The Gada: Part III

by Thom Van Vleck

Dalton would do any kind of movement he did with a dumbbell with his modified "Gada" or "Indian Club" dumbbells.

In part three I said I’d get to how you would train Dalton Jackson style with the Gada.  I first want to explain to you that his is not intended to be a comprehensive training program.  It is very simply what I remember seeing my grandfather do.  Upon reviewing his notes and memories of our talks I know that he studied Arthur Saxon, Eugene Sandow, Sig Klien, Earle Liederman, The Great Gama, and Charles Atlas.  These 5 weren’t the only ones, but I would say most of his training came from these men.  I know he ordered courses from Klien (I still have it and it’s autographed!), Liederman, and Atlas.  What you are getting are my recollections of what he did that I know know to be related to the Gada.

The first was basic dumbbell work.  Very simple, Dalton would do any kind of dumbbell work using these “off set” dumbbells you see in the photo above.  The photo has him doing some basic dumbbell presses with the weight “top heavy”.  He also would switch it to make it bottom heavy. I recall when he retired at 65 he worked hard for the next 7 years and got in tremendous shape.  His goal was to duplicate some feats of strength at age 75 he had done at 50 and he came very close!  His body weight was at least 220lbs around age 70 but my Uncle Phil says he got as heavy as 240lbs!  All I know is I recall his forearms being so large that they made his upper arm look small.  I believe using the “gada” style dumbbells helped in that development.  So I would do presses, various curls, cleans, snatches, top heavy, bottom heavy….he was a big believer in mixing his workout up so he rarely did the same thing twice.

The book that the illustration of Kehoe is from.

The next thing I recall is your basic Indian Club swings.  I didn’t see him do this often but he would do one or two and get them rotating around.  This involved swing the clubs around and I believe he mostly did this to loosen his shoulders up.  I wish I had paid more attention to the specifics but I do know this, I found an illustration in his notes that he had cut out of some magazine long ago that had an illustration of Sim Kehoe doing “Figure no. 5″ from his book “Indian Club Exercises” which can be found online.

Specialized work.  My grandfather believe that his training should closely follow what he was trying to get better at.  For him this was never a contest so it was life events.  For example if winter was coming he would load a long barbell and do “snow shovel” movements, 5 reps left, then 5 reps right.  He always wanted to be balanced!  A few years ago I know Al Myers made an implement that mimicked the sheaf toss movement and it was bar like a pitch fork that could have plates loaded on the “business” end.  I remember Dalton told me that he had a “corn shucking” working for when he shucked corn by hand!  He would use his offset dumbbells whenever they suited this purpose.

Another “quirk” to my grandfather’s training was that he would always load his left hand a little heavier.  Regardless if it were the “Gada” dumbbells or a barbell or dumbbells.  He told me that his left side was always weaker and needed more work since his right side got more work on the job and doing chores.  To this day I keep his old barbell set loaded in my gym in such a fashion.  I’ve never heard of anyone training that way.

I wish I’d paid more attention.  To this day I’ll see something and think, “I saw Pop do that!”.  As I remember stuff I try and write it down.  He wrote volumes of journals and I go through them occasionally and find things I missed or didn’t connect the dots at the time.  He often wrote in a sort of short hand that makes him a tough read sometimes.  In a way it’s like finding a little treasure every time I revisit!  I hope you have enjoyed my three part series and find some time to try a “Gada” out in your training program!

The Gada Part 1

by Thom Van Vleck

The Great Gama with his Gada (Mace).

When I was a kid my first influence in physical fitness was my grandfather Dalton Jackson  He started training in 1928 at the age of 13.  At that time training information was sparse and what was available was often poor and sometimes dangerous!  One area my grandfather was interested in was wrestling and this led him to one of the greatest of all time….the Great Gama.  Gama wrestled in India (although I have learned he was ethnically Pakistani) for 50 years and was undefeated in that span!  He lived from 1880 to 1963 and his exploits were legendary.  He beat everyone in India and then sailed to England and challenged the world.  He had a “Gar Nal” that weighed over 200lbs that was a stone ring that he would put around his neck to do squats.  There is a story that he lifted a 1200kg (2645lbs) stone.  It is claimed he lifted this stone to his chest and then carried it.  I think that’s impossible but I do think it’s possible he may have lifted the stone in some fashion (such as lifting the edge off the ground or flipping the stone or some other partial lift).  Both of these stones are in a museum in Pakistan now.   It is also interesting that Bruce Lee studied Gama’s training habits very closely and adapted them to his own philosophies.

Classic use of the Indian Clubs in both hands from an old English book on training.

One of Gama’s favorite training tools was his Gada (or Mace).  It was a very heavy version of an Indian club.  The legend behind it is that it was the main weapon of the Hindu god Hanuman.  Hanuman was the god of strength and was the god that Indian wrestlers worshiped.  So basically it is a war club what the Europeans called a “Mace”.  I often think of it as being the first weapon ever and picture a cave man carrying his club!  It became one of the traditional training pieces in Hindu physical culture and was eventually transferred to England in the from of the “Indian Club” that was a popular part of the early physical culture movement in Victorian England over 100 years ago.  One Gada could be used or two.  You will often see the Indian club trained with two at a time.

Dalton Jackson doing his modified "Gada" exercises.

When I was a kid I would watch my Uncle’s train with barbells and dumbbells. They were Olympic style lifters and trained as such.  Meanwhile my grandfather always seemed to be doing something different.  I hate to say it but there was a point where I was a teen that I was “all in” to weightlifting and when my grandfather tried to teach me on some of his training I didn’t listen well (politely…but not closely as I always respected him).  I have few photos of him training but one I do shows him with makeshift “Gada” style dumbbells.  I realize now that much of his training was based on “Indian” style training and since the Great Gama favored the Gada, so did my grandfather.

Part II:  Building the Ultimate Gada

Pullover and Push: Old School “Bench Pressing”

Pullover and Push as demonstrated by the great Arthur Saxon. He was a favorite of JWC "founding father" Dalton Jackson

by Thom Van Vleck

Those of you who know me know that I can’t make things simple.  I put a lot of thought into things and when I was thinking about lifts for the 2011 USAWA Nationals to be held June 25th in Kirksville, Missouri this process was in overdrive.  I wanted a pressing movement and I also wanted a lift that would honor my grandfather in some way.  Well, he was a big fan of Arthur Saxon and when I saw this photo in the USAWA photo archive it just sealed the deal for me that the Pullover and Push would be that “pressing” movement in the list of lifts for Nationals.

Let’s review the rules to make sure we know how to do the lifts!

A35.  Pullover and Push

The lifter will lie on his/her back on the platform with the bar placed on the platform above the lifter’s head.  Padding, such as a towel or mat, may be placed under the lifter’s body and elbows. The bar is gripped with the palms of the hands facing up and with the bar at arms’ length prior to the start of the lift.  Width of hand spacing and feet placement is optional. The lift begins at the lifter’s discretion. The lifter is allowed multiple rolls with the bar on the platform to gain momentum to the bar. Hands must remain on the bar throughout the lift. The lifter will then pull the bar over and onto the chest or upper abdomen resulting in the upper arms resting on the platform. The bar must not be rolled once on the chest. The bar or plates must not make contact with the platform once the bar leavesthe platform or it will result in disqualification. The lifter is allowed to move or lift the feet and hips during the pullover. Once the bar is on the chest or abdomen, the lifter may move the feet close to the hips, and raise the hipsto create a bridging or belly toss to propel the bar to arms’ length. This is done at the lifter’s discretion. The lifter is allowed feet and hip movement during the push. The lifter may press the bar instead of pushing the bar if desired.  Once the push has begun, the bar must not be lowered in any manner. Only one attempt at the push is allowed. The bar must lock out with even extension. Once the arms are straight, the lifter must lower the hips to the platform and straighten the legs to a flat position on the platform. The arms must remain straight during this time.   When the lifter and bar are motionless, an official will give a command to lower the bar. The lift ends when the bar is returned to the platform under control. It is acceptable to drop the bar behind the head in the return to the platform as long as the lifter maintains hand contact with the bar.

Now, you have to make sure you distinguish this lift from the Pullover and Press and the Pullover and Press with Wrestler’s Bridge.  They are often confused.  The last thing I will say is that if you have a big nose or a big head…..you may want to turn your head when you pull the weight over to the push position!  If you’ve ever done this lift, you know what I mean!  Now, come to the Nationals and try it first hand!

Bernarr MacFadden

Bernarr MacFadden, "Father of Physical Culture"

by Thom Van Vleck

If you know who Bernarr MacFadden is then you truly are a student of Iron History.  MacFadden was born in 1868 and died in 1955.  He became internationally famous and a millionaire (when a million meant something!) promoting Physical Culture.  I have heard that  Bob Hoffman was called “The Father of American Weightlifting”, but before Bob, Bernarr was the “Father of Physical Culture”.  MacFadden not only promoted exercise, he promoted all around physical fitness, all natural foods (he disliked processed foods) , natural treatment of disease (he hated “pill pusher Doctors”), and inspired people to live healthy lives.  Vim, Vigor, and Virility are terms you often heard him say. He directly influence many greats that you will know like Charles Atlas.

He was also at times branded a charlatan and was arrested on obscenity charges (his books were often very frank in there subject matter, but he was NOT arrested for what we would call pornography today).  He often rubbed the medical establishment the wrong way, at least the M.D.’s but not the D.O.’s…..I’ll explain more later.  He made his millions promoting his books and developed properties that had schools, resorts, and all things that in some way related to physical culture and health.  His empire rose and fell and rose and fell.  Personally, I think had he died or retired at a younger age his legacy would likely be more secure in the weightlifting world.  But some of his later dealings, eccentric tendencies, a damaging book by and ex-wife perhaps unfairly tarnished his early work and unfortunately what you do last is often remembered most.

McFadden’s long and colorful life could fill many volumes and I would encourage anyone interested in Iron History to ready up on him.  There is a website dedicated to his life at www.bernarrmacfadden.com.

My connection to MacFadden is as a boy my grandfather, who was born in 1913 and grew up when McFadden was truly at his peak, often quoted and spoke of McFadden and taught me many of his valuable principles and in that way had a major influence on the JWC.   I learned later he also filtered out many of McFadden’s teachings that were probably built on faulty logic and social norms of the day….but you wonder how people will someday look back on us!  I also work at A.T. Still University, founded in 1892 by Andrew Taylor Still and the founding school of Osteopathic Medicine.  A Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) has the same medical training and credentialing of a Medical Doctor (M.D.) PLUS they have to learn Still’s Osteopathic teachings.  Again, volumes could be written on Osteopathy but I will just point out that Still believed in natural cures, healthy living, was against “pill pushing” as a doctor, thought exercise was essential to health (back when many M.D’s thought exercise was actually bad for you!!!!) and finally was a pioneer in whole person health.   Dr. Still was probably the kind of doctor Bernarr MacFadden would have liked!  I’m researching that right now!

At any rate, our library has a huge collection of rare books.  They often surplus out extra copies and sell them.  When they go unsold, they are given away.  I was checking through a bin of “free” books and when I came across a first edition copy of Bernarr MacFadden’s “Manhood and Marriage” published in 1916.  It had an old style library card in the back and the last time it was checked out was 1963!  Previous to that, 1957!  Kind of hard to believe this book has been on a shelf here my whole life (I was born in 1964) and now I have it.  It is not surprising to me this book was here as the type of people attracted to being a D.O. are the types that believe in whole person health, exercise, healthy living and natural cures.  Don’t get me wrong, they prescribe medication, do surgery and EVERYTHING an M.D. would do but if you see a D.O. you can expect a lecture on healthy living along with your antibiotics!

I am enjoying reading the book.  It is really outdated in many ways, but there is no doubt MacFadden really believed in the healthy lifestyle even if the basis of many of his tenants of healthy living have since been proven otherwise by research.  At least he set a standard which others could then prove right or wrong and if I had to guess, he was more “right”!   Check his story out some time….he’s a real character of the Iron Game!

Dale and Dalton

by Thom Van Vleck

Dale Friesz deadlifting 220 pounds with the Trap Bar at the 2010 USAWA National Championships.

Dale Friesz getting the courage award made me think of my grandfather and patriarch of the Jackson Weightlifting Club.  I think Dale and Dalton would have gotten along just fine.

First, let me say that I have a lot of respect for Dale and I hope that as I get older that I don’t give up on my training.  Dale commented one time that his training is what kept him going and I believe that.  Dalton Jackson was that way, too.

With all the champions to come out of the JWC, from state to national to world champs, people new to the club are often shocked that my grandfather never won anything.  He never competed in a single lifting meet.  But let me explain.  He grew up in the depression and quickly found himself the father to a pack of kids that needed taken care of and he worked long, hard hours to do this.  If he hurt himself, the family was in trouble, so he never maxed out or competed.  It was BECAUSE he sacrificed that later the rest of us could enjoy success.  To the members of the JWC, this made him the greatest champion of them all.

When I was a boy I recall him working at the local shoe factory (a brick hell hole that reeked of chemicals and had no air in the summers….I knew guys who worked there one day and quit….but my grandfather worked there 38 years) full time.  He would work 10 hours a day and half a day on Saturday, or 55 hours a week when they were busy.  He then worked as a janitor of an evening (I often went with him to this job and hung out as he told me stories while he worked) AND he drove a mail truck on Saturday nights.  I often rode with him as he would pick up mail and we would end up around midnight at the airport in Jefferson City.  This meant he’d get home about about 2:00am and he’d still get up and go to Church the next day.  I also recall him sleeping Sunday afternoons!

During these grueling hours, my grandfather would work out.  He worked out all the time.  He would go to the garage gym and get in some lifting, but he also took every chance to get in a few jumping jacks, or push ups, or a bar would be a chance to do some chins.  He incorporated his training in his work, if he were shoveling dirt, he’d do 5 reps over the left shoulder then 5 over the right for 5 sets, then rest a minute, and then back at it.  He would do isometric curls and grip work on the steering wheel of his car while he drove!  I also recall, when he was in his 50’s, he’d go into a handstand and walk on his hands across the yard as he would come into the house.  I’m sure the neighbors thought he was nuts!  Just like I’m sure that those who don’t know Dale the way we do might think he’s a little nuts.  But my grandfather was in fantastic shape and could work all day and I never recall him being sick and if he was, he was in such good shape it didn’t keep him down long.

Then, when he was in his late 70’s, he was hit by a car.  It was a devastating accident and the doctors told us things looked bleak.  He had a severe head injury and they did brain surgery on him.  They put him in one of those rotating beds to drain the fluid off his brain and told us the prognosis was grim and that he’d never fully recover.  But one day, we were in visiting him and my Uncle Wayne noticed he was doing something with his hands.  He was squeezing them…..and he was doing it in 5 sets of 5 reps (his favorite set/rep scheme for exercises) as he switched back and forth.  Soon, this began to spread and the docs thought he was fighting the restraints on his bed.  But we knew, “Pop” (as I called him) was exercising.  He was already planning his comeback!

He made a long, grueling comeback to the amazement of his doctors.  The wreck took it’s toll but Dalton got back to being better than most men his age.  He continued to exercise all the time and lift weights.  I think that if Dalton were around today, he’d be right there with Dale on the platform and I’m sure they’d have a lot to talk about.  Tough times don’t last, tough people do.