familiarity with martial arts. They’re prepared for a kick. I have a philosophy at my dojo. Everybody that comes in I teach something, but I also learn from them. I hate to say it, but most karate guys who kick high in the street wouldn’t stand a chance against a football player. Once you get that leg up, all your weight’s committed to that supporting foot and you’re a real easy tackle.
IK: Okay. Let me ask it this way. Are you down on traditional organized martial arts?
GL: No, I think they’re very important for three reasons. One, they build confidence. Two, they build character. Three, they can be very effective if you know how to apply them right. It’s not so much the moves, but knowing how and when to use them and who to use what on. Of course, this is after you throw salt in his eyes. I’m a fan of all martial arts. They all have something good and they all have something to offer. The problem comes in when a guy gets some superhuman ideas in his head and starts believing some dangerous myths, like a guy’s gonna run away when you kiai or you’re gonna put someone down with one punch or kick.
IK: Is there one factor that you think is more important than anything else for a martial artist?
GL: Absolutely. Being in shape. If you’re in shape, that’s more than half the battle. Part of the reason Bruce Lee was so good was because he was in such terrific shape. He could do pushups on one finger. A lot of people who learn his moves can’t do them because they aren’t in his kind of condition.
IK: Are there any martial artists currently on the scene who you feel stand out?
GL: Bill Wallace. Without question. And Benny Urquidez. Because they know how to make what they have work. Danny Inosanto. He’s one of the best there is. They all do a lot of grappling, and they recognize how important it is.
IK: You also do a lot of stunt work in films?
GL: I’ve got about 30 years in movies now. I do a lot of stunt work and stunt coordinating. I teach a lot of stunt guys to fall at my dojo, although I don’t teach stunts there.
K: Do you have a personal self-defense strategy?
GL: Shotgun, nerve gas, poison darts…
GL: I am serious. What I try to do is humiliate rather than hurt. You can do a lot when you know how to control the other person’s body.
IK: Is there any personal advice you’d like to give our readers?
GL: Buy my book.
IK: I mean of a martial arts nature.
GL: Buy my book or get stretched.
IK: How about this. Is there any final parting wisdom you’d like to give serious practitioners of the martial way?