The Kamisama, Karl Gotch

It was the summer of 2004. I had recently moved to the Tampa bay area from Miami. It was on my mind to try to meet the legendary Karl Gotch. Known in Japan as The Kamisama, God of Wrestling. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I had heard all the horror stories about how harsh he could be. I would later learn that he was not harsh at all, but a person that respected life and did not tolerate weakness or excuses from people.


Finding him would not be easy. I had a friend who knew a guy who knew a guy that helped him move seven years earlier. The only information I had was that he lived in a gated apartment complex on a certain road in Tampa. So I went to the first complex I could find in that area. There were over forty buildings in the complex! I had no idea which building or which apartment and there were no names written for security reasons. I knew it would be a long search, but it would be worth it.

I started with the first building in the back. There were eight units in each building. I knocked on the first door expecting to spend my whole day knocking on many doors. The door opened. Standing before me was a very large powerful athletic presence. Much to my surprise, the very first door was just what I was looking for- KARL GOTCH! It was some kind of fate that clearly guided me to him. “You are a very hard man to find.” I said. He replied to me in a very distinct Flemish and worldly accent, “That’s because I don’t want to be found.” I then told him I would do anything he said even if it kills me. After all I wasn’t expecting him to actually train me. I thought he would tell me to get lost like he did to everyone else that came around in his older years. He had just turned 79 at this time and hadn’t fully trained anyone in many years. There was a moment of silence. I knew he was thinking about the statement I had just made, the one about killing me. Then he said “Come in.”

Karl Gotch

I took my first step in the door. Then the second step. Then as my foot set in to my third step he sternly ordered “Squats!” Within fifteen seconds of meeting him I was doing squats. I had done squats before, usually in sets of fifty. On this day he stopped me at 150, it was a lot for me at the time. Then he had me do pushups. I did fifty. Then we did the bridging.

The bridge is probably why I didn’t get sent out the door. He was pleased with my bridge. I was shocked that anything I did was adequate. So he made me stand up. He said “Ok, even if it kills you, fall back into a bridge.” Now I was in over my head. No pun intended! I had never fallen backwards into a back bridge from standing before. He didn’t give me time to think about it. “GO!” he shouted. I arched my back, drove my hips to the sky, and landed my head perfectly on the ground. I couldn’t believe it.

Karl Gotch Suplex

Next was stretching. Karl always had a way of making everything harder to do no matter how simple it was. Stretching was brutal. After stretching we sat down and talked about wrestling for a while. I asked him many questions about his time in Japan. The Japanese wrestling and fighting scene had always been my passion. Japanese fight organizations such as Shooto, Rings, Pancrase, PWFG, etc were a big influence on my training and it had all started with Karl Gotch.

I then thanked him for his time and walked to the door. He stood at the door and said “Come back tomorrow.” I was very happy to hear him say that, although I knew what it meant. It meant I would have to commit to something that I wasn’t sure I would be able to do. I knew it would be a whole new level of conditioning and grappling for me. Even though I had twelve years of grappling training under my belt and was very knowledgeable by today’s standards, I knew that by his standards I was clueless. The next three years I would spend with him would see me doing and learning things I never thought would be possible. At times it was very hard, but I stuck with it and didn’t get sent away with my tail between my legs. He wanted improvement and “guts” and my conditioning and skills improved a lot thanks to his demanding ways. He had a better way of doing everything I showed him of what I knew. He was way ahead of his time, and ours. My experience with him changed my life. I’d like to think that I gave him some hope that people were still interested in real wrestling. That is all he wanted. Not money or favors, just a true love of real wrestling.


Karl Gotch excelled in amateur wrestling and experienced a very big breakthrough in his career by competing as Charles Istaz for Belgium in the 1948 Olympics in both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. Gotch also trained in the Indian martial art of Pehlwani. This training led to Gotch’s regime of calisthenic bodyweight exercise, which were used by Indian wrestlers and other athletes to build leg endurance and strength. He also adopted other Indian exercises, such as the bridge, Hindu squats, and Hindu press ups in his wrestling. Gotch’s philosophy was later passed on to several of his students.

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7 Responses to The Kamisama, Karl Gotch

  1. Billy says:

    very interesting Laren. Thank you for your contribution!

  2. Laren Grey Umphlett says:

    I am working on another write up very soon!

  3. Sven says:

    Intresting indeed. Great man, and a legend indeed.

  4. Chad Caleo says:

    Very interesting to know how you actually found him.
    I met Karl in 2000 while he was training Furey. Let me say right here that I am not a fan of Matt Furey and have not spoken to him since the summer of 2001.
    I had seen a magazine Furey published about Karl, and at that moment I knew that I had to train with Karl. I didn’t know how or when or even if it would ever be possible, but I knew Furey would be the only chance I had to potentially meet the “Old Man”.
    I was living in Brooklyn and drove down to Tampa to train with Furey for a few days and pick his brains about Karl. Furey had an unpleasant personality, but I knew he was my only avenue to reach Karl. I had been working on high rep bodyweight calisthenics for about a year, so when Furey asked to see the standard test of 500 squats, 100 dands and bridging, I was able to give it a good shot. I had done 500 regular squats, but not the hindu variety. Needless to say my form sucked, but I cranked out enough to impress Furey. I was naturally flexible, so bridging came with relative ease. I worked hard for the 3 days I was there, and Furey said he was hoping to build a group of wrestlers to train in Catch and possibly meet Karl at some point. Again, Matt rubbed me the wrong way, but I was committed to sticking it out.
    Flash forward a few months and I drove down to Tampa again. In the interim I had been diligently working on bridging and proper form in the squats. I busted my ass every day and Matt saw some potential, at least according to the standards set by Gotch. Matt brought Karl to an evening workout, and along with several other people, Karl put us through 2 hours of conditioning. Apparently my bridging was head and shoulders above anyone else in the room, so Karl took a liking to me. Much the same as with you, he looked me in the eye and told me to fold my arms across my chest and fall back into the bridge. And against all good judgment I did it. And I landed perfectly. He then had me do it continuously for the remainder of the session. At that point Matt had to drive Karl back home, and Karl asked if I wanted to come along. It was a dream come true. At this point Karl did not yet live in Legend Oaks apartments in Tampa. He lived about 30 minutes outside of town. We drove him back and upon arrival to his home, he gave me instruction in the proper mechanics of the arm drag. I also expressed interest in the indian clubs and the gada. Now this is long before Scott Sonnen popularized the clubs, so when Karl unveiled his beautifully crafted implements, I stood in awe.
    Over the next few days, I continued to keep my mouth shut and bust my ass in conditioning, and Karl seemed to appreciate my effort and attitude. He actually extended an invitation to come train with him and Furey in Tampa. I was beside myself with joy and in complete awe of this living legend. I accepted. This was shortly before Karl had hip replacement surgery, so I waited until August of 2000 to move to Tampa. In the meantime Karl had moved to Tampa himself, and was living at 3113 in the back of the complex. I don’t know if this is where you met him, but it was a small one bedroom with a back porch. There was a large tree in the back that we eventually hung 2 climbing ropes from.
    It was at this time that Karl and Furey started to butt heads. Unfortunately I was a witness to much of it. Karl asked me to start training with him at his apartment, without Matt. I accepted, and started going to Karl’s place at 10 every day. If I was even 1 minute late ( and this only happened once ) Karl was SUPER pissed. The only thing he asked in return was hard work and that I take him on his shopping errands. I would drive him to PUBLIX for food shopping and the pharmacy for his prescriptions. I proceeded to spend 6 days a week with Karl at his home being put through conditioning and bridging. He would train me in the open corridor between the apartments, on the cement. He would bring out the small piece of blue wrestling mat, and have me bridge on that. He would call me on Sunday’s just to check on me. I was treated to long stories about all the old school wrestlers and his days as a youth on the waterfront. He became very Grandfatherly, and I savored the wisdom and advice.
    After only 2 months of this his relationship with Furey had crumbled and I felt as if I was caught in between. It was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, as Karl seemed as though he wanted to teach Matt a lesson and get under his skin. Now let me state again that I am no fan of Furey, but I didn’t like being caught up in the middle of this war of wills. There are many details I’m leaving out, but suffice it to say I decided I didn’t want to be a part of this feud and told Karl that I was ending my training. It was a painful decision to make, but I had left behind my whole life in NYC to train with Karl, and everything was quickly turning bitter and unpleasant. Again I am leaving out MANY details, but pride and self respect stopped me from allowing myself to be dragged into the fray.
    In hindsight it was a poor decision, but I moved back to NYC and Life took me on to other adventures.
    I apologize for rambling on in this manner, but I never get a chance to hear about others personal experiences with Karl. You obviously spent ALOT of time with him and he took you under his wing, your experiences FAR surpass mine. But your post triggered some memories and I felt compelled to speak up.
    After everything is said and done, my brief time training with Karl was one of the most rewarding and interesting times of my life. It ended abruptly and not in the way I had hoped when I first met him, but I will always cherish that time and the lessons I learned.
    I know you treasure your time with Karl.
    Again, I came across this post by sheer coincidence, and it triggered some memories and I felt compelled to share my experience.

  5. Laren says:

    Hey Chad, yes I remember Karl mentioning you. Very cool story. Thanks for sharing it. I was very determined and very lucky. I do not know why he had such faith in me though. I guess it is because I truly wanted to be there for the right reasons. I worked HARD with him. Changed my life.


  6. symons.vik says:

    I knew” choarel”( Antwerp dialect for charly )i worked with him together at the “Mercantile Marine engineering” in the dry docks of antwerp repairing ships he was a hell of a strong man and very good hearted is he still alive ??? than i surrely would like to contact him!!

    A very good friend of him
    Long Vik

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