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Roberto Pedreira












Global Training Report


Gene LeBell 

Reveals his Top 12 Grappling Secrets 


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  on 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 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. 



Legendary Notebook


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 of. In 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 random reflections.

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."

7. "Stretch."

8. "Relax."

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 (below).


(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.







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