Gene LeBell

Gene LeBell

"Judo" Gene LeBell

Gene LeBell is an American martial arts professional, jiu-jitsu master, judo ex-world champion of international repute, author of 12 books, and one of Hollywood’s most requested stuntmen. He is best known for his wrestling technique of “grappling”, for which he is considered to be a ground breaker. He has won international accolades from the United States Jiu-Jitsu Federation (USSF), which promoted him to 9th Dan in judo, jiu-jitsu, and taihojutsu.

He eventually received his 10th Degree. LeBell has won the National AAU Heavyweight Judo Championship and the USA Overall Judo Championship titles from the very beginning of his career. He also won a professional wrestling Heavyweight championship, which was quickly removed from him after accidentally hitting a commissioner on the head with his belt.

With a dossier of over 1,000 TV shows and movies, LeBell is undeniably one of the most multifaceted athletes in the history of the United States. LeBell is a father of 3. His son, David LeBell is a stuntman. Gene has four grandsons and is currently residing in California.

While Gene LeBell is known for his legendary talent with the grappling technique, and for having defeated athletes deemed “undefeatable” he is more known for his work as a stuntman, as well as for his larger-than-life personality, which has earned him the nickname “The Toughest Man Alive.” He is also a guru in all things martial arts who, for years,has been teaching this grappling techniques in dojos, via DVD, and as a professional guest in a variety of TV shows and MMA enthusiasts conventions.

Gene's Beginnings

Born Ivan Gene LeBell, this American judo and martial arts expert was born on October 9, 1932 in Los Angeles, California. Growing up, LeBell experimented with a number of sports, but found his passion in martial arts, wrestling, and even boxing.

Although he showed talent in those disciplines, it was judo where he truly excelled. As a result of his demonstrated skills, LeBell was sent to Japan to perfect his craft at the Kodokan school.

LeBell's Promotions and sports

LeBell had an undeniable talent for the art of fight, which he fostered from a very early age. His childhood was spent around all things boxing and wrestling, mainly thanks to his mother, the very well known sports promoter Aileen “Red Head” Eaton, who also owned the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium. Promoting sports was a family business. Wrestling promoter Mike Le Bell is Gene’s older brother. LeBell also work in promotions with his mother’s company.

It was her influence that prompted LeBell to start catch wrestling from the age of 7 with Ed ‘Strangler” Lewis, who was a famous wrestler. His love for judo stemmed from his passion for wrestling. Judo will then become LeBell’s main focus.


The passion for judo arose from his love for boxing, wrestling, and other martial arts. It was after LeBell received his black belt, that he was sent to Kodoka, where he learned more than just martial arts. As a tall, strong, red-headed American student, he had to fight his way against adversity, bullying, and the stigma of being “an outsider.” It was through this struggle that he ultimately earn both academic and street credibility, making him one of the most successful graduates of that dojo.

It is safe to argue that LeBell used all of these disciplines to come up with a fighting style of his own, combined with a move that would later make him a legend: the grapple. At 20 years of age, LeBell had already won a National Heavyweight Judo Championship, as well as the USA Overall Judo Championship titles by 1955.

The moment that may have secured LeBell’s status as a super star was during the match against boxing champion Milo Savage.

Using his signature grappling move, which was unknown at the time, just as judo was, LeBell managed to choke his rival unconscious to the ground. This was a style versus style fight, where LeBell used martial arts and his adversary used boxing. His rival was a national boxing champion. His victory came with both joy and controversy regarding his grappling move, and whether his style followed basic fighting rights.

Gene LeBell's Grappling move

As part of his fighting style, LeBell featured his famous grappling move. The move was created as a result of the combination of the different athletic disciplines that LeBell has mastered over the years. It is a simple holding move around the combatant’s neck that, these days, has become commonplace.

Yet, it is the technique and style of LeBell’s own application of this move that has earned him the title of “Godfather of Grappling” and “Toughest Man Alive”. Currently, LeBell stars in dozens of DVDs and videos where he teaches about his grappling move.

Fun Facts

Along with his amazing skill, Gene LeBell is one of the most charismatic athletes in the business, securing over 1,000 stunt jobs in Hollywood. He has befriended and collaborated with the most renowned names in the world of martial arts. One of his best friends is the late legend Bruce Lee, who taught LeBell in the art of Jeet Kune Do.

In turn, LeBell taught Bruce Lee the art of grappling that he is so famous for. He has influenced and is friends with other masters of the craft such as Chuck Norris, MikeStone, and Benny Urquidez. He also taught grappling to UFC champion Karon Parisyan.

Gene LeBell is notoriously known for an incident where he and Steven Seagal got into a fight over Seagal’s liberties with stunt artists on set. LeBell used his grappling technique and choked Steven Seagal unconscious.

Gene's Acting Career

LeBell began to work as a stuntman is 1966 and has continued to work in the business until this day. His most notable TV shows include:

  • Mission Impossible (1966)
  • Baretta (1975)
  • Married...with Children (1987)
  • Baywatch (1989)
  • In the 1990s LeBell participated in Ed Wood (1994) and Men in Black II (2002).


Now known as “Judo” Gene LeBell, the master martial artist continues to make news. He is a judge for the Nevada and California Athletic Commissions, a judge for UFC matches, and the owner of his own website, which is a cornerstone of all things martial arts. His DVD sets are high sellers.

As a martial artist, Gene LeBell is both famous and legendary. His influence is still present among modern UFC fighters and MMA enthusiasts who still look up to him as one of the pillars of the sport, and one of the center figures of athleticism in a field which is still becoming known among sportsmen and women all over the world.