Saturday, August 28, 2010

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

Originally posted on on 17 July 2002 *Illustrations are randomly selected from the book (too numerous to post them all) and are not necessarily from the same chapter.

Founder and President of American Continental Weight Lifters' Association. One of the World's Strongest Athletes

DEDICATION: This book is dedicated to all body builders and fellow athletes, who know me in name or person, with the sincere wish that this volume will help each one to retain Health and Strength throughout a long useful life.

On a boiling hot summer day, rolling in a cloud of dust in the middle of the road, like two angry pups, were two young lads. They were eventually dragged apart, hardly recognizable on account of the mingled dirt, sweat and torn clothing. One was a much smaller chap than the other, and his face was very pale. In fact, he had just resumed school after leaving the hospital a few weeks before. This little chap had been in the hospital for eight years, more or less, through the result of an injury when only a six months old baby. Yet, he cried with mortification at being dragged away from his bigger opponent. He still wanted to lick the other chap even if it was a hopeless looking proposition. Somewhere in his mind was the belief that while the other chap got a belly full, he could at least get a mouthful. He did not think of the handicap of age, weight and strength. The poor little fair haired kid thought no one had the right to lick him, anyway. From that moment he harbored a thirst for revenge, and devoted all his spare time to exercises that would make him bigger and stronger. Somehow it dawned in his youthful mind that the right kind of exercise would provide the means best suited to enable him to lick his tormentor. This settled in his mind, he
pitched into his training with a vengeance, studying the methods and devices that would grow muscle. He played at everything, wrestling with all the other boys he could get interested, and if he could not find enough kids interested, he started a fight. He was determined to practice one way or another.

Well, the old proverb says that all comes to those who wait, and it came to little "curly head." He and his old tormentor met once more in a pitched battle, when curly licked the hide off the bigger boy.

The recital of this little story you have just read, is written here with a definite purpose in mind. As much as it is penned to gain your interest, the actual stimulus I want to create within you is determination, to inspire you to achieve, succeed. You must resolve within your heart and feel with a fixed determination that "what this man has done, so can I do."

This little story you have just read is taken from an article that was written about my life and published in the columns of a sports magazine. I was told by the editor that the story inspired many young fellows with that "do or die" disposition which has never failed to bring success to the aspirant. It made me very happy, for if there is any one thing in which I am sincere, it is the desire to help others secure the fullness of health, strength and manliness.

I have often thought that I never saw anything written about myself in as few words that portrayed my life battle like that true little story. It has a strong appeal to me, because very line, yes, every word throbs with a heartache, a joy, a longing to be, and back of it all, a determination to be some day a stronger man than the average. I want to inspire you with the same message of salvation and physical redemption, so that you will set your lips more tightly and step out with a fearless tread.

My early illness is something upon which I have seldom touched, because I am aware of the fact that such a claim was once a popular method of advertising, and I naturally resented any criticism that might have inferred that I was "just another." Many have asked me if my parents were strong, and truthfully I replied that they were very healthy people. When I was only six months of age, my mother let me fall from her lap in an effort to save my sister from being severely scalded. Unfortunately - or was it fortunately - I was the victim, and when they picked me up, I was bleeding.

In the fall I had injured my abdomen upon one of the iron ornaments that decorate open fireplaces. From then on it was a battle for life. Being so young nothing had matured, and certain internal organs were crippled and continued to remain in that injured condition. Nothing helped me. My life was a perpetual round of visits to physicians who did the best they could. As I grew in bodily size, my condition became more serious. Operation after operation was suggested, and I survived three. To this day, my memory visualizes the agonies of a bed of pain. I laid as though crucified with my hands, head and feet strapped down, and a cage over my body so that no clothing could touch my tortured flesh. I survived my last operation at the age of eight, and I can well remember how the tears filled my mother's eyes, as the doctor told her that nothing more could be done for me, and it was
only a matter of time. Mother must realize that it was impossible for me to ever attain the age of fifteen. How this prediction failed of fulfillment is told in the fact that at the age of fifteen I commenced my professional athletic career, and two years before that I had won gymnastic honors. From then on it was a march over obstacles, even though I knew my path was still
to be beset with many disappointments. I knew the answer. There remained no riddle in the sands for me. I knew that exercise was the great re-builder, and with my feet firmly set on the first step I began the climb. The fact that I knew my very life was at stake was the fundamental reason which led me so deeply into the field of physical research and investigation. Day by day
I accumulated a practical knowledge that laid the foundation for my teachings and that knowledge I have placed before the health-seeking public for years now. In this volume, the reader will find every subject clarified in an earnest endeavor that he may also succeed.

The one great impression I want to create in your mind is the indelible fact that you are reading the results of the investigations of one who commenced life probably in a worse state than many, and therefore had to expend great efforts to win a better built body. This being the case, you will realize that I know what obstacles you have to meet, and how to sympathize with you in your bitter hours. Besides that I want to inject into you some of the inspiration that I had and still retain, the kind that positively refuses to back down. Make your inspiration, and you will then be an inspiration to others.

You know it is all in the way you handle yourself and whether you are game enough to secure the fullness of life.

Continuing with our heart to heart talk, let me explain to you how inspiration works with me. For example I am going to take you back a few years to my early days when I as just launching out as an athlete, and at the same time had been following the trails of the wanderlust for a period of years. I arrived in Rotterdam, Holland, where I starred under that famous Dutch athlete, Dirk Van der Berg, and in my spare moments I made various pilgrimages to the shrines of the great emancipators of liberty and thought. I visited the place where the great Russian leader, Peter that Great, served as a ship apprentice for the benefit of his country, and also the little garret where Erasmus, one of the early stars of the reformation, struggled with poverty and high ideals. The home of the DeWitts, the studio of Rubens, and the places that were haunted once by the Puritan Fathers, who after their journey to England waited and waited and waited around the quays for the ships that were to carry them to the land of promise.

Somehow those great men seemed to have left some of their greatness behind in those hallowed places to inspire hungry souls like mine, which were battling to achieve a life ambition. I would return to my companions saturated with renewed inspiration, and my impressive recitals, or ravings, would hold them enthralled as I retold the story of the great lives whose haunts I had daily visited.They would actually scratch their heads and tell me that they never knew there were such places in Rotterdam and Amsterdam; and they had been around these places for many years.

The moral to this can be told in just a few words. The majority of those people were drones. Heedlessly they allowed inspired lessons that were right within their sight to pass by, like bread upon the waters. Many health seekers are the same. Only far away pastures seem green. To me those sights were sermons of flaming fire, that created within me an absorbing determination to live, to succeed, and not to die young. Back again, I would plunge into my studies of exercise, with a resolution that never recognized the word No.

When trials were hard to bear, I would think of the great men who had succeeded, and visualize how much harder their lot had been than mine. It was like wine to a drooping man.

It was at this time that the famous building at the Hague was completed; set up by Andrew Carnegie, a highly successful common man, for the diplomats of the world to meet in and establish a broader principle of right ruling rather than might. I journeyed with some comrades on bicycles to view this mass of stone, little thinking that within ten years the world would be deciding the questions asked by the donor of this monument with a sacrifice of many thousands of lives.

Years afterwards, when I stripped in the recruiting office in Ottawa, Canada, to enlist as a soldier to fight for that great principle, the examining physician, a man who had examined thousands upon thousands of specimens of manhood, stood back with an amazed look on his face as I stepped in line before him, and exclaimed, "My God, what a man."

Although I had won many battles years before this incident took place, yet a statement like that was like pinning a medal on a soldier's breast. It kept alive my resolution made years before.

If my battle will be in any way an inspiration to you, especially you who have fallen by the way, I shall be very happy. It is a passion with me to help others secure that wonderful feeling of physical fitness, which I have enjoyed for many years.

I am just as enthusiastic to-day and get the same inspiration out of life as I did twenty-five years ago. I have the same thirst to learn and investigate, which in my boyhood days was so unslacking. You must remember that the many years of sickness had naturally impaired my education, and I worked night and day to develop myself, mentally and physically.

The little story you read at the beginning of this chapter happened not long after I started school. Because I was weak, I was an easy prey to the other boys, who took delight in licking their smaller classmates in order to show their superiority. It must have been the blood of my fathers that had lain dormant within my veins, that revolted against this treatment, and kept me coming back until I finally wiped the slate clean of all the old scores.

My ancestors have all been adventurers one way or another, and no doubt it was their blood that called me to follow the trails of adventure. On my maternal side some were pioneers of the American wilderness. Another fought through the Peninsular campaign under Sir Thomas Moore of Corunna fame, and later under Wellington, until he finally laid down his life on the field at
Waterloo. The Crimea saw another who went through the slaughter of Alma, and the horrors of the night surprise at Inkerman. The Indian Mutiny, the Soudanese campaign under Kitchener, saw others of my people helping to carve history. In the more peaceful capacity of a missionary, a relative in China, with his wife and children, were included in the massacre of the Christians
during the Boxer rebellion. Yet another was to be one of the successful who struggled against the elements of nature, that had conquered so many expeditions, and taken their members' lives, or made maniacs of the survivors, when they sought to lay the wires of communication across the great Australian desert. For myself, the great Northwest claimed me, with its blinding snows and freezing waters, that resounded to the mushing of huskies and the tingle of sleigh bells, the sound of the axe and the song of the saw, and the running of the logs in spring - where man's right arm is his best weapon, and his word his bond of honor.

I have seen many strange places, and have been through many strange experiences. I have known what it is to starve and be athirst, to freeze and sleep without a roof. But maybe Jack London was right when he said, "For all that, it helps to make a man."

I don't regret any of it, but I recognize the fact that if it had not been for the many hours I devoted to exercise, I would not have been alive to-day. It built for me a sturdy body filled with vigorous stamina that overcame all physical trials, where other men fell and died.

Exercise gave me life. If I had followed the lines of least resistance like so many do, I would have died as the doctors predicted, at fifteen years of age or before, eking out each day in physical misery. Personally, I would have no kick if I died to-morrow, because I have lived more than twice the time predicted for me by our doctors and all of it in health and usefulness.

For the first time I have told of my early struggles, which will prove to you that every cloud has a silver lining, and I want to help any one and every one turn their particular cloud inside out, so that each can become all he wants to be physically.

No doubt some of my experiences will be of great interest to you, so I am going to recite a few, not with the desire to make believe that I am some heroic being, or Hercules come back to life, but because so many have requested it. Anyhow, trials of strength are always interesting no matter how, or where, they are performed. I have not the slightest intention to tell you here of any of my athletic achievements on the platform or in the arena, but rather of feats of strength that were performed on the spur of the moment, for I believe that a strongman must be a strongman on all occasions. These stunts will have the effect of proving more conclusively to you that the right kind of exercise creates the right kind of strength, the kind that will enable you to lift the side of an automobile at a moment's notice as easily as you can lift a heavy bar bell or dumb-bell over three or four weeks of special training.

There is one particular incident I love to remember, by reason of the great bond of friendship it established between the other party and myself, friendship that has continued over the years. It happened when I was in England, when my weakness to meet strong men and look upon strange implements (made difficult to handle by reason of their awkward construction) was at its
strongest pitch. Somewhere or somehow, I just cannot recall exactly, I heard some men talking about how strong they were. In the course of the conversation one of them mentioned the fact that he was willing to wager any amount that there was not one among them that could lift the "big anvil." What surprised me was the lack of interest shown. At once, I began to figure that lifting the "big anvil," as they termed it, was some test of strength very familiar to the locality. Not one of them would consider the wager. Instead, they began to razz the man who started the argument, saying that he was no sport, or he would have introduced a feat where a man had a least a sporting chance to win. Naturally I became all ears, and listening in on the talk, it seemed that there was a certain blacksmith who occupied a smithy not very far from there in a small village. His great strength was proverbial. In his possession was a huge anvil that weighed, according to their talk, over thirty stone. This blacksmith stood alone in this particular feat of raising the anvil off the resting block, and no one else had ever duplicated his feat. Now as there are fourteen pounds to a stone, I figured that this anvil must weigh over four hundred and twenty pounds. It certainly had me
guessing, and my anxiety to see this terrific piece of metal was tremendous. I determined that on the first opportunity I would pay the mighty smith a visit. The chance soon presented itself. One bright, beautiful spring morning, I set out to locate this remarkable son of Vulcan. I had to walk a distance of eight miles, automobiles not being so plentiful in those days, but I enjoyed every foot of the way, as the air was filled with the fragrant breath of glorious spring time. At the foot of a hill that ran into a long valley, I espied a quaint little village which I knew was my destination. However, I stopped on the outskirts of this rural hamlet to examine the beautiful structure of an old Norman church that was erected in the reign of King John of Magna Charta fame. Then to my ears came the tuneful ring of a hammer beating iron upon an anvil, which caused my pace to quicken. Arriving at the village forge, I made pretense of lingering at the door to watch the smith forge the gleaming iron upon the anvil. As I did so my eyes rested upon one of the most magnificent specimens of manhood that I have ever seen. In appearance the smith bore a striking resemblance to how our Saxon forefathers must have looked. His head seemed perfectly moulded to wear the winged Viking helmet, which we visualize with our forbears, and he immediately impressed me with such an idea - tall and as straight as an arrow, with his shirt open at the throat, and sleeves rolled up he was a noble sight. He was blithely whistling a merry tune to the time of his hammer, and I thought what a carefree, happy character he was. He was powerfully constructed, and his chest seemed to swell from the throat like the crest of a wave. The neck was columnar, and he carried his head beautifully poised upon the shoulders. Arms like Longfellow's village blacksmith - bands of steel. His light brown hair swept a noble brow, from underneath which gleamed the clearest pair of blue eyes imaginable. The moment they threw their piercing gaze upon me, my soul seemed to throb with admiration. They said their cheerful day greetings to me, before the lips could repeat them. The man appealed to me tremendously, and intuition told me we were going to be friends. His cheerfulness made acquaintance easy and we talked about various things.
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