"I've got a million stories...

at least half of them are true."

- Gene LeBell


Gene and Brandon

gene_and_brandon In addition to working with Bruce, I also shared a lot of screen time with his son, Brandon.

Brandon was a very tough martial artist and his dad would have been very proud of him. The way Brandon and I met was kind of funny. Mike Vendrell is a great stuntman as well as an outstanding martial artist and Brandon's kung-fu teacher; well, he frequently worked out with Brandon and one day Mike brought him to my dojo. Mike (Mike Vendrell is a man that Gene respects so much he named a move after him in his Encyclopedia of Finishing Holds: "The Vendrell Vice") introduced us and asked me to work out with Brandon. Brandon said, "You really want me to work with this old man?" Well I was about 50 then so I got on the mat and showed him how sadistic some old men are. (Gene claims he's still an old man and some claim he's just as sadistic. Gene's definition of "sadistic" is administering an attitude adjustment.) We had a lot of fun together and by the end of our workout I think Brandon went away with a new found respect for judo and senior citizens.

Following our initial meeting some time passed before Brandon and I met again. This time it was on the set of the movie Rapid Fire. I was naturally playing the bad guy and Brandon the good guy.

I was shooting a machine gun and Brandon shot me during a fight sequence. I wanted them to let Brandon beat me up and throw me through a window so I could take some nice falls for him and really show off his martial arts skills. Unfortunately they didn't have the time to do the extra stunts and it would have changed the script so Brandon just shot me. Too bad, it would have been fun if he could have beaten me up a little first. Brandon was a great, great athlete. I just wish he could have beat me up on screen. I mean, every star in Hollywood has beaten me up at one time or another so it would have been nice if Brandon could have done that too. Brandon was really into his acting, but he also didn't mind mixing it up on the mat either. He came down to a few classes and we worked out together just like I did with his dad. Brandon was a tough little scrapper. I learned a lot from him. It was a tremendous experience knowing him and Brandon. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have shared mat time with such a talented family.

Chuck Norris 'Borrows' Gene's Black Belt

chuck_and_geneChuck Norris "Borrows" Gene's Black Belt
Story By Gene LeBell as told to Ray Normandin

"Many years ago, one of the first times I worked out with Chuck Norris was in the gymnasium at Los Angeles City College. Chuck had come in ready for a workout and I noticed he was wearing a white belt. I thought to my self, "that Chuck Norris is a black belt in his system and he is very well respected, what the heck is he doing in a white belt?"

"In my schools or wherever I teach, I strongly advocate cross training. I believe if a martial artist comes in, especially a black belt, he or she can teach their techniques to other people that might want to learn some of their moves. In my opinion, if a person is actually a black belt, I feel they should wear their black belt even if they are not training in the style they are trying to learn. Now if that person were afraid of getting beat up, then they would wear a white belt to throw any accomplished black belt off. However, Chuck Norris is a modest man, he is not braggadocios, so he wore his white belt and I said to him, "Hey Chuck, you wear a black belt don't you?" Chuck replied back, " I didn't bring a black belt with me". So I decided to give him one of my black belts with my name on it. You know, "Gene LeBell."

"We worked out and had a great time. When we finished and it came time for us to leave, I was sitting there waiting for my black belt back and (*) Chuck takes it with him. I knew then how much Chuck Norris wanted to be just like me!!! I went up to Chuck's dear friend, Bob Wall, who was also training with us, and said "Gee, Chuck took my belt". Bob replied, "Well, that is tough, that's what he does to ugly guys".

"The next thing I knew Chuck was doing a movie in Houston, Texas called "Sidekicks". I believe Chuck was rehearsing with Bob Wall and wearing a karate gi and my black belt. A dozen young kids eventually saw that Chuck was wearing "my" belt and said out loud, "Why is Mr. Norris, wearing a black belt with someone else's name on it?" Bob Wall told me, he told the kid's, "The only way to wear another man's belt is to kill him in a death match".

"Bob called me on my cell phone and said, "Gene it seems that in Houston, Texas; you're a dead man". It seems that I can't go to Texas and work on any more movies or anything else and to top it all off, Chuck still has my black belt to this day. In fact, there is a great picture of Chuck Norris and Bob Wall standing back to back in their karate gis and Chuck is wearing my black belt in the picture.

"During this time, I had the opportunity to see Chuck Norris in all his karate glory. Chuck was having dinner with three of his friends. After a wonderful dining experience, the check was delivered to the table. Of course, each man went for the check to the pay the balance of the meal. However, Chuck would have nothing to do with this. He wanted to pay the check himself and wouldn't take no for an answer. Well, the other three men wouldn't take no for an answer either, so Chuck had to fight them for the check. With a few artfully placed kicks and throws, he threw one guy over his shoulder. Chuck did the famous "Chuck Norris Spinning Back Kick" to the second guy. The third and fourth guys, he took out at the same time with a well placed combination of a round kick and a spinning back fist, it was as if Chuck had forgotten that this was real life and not a movie. No man from the table was left standing and Mr. Norris paid the bill. Many of Chuck's friends call him by his given name, Carlos; most people call him Chuck Norris or Mr. Norris. However, if you are dining with Chuck Norris, you had better be quick with the cash or remember his real name, which stems from his manners at the dinner table, "Check Norris".

"Let me get serious for a moment, in the movie business there is a pecking order. That order is extra, production assistant, second A.D., first A.D., and all the way up to the top. Chuck Norris is at the Top; he is a producer, a director, an actor and a star. However, Chuck will talk to an extra or stuntman like they are his equals. Chuck Norris is modest and humble. I have heard Chuck say, "Oh, anybody can beat me, I just get out there and have fun" which isn't actually so. I have seen Chuck work out and he works harder than anyone I have ever seen at perfecting his art. He puts on great seminars and is very attentive to the needs of his students. I have put on my share of seminars and have taken off my belt only to have someone run off with my belt and even my gi top. Who thought Chuck Norris would be the next guy to take off without giving me back my black belt, go figure!

"This time I will be serious; Chuck Norris is an outstanding martial artist, a great actor, a good friend and a class act!"

Gene LeBell

*Chuck did not really steal Gene's belt. Gene insisted that Chuck take it to wear the next time he came to the dojo. Chuck has stated he considers it an honor to have been given the belt and he wears it as a sign of respect. The above story is stated for humor's sake. Gene also says that the reports of his death are greatly exaggerated.

Judo Vs Boxing

Judo Versus Boxing

By Dewey Lawes Falcone

Can A Professional Boxer Beat a Judo Expert?
(The author is a practicing Los Angeles attorney and holder of a Black Belt in Judo. He accompanied Gene LeBell to Salt Lake City)
In the August 1963 issue of Rogue magazine, a magazine of national distribution, an article appeared entitled, "The Judo Bums". The article, written by Jim Beck, added fresh fuel to one of sports enduring and smoldering controversies: whether a judoka could beat a boxer or vice versa. Although impromptu matches have been held occasionally between a boxer and a judoka, none has been held (to the author's knowledge) under specific rules and conditions or between a ranking professional boxer and a ranking judoka. Beck's article, therefore, brought to a culmination the controversy that has raged for years as to which sport is the superior form of self defense.
Beck made some of the following acerb comments on judo: "Judo . . . is a complete fraud . . . Every judo man I've ever met was a braggart and a show off . . . Any boxer can beat a judo man." Beck then described an alleged fight between himself and a judoka in which he, Beck, naturally prevails using boxing. The author met Beck. He stands approximately 6'9'' and weighs about 155 pounds. And he is no Rocky Graziano.
2nd Round: LeBell blocks a blow from Savage.
OFFERED $1,000
In concluding Beck proposed a contest between a judoka and himself ?? . . . no, but a boxer of a caliber of Gene Fullmer. His parting comments were, "Judo bums hear me one and all! It is one thing to fracture pine boards, bricks, and assorted inanimate objects (here, he's confused between the sports), but quite another to climb into a ring with a trained and less cooperative target. My money is ready ( Beck offered $1,000 to any winning judoka). Where are the takers?"
A judoka brought the article to the attention of Gene LeBell. LeBell promptly contacted Beck through Rogue magazine and offered to meet any boxer Beck selected. Gene, the 1954 and 1955 National AAU Judo Champion, was free to meet a professional boxer because of his semi-professional standing. He owns and operates his own judo school in Hollywood, California. Other judokas would lose their amateur standing if they fought a professional boxer.

1st Round: Start of fight. CONTRACT WAS PREPARED
After much vacillating on the part of Beck a contract was prepared by the author which set forth the following specific rules: the fight is scheduled for five rounds, three minutes per round. The boxer will wear a judo-gi top (Judo robe) and a belt. He can also wear boxing trunks, boxing shoes, and to his great advantage use unweighed speed bag gloves which completely cover his hands. He can apply any legitimate punch and hit in any circumstance. He will not be curtailed by NBA rules. Gene, the judoka, will wear his judo-gi, no shoes, and no gloves. He can apply any recognized judo or karate technique except the karate kick. A winner will be declared under the following conditions: when his opponent is disabled or is counted out for ten seconds. A referee will be the sole judge.

Beck selected Milo Savage, a high ranking middleweight. Savage had been fighting professionally since 1945. He had beaten such fighters as Holly Mims, Moses Ward, and Bobby Boyd. He lost two close decisions to former champion Gene Fullmer. He won his last eight fights, six by knockouts and was negotiating to meet champion Dick Tiger. Savage therefore seemed to be a true representative for boxing.
2nd Round: Savage throwing a blow.
The match was set for December 2, 1963 at the Fair Grounds in Salt Lake City, Utah, Beck's and Savage's home town. On the night of the fight, contrary to the rules agreed and set forth in the contract. Savage wore a short, tight karate-gi given to him by Beck who answered that he did not know the difference between a judo-gi and a karate-gi. Savage also wore a pair of unusual, speed bag gloves. There was a metal or plastic plate under the leather running from the knuckles to the wrist and to the tip of the thumb. His fingers were not covered. It was potentially a lethal weapon. Savage, who proved to be a great competitor, asserted that he would fight LeBell in an overcoat if necessary. But Beck and Savage's manager insisted on the gloves and the karate-gi. Gene nevertheless consented to fight him under those conditions.
A large partisan crowd was present including Salt Lake's favorite fighting brothers, Gene, Jay, and Don Fullmer.

Savage and Gene moved cautiously toward each other. During the entire fight Savage never extended his arms except to throw his fast powerful punches. He maintained perfect balance and refused to rush the judoka. Instead he moved cautiously throwing jabs with those deadly gloves. Just before the round ended, Gene managed to grab Savage's short jacket but the boxer was able to jerk away. In the engagement Gene pulled his left shoulder, an old contest injury he had reinjured a few weeks earlier.
Gene LeBell

Realizing that he could apply only a limited number of techniques because of his "bum" shoulder, LeBell's strategy was to set Savage up for a "front choke". He succeeded to flip the boxer with a "corner throw" and immediately straddled him. Savage kept punching and finally managed to put his legs into Gene's trying to break the hold. But Savage's effort was futile. LeBell would not relax. Meanwhile LeBell kept maneuvering for a better position, but the bell rang before he could end the contest. It was easily noticeable that Savage was able to elude the judoist because of his powerful strength and fighting instinct.
Clinch and LaBell giving left Thigh Sweep.

Savage threw a perfect left jab and a right-cross. The right just grazed Gene as he ducked. And both men crashed into the ropes. Gene attempted a "standing front choke" but Savage quickly attacked his opponent's body and slipped away from the grip. Gene then grabbed Savage for a "hip throw" but the boxer ceased punching and grabbed Gene's leg thereby, preventing the judoka to move in for the throw. At that moment Savage tried a "foot sweep". It only jammed Gene's foot but the movement undoubtedly revealed that Savage must have had some judo instruction before the fight. The author also noticed that several times the boxer had attempted to ward off the judo expert with "jigoti"(judo defensive position).
3rd Round: Savage doing a Judo Foot Sweep on LeBell.

Savage leaned against the ropes and compelled Gene to come to him. Gene moved under Savage's jabs and managed to throw Savage with a spectacular left sided "maki hard goshi". He quickly followed with a "neck choke." In a few seconds the boxer was "out cold". The choke was what Gene wanted to use. He explained that he had several opportunities to apply an arm-bar but fear that he might seriously disable Savage. He wanted to prove that judo could be effective without maiming the other party.

Throughout the contest the partisan crowd continuously screamed mercilessly, "C'mon Milo, knock him out!" "Put the red-head away!" "Smash him !" But when Gene LeBell quickly ended the bout and effectively vanquished their idol, the crowds became violent. They threw bottles, paper cups, and other debris into the ring. Fortunately quick-thinking Jay Fullmer climbed into the ring to congratulate LeBell, thereby averting a riot.
4th Round: Clinch before throw by LeBell.
Throughout the bout Savage was not able to land a devastating blow. His most effective punches were to Gene's body but they were not crinoline.
LeBell trying to jockey behind savage towards the end of the fight.

What about the future, will there be more bouts ? Most likely. There will more Becks along the way who will not attempt to learn the sports or arts, but will stir controversies between them. But before they open their mouths they should take this advice. Was it Joe Louis who sagely said: "The sport of judo and boxing should never be compared because they are so different. If I were to meet a judo man and hit him first, I'll bury him. But if I don't and he grabs me, he'll bury me."
4th Round: Savage in prone position after knockout.

It is doubtful whether or not this contest will really settle the controversy between boxing and judo. There will always be those who will say "if" this or that had happened the result would have been different. But perhaps this is the way it should be between the adherents of the two great sports. What was settled on December 2, 1963 was that a ranking professional boxer lost to a ranking judoka under rules which gave each contestant the best possible advantages for the use of his techniques.

Interview with Inside Karate Magazine

insidekarate_w200The 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.

Inslde 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...

IK: Seriously.

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?

GL: Sure. Fight the good fight. Use everything you have. If that doesn't work, cheat.
Cheat anyway..


Bruce Lee - Student, Friend and Teacher


"I met Bruce Lee on the set of the Green Hornet when the stunt coordinator Benny Dobbins called me and told me he needed me to take some falls. He also mentioned there was a guy there named Bruce Lee who was unbelievably athletic and stealing all the scenes from the star because he was doing ALL the fighting. Benny said he couldn't believe this guy, he was kicking like a jumping bean! You have to understand; they had never seen anything like Bruce Lee's fighting style in showbiz yet.

"When I got to the set Benny pointed Bruce out and told me to go put him in a headlock or something. Well, I'm a good employee and I always listen to the boss, so I went over to grab Bruce and he starts making all those crazy noises he became famous for. As a joke, I picked him up and put him on my shoulder in a fireman's carry kind of thing, then I ran down the length of the set and back again. Bruce says "put me down or I'll kill you". So I run down the set again and he says, "put me down" and I say "I can't put you down or you'll kill me". After that I sat down and talked to my boss and the other crew members for a couple minutes with him up on my shoulder. He finally crawled off, we all had a good laugh, and we went and shot our scenes.

"Bruce called me for a few shows because he liked the way I took falls for him - being a judo man made me pretty good at breakfalls. We ended up becoming friends and would work out together and teach each other techniques. I liked working out with Bruce, but I kept getting sick from that stinky incense he burned in his gym. I told him I wouldn't go there because his dojo smelled worse than a Chinese laundry house. Of course, I was only kidding with him, and once Bruce learned that my teasing was all in good fun he started to joke around too. Bruce came to my dojo after that. He was a great guy, and I loved him.

"Bruce loved to learn grappling, he ate it up! He said that people would never go for it in movies or TV because the fights are over too fast and most of the good stuff was hidden from view. He said they wanted to see fancy kicking, acrobatics, and weapons -- he was a savvy showman who knew how to give 'em exactly what they wanted. I wish he could be around now to see how well grappling is doing these days. I remember one time he kicked me really hard. I remember thinking it was a good thing he only wore a size 6 shoe instead of a 14 like me, otherwise that kick would have sent me to China! He was strong for his size, lemme tell ya.

"He used to take me to these authentic Chinese restaurants that had really weird looking food that I just couldn't bring myself to eat it. I don't eat anything that doesn't have horns. He used to tease me about it - which was progress because he used to get offended at my ribbing when we first started hanging out (especially that Chinese laundry bit). He had two students that I remain good friends with to this day, probably because they don't make me eat that weird food. Danny Inosanto, who is every bit as good as Bruce was if not better, and Richard Bustillo. Richard has carried on Bruce's philosophy of cross training and peak physical condition in order to become the best fighter you can.

"I miss both Bruce and Brandon and wish they were still around today."

Gene LeBell (Jan 2000)

George Reeves and Gene LeBell

gene_and_george2"Super" stories of George Reeves and Gene

Story by Gene LeBell

As told to Ray Normandin

"George Reeves was one of the nicest and most giving people that I have ever known. We worked together for a few years, I would travel with him and we would put on live shows. "The Adventures of Superman" starring George Reeves, was on the air and one of the top television shows at that time.

"It was customary in those days for the production companies to have the stars travel from town to town and put on live performances that were based on the television show the actor was presently starring in. I remember while on location in Louisville Kentucky, George and I would hang out together between shows, go to eat or catch a picture show at a local movie house. Sometimes we would play around and wrestle each other for fun. George liked to wrestle with me all the time, just to see if he could beat me. When we were on stage, we would fight and he would win but that was part of the show. George would wear his Superman outfit, the one he wore on television, and I would wear an outfit that was exactly like George's. My outfit had a cape and was all black with a big white letter "K" on the chest. I was called Mr. Kryptonite. On stage we did this gag that was a comedy-wrestling bit. I would come on stage, pick up the damsel in distress, put her over my shoulder and start to run off. George would jump off a riser dressed as Superman, he and I would wrestle around and fight. Of course he would win because he was Superman.

"George was quite a good singer; he always had a desire to sing in the Opera. He would walk around the set and sing wonderful songs in English and Spanish. He was also a very good guitar player. He would play for the crew whenever he had time.

"One day George came up to me and said, 'Gene, what kind of hold can I use on you, that you can't get out of?' I decided to show him a scissors hold. It's a move you use when you get behind a person and you scissor their legs. In this type of hold, if you pulled hard enough you could break their ankles real quick. George decides to try this move on me. Now at this point, I don't think it's a contest, I think it's for fun. He did the move very well and did manage to get me on the floor in a scissor hold. George starts to put pressure on my ankles and I tap him, which is the traditional thing to do when you want to give in or it is starting to hurt. He starts to put on more pressure, so I say, 'That's it, and I can't get out, if you put on anymore pressure, you'll break my ankles'. He wouldn't let go, so I got behind him and choked him real hard and fast. He finally let me go. When I choked him, I squeezed his larynx and he passed out. Unfortunately, when I choked George, I caused him to loose his voice. That day when we went up on stage to do our routine, George couldn't speak. The agent that was with us absolutely lost it, he was in hysterics. He wasn't happy that George had lost his voice because we had to change our routine to include more fighting and wrestling which cost extra time and money. George didn't get his voice back for three weeks.

"I remember a time I was visiting George at his house over off Beverly Glen. We were working out and George said, 'Hey Gene, are you hungry?' I said, 'Yes'. George left the room to go make a quick phone call; at that point I didn't really notice that was what he was doing. A short time later, I notice a truck pull up in front of the house. The lettering on the side of the truck said, "The Brown Derby". A guy walks into George's house with a table and starts to set it up in the front room. Now at this point, George isn't paying any attention to the man or the table as a matter of fact, he acted as if he didn't even notice the guy. He opened up a bag, pulled out a plate and a set of silverware, put food on the table, and mixed up a salad. Then he laid out two of the most giant steaks that I had ever seen. I said, 'Hey George, who's this for?' He says, 'It's for you', so I said to George, 'Sit down here, there's two filet' mignon's'. George turned around and says to me. 'No, you eat them, I don't like filet' mignon'. I sat down and ate both of the filets. The whole time, the guy was waiting on me hand and foot. When I had finished, he wrapped up all his stuff, loaded it back into the Brown Derby truck and drove off. George did this as a joke. George really liked the element of surprise and he knew I was hungry and wanted to treat me to best meal in town. George really loved to give to people and he was a very generous man.

"Around the time George and I were supposed to leave for Australia to put on a live "Superman" show, he signed a deal to do another television series called, "Wagon Train". Other actors, such as Ward Bond, Robert Horton, John McIntire, and others were being considered for regular cast members. Wagon Train ended up having great guest stars like, Henry Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Clint Eastwood and Ronald Reagan. George was offered the part as the new Wagon Master, which was a lead role. He told me he was going to give me the part as the cook, another popular character on the show. One stipulation for him to do the show was that they give the role of the cook to me. When I asked him why he wanted to have me on the show, he said he wanted to make me a "Star".

"We never got the chance to do Wagon Train or our live show in Australia because George tragically died before we could make the trip.

"I have fond memories of George Reeves, not only were we best friends, he was like a surrogate father to me. I was in my twenties and George in his mid forties, he took me under his wing and made me feel like part of his family. George Reeve was truly a genuine guy, and a "Super"man!

"I have other memories of George Reeves that I will share later in a follow up article".

- Gene LeBell

Sports Illustrated April '95


In any color, judo master and film stuntman Gene LeBell is one hard hombre ~ by Mark Jacobs

IT'S HARD to believe. The toughest man alive is standing before me wearing pink pajamas. O.K., they're not really pajamas but rather a baggy judo uniform that has been dyed bright pink. Still, the person martial arts media such as INSIDE KUNG-FU magazine have since the 1950's dubbed the "toughest man alive" turns out to be 62 years old, and he is wearing not only rose-colored clothing but also a pair of reading glasses which together make him look like a benevolent grandfather on Christmas morning. I'm beginning to think I'm in the wrong gym until the old man says "Let me show you something fun" and slaps an Indian death lock on me.

"This is a good one," he says, rolling me over into a hold he calls the figure-four double ouch. "Then you can try this ..."

The pudgy hands of Gene LeBell, nicknamed Judo Gene by a TV announcer in the 1950's, work me over with an excruciating series of locks, cranks and stretches -- each punctuated by LeBell's question, "Now who's better looking, you or me?"

It is a provocative notion, given that LeBell's face bears the marks of 55 years of judo, wrestling, boxing, karate and movie stunt work. There is scar tissue around his eyes. His nose has been bashed bulbous and his ears have gone beyond cauliflowered to broccolied. One does not easily come by a reputation as the toughest man alive.

LeBell, though, was literally born into the esoteric brotherhood of professional tough men. His mother, Aileen Eaton, began promoting boxing and wrestling at Los Angeles's Olympic Auditorium in 1942. At the time she was the only female promoter in the country. This tiny, widowed mother of two was a shrewd businesswoman who made the Olympic a popular boxing arena. She also revolutionized professional wrestling by persuading a grappler named George Wagner to dye his hair blond and hire a valet. Thus was born Gorgeous Goerge.

Lacking a father figure, Gene LeBell was enthralled by the larger-than-life figures who worked for his mother. He got his first wrestling lesson at seven when he asked former professional heavyweight Ed (Strangler) Lewis for instruction. The 300-pound Lewis obviously had a soft spot for children. "He slapped a headlock on me, and I felt like the room was spinning for 10 minutes," says LeBell.

At 12 LeBell took up judo. To round out his education in the martial arts, he also began frequenting the Main Street Gym in Los Angeles, where the West Coast's best boxers gathered. One day in 1948, when he was 16, LeBell found himself in the gym with Sugar Ray Robinson. Robinson asked the teenager if he felt like sparring. Ever humble, LeBell agreed and promised not to hurt the welterweight champion. After being hit by about 300 of Robinson's jabs, LeBell told his sparring partner to come back the next day if he wanted another beating.

LeBell's manic, varied training paid off when he won the 1954 AAU National Judo Championships. As an unknown 21-year-old, he pinned John Osako, considered the top judo player in the U.S., in his first match of the tournament. Although LeBell weighed only 160 pounds, he won the heavyweight division and the overall title. The following year he repeated as national champion, winning 18 matches in two days. So superior was LeBell that he won 17 of those matches with standing throws, never being forced to grapple on the mat.

"At the time, it wasn't that hard, because I was training with 300-pound wrestlers," LeBell says. "The wrestlers back then were tougher."

After LeBell won his second championship, he traveled to Japan with a group from the Air Force to train and compete with the world's best judo players as well as karate and aikido masters. He often practiced in Tokyo at the Kodakan, the headquarters of of judo, where he would work the "slaughter lines," fighting a series of opponents until he lost. LeBell typically ran through lines of 20 men.

It was also in Japan that LeBell's uniform was accidentally laundered with other, brightly colored clothing and emerged from the washer a deep pink. He wasn't unhappy. "It was something different," he says, "and when people teased me about it, it was a good excuse to get them on the mat and stretch their bodies a bit."

Because judo was strictly amateur, LeBell turned to professional wrestling to make money. His first match, in 1955, was at the Olympic Auditorium. The two-time U.S. judo champion was cheered by the crowd for first -- and last -- time. Knowing that the highest-paid performers were the bad guys, LeBell sought to become the nastiest wrestler of all. He was so unpopular that in order not to embarass his family he often wore a mask, fighting under the name of the Hangman.

In 1960 LeBell held the world wrestling championship -- for all of 12 seconds. After defeating champion Pat O'Connor in what he insists was a legitimate wrestling match, LeBell accidentally hit the commissioner in the face with the championship belt while posing for photographers. Thinking he had been hit intentionally, the commissioner disqualified LeBell and stripped him of his title.

It would be easy to blame any of LeBell's antisocial tendencies on the fact that he had no father, but in truth, Judo Gene was raucus almost from the beginning. When he was five his older brother contracted diptheria and was confined for six months to a wheelchair. One day Gene took his brother for a stroll and left him in the middle of busy Olympic Boulevard. His brother survived and got even. As a wrestling promoter he fired Gene more than once. "What Gene did was terrific" says his brother, "but sometimes even I thought he was crazy."

Gene first worked as a movie stuntman in 1955, and his movie work gradually replaced wrestling. Stunt coordinators hired him because he take a punch better than anyone, and they knew actors would be safe with him. The toughest man alive has been beaten up by everyone from Jerry Lewis ("I was ahead on points," LeBell says) to Ruth Buzzi ("She blindsided me"). He has appeared in so many movies and TV shows that he has made more than $100,000. annually in residuals the last 25 years. "People in the stunt world can't say enough nice things about Gene," says Roydon Clark, a stunt coordinator. And actors know he will always lose.

When the cameras aren't rolling, however, however, it's a different story. Except for one defeat as a teenager, LeBell was unbeaten in his judo career, winning more than 2,000 matches in eight years. In training he has bested half a dozen Olympic gold medalists. Even years after retiring from competition he was virtually untouchable. LeBell's son David, himself an accomplished judo player, recalls two-time Olympic gold medalist Willem Ruska visiting from the Netherlands to learn some grappling moves, which, by the way, could never be used in judo competition. "My father showed him a few new ways to tie a man's limbs in knots," says David.

Bob Wall, a former world professional karate champion and friend of LeBell's used to bring martial arts stars Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee to train in karate and judo with LeBell. Wall and Norris were co-owners of a karate school. "The first time Lee sparred with Gene, Gene picked him up and held him overhead," says Wall. "Bruce said, 'When you put me down, I'm going to get you,' so Gene just kept him up there a while. Gene is absolutely the toughest man alive."

LeBell, though, prefers to play down the sobriquet. "People saying you're the toughest guy around is great, but it still doesn't add up to one car payment. Now I get beat up by every wimp in Hollywood and make thousands of dollars. You tell me which is better."

At his age LeBell thinks of himself as a teacher rather than a fighter. He works with martial artists selected to develop new methods of hand-to-hand combat for the L.A. Police department and still teaches a judo class in his cabin about 75 miles north of Los Angeles. He has trained six national judo champions, including the current U.S. title holder, a former Soviet named Gokor Chivichyan. "There were a lot of beautiful judo players in the Soviet Union, but no one like Gene," says Chivichyan, 31. "I hope I have half his strength when I'm his age."

As if to prove the point, LeBell gladly shows off his abilities whenever a visitor is foolish enough to ask for a demonstration. And LeBell can't stand to let someone leave without applying a last wrenching hold accompanied by the question, "Now who's the best-lookin' guy around?"

You are, Judo Gene. Absolutely.

Mark Jacobs of White Plains N.Y., writes often for Sports Illustrated.

©  C o p y r i g h t   2 0 1 1   Gene LeBell.   A l l  r i g h t s  r e s e r v e d .

Web Development by Mills Productions