Longform

THE FLYING LEININGER BROTHERS

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Christophe is known as well for his tenacity. "He has tremendous courage," says Phil Porter, president of the National Judo Association, one of the governing bodies of the sport. "Christophe is not that big a man in the open division," he says, referring to the division in which there are no weight limits and in which Christophe finished third last November. "I can run videos in my brain of Chris with a 300-pounder at the World Games, and just going after him like a tiger."

Competition has so overwhelmed their existence that the brothers neglected the usual promotion track of the martial art. Christophe, even as an international champion, only holds a second-degree black belt, Bryan a first-degree. Both have enough competition points and experience to jump two full ranks--if they bother to put through the paperwork with the governing bodies of the art.

They opened their school at their father's urging, because he thinks they should retire from competition to teach and "make champions through them," just as he made the transition from champ to teacher more than 30 years earlier. The sons are two years into a judo supply business--selling mats and uniforms--which they run out of their house. They do everything together, and seem flip sides of one personality. Christophe is charming and outgoing; Bryan is shy. Christophe is absent-minded; Bryan keeps track of the details. Christophe tells the jokes; Bryan laughs at them.

Everything they do has some connection to judo. Every conversation they have leads back to judo. They seem not to exist outside of the sport.

But when they step onto the mat, they suddenly come alive.
The syllable "do" at the end of "judo" can be translated as meaning "art" or "way." It encompasses both concepts, but likely falls closer to the latter: "way" as in "pathway," as in "way of life."

According to legend, martial arts traveled east from India to East Asia with Buddhist missionaries in the sixth century and for hundreds of years was passed down privately from master to student, among monks and feudal warriors, which would explain its themes of chivalry and spirituality.

If the techniques are ancient, the various names for the different martial arts are mostly inventions of the 20th century. Karate did not reach Japan until the 1920s, when it was imported from Okinawa; tae kwon do was created by a unification of Korean schools of martial art after World War II; the man who coined the name and the style of aikido only died in 1969.

To ask an elder Oriental martial artist what his art was called in the past, one is met with a blank stare and a firm reply: "Art." The need to affix a precise name on everything is a decidedly Western notion. And martial art history seldom goes back any further than "my master's master."

Judo was so named and conceived in the 1880s by a Japanese educator named Professor Jigoro Kano, who was a practitioner of jujitsu. Kano wanted to create a sport version of the art; he took out the joint breaks, the kicks and punches and eye gouges, left in the throws and the chokes and the grappling, and invented a system of scoring the matches.

The self-defense elements were still to be taught, but could not be used in competition. Debate still rages today among the various martial disciplines as to whether there should even be any such sparring. One side argues that controlled fighting gives a feel for the moves and emotions of real battle; the other counters that it only teaches to pull punches and shifts attention away from the most effective self-defense techniques, the life-or-death strikes to pressure points, the crippling bone breaks, the knockout kicks and punches. Professor Kano felt that both art and sport could coexist. And if he wanted to impose Western sport and science on the arts, he maintained the philosophic component. Just as the art was to be performed with grace, one, too, should face life itself with equally graceful attitudes.

Kano also represented Japan in the International Olympic Committee. His creation finally became adopted as an Olympic sport in the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Through Kano's proselytizing, judo was the first of the Asian martial arts to be widely studied outside the Orient, and it saw its biggest growth spurt after World War II when the world became acutely aware of all things Japanese. Judo clubs sprouted up all over Europe and, to a lesser extent, in the United States.

Judo worked its way into military self-defense programs. And especially into TV and movies, which were fixated on Cold War espionage and intrigue. James Bond used judo to disarm and disable evil spies; so did Bill Cosby and Robert Culp on the popular I Spy TV series.

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Michael Kiefer