Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Key to Might and Muscle (Circa 1926) - Chapter 1 (Part 2) - A Few Chapters from the Story of My Life - By George F. Jowett

Almost as soon as I had entered the forge, I had espied the huge double-horned anvil set upon a large metal resting block, not far from the anvil upon which the smith was working. He noticed the way my eyes were continually being drawn in that direction, and I know he was not surprised when I walked over to look it over. I had never seen such a large anvil, and I told him so. In reply, he told me they only used it for heavy forgings and with a pleasant smile, asked me how much I thought it weighed. My reply was evasive, exclaiming that it was very hard to say but I knew it was monstrously heavy. He looked me over, and perhaps he recognized within me much of my latent strength, and he asked if I thought I could lift the anvil. I told him that I would have to be shown first how any one else could move such an object, before I considered such an attempt. To tell the truth, I was curious to know just how he would go about it, for, heavens, it seemed a terribly unwieldy affair to handle. Laughingly he complied. Stepping forward, he caught each horn in the hollow of his arms, and with one great effort he lifted the mass off the resting block, and replaced it. With pride he said, "I am the only man that has ever lifted it clear off the block, like
that." But I shocked him when I replied, "I believe I can lift it." "You can?" he questioned. "Well, I am going to try if you have no objections." I came back and as I began to take off my coat and collar he was all willingness, and cried out in admiration as he saw my well-muscled arms.

The moment I had seen him lift the anvil, I knew I could lift it, as I had proven myself capable on many occasions to sustain enormous weights in the hollow of my arms. I also knew if I could get the anvil up on my chest I could beat him in the test. Approaching the anvil, I began to apply myself to the task. Placing my feet firmly on the floor, I sought a perfect balance as I circled each horn within the fold of the elbows. I began to lift steadily, but found the anvil a little more awkward than I had anticipated. The floor of the anvil was much wider than the face, and each of the two corners nearest to my body, pressed very uncomfortably in my abdomen. However, I raised the anvil and got it resting partly upon the chest, so that it lay at a slanting angle with the floor. Leaning slightly back, I managed to support the major part of the burden upon the body. Hugging the huge piece of metal to me, I began to walk. It was a very difficult feat, as the base of the anvil was borne low enough on the hips to make any hip movement difficult. It was a terrific test, and every muscle in my body was taxed to its limit. I walked round the forge floor and then replaced the anvil on its support while I almost panted from the test. The smith looked on speechless, but coming out of his stupor with a rush, he grasped my hand and said, "You are only a boy, but you're a marvel." Well, I was only eighteen. However, he was not satisfied, for he told me, "Sonny, I have never been equaled for my strength, and I am not going to say I'm beaten until it is proven in an all-round test." Right there, we pitted our strength against each other. We twisted iron and bent horseshoes. One, which may have been a little more brittle in texture than another, I broke in two. On every test I beat him, but he was a foreman worthy of any man's steel. Finally we turned wrists, in which I proved victor more easily than on any other of our previous tests. As his arm went down for the third time, he broke out into laughter. There was nothing selfish in his soul, he admired me for what I had proven myself to be that morning, and right there commenced a friendship that has endured the test of time.

Before I left that day, I gave him a photo of myself. This he nailed up on the door of a tool case that hung on the wall, and around it he nailed the two parts of the horseshoe, while over the head of the photo he nailed the stiffest piece of iron I had bent. I used to visit him often while I was in England, but fifteen summers have passed since I last saw him. Yet, two or three times a year a letter creeps overseas through the mails to remind me of our pact. His children have long since grown to manhood and womanhood, but their father has taught them to remember with pride the man they can scarcely remember seeing. Last fall I received a letter, and in it the old smith said, "Your photo still hangs upon the door, with the old pieces of horseshoe and the iron you handled. Of course, the picture has faded but not your memory. When any one comes in the shop and talks about strength, the children just point to the wall and tell them that nobody could beat you."

Such faithfulness and admiration I feel keenly, because we seldom find it. The poet knew of what he was talking when he wrote the line, "True friendship is a rare jewel, and as priceless as eternity." You would be surprised if you knew some of the great strongmen I took to lift that anvil and who failed. It was a mighty test of strength.

A very amusing incident happened at one time when I lived in Canada. I happened to be in a new piece of country, where they were erecting telephone poles for wiring. The telephone operatives were a lively bunch of boys, all full of life. On this particular occasion I was lying sprawled out on the grass, watching four men coming toward me, carrying a new post for erection. As they passed the foremen called out jokingly to me that if I had any excess strength that morning I could use it by helping them out, if I wished. I called back a laughing answer that the poles were too light for me, adding that if I could not raise one of them overhead with one arm, I'd eat my shirt. To their amazement I took up the bet. I began the test by centering the pole, and then I got it to the shoulder by a semi-rocking and curling process. From this stage I had no trouble at all, raising it to arms' length
by using the method of the bent press. It went up beautifully. To say they were astounded, would express the situation mildly. From then on I heard the most remarkable accounts of that feat. Some said it weighed 400 pounds, and others said 500 pounds. Others with a more vivid imagination began to calculate the weight on the score that four men could easily carry 250 pounds each, so it must have weighed 1000 pounds. My estimate of the weight was about 200 pounds. I had previously weighed one and found it to weight 185 pounds. I had performed the stunt before, and knew beforehand what I was attempting. For all that, it is a very difficult feat, as the surface is so large that the pole is apt to roll off the hand. I thoroughly enjoyed the situation,and got many a laugh from the terribly exaggerated stories that grew out of that stunt.

I have often wondered to myself if the many who hesitate to take up physical training, ever stop to realize how the various senses of fear and cowardliness give place to fortitude and confidence in the process of reconstructing the body. This was one of the first assets I recognized to spring from my training. Before, I would cringe with fear, and even go around a block rather than pass one of my tormentors, even though he would be on the opposite side of the street. So much pampering in consideration of sickness had created within me that revolting weakness of self pity. As I began to feel my feet on the ground, as it were, I refused to get out of the way for anyone. I grew confident, and with it came a degree of fairness which is so compatible with the true sportsman. I believed in being courteous and frank, and all the time grew stronger. My heart held within it a call that ever urged me, and told me I would never again know fear or be the coward I once was. I threw all those enslaving shackles off, and many have been the times when my confidence, fortitude and mental strength were demanded to a greater extent than any muscular strength. It has saved my life many times and often the lives of others.

I am so earnest in my desire to impress upon you the many values, both seen and unseen, that are obtained from a well trained physically fit body, that I want you to go with me through one of my many adventures, when confidence in oneself decided the issue of life or death.

Now please don't get into your head the idea that I always was an extraordinary brave man. That is not so. I do not esteem bravery, in most cases, as being what hero worshippers try to convey. It is only one of our natural gifts which we all possess, but like our undeveloped muscles, these senses need cultivation and stimulus. In another chapter, I will prove it again when I introduce to you, Albert Shakesby, the great, but not famous, athlete evangelist; the man who was a match for Hackenschmidt, the man who outfitted - now I am digressing in my enthusiasm, so let me get back and take you through the adventure that chills me to the bone whenever I think of it.

Just previous to this little adventure I had made the acquaintance of a husky seaman, who had the same passions as myself to see things. He had heard that eighteen miles from where we had docked, lay the remains of a once prosperous fishing town. It appeared that during the days of the buccaneers this town was an ideal resort for them, on account of its natural harbor, point of prominence, and general inaccessibility. According to history its people had always been engaged in freebooting. I remember on our visit seeing the remains of an old lighthouse, that was a couple of miles inland from where it should have been, and many harrowing stories are told about ships that were lured to destruction by the wreckers. Morgan and the notorious Captain Kidd had used this place of refuge at one time or another; but the place of interest was the natural cavern, which was jealously kept a secret for generations and named after Robin Lythe, a very early freebooter. We set off on foot together, early in the day, arriving at our destination some time about high noon. We were rather dismayed when we saw the great difficulties that faced us, and which had to be overcome if we wanted to see the object of our desire. The harbor was a natural cleft cut into the cliffs like a bight. It was strewn with rocks, and the cave entrance was away out on the face of the cliff that fronted the sea. Nobody would let us have a boat, but after coming so far, we were determined that we were not going back without making some attempt to see this cave. We decided to climb our way out on the side of the cliff, after being informed that the tide was never low enough to allow walking to the site of this notorious place. Taking off our shoes and socks, we tied the laces, and slung them over our shoulders. It was some climb, believe me. One misstep would have plunged us to our death upon the jagged rocks beneath, around which continually swirled the hungry eddies. Climbing thus for almost an hour, we came to the entrance. By walking on the various ledges that gave us foothold, we entered. It was a beautiful sight. The walls seemed to be all colors, constantly changing, and the water was naturally calm but had a swift current. In many places we were obliged to almost double up, and the farther we went in the darker it became. Many were the bumps we sustained against the low roof. We finally traversed the cavern, which I would describe as more of a passage, and with great relief we stepped out upon the sands. Lying down to rest from our laborious, dangerous climb, our eyes began to rove around our surroundings. We had come to a hollow of the cliff that reminded me of an amphitheater. Circular, the cliffs rose high and straight. On observation it was easy to see what an impregnable retreat this had been. We looked around, but were unable to find a point in the cliff that was scalable. The cliffs rose to a height of over 200 feet. We quickly tired of our searching, which disclosed nothing more interesting than the remains of a dead monkey, an old high boot, some old cooking utensils and broken boxes. These were in other caves that were
naturally cut into the cliff and no doubt used by the pirates as eating and sleeping quarters. Our ambitions satisfied, and well pleased with our adventure we started to find our way out. To our consternation, when we approached the passage we found the tide had risen. In our eagerness we had never thought of this condition. It was impossible to negotiate, as it was almost closed with the rising water. Previously we had found the walls unscalable, and we realized that we were trapped. What other method of egress the former occupants had, had been demolished, or naturally closed up by the shifting sands. we had to do some quick thinking before the floor of the amphitheater was covered. I figured that a place so alive with cavities might possible have some that went right through the cliff and penetrated into the harbor.

I explained to my companion that the pirates would never have overlooked such an asset, the only trouble was whether the passage was entirely negotiable or not. For such a place, we looked. In our search we came to a small passage at the foot of the cliff that would just permit the body of a man, lying flat, to enter. I explained that here was our only chance, but my friend could not see it. He argued that it took me all my time to squeeze in when investigating and once we were in we might never get out. I argued that was the chance we had to take, and I was going to make the attempt no matter what he did. I began the passage. Lying flat upon my body I wriggled in, with arms stretched out in front of my head. It was terribly dark, and some parts were so narrow that my body was cut in many places. The air was suffocating, and I was quickly bathed in perspiration. I began to feel that I was choking from the stifling air and tried to back out, but as I did, my pull-over sweater was caught by the jagged rock roof of the passage. I realized I was trapped. Like a flash, the fear of dying like a drowned rat, or of suffocation shot through my mind, and a cold sweat gathered across my brow. It created panicky thoughts, but immediately I suppressed them and began to tell myself that if I had a chance to win, it could only be won by keeping cool. So my only chance lay in going ahead. I began to congratulate myself on not having neglected deep breathing and chest development. I certainly felt the value of good lungs in that congested space.

Inch by inch, I wormed onward. Some places were so narrow I had a terrible time squeezing by. Then other parts lacked depth, and I was obliged to paw the sand away. It was as black as pitch and terribly noisome. The sound of my labored breathing seemed to beat in the drums of my ears. I struggled onward with set lips. Then like a God-send, I felt the current of cool air. It raised my hopes. Then I saw a tiny light. How I struggled toward it, I can never describe. Every inch of the way was a battle until I came to the outlet and felt the salt spray beat against my face. I lay panting for breath, happily allowing the fresh air and salt water to saturate my being.

Then I thought of my friend, I saw no time was to be lost as the incoming tide would soon close this only hope. Again I had to negotiate that awful trip, but I did it with a song in my heart. I found my friend terribly distressed; but even when I showed him the only way out, he flatly refused to make the passage. My clothes were torn and I was bleeding, and my eyes were bloodshot from the sifting sand. Finally I told him that if he would not go with me, I would leave him, as I had no notion of dying unnecessarily. When he saw I was determined to leave him, he began to follow. Well, if my other two passages were trials, this last trip was worse. He almost went crazy. It is all right for some people to laugh when they hear of such a trial, and say what they would do, and all that, but they were never in such a place. Talk is cheap. I have run the gauntlet of steel and bullets more than once, and one time, with a companion, fought for four hours in a boat to break loose from the grip of a dangerous whirlpool. But then, we could see what we were doing, and we had more excitement to spur us on. Here it was like entering blindly a tomb in the bowels of the earth.

I had to keep talking to encourage my friend, and all the time he hung onto one of my feet. Once or twice it slipped from his grasp, and he almost went frantic, screaming for me not to leave him. The sound of his voice in that space was head-splitting, but finally we got out. I don't know how long it took us, but it seemed to be an eternity. The next thing for which we were to be thankful was that we had been seen making our climb out around the cliff side. The fishermen knew the conditions and had become alarmed for our safety and were out looking for us. They were amazed to see us crawl out of the hole in the side of the cliff, bleeding and exhausted, and glad we were to be dragged into the boat and be taken ashore.

My companion was physically a better man than the average. He had proven himself so on various occasions, but he fell down here. Of course, any one might have done the same, but what I am getting at is the fact that he recognized that it meant a lot to know your own capabilities. He recognized that training of mind and of the body was a natural co-ordination, and increased the efficiency of a man.

Some of your who read this may say that you will never have to face such a circumstance. Well, I sincerely hope you will not, yet you never know what you may have to face. It was not long ago that thousands of men were drawn from peaceful walks of life, to be thrown into the maelstrom and horrors of war. It was the man who knew himself who made out the best! and the psychologists, and others who had charge of our national destiny, knew that physical training was the one thing that best equipped the soldier to meet all emergencies.

If a man is capable of meeting the extreme test with fortitude, he certainly will be more efficient to meet minor tests. Most weaklings are cowards, because they lack the material with which to back up their will.

Just sit down a few moments and question yourself honestly. Search your heart thoroughly, and I am sure you will agree with me that there is much to be improved in yourself. Even if you are athletic, you can never keep up the standard of fitness unless you stick to a few minutes of practice. It amply repays you for the time spent.

I never regret for the many hours devoted to this practice. It meant a new lease of life to me, and as I draw this chapter to a close let me say that such splendid specimens of humanity as Sandow, Maxick, and Pullum all traversed the same road to secure what they got. They were not miracles, although it may appear so. Just remember them, and let their lives inspire you, as I was inspired. Everybody has the same chance, and the man who is normally healthy, really, has no obstacles to face.

Perseverance, patience and determination will be repaid in untold wealth, health, strength, self-reliance and fortitude.
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Bob Whelan

Bob Whelan

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