13 August 2015

Baddest Motherfuckers Ever- "Judo" Gene LeBell

Now that is a fucking metal face.

Growing up, I had two martial arts heroes- Stephen Seagal and Jean Claude Van Damme.  Sadly, Van Damme, all 155 lbs of coke-fueled, stripper groping, splits-doing idiot of him, got beating like a housewife in a trailer home by Hell's Angel-turned-bouncer Chuck Zito, and around the same time, Seagal was literally forced to piss his pants by a 58 year old man- the incomparable, unbeatable, innovative, and crueler than Vlad the Impaler, "Judo" Gene LeBell.  According to the stories, Gene was working on the set of Out for Justice when Seagal started mouthing off like he was a frat boy in an 18 and over bar, claiming that due to his aikido training, he was immune to chokes.  LeBell, who was aware of Seagal's shitty reputation ("he would hurt actors and stunt performers, dislocated shoulders, kick guys in the nuts to see if they were wearing cups, etc") proceeded to immediately choke out Seagal and manipulate acupuncture points so that Seagal shit and pissed himself (Mancini, Mma.com).  Not bad for a who's 58 year old in a pink gi... not bad at all.  After all, he had to contend witht the likes of this absolute beast of a fighter:

And while it's known that LeBell really enjoys embellishing his stories, you have to see how fucking long he holds his chokes to truly appreciate what a mean motherfucker Gene is.  I mean, these demo chokes are so brutal you wonder what he'd do in an actual fight- would he pop the guy's head off and put it on his mantle?  I would say that is highly likely.

Never have I ever seen a person get choked so tightly that he couldn't even lift his arm to tap... but it's not like Gene gave a hairy rat's ass, anyway.

The man who might be considered one of the baddest man to throw ever throw fists with giant, jacked, hairy lumberjack-looking motherfuckers who rode the bull they rode into the ring on was born in 1932 in Los Angeles, of all places.  After he presumably choked his mom half to death with his own umbilical cord, he waited a few years and began training under one of the most feared men in catch wrestling, Ed "The Strangler" Lewis.  Either his parents dripped with testosterone like a 1980's era Randy Savage, or they were the most irresponsible parents ever, because 1) the man is called "The Strangler", and 2) the style being taught to a 7 year old was one in which " grappling, strangling, limb twisting, head butting, punching, kicking, biting and even eye gouging were legal" (Potenza).

Robinson is the one about to unload the world's craziest haymaker on mega-badass Jake Lamotta's face.

After four years of eye gouging and strangling, the dude decided to learn boxing from boxing legend "Sugar" Ray Robinson and a few years later trained in styles that were virtually unknown in the US at the time- shit like kenpo, Taekwondo, and Shotokan.  After mastering that insane list of styles, Gene went back to his crazy brutal strangling groups and moved to Japan to learn Judo and Jiu Jutstu, the sports in which he's a living legend.  By the time he was 59, this master of the choke had earned the rank of 9th Dan in jujitsu and taihojutsu (which is basically a style designed by the Japanese feudal police to kill armed criminals). Finally, at 73 the man in in the pink gi was promoted to the sport that made him famous: 9th Dan in Traditional Judo (Gene LeBell).  

Going fucking HAM.

You'd think the man basically did nothing but train martial arts all day, but you'd be wrong: he was a Hollywood stuntman with 246 stunt credits to his name, 130 small acting roles, and 9 goddamned books.  The dude must never sleep, because that list exhausted me to read.  Oh, did I also mention he fought in what is erroneously referred to as America's first MMA fight (rough and tumble predated it by century)?  According to Gene, "It was the first televised MMA match. It was billed as pitting a judo, karate and wrestling guy against the No. 5 light-heavyweight boxer. I was known mostly for judo because I’d won the Nationals a few times, but I’d also done boxing, wrestling, karate, taekwondo and kenpo, mixing them together before it was popular."  Prior to the fight, Gene threatened to take his opponent Milo Savage's eye out during the fight, and it just escalated from there.  Gene's hands got nerfed when he was told he couldn't punch (presumably because he'd have committed a murder in the ring, and then Savage entered the ring covered in Vaseline (Fightland).  Not that it mattered- when he won the fight in the fourth round by choke, "the ref, who was also the doctor, didn’t know how to resuscitate him with katsu. After he’d been out for 20 minutes, my coach went in and revived the guy. The next morning, the newspaper headlines said, 'The Savage Was Tamed'" (Young).

By the way, did I mention he wrled a bear?  Must've slipped my mind because it's so commonplace.

By now, you have to be wondering how he trained, and you will not be disappointed.  LeBell was basically like a proto Steve Justa, only without the terrible singing, overall look of a hobo, fat gut, and sleeveless flannel shirts.  For fight training and conditioning, LeBell likes six hour workouts of a combination of striking, grappling, and general cardio work... which is fucking insane on a scale I can hardly conceive (Salzano).  As for weight lifting, Gene thought it was fucking boring, which makes sense given his ridiculously diverse resume.  Instead, Gene would do something called the "Tire Toss", an exercise that made him so strong that he was often disqualified from judo tournaments by pussies who thought he was using too much strength.  Awwwwwww... isn't it adorable when pussies get into positions of power and fuck over their betters?  Described as being like the Incredible Hulk, Gene's method for building strength went like this- he'd snatch a motherfucking motorcycle tire, then throw it as far as he could.  He'd do that for the length of a football field, celebrate by throwing the tire over the goal post, and then turn around and head back the way he came in the same manner (Founding Member).  SHEER BRUTALITY.  

You have got to love a guy who writes an autobiography called "The Toughest Man Alive."

Because nothing I could possibly say about this man beats this story, I'll leave you with this little bit of awesome.  The back ground to this story is that there was an inexperienced female ref working a fight between Gene's protege, Ronda Rousey, and an inexperienced fighter who'd only been training for six months.
"So Ronda get’s the gal down and upside down, gets an armbar. And you can see on the film where the gal was tapping, giving up, tapping out, and the referee was just standing there and looking. And I’m screaming “roll her over and break her arm!” and of course she does what Uncle Gene tells her to do, and that was that. It made it look a little bit better, but you don’t want to hurt a kind person if you don’t have to…….unless it makes you feel good" (Judo Gene).


Fightland Staff.  Roots of Fight brings us the story of "Judo" Gene LeBell-- MMA pioneer and terrifying old man.  Vice.  3 Dec 2013.  Web.  13 Dec 2015.  http://fightland.vice.com/blog/roots-of-fight-brings-us-the-story-of-judo-gene-lebell--mma-pioneer-and-terrifying-old-man

Gene LeBell.  Wikipedia.  Web.  12 Aug 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_LeBell#Early_life

Gene LeBell, Founding Member of Black Belt.  American Martial Arts Movement.  Web.  13 Aug 2015.  http://www.amam-magazine.com/gene_lebell.html

Judo Gene LeBell talks Kimura, Rousey, Elvis, Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee.  Wrestling Observer.  23 Dec 2014.  Web.  13 Aug 2015.  http://www.f4wonline.com/more/more-top-stories/118-daily-updates/40467-judo-gene-lebell-talks-kimura-rousey-elvis-chuck-norris-bruce-lee

Mancini, Vince.  A famous story about Steven Seagal peeing himself.  Uproxx.  pr 2011.  Web.  12 Aug 2015.  http://uproxx.com/filmdrunk/2011/04/a-famous-story-about-steven-seagal-peeing-himself/

Mma.com.  Gene LeBell talks Steven Seagal s----ing himself.  Mixed Martial Arts.com.  Web.  12 Aug 2015.  http://www.mixedmartialarts.com/news/390705/Gene-LeBell-talks-Steven-Seagal-s----ing-himself/

Potenza, John.  The Original No Holds Barred Fighting.  Snke Pit USA.  2012.  Web.  12 Aug 2015. http://snakepitusa.com/about-us/catch-wrestling-history/


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. He does shit like this...


    2. I wrote about it briefly for some BME. I don't recall where, but I went into the history of Lancashire and Rough and Tumble and Catch as Catch can.

    3. Awesome man, I will look that up.

  2. Jamie, I love this blog and read it daily for inspiration and training ideas. Would you consider running an entry on William Smith aka the father of Conan? He once held the world record for the reverse curl and is one of the coolest, most convincingly toughest actors of all time.

    1. Damn, he does seem cool. I'll put him on the list.

    2. His Wikipedia alone makes 'The Most Interesting Man in the World' guy seem like Steve Urkel. Jesus. Arm wrestling World champion, semi pro football, CIA clearance, stunt double, wtf?! That will be a great entry in the series.

  3. I've read around the internet that Bruce Lee came by Gene's at one point, while working on developing his JKD. Gene proceeded to fuck Lee up, including giving him a noogie at one point, which pushed Lee towards adding more grappling and trapping to his style. This was from, as I recall, a relatively reputable source, but I can't remember exactly what that was.

    1. I'd believe it. Bruce Lee was pretty good at choreography, but what's his fight record? Yeah, crickets...

  4. I assume the ref working that fight was Kim Winslow, aka "Kimmy Klueless."

  5. Old dudes may be gnarly but there's a lot going for the long time trainer....you get a long career at strength sports. Time to make a lot of mistakes, learn, hit peaks and troughs. But you can peak late in your career. I hit 50 next year. I've got a few nagging long term joint issues but I think work capacity and mental/discipline have only improved.

  6. How about covering Lenny McLean and Roy Shaw?

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