RIP Gene LeBell – Part III
Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/ SCNG

Los Angeles Daily News

The late ‘Judo’ Gene LeBell’s 90th birthday is celebrated by 200 friends, students, family

LeBell's top student, Gokor Chivichyan, held the event at his martial arts academy, remembering a guy bigger than life

By HANS GUTKNECHT || Daily News PUBLISHED: October 18, 2022

On Sunday, Oct. 9, legendary martial artist and stuntman “Judo” Gene LeBell would have turned 90. Two hundred of his friends, students, and family gathered at Hayastan MMA Academy in North Hollywood to celebrate his storied life and remember how he touched each of them in a way only LeBell could.

LeBell’s top student, Gokor Chivichyan, hosted the event at his martial arts academy to celebrate the life of his mentor and close friend. “It is his 90th birthday and a celebration and memorial for him,” Chivichyan said. “This is his wish, to do this, and I promised him that I’m going to do this on his birthday, and I keep my promise today.”

LeBell passed away on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, just two months shy of being a nonagenarian.

A large frame surrounded a pink gi — his signature judo uniform — hung above a doorway leading to the training area. The pink gi was inspired by a trip LeBell took to Japan where a pair of his red socks or shorts made their way into the laundry, turning his white uniform to pink.

With only one uniform in his luggage, he wore the pink gi in Japan, and beat the competition.

Almost everyone present to honor him wore a Gene LeBell tee-shirt, and his widow Midge sported a sweater covered in patches that LeBell made over the years to give out to fans for souvenirs.

A video shown at the memorial featured many of his accomplishments from the stunt and martial arts world, evoking smiles, laughter and tears that had many in the crowd wiping their eyes.

Along with many others, speakers included Ronda Rousey, former UFC champion, WWE professional wrestler, actress and Olympic Judo medalist; Bas Rutten, former UFC Heavyweight Champion and a three-time King of Pancrase world champion; catch wrestler, former UFC Heavyweight Champion, former Open weight King of Pancrase world champion, and Bellator fighter; and AnnMaria De Mars, first American to win a gold medal at the World Judo Championships.

Each speaker spoke fondly of the larger-than-life LeBell, recounting stories and memories of how he inspired them and the love they felt for him. They shared their stories about the “Toughest Man Alive” and “Godfather of Grappling’s” warmth and generosity.

“He was a man that no endeavor was too tall for him to accomplish,” Josh Barnett said of LeBell.

“So to be a martial artist of his degree in the art of Judo is incredible; to be a pro wrestler of that level, incredible; but then to go into stunts and the motorcycle riding and the acting and everything else. To start academies, and then have a lineage of students that he brought up, not just martial arts but also film.”

Barnett said of his accomplishments, “It’s really just incredible to see someone be able to tip the scales of the world with just his own hands like that. … I feel really fortunate to have had him as a part of my life as it is, and really glad to also been able to tell him what an amazing human being, and what an amazing martial artist, he was — straight to his face.”

Challenge coins, decorated with an image of LeBell, were sold for donations, which raised more than $2,000. It will be donated to St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Southern California, in honor of LeBell.

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By my good friend -
  • USA JUDO Referee Commission.
  • Florida Judo Inc. Referee Chairperson.
  • Florida State Judo Yudanshakai Referee Chairperson.
  • US Referee 2008 Olympic Games.

If you want to continue to grow our sport we need to encourage our students to referee at local tournaments. All future aspiring Judokas from your clubs IKKYUs and up to SHODAN should be mandated to learn and help referee at our local tournaments just like they need to learn their Nage No Kata for Shodan.

We are doing a discredit to the sport if the leaders of the 3 Judo Organizations don't required these future Judo teachers to learn and help with refereeing.

I have express this to all 3 Organizations in Florida with no one showing up to Referee Clinics or have anyone interested to referee. We cannot continue with the situation the way it is with 150-200 competitors 6 to 8 hours of continue refereeing and only a hand full of referees working the event.

It is not fair for the athletes in Florida and for our core of Florida Referees to be officiating an event without breaks or time to refresh and recharge the batteries. That's why sometimes you see mistakes happening.

If don't educate our students about the value of cooperation and collaboration in tournaments and with Referees Judo will suffer. I am exhausted beyond believe and have no more words to ask you to please rethink the way you encourage and teach your students at the dojo.

The same 5 or 6 Referees is not the answer.

The future is up to you!

To this end Just Announced!

Saturday 22nd Referee Performance and Rules Clinic at Harbor Dojo, Harbor City, CA

Gary Takemoto – Clinician, Shichidan (7th Dan), 2016 Rio Olympic Referee

  • 1pm to 5pm
  • Harbor Judo Dojo
  • $60 donation per person

1306 W. 253rd Street

Harbor City, CA 90710

Yummy refreshments will be served. Please RSVP at your earliest convenience to:

Liana Harada at or Gary Takemoto at

October – 2022 cont.

November – 2022

December – 2022

I’m always looking for new subjects to write about regarding judo as well as contributions from my readers. Please send them to, thanks.

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