Longform

THE FLYING LEININGER BROTHERS

Page 5 of 6

They won event after event: Bryan won the Colorado state championships, the National Collegiate championships, the French College championships; he won a gold medal at the U.S. Olympic Festival, traveled to Mexico and France to compete, medaled six times in the U.S. championships.

Christophe medaled 13 times in the national championships, including two gold medals. He traveled with the U.S. Judo Team to Belgrade, Barcelona, Canada, Argentina. He won a silver medal at the Pan Am Games in Cuba. The only event that has consistently eluded him is the Olympics--he has been an alternate Olympic team member for the last three Games.

World-level athletics is a cloistered life: training with the team, traveling with the team, eating and breathing with the team with little more distraction than an occasional freelance scuffle in a roadhouse where the team had gone to pass the hours between training and competing.

Tired of the routine, looking to make a life on their own, the brothers moved back to Phoenix in 1992. Like their father 30 years earlier, all they knew was judo.

Bryan and Christophe live together in a guest house they rent from their father. The living room is decorated in basic bachelor style, a jumble of books and papers and videotapes on a long dining-room table, hundreds of brand-new judo gis folded into plastic bags and piled high on chairs--no two of which match. They're starting to break even on the judo supply business they've run for a couple of years, representing a French line of uniforms and mats to the U.S. market.

Clearly, this is more warehouse than home, and it feels as if Christophe and Bryan store themselves there when they're not training. They seem to have little time for anything else.

Christophe worries about getting into relationships with women, because of the training time he needs--the Olympic trials in 1996, and an upcoming fall appearance on The Ultimate Challenge, a televised, no-holds-barred battle that crosses martial arts disciplines. Christophe is to fight a kung fu expert until one of them gives up. It will put cash in his pocket and provide publicity for his school, his career and his art.

He thinks judo is about to make a renaissance, and he may be right. Jujitsu, the parent art to judo, is indeed making a strong comeback, bolstered in large part by a pair of Brazilian brothers named Royce and Rorian Gracie (the initial R's in their first names are pronounced as H's, incidentally), who teach jujitsu in the Los Angeles area. Regardless of what art you study, the Gracies argue, a street fight usually ends up on the ground, where chokes and grappling techniques rule and kicks and punches are virtually useless. It is the Gracies, in fact, who organize and sponsor The Ultimate Challenge, just to prove their contentions.

Christophe wants to ride that impetus, help it along and turn it in his direction. That, after all, is the main principle in judo: Follow the lines of force and use them to your advantage.

And that philosophy seems reflected in the personalities of both brothers. They are always easygoing. Judo has little offense to speak of and is mostly defense. Life is like judo; judo is like life. Stay calm and relaxed, take a grip, and see what comes at you.

The conversation turns to those occasional times when the martial arts leak into practical application. Christophe's face lights up. He is not a violent man by any means--quite the contrary--but street fights are always humorous to martial artists, because they seldom occur, and because they are what most of them train for.

Once, he remembers, a visitor threatened him and refused to leave his house after a disagreement.

"In my own house!" he says with mock astonishment. "I grabbed him by the pectoral muscles." To demonstrate, he grabs onto Bryan's bare chest, as if there were handles there. "And I threw him headfirst into the barbecue." Of course, Christophe uses the Japanese judo terms for each move he made.

The man came back for more, and so Christophe ground him into the floor for a bit, and then tossed him out the front door as if emptying a bucket.

A moment later, the man came back to the door, brandishing a golf club he'd taken from his car, inviting Christophe out to be whacked about the head. Christophe picked up a stool to engage in some impromptu fencing.

Just then a police car happened by, and Christophe called out, "Help, he's crazy, he's trying to hit me with a golf club!" The police slammed the other man onto a car, handcuffed him and arrested him. Christophe is smiling broadly when he reaches the end of the story. The judo champ calls a cop to save him from a man he's already beaten the crap out of. Bryan is laughing so hard, he's slapping the table.

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Michael Kiefer