Friday, August 31, 2018

Lessons From Tommy Kono - By Burt Gam

I just got finished listening to my first Bob Whelan podcast featuring the legendary Tommy Kono. It was as enlightening as it was inspiring. First I wish to be clear. For those reading who have never heard of Tommy Kono, it would be because you were probably just a glimmer in your father's eye when Tommy was competing in the late 40s, 50s and 60s in Olympic weightlifting as well as bodybuilding. That is to say those of you under 50 or perhaps 40 or so. Secondly, I am not intending to be redundant here to speak about the article directly or to summarize it. I would suggest very strongly instead that you take the time to listen to it.

But just a few words about Tommy first just for context so I can make a few significant points, and highlight the lessons that I derived from the interview. Tommy Kono was probably pound for pound one of the greatest Olympic lifters who ever walked the earth. He may have been the best Olympic lifter that the United States has ever produced. He competed in an era where weight training and good health went hand and hand. It was a wonderful era for lifting beside steroids were all but unheard of up to a point, rather emphasis was placed on good old fashioned hard work and sensible training. Tommy was lucky enough to train at one point under the coaching of Bob Hoffman, considered the "Father of American Weightlifting". Tommy Kono in this regard in my opinion could only be compared in greatness to the legendary Paul Anderson, considered by many strength historians to be the strongest man who ever lived. Paul too was competing around that time as a super heavyweight for the United States.Tommy actually won numerous titles, Olympic medals in four different weight classes and was nominated by a number of hall of fame organizations. Not only that, Tommy was no one trick pony because as was more common in that era, also competed as a bodybuilder and took numerous titles.

I want to emphasize this point and come back to it in a bit since there is a valuable lesson here too. Sadly Tommy passed away in 2016 at the age of 85. So since in Bob Whelan's interview Tommy stated he was 84 years old, I surmised Bob's interview must have been a year or so before his passing give or take. So it was very fortunate indeed that the interview took place before Tommy passed. Again, it was an excellent interview full of excellent training info and I highly recommend spending 45 minutes or so to take it all jn. Which leads me to the purpose of this article. Bob's questions to Tommy and his forthcoming answers got me thinking about a few key insights I would like to share. The lessons of the past to the present so to speak. So for what it is worth, here I go.

1. Tommy stated that as a youth he was not very strong. He in fact described himself as skinny and sickly. This kind of brings me back to my own youth and the reasons I started lifting. Yeah I was skinny and weak. I was not sick, but I knew deep down that what I was doing was HELPING ME BE HEALTHIER. I was making my body stronger and healthier because strength was equated with health. That is why a popular bodybuilding magazine was titled "Strength and Health". Tommy made himself stronger and healthier, although he took it to a way higher level. And he did it clean. No drugs. Tommy stated that he was able to successfully complete against the Russians even though they were doing steroids and he was not. 

2. Tommy stated in the interview that he started out with very little equipment to train with. Paul Anderson could have said the same. Yet both became incredibly strong. Tommy claimed he had no bench or squat racks to use. They had to be creative and improvise. So it would seem to imply that hard work on basic exercises is all that is necessary, not a wide variety of movements. 

3. Back in the day, lifters competed in both weight lifting a and bodybuilding. Oftentimes both types of contests happened on the same night. Today it is less common to compete in both due to the way contests are scored and the highly specialized nature of each at the higher levels of competition. Still though, there are a handful of examples of unique individuals who train for both. 

4. Tommy spoke about the mental aspect and it's importance to training. Hard work, discipline to eat healthy, get enough sleep and train hard regularly. No amount of performance enhancers can overcome the lack of these variables. And this type of rigorous discipline has real life carryover to breed success in all aspects of life. Old school thinking is just as valid now as it was then. 

 5. One final message. I realize that many of you young guys are going to feel invincible. That is the blessing and the curse of youth. Know this. If you take one thing from all this it should be that no amount of drugs or fancy equipment will make you a REAL champion like Tommy. God did not give you the gift if you were not willing to work your ass off for it. And if you think you might want to get married and have kids one day and live to see them make something of themselves, stay away from the juice. If you do not believe this or care, go online and research all of the bodybuilders and pro wrestlers who decided that a moment of glory in the sun can take the place living a long, healthy and glorious life. They cashed in their child before 50 or 40 or sooner. Take care of your body now and reap the rewards later. Lift, love,and be happy and healthy. You might just live long enough to have kids. grandkids. or great grandkids if your lucky. I am working on that now.Thank you Tommy.

Editor's Note: Great article Burt. Besides being the greatest athlete in the history of physical culture, Tommy was a class act and one of the nicest human beings ever.

Does modern bodybuilding make you sick? You should write for Natural Strength! I always need good articles about drug-free weight training. It only has to be at least a page and nothing fancy. Just write it strong and truthful with passion! Send your articles directly to me:

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