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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

THE TRUTH ABOUT WEIGHTLIFTING - (circa 1911) - Chapter 6 - By Alan Calvert

A good many years ago no "strong-man act" was considered complete unless the performer did a certain amount of chain breaking, card tearing, etc, but these tricks have gradually lost their popularity, because the public has become very skeptical regarding them.

COIN BREAKING. I suppose there have been, at various times, 30 or 40 strong men who claimed to be able to break with their thumbs and fore-fingers silver, or copper coins, the size of an American quarter or half-dollar. I have not seen this feat attempted for a great many years. A great many professional lifters have assured me that it is all a matter of sleight of hand. The performer goes through the operation known as "palming," and by some masterly sleight of hand, starts out with an unbroken coin, and after a few seconds' time, without apparent change of the position of his fingers, he shows the audience what is supposed to be the same coin broken in two parts.

There is a very well-known teacher of physical culture in New York City, who is noted for the strength of his hands and fingers, and this gentleman frankly admits that he is unable to perform the feat of breaking a coin. If the reader will put an ordinary silver quarter in a vise and attempt to break it by gripping the edge of the coin with a pair of pincers, he will get an idea of the simply fearful strength which would be necessary to bend a coin with the fingers.

There is a man in Europe who has the reputation of being the only man who ever succeeded in breaking a coin, and this is "Cyclops" Bienkowski, who is known from one end of Europe to the other as the "money breaker." "Cyclops" is mentioned in a previous chapter in connection with the one-hand press, and there is no question but that he is an enormously powerful man. Of the late years he has devoted most of his time to Greco-Roman wrestling, and when he enters a tournament there is always a special rule passed, to the effect that Bienkowski is prohibited from using certain grips; the strength of his hand and the force of his grip being so terrible that the other wrestlers refuse to compete if he is allowed to use the full strength of his hands in certain wrestling holds.

But, however, Bienkowski has never fully proved to the satisfaction of athletic authorities that he is able to break coins and, therefore, we have to consider the feat as never having been proved. There is one thing certain; if Bienkowski is unable to break coins there is no one else in the world who can.

CHAIN SNAPPING. It is the popular belief that in the feat of "chain-breaking" the chain is always "doctored" in some way. It has been proved in several cases that part of the chain was treated with acids, which impaired the strength of the chain. In other cases there was one lead link at the center of a chain, which was apparently all steel. In still other cases the simple expedient of filing a link almost through has been resorted to. I believe that it is utterly impossible to break a genuine chain, if the links are made of material 1/8-inch thick.

Other performers claim to break chains by the muscular expansion of the chest. Still others break them by pulling them apart with the hands. The suspicious part about chain-breaking is that the performer will never allow an outsider to test, or even to touch the chain. Sometimes a number of stage hands will go through an elaborate bluff of pulling on each end of a chain, which is subsequently broken by the performer; but an experienced observed will always be able to "call the bluff" by asking permission to test his strength by pulling on the chain.

Where one end of a chain is fixed to a hook in the door, and the performer is able to pull on the other end of the chain it is a different matter. There are many chains manufactured, and sold commercially, which are tested up to only 400 or 500 pounds, and any weight lifter who can manage 1,000 or 1,200 pounds in a dead-weight lift, could easily break a chain of this kind by pulling on one end of it, providing the other end was hooked to a ring bolt in the floor.

CARD TEARING. Novelists and writers on feats of strength sometimes try to prove the strength of their hero, by stating that he could tear a pack of cards into halves by the strength of his hands. Like all other feats of strength the merit of the feat depends a great deal on the way it is performed. If a man was to take on edge of a pack of playing cards between his thumbs and fore-fingers and rip the cards in half, it would be a wonderful feat of finger strength. To tear one pack of cards the way it is done on the stage would be easy for any amateur weight-lifter.

The way a professional tears a pack of cards is as follows: He places one end of the pack in the palm of his left hand and he grasps the bottom edge of the pack tightly with the base of the palm and the tips of his fingers. He grasps the top of the pack in the same manner with the right hand, except that the knuckles are pointed in the opposite direction. He then tears the pack by a turn of the wrists. When two or more packs are torn simultaneously, it is customary to rest the left hand on the knee in order to steady it, while the athlete holds the right arm rigidly straight and pushes downward with all his strength, and in this way rips the cards in half.

Many people have the idea that the trick in card-tearing lies in slipping the cards, so that only a few cards are torn at the outset; but, in contrary to general belief, the edges of the cards are usually kept flush, and they are all torn at one time. Any man who has trained for three months with heavy dumbbells should easily one pack of cards in this fashion. Any amateur lifter who has advanced to the point where he can lift a 150-pound bell above the head with one hand and lift 600 pounds dead weight from the floor, should easily tear two packs. Some professionals claim to tear three packs in a legitimate manner. There is one professional who claims to tear five packs, but I am willing to bet him a fair sum that he won't tear five packs of perfectly fresh cards, if I am allowed to purchase and furnish the cards.

As in all other branches of "strong acts" on the stage the element of trickery enters into card tearing. I am told that if you take a pack of first-class playing cards an bake them in an oven for a couple of hours, they come out of the oven in such a condition that they can be torn as easily as so much blotting paper; and several professional performers, who tear two or more packs of cards in their stage acts have admitted to me that they always baked their cards in that manner.

Physical Culture