Find out what "Judo" Gene LeBell -- the man who Ken Shamrock said was so tough you'd basically have to cheat in order to beat him -- has to say about shortcuts to success. (Hint: There are none.)

When mixed martial arts competitions such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship were first getting their start, one of the results was a refocusing of attention on several then-new concepts in fighting strategy and techniques. Traditional martial artists reacted with everything from curiosity to rage. Regardless of individual opinion, one concept became clear: In real fighting, there are basically two types of fighters — grapplers and strikers. This crucial observation — echoed by outspoken figures such as Bas Rutten in his Mental Strategies for Fight-Winning MMA Techniques and Lifesaving Self-Defense Moves e-book — inspired the original version of this article, consisting of an interview with Gene LeBell, the “Ultimate Grappler,” and Benny Urquidez, the “Ultimate Striker.” We present the Gene LeBell portion of that interview here, which was originally published in the special issue Black Belt Presents Grappling & NHB.


* * *
Gene LeBell is so highly regarded by martial artists that he has become a living legend. How does a person beat a guy like him in a match? “You don’t,” says Pancrase champion and UFC 6 superfight winner Ken Shamrock. “A guy like that is so tough that you’re not going to intimidate him. He’s so strong that you’re not going to knock him out. Basically, to beat a [guy like] Gene LeBell, you have to cheat. You either have to come up from behind him and get lucky to get a choke, or you have to kick him in the groin.”

Black Belt: Do you fight a grappler differently from a striker?

Gene LeBell: You always go for what you consider his weakness. You attack or counterattack his weakness, no matter if he’s a wrestler or karate man.

If your opponent is built strong on top, you go down for his legs?

Gene LeBell: Yes. Everybody has a different weakness. Some are jabbers; some are plodders; some are fast movers. You attack them all differently. Every martial artist has weaknesses, some more than others. And every art has weaknesses, and that includes judo and wrestling.

Can you give an example of taking advantage of the other man’s weakness?

Gene LeBell: If you’re fighting a boxer, he has no defense below his waist; you take him down and then it’s the best wrestler [who wins]. You play your own game, not his. A boxer can’t force you to stand up, but you sure can force him to lie down.

Are certain techniques more effective for certain body types, like a 5-foot-4-inch, 130-pound man who has to fight a big, strong wrestler like Ken Shamrock or Dan Severn?

Gene LeBell: The first thing you do if you run into a Shamrock or Severn is get out of his reach fast. You must live to fight another day. But if you can’t get out of there, you can open your hand so you have a four-inch longer reach, and the toughest guy is the one who can take out the other man’s eyes first. The nerve endings are so close to the brain that you don’t even have to take the eye out — you can “dot” it. If you get a thumb in the eye, it can be all over.

Download this FREE Guide to face-mashing an attacker! Face Mash! Kelly McCann’s Essential Self-Defense Moves for Winning Real Street Fights

No one can resist an eye strike?

Gene LeBell: Right. The ultimate martial artist is a guy who can humiliate his opponent instead of hurting him. Benny Urquidez can hit you 100 times in a minute and kill you with any one of them, or just humiliate you like that and not hurt you. The thing I admire about Benny is that not only is he a classic in his field and a legend in his own time, but he’s also an outstanding grappler. People don’t know he’s a grappler because when they see him, he’s doing full-body contact. Grapplers should also know how to block, bob and weave. You should learn all arts so you can defend against all arts.

What should students look for in an art, an instructor and a school?

Gene LeBell: If you’re going to talk the talk, walk the walk. The man that enjoys himself will [learn] better. When I say learn, I mean ...

... That it becomes second nature in a real fight?

Gene LeBell: Good. How many people have taken grappling or karate and when they get in a real fight, they start swinging [wildly] with their arms? Make sure the techniques work — whatever art you practice — and that they become second nature, like walking or eating strawberry shortcake.

What does it take to be a great fighter?

Gene LeBell: Practice and conditioning. To get good, you have to be in condition. This is critical. Also, full-body contact and sparring against an opponent who resists are very important.

Get in condition with this FREE download! MMA Workouts 101: How to Start an MMA Conditioning Program for More Effective MMA Techniques and Self-Defense Moves

How many times a week should a person work out?

Gene LeBell: The more you work out, the better you get. The harder you work out in any vocation or avocation, the better you get.

And the length of each workout?

Gene LeBell: It depends on your teacher. Some work you for a half-hour, some for an hour, some for an hour and a half. My students are not commercial fighters, and they’re usually all champions and contenders in their own right. I like to work them long and hard for six hours. When they call me a sadistic [so-and-so] under their breath, I consider it a compliment.

Do you have any special techniques for fighting a guy who is much bigger and heavier?

Gene LeBell: Yeah, a gun. Size is not the criterion; it’s the amount of ability the size has. If a guy is much bigger, you must estimate his ability, and you can never be completely accurate. If it’s [Mike] Tyson, you fight him differently than a guy who just got out of an iron lung or who’s just big and eats a lot. Sometimes it takes years before your technique becomes second nature. There are no shortcuts to success.

Do you have a favorite technique?

Gene LeBell: I like a series of techniques. If a man does not have a weapon, he has only five units: two ...

... Two arms, two legs and a head to attack you with. If he’s beside you, he has two weapons: one arm and one leg. When you’re behind him, he doesn’t have any.

Gene LeBell: You’re my man.

I have seen your videos and read your books. I think Grappling Master and The Handbook of Judo form the bible of grappling.

Gene LeBell: Good. The first and most important thing in self-defense is to not get hurt — to save your butt. If a guy has a tremendous advantage and you’re the underdog, get out of there and come back and fight when you’re not [the underdog].

What is more important: speed or strength?

Gene LeBell: It’s a combination of both. If you’re strong but you move in slow motion, you’re not going to hit anything.

Do you fight differently for self-defense as opposed to competition?

Gene LeBell: Yes. In self-defense, if two or more guys are attacking, [one attacker] could blindside you while you are grappling with [his friend]. You’d have to use full-body-contact striking and grappling — such as Benny does.

Are there any other karate men you like?

Gene LeBell: There’s a lot of them. For starters, Joe Lewis, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace and Chuck Norris. They’re my heroes, along with Benny. I like Bill Wallace because he’s a scratch golfer and rides motorcycles. Joe Lewis I like because in a commercial he used my three-finger grip, plus he eats raw meat — both of which are my inventions. Joe is also a fantastic karate man who likes to grapple. I always admire martial artists who do other arts besides their specialty. I like Bill also because he eats hamburgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Breathe new life into your karate with this FREE download! Karate Techniques: Fumio Demura Reveals How to Make 6 Types of Karate Moves Work Properly

Who are your favorite grapplers?

Gene LeBell: Lou Thesz and Karl Gotch. Karl taught me, also. He would just put his hands on you, and it’d hurt.

You are a big fan of reality-based combat. Why do great, experienced fighters sometimes forget the simple things like using the finger spread, grabbing the groin or using the “half Boston crab” when held in the guard?

Gene LeBell: Bad training or bad trainers.
SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
Keep Reading Show less

Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

Keep Reading Show less

Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter