Global Training Report
Reveals his Top 12
By Roberto Pedreira
It was a warm and sunny late morning in Los Angeles when I arrived at the
Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts at 7298 West Manchester Av. suite #B that
Wednesday December 21, 1994 for my 12:00 Muay Thai class.
But something was happening. There was a strange old man standing
the concrete floor. Had a homeless person wandered in? Or a
star-struck Bruce Lee fan drawn in by the fact that his most illustrious
student Dan Inosanto, taught Jeet Kune Do Concepts there? (It did happen from
time to time). Not really. I had seen The Beverley Hillbillies, Burke's
Law, Blue Hawaii, Paradise Hawaiian
Style, and The Killer Elite (one of my training partners named Johnny
Burrell had a small speaking role as Jimmy Caan's karate teacher). If that
weren't enough, the gi he was wearing would have been a dead give-away. Only one
man had balls big enough to wear a pink gi.
The fact that he was chatting amiably with Guru Dan was another clue. Also
the presence of three guys with standard white gis, all with black belts. One
had moved out from Hawaii to study Aikido with Steven Seagal and get into the
movies (he said). He was John Lewis, who in his legendary fight with Carlson
Jr., revealed some of the
limitations of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (well, sort of....at least to naive people who
believed that BJJ was unbeatable.
But then, John had been studying with Gene, so it didn't prove much). Another
had the odd name of Gokor. The third was LeBell's son. And another guy
dressed in street clothes.
For reasons unknown to me, a special seminar had been arranged. Muay Thai was
cancelled but I was invited to participate without paying
the 25$. Gene taught roughly 19 pro wrestling, judo and jiu-jitsu techniques (more if you count the variations)
during the two hours seminar. Although, in keeping with his philosophy (see # 3
below) he didn't call them that.
Taking notes is a useful learning tool. It forces you to
understand in the simplest way and get to the essence of the technique, what
makes it work. (Jazz guitar legend Joe Pass recommended the same method to
musicians who need to memorize 300 songs). It also facilitates review.
It doesn't always work unfortunately, for example, if the
material is over your head, or your notes are illegible. I took notes,
but I barely understood any
of the techniques with the exception of the rear naked choke. I had just
recently started training at Rickson's academy on Pico. I had a little shooto,
judo, and kuksulwon under my belt. I knew some positions.
But Gene's material was too miscellaneous for a novice and was essentially the
way submission grappling was taught at the academy (by Yori Nakamura and
Erik Paulson), which is not to say there is anything wrong with that, only that the
emphasis is more heavily on the side of learning plenty of techniques as fast as
possible rather than dialing in a few at a time
(the way Rickson taught). But of course, it was a seminar attended
by a mix of people, none of whose backgrounds or interests LeBell was cognizant
a situation like that, the general thing to do is assume nothing and teach a bit
of everything, and err on the side of providing something new and hopefully
eye-catching and breath-taking. (The purpose of a short public seminar is more
to share some time with a great teacher and pick up a tip or two than to vastly
advance your game).
John and Gokor spared with everyone who wanted to and tapped them all without breaking a sweat.
(Yori and Erik would undoubtedly have done better, but they weren't there and didn't need to
experience how effective grappling is to appreciate it. They already knew).
Possibly Larry Hartsell too. Larry had been a wrestler and had trained with Gene, but was considerably
out of shape in 1994. If there was one thing he knew, it was that you have to be
in shape to grapple. Gene knew it too. That's probably why Gokor and John did
the grappling (although I would have put my money on Gene, even out of shape).
Gene demonstrated a technique on every participant who was
willing to suffer
pain. "LeBell is all about pain" as one guy who knew him well
summarized. Gene demonstrated an Indian Lock on me, which as I anticipated, was
painful. The technique
is shown in his book, and to the best of my recollection
the Panther Productions VHS tapes that went with it. I tapped quickly.
The value came after the techniques, in the form of Q & A, and Gene's
1. "Go for the hold that's there."
2. "Don't grab tight, use your weight."
3. "It doesn't matter what you call it as long as you can do it."
4. "Everything is a handle."
5. "Fight for the body, not the arms."
6. "Pull don't push."
9. "Use mouthpiece for death matches."
10. "Throw tires."
11. "Go to Jet Center for sparring."
12. "You need 4-5 hours to really train."
He didn't explain what he meant by each bit of wisdom. We
would understand when we were ready to understand, he probably thought, and I
agree. One thing was clear though. LeBell didn't believe in artificial labels on
arts. Grappling was grappling. You may have cloth to grab or you may not, but
the underlying principles are the same.
But he kept his best fight tip secret. It is almost 100% effective, or at
least as close to 100% as you can get in the sphere of self-defense. Once you
hear it, it is so obvious, you'll wonder why you didn't think of it yourself.
That's where Gene's life-time of experience on the mats, and in the rings, and
on the mean streets, made the difference. I won't reveal the secret here, but if
you really can't stand not knowing, read the Grappling Master review
(c) 2014 Roberto Pedreira, all rights reserved.
More about Gene LeBell on GTR: Grappling Master
And, here's a nice
picture (mid-way down) of Gene refereeing the Muhammad Ali versus Antonio Inoki match in
Tokyo. Let's just say it was not Ali's finest hour in the ring.
Inoki's brother (Hiroyasu Inoki) is a karate teacher in Rio and has been since
the 1960's. Read here. Read more about Hiroyasu Inoki
in Choque 3.