Simple Liars, Damned Liars, and Experts

by Thom Van Vleck

I like talking about training.  Even if half the time it evolves in an argument.  The one person I have learned the most about weight training is from my Uncle Phil Jackson.  He would often say to me, “I’ve forgotten more about training than you’ll ever know”.  I still often think he is right.  Another guy I’ll mention is Al Myers.  I have learned more about throwing for the Highland Games from Al than any other person.  A lot of the USAWA crowd may know Al competed in the Highland Games but are not aware he was world class at it.  The reason I listened to Al and Phil was not because they were considered by the majority of the lifting or throwing world as experts but because both had something in common with me.  None of us were what I would call natural or “gifted”.  We all had to work for every bit we have.

First I’ll say this.  There’s a fallacy out there that great athletes make bad coaches and mediocre athletes make great coaches.  The “logic” given is that great players never really learn how to play and rely on their natural abilities while mediocre players have to learn every trick to get better.  The evidence given is that there are many coaches that were mediocre players.  Well, that’s just Bull!  The reality is that there are MANY more mediocre players and it would make sense that they would end up a majority in the coaching world over the handful of great athletes.  What really defines a great coach is knowledge and the ability to impart that knowledge in a way another will take it and use it.  They have what’s been called “Practical IQ”.

Now, I don’t know for sure about Al, but I do know that my Uncle Phil would say I’ve barely listened to him at all over the years.  He’s partly right, I have been stubborn at times.  But I would argue he’s mostly wrong.  If you look at how I train there’s more of him in there than any other person on earth.  As for Al, I know I’ve frustrated him from time to time with a million questions and when he’s been nice enough to answer me I’ve often ripped apart his answers.  Al’s such a nice guy this may be hard to believe….but I’ve made him mad more than once!  Yet, if you look at how I throw…NOBODY has had more influence on my throwing and how I train for throwing!  I have just learned over the years that there are….Simple Liars, Damned Liars, and Experts.

The title for this article refers to a saying among lawyers and judges.  It refers to the “expert” witness.  It is often used to make the point that you can get an credentialed expert witness to support about anything.  Kind of like the saying “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” that make the point that you can find stats to support just about any point of view….whether that point of view is right or not!  This is the attitude I bring into how I approach all experts.

Heck, I AM AN EXPERT!  I have been called into court numerous times to provide expert testimony as a licensed professional counselor.  I have frustrated many judges and lawyers in this role because when I KNOW I’m being looked to as an expert then all the speculation, logic, “makes sense to me” is shoved out of my brain and I got with cold, hard, facts.  And the truth is…..you can’t get much from cold, hard facts!  You need to take that leap and expand out beyond what is known and take your “best guess” sometimes to find success.  When pressed by a lawyer or judge, I would preface my “best guess” by saying this is my “opinion based on what I know”.  That rarely helped….they wanted me to tell them that I “unequivocally” knew the truth and to say it as such.

So, what does all this mean.  I guess (based on what I know…..HAHAHA) that I’m trying to say that we need to seek out experts and understand that one person’s “expert” may not be your “expert”….we all have different needs.  These experts can be anywhere and don’t always need to be the “greatest” or the “most famous”.   We also need to look at being able to mine what an expert can give us even if sometimes they aren’t the best communicators.  We should never throw out the coaching of on person simply because they gave bad advice one time.  That’s like the old saying of throwing the baby out with the bath.  Finally, we need to open ourselves to find people who know more than us and take a leap of faith on what they are telling us…..but always remember there are liars, damned liars, and experts.  It’s all in how you want to look at it.  If you think it’s a lie….or the truth…you’ll probably be right.

Ironman Lost…and FOUND!

by Thom Van Vleck

Thin style Ironman 50lb plate

There were Ironman triathlons, Iron Man comics, Black Sabbath singing “I am Iron Man”, Iron Man movies…but when I think of Ironman…I think of Peary Radar’s old magazine and all the equipment he made over the years.  In the JWC training hall we have had a pair of Ironman plates my Uncles (Wayne and Phil Jackson) ordered back in the 60’s.  There is also a missing set.  In case you didn’t know it, back then you could order them “milled” to exact weight or “unmilled” which were half as much in cost.  With the “unmilled” you never knew what you were going to get.  Both sets of plates were unmilled.

First, the plates I still have.  They are thick around the edges and weigh 57.5lbs each while they have “50″ on them….looks like my Uncle’s got their money’s worth on those babies!  I have used them many times over the years because they are slightly larger than my other plates and are lifting from the floor and  put these plates on it makes the others easier to slide on and off.  Plus the fact that I gained 15lb seemed to be a psychological boost and let’s face it…they are just cool.

Thick style plates that weigh 57.5lbs each!

Now, to the story of the lost plates.  They were what I’ll call a “thin” style plate.  The one’s we had actually weighed 47.5lbs each.   There was a local lifter that was a kid my Uncle was trying to help out. He loaned the plates to him and over time the kid kind of claimed them.  That happened to my Uncle Wayne a lot!  When I tried to get them back he had SOLD them!  That also happened more than once.  I remember them in vivid detail.  They were thin, flat, with circular ridges that made them look like a bullseye.  One of the plates had a chip out of it.  I found the guy that bought them, but he gave them to his brother who lived out of state.  After a couple of attempts and promises….I finally gave up on ever getting these back.

Now that was the early 80’s so fast forward almost 30 years.  A good friend of mind called up looking for an incline and I had one.  He said he wanted to trade some stuff including a pair of Ironman plates.  When I got there I wish I could say they were he exact “long lost” pair….but they were not.  However, they were a “spot on” twin…or twins!  While not the exact pair, I am pretty pleased that somehow after all these years these plates seemed to fall right into my lap!  A plus is I might have gotten a better deal as these are right on 50lbs each.

Needless to say, like everything in my gym, they will be put to use.  And when I do….may I’ll have to put on some “Ironman” on the stereo!

Why Progressive Resistance isn’t always Progressive Pt 2

by Thom Van Vleck

Next year I turn 50.  When I was a kid I remember when my grandmother turned 50 and she made it out like she was practically dead!  On the other hand I am enjoying life quite a bit as of late.  I’m the happiest I’ve ever been to be honest.  I’m healthy, I like my work, my marriage the best ever.  All my kids are teenagers and yet we get along very well.  Life is good.  I have nothing to complain about as I roll into the 2nd half of life should I live to be 100.

I also am working out as hard as I ever have.  But there have been adjustments in how I measure progress.  When I was young I needed to have actual “progress” in my progressive resistance to be happy.  When I was 30 I benched 360.  I worked my bench for a year and then I maxed out and hit 365.  When I was 30….that was a major disappointment.  There was also a time when I squatted 400 and then spent a solid year focusing on my squat and ended at 600!  That was great progress!

As I bear down on 50 my idea of progress has changed.  It would be unrealistic for me to look at adding 200lbs to any lift….except maybe some heavy lift in the USAWA.  I am now at a point in my life where holding the line is a huge victory for me.  I push pressed 300 for the first time almost 20 years ago.  Every so often I do a few and I seem to always hit 300….but my long ago goal of 400 will not likely happen.  I throw in the highland games and I’m throwing as well or better than I ever have….but setting personal bests are few and far between.  I also understand that the day will come when I will set my last personal record.  Then my idea of progress will have to change again.

At that point, it will be begrudgingly giving up my strength.  Mark my words, I plan on going down swinging.  But I know I’ll eventually go down.  I recall trying to get a buddy that had been a good lifter in his 20’s to try masters lifting.  His comment was, “I want to be good….not good for my age”.  While I can appreciate that statement, I’ll tell you that I’m happy to be good for my age!

So as I get older my idea of progress will adjust.  Otherwise it will all become an exercise (no pun intended) in futility.  My Uncle Phil once asked me, “Why do you continue to train when you know someday age and time will take it all away”.  Of course he knew the answer and was just challenging me as he so often has in my life.  To me it’s like climbing a mountain.  Once you are at the top, the only way to go after that is down.  But I would rather enjoy the view as from up high as long as I can.  Not everyone gets to the top but everyone eventually finds the bottom.  Life is a precious gift and I plan on sliding into my grave sideways someday as they say….well worn and yelling what a ride!

Roman Chair Squat

by Thom Van Vleck

The Roman Chair Squat

Some time back Al Myers wrote a great article on the Roman Chair and it’s place in the USAWA as a contested lift.  It can be found here: http://www.usawa.com/roman-chair/.  It even inspired me to make a Roman chair and add some Roman Chair sit ups to my workout.

Recently, I have been doing some bodybuilding.  My workouts have traditionally been basic movements for low reps and heavy weights.  Not much assistance work.  My transition was not an easy one as I didn’t want to be too much of as sissy bodybuilder.  So I decided to pull out some of my Bill Pearl Training Manuals (purchased by my Uncle Phil Jackson and autographed to Phil by Pearl himself no less) and follow Bill’s advice.  Why?  Because Bill was BIG and STRONG.  My Uncle saw Bill give a seminar in 1967 after his third Mr. Universe.  He said Bill loaded 300lbs on an Olympic bar and easily power cleaned it, pressed it overhead, then pressed it behind the neck twice!

At any rate, right or wrong, I figured if Bill Pearl did it then it must be good!  I also believe most any program will help you if you believe in it and I was raised to believe that Bill Pearl was almost mythological….the Babe Ruth of Bodybuilding.  So as I looked at how Bill trained his legs I found that one of Bill’s favorite exercises was the Roman Chair Squat.  It is very similar to the Sissy Squat.  My legs have always been a weakness for me so I’ve started doing them.  I like them, but you can’t handle much weight (as a matter of fact, this is a body weight exercise for me).

I also learned a little bit of history as I went about my research on this exercise.  In Al’s article he mentioned that a lifter from Rome did work on the Roman Chair at Professor Attila’s gym and it became quite popular.  This was shared with Sig Klein who did a type of plank movement (and I suspect this led to the Roman Chair Bench Press lift in the USAWA).  But I believe I’ve found the original purpose the Roman Chair was invented for!  In ancient times latrines were basically ditches.  You would have to squat over them and since you didn’t want to fall in you would hook your feet under something and leverage out to “do you business”.  I think this is much better explanation than Al’s medieval torture device chair in his article!

What ever the case, the Roman Chair can be used for much more than sit ups!  But regardless of what you do on a Roman Chair…..it all is painful!  And I, for one, am thankful to have a modern toilet!

JWC Redesigned Logo

by Thom Van Vleck

The New JWC logo.

The Jackson Weightlifting Club is one of the oldest Clubs in the USAWA…and that’s saying a lot because there are some old clubs!  To me, what sets the JWC apart is it very much is a family club.  Sure, there are lots of non family members, but the core has been my family and for over 85 years there has been a member of my family at the lead.  While I hope that continues, I just hope it’s around another 85 years regardless of who is running it!  I am pretty proud to keep the tradition going of lifting for not only strength of body, but strength of mind, spirit, and character.  That’s why on the logo below that adorns the front of the shirt it says “Strength, Faith, Honor, and Wisdom”.  I would say that lifting is more about life than winning awards for the JWC…..but awards are nice, too!

Logo that's on the front of the new JWC shirts

The anvil that is on the both sides is a silhouette of the Original “Grandpa Jackson” Anvil that sits in my gym.  Many will remember the story I’ve probably told too many times of my Great Grandfather lifting that anvil to impress his kids, then my grandfather turning to weight training to achieve that same feat….then that turning into a tradition of lifting in our family.  And yes, 1928 was the year my grandfather started lifting with his future brother in law and his friends that led to the formation of the the JWC.  While the name “Jackson Weightlifting Club” wasn’t coined until 1957, I consider 1928 as the date the idea was born…..which was more important than the name.  That idea was a man could use weights to make himself better in all ways….not just physical strength.

The "old" logo in use since the 90's.

The Logo drawn by my Uncle Phil in the late 50's that inspired all the future logos.

Here are the old logos just to let you compare.  I have tried to stay true to the original as I want to always honor those that came before me and paved the way.  I know I’ve shared the symbolism of it before, but since I’ve made an update, I wanted to share again.  I plan on having the shirts available at my Highland Games in October and the Old Time Strongman Championships this fall (looking at a December date).  So if you like them, come and compete and get one as a meet shirt!  I know a shirt won’t make my lift more (well….unless it was a bench shirt…but who likes those!)…but when I wear this shirt, I feel extra inspired to not let the tradition down!

Multiple Sized Plates

by Thom Van Vleck

The JWC logo, based on a previous drawing by my Uncle Phil over 50 years ago, incorporates a "York" 400lb "hub style" Olympic set.

I have a lot of weights.  I don’t think of myself as a collector, I use everything I have in my gym.  Nothing gets put in a “glass case”.  I have to say that some things I have for practical reasons.  Certain bars work better for Deadlifts, some for Push Presses, some weights just have a “better feel”.   But sometimes I just like the “looks” of something.  I think it goes back to when I was a kid reading all those old Weightlifting mags.  Most of them were basically advertisements for barbells, supplements, and other related stuff being sold by the publisher.  I remember looking at the advertisements and generally you would get these weight sets that had various sized plates and they load them all on the bar for a photo.  Basically, you ended up with what’s in the logo above.  A bar loaded with plates that not only decrease in weight, but in size.  Keen eyes may have noted I actually drew one extra plate on the drawing for the JWC logo….that’s been a long held secret of mine and to date if anyone has noticed, they didn’t say anything.  As far as being an artist….all I know is I know what I like.  When I was drawing that barbell, it just “looked” right to add one last little set on the ends.  Purely aesthetic! 

A York "iron shoe", a Milo DB, and a standard 1" DB, loaded with the "taper" of smaller and smaller plates

Sometimes, when I lift, I want to load up the bar and have that “assortment” on there.  No reason other than it just pleases me!  It is aesthetic which to me always meant that it was cool to look at but doesn’t have any real reason other than that!  I recently bought some 7.5lb, 12.5lb and 20lb solid 1″ barbell plates to go with my 1.25lb, 2.5lb, 5lb, 10lb, and 25lb plates.  Why,  just so I can load them all up and get that “look”.  To me, its a classic look, and it looks cool…….but I do think there is a reason for wanting all those odd little plates on there.

When I first started lifting I was spoiled having all kinds of weights at my disposal since my Uncle’s had quite a collection from the early days of the Jackson Weightlifting Club.  But I recall my Uncle Wayne telling me how they initially had cement weights they had made using buckets and scrap metal for bars.  They had saved up for the York set….a pretty penny in those days!  When they got that first 300lb set it became their goal to put that overhead.  My Uncle Phil told me that Gene Thudium joined the club and at 145lbs of bodyweight, he clean and pressed 165lbs and declared he was going to “lift that whole 300lb” set.  To Gene’s credit, he did do 280lbs at 181lbs in competition….a great lift and had he not been disillusioned when they dropped the clean & press from competition in 1972 I think he would have done it!   My Uncle Wayne recalls the day Thudium walked in the gym and Wayne told him they had dropped that lift.  Thudium, who had been on that mission for a dozen years, threw his hands up, quit, and NEVER came back to the gym!  At any rate, they wanted to lift that whole set which meant all the smaller plates loaded on there.  So, I think there was that challenge of “lifting the whole set” that came along!   As a side note, they ordered a 400lb set and my Uncle Wayne ended up Jerking that out of the rack. 

So, for whatever reason, I like the look and honestly, anything that will motivate me to lift is a good thing in my book.  Even if my wife wonders why I had to order those “odd” sized plates when I have about a 1000lbs of 1″ plates already!

Big Muscles or Strong Muscles?

 by Thom Van Vleck

Dennis Rogers next to Thom Van Vleck at the York Barbell Benefit for the Wounded Warrior Project. Dennis is one of the top short steel benders of all time!

The Jackson Weightlifting Club does a lot of Strongman “Evangelism” shows (like Paul Anderson used to do).  To date, we’ve done around 250 total shows with over 100 being full blown productions with the full team.  The smaller shows are what we call “gym bag” shows where we bring in stuff we can carry in a gym bag to put on a small one or two man show.  We often get called by local groups to entertain.

One time, we got a call from the local YMCA to do an “after school” show.  I was planning on doing it solo, but had something come up so Brett Kerby went instead.  We have four core members of our team and Brett is by far the smallest, but he’s the best of the group when it comes to short steel bending and ripping decks of cards in half!  He went to do the show and when he showed up a local TV news crew was on hand and this was not planned (which Brett is not comfortable with that kind of stuff at all!).  At the end, the news crew interviewed the kids and that night we watched it.  Several kids said things like, “That was awesome” or “I liked it when he ripped the phone book in half”.  One little girl really caught our attention.  She said, “I thought you needed to have big muscles to do that…..but I guess not!”   Needless to say, we had a lot of fun kidding Brett about that.  One time we were getting ready to do a show and Brett got there early to set up the sound system.   A guy there to see the show asked, “So….when do the strongmen get here”.  No respect!

Two Thirds of the Jackson Brothers: Phil and Wayne "Staggo" Jackson. Little Brother and Big Brother! Wayne could move big weights but Phil could do some amazing feats of strength that Wayne couldn't!

Meeting Dennis Rogers made me think of Brett.  Dennis also reminded me of USAWA legend Steve Schmidt.  None of these guys are huge, muscle bound, behemoths.  But they are also NOT guys you would want to mess with.  Short steel bending requires a suspension of pain.  I once saw John O’Brien drive a 60 penny nail into his hand at least a half inch…..and he put some tape on it and kept bending for a half dozen more shows that weekend before seeking treatment….he didn’t even flinch.  If you watch these guys you will see how painful it really is and if you try it, you will KNOW how painful it is.  I have managed a 60 penny nail, halving and quartering a deck of cards, and doing phone books.  My hands hurt, my elbows hurt, and my shoulders hurt.  All lifting involves pain tolerance, but that stuff requires “pain suspension”.

So, big muscles impress the novices and sometimes even the experts….but there’s much more to it than big muscles.  Pain tolerance, tenacity, leverage, and being smart and calculating are all factors that guys like Dennis Rogers, Steve Schmidt, and Brett Kerby have mastered.  They are the kinds of guys I would want in a back alley fight because they won’t quit…..and really, who would expect such strength from someone their size!

Wayne Smith: All Round Legend Part II

 by Thom Van Vleck

Wayne Smith pulling a partial deadlift with everything but the kitchen sink on the bar!

In Part II of my story on Wayne Smith, we will look at some of his best lifts, his personality, and his hard work ethic.

Wayne Smith was most impressive when he was deadlifting.  He had a best of 460lb at 148lbs (triple bodyweight).  He also had a 240 bench, snatch 145, C&J 200, squat 290, and a Clean & Press of 160.  Wayne Jackson told me that one of the most impressive things he saw Wayne Smith do was a bent arm pullover from the floor to the chest while lying on a bench with 250lbs.  Some of Waynes old records on the Pre-USAWA “All-Round Records” list include a 230lb Middle Fingers deadlift, a Pinch Grip of 115lbs, and a Miller Clean & Jerk of 90lbs all done in his late 40’s.

Phil Jackson remembers meeting for the first time in 1957.  He said he was around 13 and Wayne was the “expert” who actually was friends with Tommy Kono!  Phil said they all enjoyed Wayne’s wry sense of humor and it made training sessions funny and the long, late night trips back from meets tolerable.  Wayne was always saying something off the cuff.  Some of his best that I remember include:

“Bodybuilding is like a dog show”

“I complained to my wife about how sore I was and when she found out it was from doing a heavy deadlift she told me to see a vet because only a jackass would try something like that”

One time, Ed Zercher, Sr was the head judge at a lifting meet and smith was up on the deadlift.  Zercher was really serious on judging.  Smith walked up and took a “clean grip” as Ed looked on through his trademark tiny spectacles.  Smith stood up, snapped his fingers and said, “That’s right, this is the deadlift…..I was getting ready to clean this”.  Phil said Zercher didn’t bat an eye and said, “One minute” indicating Smith better lift or get off the platform.

Smith up in a tree cutting limbs.

Smith was a tree trimmer his whole life and he was famous for scaling unbelievably tall trees with little or not climbing gear and like a surgeon dropped limbs with great precision.  One day a guy said, “You must like heights” and Smith told him he HATED heights.  The guy asked him why he climbed such tall trees then and Smith said, “Because that’s where my grocery money is at!!!!”

Smith was a great tree trimmer and my Uncle Phil and I both share the experience of helping Smith in his tree trimming business.  Smith was not a wealthy man, as a matter of fact, he usually just got by.  I recall one time Smith was trying to get one of three chain saws going to finish a job when he turned to me and said, “There’s nothing shameful about being poor….it’s just d@med inconvenient”!!!  It’s hard work trimming trees and Smith made extra money cutting that wood up for fired wood that he would sell.  He was one of the hardest working men I knew and the fact that he trained with weights at all was a feat unto itself.  There is no doubt he would have had a much greater career if he hadn’t been breaking his back all day working!

That might explain Wayne’s training regime.  He worked so hard trimming and cutting down trees and often when the work was there he’d put in dawn to dusk days that he hardly had time or energy to train.  Getting that “grocery money” out of the trees was more important than a trophy!  He would often show up at the gym and lift for about 20 minutes at a time hitting all the major lifts he was going to do in the next contest.  For example, if he were going to do a powerlifting meet he’d hit his warm ups, hit his opener and move on to the next lift.  No frills, just right to the point.  Smith got plenty of “assistance” work in his job….the kind of stuff people now do and call “old school” training, Smith did and made a living at it!  Wayne also would focus on some new stunt that he’d practice when he could on the job.  When I was working for him it was around the time Mt. St. Helen’s erupted.  So Wayne was working on doing chins while pinch gripping the rafters.  He also would “monkey bar” across the room pinching the rafters.  He quite seriously would tell me if a volcano erupted and the room filled with lava he’d be safe!  I never knew how serious he was because I thought to myself….”If the room is full of lava then I would think that would be the least of your worries”!  His wry sense of humor kind of always left you wondering!

Smith with his custum made truck hauling a "typical" haul for him. He was talented at getting huge trees out by himself. The truck had a strong wench with an I-beam on the top that would pull a large log right in!

Later Wayne Smith became interested in bowling.  He became very good at it and  and was so successful he was inducted in the Missouri Bowling Hall of Fame.  He is a local legend in the bowling alley and he is proud of the fact that he’s the only person in both the Bowling and Lifting Halls of Fame.

Wayne has been a big part of the JWC for OVER 50 years.  Who knows, maybe if he had not been there to guide my Uncle’s when they first started training maybe there would never been a JWC.  I feel we owe him a lot and his contributions to Olympic lifting, Powerlifting, and the USAWA should not be overlooked!

Wayne Smith: All Round Legend Part I

 by Thom Van Vleck

Wayne Smith deadlifting the front end of a Volkswagon.

Wayne Smith was one of the original Jackson Weightlifting Club members.  He usually lifted in the 148lb class and competed in Olympic lifting meets, Powerlifting, and early “odd lift” meets and later USAWA meets.  Smith was born in 1932 and is currently 78 years old.

Wayne told me he first became interested in weightlifting as a kid with his twin brother, Ward.   But it was not until he joined the Navy that he actually started training regularly.  While in the Navy he was stationed in Hawaii and it was at this time he made a life long friendship with Tommy Kono (If you don’t know, Kono was one of the greatest Olympic lifters of all time and was actually voted “Weightlifter of the Century”).  Wayne has letters he has received over the years and a personally autographed copy of Kono’s book on lifting (Weightlifting: Olympic Style).  There is also a letter from Gary Cleveland.  Cleveland was a great York lifter who later put out a newsletter called the Avian Movement Advocate that Smith would often contribute to.  The letter talks about a letter Kono sent to Cleveland about Smith and it was very positive.  Smith told me that it meant a lot to him that Kono would write that letter about him.

Wayne Smith "wowing the crowd" with his Chinup prowess.

It was around 1957 that Wayne returned from the Navy and was approached by a group of brothers trying to find out more about weightlifting.  Smith felt he was no expert but these young men, the Jackson Brothers,  knew almost nothing and were lifting makeshift barbells made of concrete poured in buckets, old flywheels for extra plates, anvils, and pretty much anything that wasn’t tied down.  My favorite story was about the first thing Smith told them was to reverse their grip on their cleans, presses, and jerks.  They were using a “curl” or “reverse” grip!  Soon they were working out on a regular basis and the foundation for the Jackson Weightlifting Club as we know it today was laid.

Wayne’s first meet was in Omaha, Nebraska in 1958.  His Olympic lifting and Powerlifting career lasted until 1971.  During that time he entered many meets as a member of the Jackson Weightlifting Club.  He was part of a JWC team that won two state team titles.  He was also proud of the fact he never failed to total and he never failed to make weight for his weight class.  He said Kono had taught him to take a safe lift then go all out on 2nd and 3rd attempts and this served Wayne well.  In 1964 won the Missouri State Championships as a middleweight.  Just prior to winning that title he was told he had a lung condition and at the rate he was deteriorating he had maybe two years to live!  He received treatment from Dr. Valuck who he credits with diagnosing him and treating him back to health!

Smith at the top of one of his "perfect" one-arm chins at a powerlifting meet in Minnesota in 1966. You will find a poster of this picture on the wall in Clark's Gym.

In the late 70’s, Wayne began entering “odd lift” meets put on by Bill Clark.  He also lifted in the early USAWA years.  It was in 1977 that Bill nominated Wayne for the AAU Weightlifting Hall of Fame and Wayne was later inducted.  During his lifting years Wayne won 4 major titles.  Other than his state title in 1964, in 1966 he won the City Championships in Kirksville, in 1966 he won the Open Powerlifting title in St. Paul, Minnesota (where the chin up photo was take, more on that later!), and in 1971 he won his last title, a powerlifting meet in Jefferson City were he won the Open title.

Wayne was also a chin up specialist.  He would often challenge all comers to a chin up contest.  He told me he was only beaten one time.  It was by another JWC member named Dr. Rex Lee.  Rex had joined the club while going to the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine and lifted as 114lber.  Rex weighed only 105lbs when he beat Smith by one rep.  My Uncle Phil told me that every meet they ever competed in at some point Smith would put on a chinning exhibition.  If there was no bar to chin on then Phil and another member of the club would hold a 45lb bar up for Smith to chin on!  In 1998 I “revived” the club and in 1999 held a strongman contest and Highland Games that eventually turned into the Kirksville Games and the JWC Strongman Championships/Highlander.  My brother and I held a bar up and at age 68 Wayne did a perfect one arm chin up!  When I say perfect he did a “dead weight” pull and no “kip” or “kick”.  That’s how he always did them and had a best of 6 one arm chins.

Coming Soon: Part II

Jackson Weightlifting Club Logo

by Thom Van Vleck

The modern JWC Logo.

The Jackson Weightlifting Club has a history that reaches back to 1928.  Like many Clubs and Gyms it has it’s own logo.  Above you will see the modern JWC Logo.  The modern logo has it’s root to the late 1950’s and is based on one that my Uncle Phil Jackson drew.   I have a copy of  that drawing, the original drawing is in Phil’s possession.

Copy of the original JWC logo first developed by Phil Jackson in the late 50's

There was a point I wanted to make a standard logo for the modern incarnation of the JWC.  After some experimentation, I came up with the modern logo and you will find it painted on the JWC Training Hall wall and it is often used on our meet shirts and other related JWC stuff.  In the modern JWC Logo you will find many elements present in the original and a few new things.  I used the shield and barbell, just like Uncle Phil did.  I used a copy of the York Barbell “deep dish” weights for the “barbell” part of the logo.  I felt this appropriate as this was the first Olympic set ever purchased by the JWC (and I still have it!).  I used the same shield but got rid of the small barbell plate at the middle point.  I kept the JWC on the diagonal and added a couple elements.  A lot of thought actually went into this.

First, I added the cross.  A Celtic style cross to celebrate the Celtic roots of the Jackson family.  But more importantly to signify our Christianity.  My family has always been strong in their faith and that is most notable in the fact that the modern JWC has an evangelism team that has done well over 200 strongman evangelism shows in the spirit of how Paul Anderson used to spread the Gospel with his feats of strength.  The cross is at the top because it is most important.  That section of the shield is the symbolic location of the heart and I wanted everyone to know that the JWC holds Christ in it’s heart.

The fancy JWC logo.

Second, the Anvil. It was added to symbolize Grandpa Jackson’s Anvil.  If you don’t know, the first inspiration for Dalton Jackson to lift weights was his father (Arthur Jackson) lifting his anvil overhead to impress his kids.  Later, around 1928, Dalton and his future brother-in-law, Coda Baugher, made some homemade weights and began to train.  Every generation since has lifted the anvil and it sits proudly in my gym to this day!  I  tried to make the shape exactly like the real anvil.  I also put it at the bottom because to me the anvil is the foundation of our club.  So now you know the history of the JWC logo.  I hope someday my kids take it and make it their own!

The Long Journey to York Barbell: Part II

by Thom Van Vleck

In part I of my story about my trip to York Barbell and I detailed my trip.  Now, I’m going to share my feelings about my trip.

The current York Gym

May 28th, 1064 was the date of the Missouri State Championships in Olympic lifting.  How do I know?  Because my Uncle Wayne won that year and he told me that when he got home with the rest of the JWC gang he said I upstaged him being born that day.  He said they all headed down to the hospital to see me.  It was literally a couple blocks away.  Later, he would give me that medal because of the significance of the date he won it.  Without Wayne, I’d never been a weight lifter and I would not be half of what I am today.  Without my Uncle Phil, you could halve that again and without my Grandfather Dalton, I’d be nothing today.  So me wearing that medal was like them being there at York with me.  That medal has been to every lifting meet, highland games, strongman contest, and USAWA event I’ve ever been to, including a couple trips to Scotland where I “dipped” it into Loch Ness.

So, you can see, lifting has been a big part of my family.  It’s not about winning, it was always about getting better.  Being stronger, healthier, and self improvement.  York Barbell was always a part of that.  I practically “teethed” on a 5lb plate.  I remember taking an interest in throwing the discus and not having one, so I took a 5lb York plate out and practiced with it!  In 1963, my Uncle Wayne ordered a Jackson International set and he told me that he sold it partly out of feeling disloyal to York….plus he said his York sets (and the JWC had several by then) were superior in his mind.

Thom Van Vleck checking out the Cyr Dumbbell. My grandfather told me a story about it when I was just a kid.

But the opportunity never came up to travel to York.  Phil told me they talked about it often.  They would lift and talk about meeting Tommy Kono, John Grimek, Steve Stanko, Bob Hoffman and the rest.  They would day dream of lifting in the York Gym  with the greats and seeing where all the weights were made.  But time and circumstance intervened and the dream faded away.  Until now.

So when I went out, I had a lot riding on this trip.  I needed to soak up every detail and take lots of pictures.  I even called both of them in the museum and gave each one a walk through.  They both asked me if I saw the Sandow Statue or the Grimek statue.  They knew a lot of the stuff that was in there!

Thom with the Grimek statue....I don't think he's impressed with me.

Overall, it was a great trip.  But later, I did get a little melancholy.  York is well past it’s pinnacle.  But then again, I  remember stopping at Peary Radar’s old Ironman Headquarters in Alliance, Nebraska a few years back.  It’s all long gone and not a thing remains as is the fate of a lot of the other American barbell makers.  At least York Barbell is still there and it seems the guys that work there appreciate the history.  Mike Locondro told me that the event we attended (Wounded Warrior Project Strength Fest) was all about getting York back to were it belongs….but more than that he told me that his Uncle was John Grimek’s brother in law and to him it was not just about “company policy” but it was personal.  That gave me hope and took a little of that melancholy away.  Maybe York isn’t what it was, but it seems to be rising up again!

On a side note, I traveled 15 miles to the west of York and went by the burial place of my Great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather (yes, that’s right….6 “greats”).  He was a Lutheran pastor that has been credited with starting over 50 churches.  His home still stands and members of my distant family still occupy it.   I hope to go back some day and see some more and meet some of my relatives…the dead one’s and live one’s!

The Long Journey To York Barbell: Part I

by Thom Van Vleck

Thom Van Vleck completes the 73 year journey to York Barbell

Recently I traveled to York, Pa to the home of York Barbell to judge at the USAWA Heavy Lift Nationals.  This, however, is not a meet report but a story about a Long Journey.

Back in 1938 my Grandfather ordered his first “real” barbell set.  Oh, sure, he had been training for along time before this, since 1928 to be exact, but it was at this point he finally could afford a real barbell set to replace the bodyweight exercises, the concrete “bucket” weights, and the assorted things like anvils he would find to train with.  By that time he was married and I recall he had a real fight with my grandmother over ordering that set since they were short on cash.  But it was his dream.  I still have what is part of that set.

Then, in 1957, my Uncle’s Phil and Wayne began to train and scrimped and saved until they could order a real “Olympic” set.  There was other choice but York!  This was the classic deep dish York set.  At that time, Wayne and Phil became avid Olympic style lifting fans and at that time York Barbell was the center of it all.  When I started training, in 1977, my Uncle Wayne bought a new set to encourage me.  I remember vividly him ordering it with a mail order form and a check.  I’m pretty sure he wanted it as much as I did and it was just a good excuse to order a new set!

I have a few hundred Strength & Health and Muscular Development magazines that were published by York Barbell.  I’m not a collector, most are the magazines that my grandfather and Uncles bought off the news stand to read.  I would read these for countless hours as a kid when I started training and as a result, probably know more about York Barbell than all the people who currently work there!

So, when Al asked me to come along and be a judge, I pushed aside a chance to go to Iceland and compete in a highland games and chose to go to York.  You see, even though my family had been “York Men” since 1938, NOBODY from my family had ever been there!

So, here it was, 73 years after that first York barbell set was mail ordered by my grandfather and I was on my way to York.  I was pretty excited but at the same time, I was realistic.  I knew it was not what it was in the glory days.  But I hoped it would still be a great trip.

We arrived the morning of the contest and pulled up out front.  There was Bob Hoffman’s statue standing as proud as ever.  My grandfather used to tell me that Bob was “a little full of himself” and I had to chuckle as I looked at the statue.  Most accomplished men are a little full of themselves.  It often takes a big ego to drive great success.  I wish I could have met the guy, big ego aside, he did much for lifting and made America quite literally….a lot stronger.

The life size barbell mobile hanging in the York Barbell HQ....is that thing real!!!!

Soon, we went inside.  There was a large “Barbell Mobile” hanging from the ceiling.  Barbell plates and bars balanced from a single point from the ceiling.  Not sure if they were real….but if they were that’s a lot of weight hanging there!  Then to the right was a lifting auditorium where the hall of fame induction took place.  I walked through and into the gym area.  It was loaded with platforms and weights, much more modern than I expected but then again, this is not the “original” club where the “York Gang” trained.  That place was long gone and while we drove by the location, nothing remains of it downtown.

The York lifting auditorium

Next, I walked through the museum.  I won’t detail all of it, but while what was there was very cool, it was not as big as I expected, but still not a let down.   What was there oozed history.  I would detour through the museum many times while I was there, taking just a minute to look at something else I had missed.  I then went into the retail store, that was nice, again not as big as I expected but it had “one of everything”.  While there I picked up matching York Barbell shirts with the old style split jerk logo for me and my Uncle Wayne.  I took tons of photos so that later I could show Wayne and Phil a “virtual” tour of the place.  I didn’t go anywhere else, but looked around at the warehouse.  The foundry is gone, they don’t make anything on site anymore.   Later, we also traveled by Bob Hoffman’s old house as the sun set on my York trip and we called it a day.

Next:  Part II My feelings about my Trip.

Outdoor Lifting: Time for Fresh AIR!

Phil Jackson lifting outdoors at the old JWC club

by Thom Van Vleck

I have a photo album full of old photos of the Jackson Weightlifting club in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.  Many of the photos, maybe even more than half, are taken outdoors.  Back then, there was a very practical reason for lifting outside in the summer time….NO AIR CONDITIONING!  My Uncle’s told me they built a platform outdoors so they could get some fresh air and keep cool.  The JWC gym moved around several times and often was in an old unairconditioned building.  One of the favorite places of my Uncle Wayne of gym locations was on Jefferson Street near the old Kirksville  Railroad Depot.  Wayne said they rented an old store and they would lift in the store front during the winter.  There were large plate glass windows open to the street with a potbelly wood stove for heat and in the summer they would move the weights out back and lift right under the down town Water Tower.  The Water tower is still there but the store is long gone.  Sadly, not a single picture exists of the gym from that time.  Just the many great stories….including one of how my Aunt Linda would walk by there every day going home from work and see Wayne lifting…..and now they have been together for over 40 years!  She would stop and watch them workout with other girls…..she must have been impressed.

My Uncle Phil told me that lifting outside was also a benefit in other ways besides a cool breeze.  The bright sunshine helped get rid of the winter blues come spring and the fact that girls might walk by just motivated them to lift a little harder!   It might be a hassle to move the weights outdoors, but I think you’ll find a little lifting on a sunshiny day will boost your motivation and be a nice change of pace.

When is a Jerk not a Jerk?

by Thom Van Vleck

Phil Jackson doing Jerks on the back yard platform of the old JWC Club (circa 1964)

Al’s recent article on the Continental Clean & Jerk got me thinking and there was a discussion about this on the forum. Al brought up the history of the Continental. Al talked about how the German lifters were typically well fed with potato pancakes, German beer, and strudel and they took to using their beer bellies to assist in lifting the weight! The English lifters referred to this technique as the “Continental” method (likely in a derogatory way) and referred to their own style as the “clean” method. The English, French, and Germans had a big rivalry back then…..led to a couple of World Wars….though I’m not sure how they lifted weights had anything to do with it but you never know! I do know that however one side would do things, the other would do the opposite, like the metric system, which side of the road to drive on, etc.

There was also a debate about touching the thighs. This was actually not allowed in Olympic lifting until the 60’s which is part of why you saw a leap in records around that time. For those that don’t know what I mean, back before the rule change you had to pull the weight from the floor to the rack position WITHOUT brushing the thighs. You could not touch the thighs at all in the “true” clean. Then, in the 60’s, this rule was changed and my Uncle Wayne is still mad about it! So, what many of us call a “clean” is really not a clean at all technically! Maybe I’ll submit that as a new USAWA lift, the “TRUE Clean & Jerk”. Maybe I’ll even name it after myself!

Other debated aspects included hang cleaning the weight and using the thighs to get a good push. I know I can hang clean more than I can power clean. Also, there was a debate about not catching the weight cleanly on the chest and using the the arms to push the weight into the proper “rack” position.

I know, so when am I going to get around to the topic in the title of this article! Much like the fictitious “Continental Clean” (you either Continental it in some manner or you cleaned it…post 1960 style!) The Jerk with a press out is really not a Jerk at all, but a Push Press with foot movement (which, I guess, really disqualifies it as a push press by USAWA rules). Maybe it’s a “push jerk”…..geez, now even I am confused.

When the sport of “strongman” came out they contested the log lift pretty heavily and there were no rules on how to execute this lift. Guys got pretty creative in how they lifted the weights. Eric Todd, a top strongman and USAWA lifter, would push press the log and then set in on his head! He would then push press the log off his head to a lock out position! This actually became pretty common…..until they made a rule against it. I heard different reasons for this, including that it was dangerous and also that it just looked stupid. I do recall reading of a guy way back that would catch a standard Olympic bar on his head and finish it in this same method…..now that’s what I call a Continental Jerk!

Now, on a side note. If you watch the old 8mm films of the guys in the 50’s and 60’s…..you saw a LOT of press outs. You look at some of Paul Anderson’s “jerks” and he would literally push press the weight. It often really becomes a judgement call on whether it’s a press out or a jerk. Rules are rules and are intended to clarify what’s allowed and not allowed. Sometimes they just confuse us more! Different people have different leverages and thus different styles offer them advantages. One thing I like about the USAWA is there’s something for everyone. But even the USAWA has rules, but I would like to make sure those rules don’t take those advantages away (or are simply used by some to capitalize on their own advantages). So, if there’s enough lifters in the USAWA to create a Continental Jerk, then someone needs to put pen to paper, make the rules, then present it at the Nationals in June where new lifts are approved. I know I would if press outs helped me! I also have no interest in setting a bar on my head to finish a jerk! One final note, could we change the name of it? I get tired of my friends laughing and making jokes about me being a Big Jerk.

Billy Parker: Friend of the JWC

S & H: April 1966 issue: Billy Parker, Drug Free bodybuilder and friend of the JWC!

by Thom Van Vleck

In the 60’s my Uncle Phil was stationed in Alabama while in the Air Force and got to meet a lot of top lifters and bodybuilders of that era.  One in particular that he became friends with was Billy Parker.  Billy had a brother Randy and they often frequented Karo Whitfield’s gym.  My Uncle Phil, when he was not doing Air Force work, would do personal training and that’s how he met the Parker Brothers.  They often came over for back yard BBQ’s and outdoor workout sessions.

Phil told me that the Parker’s came from Southern money.  They had a trust fund that allowed them to do whatever they wanted and not have to work.  So they decided to become professional bodybuilders and trainers and had their own “health club” as gyms were often called in that day, the Bel Aire Health Club (Phil thinks it was named for the shopping center it was located, the “Bel Aire Shopping Center”) .  Plus, they enjoyed being young and rich!  Phil said that Billy had a brand new thunderbird convertible and they would often cruise the streets of Atlanta looking for fun.

Phil said that what he liked most about Billy was he was drug free at a time when steroids was becoming commonplace.  It could also be why you never heard of Billy after that as that era was dominated by drugged up bodybuilders.  In 1964, Billy was 9th in the AAU Junior Mr. America and 6th in the Mr. USA.  In 1965 he was 15th in the Mr. USA.  In 1966 he was 15th in the Mr. America and was again mentioned for his posing ability and muscle control.  Phil said when he knew him in 1966 he had won over 70 bodybuilding trophies in regional meets in the south.

Phil said he was a he was a master poser and muscle control artist, having learned from Mr. America Harry Johnson.  In that 1965 contest he was listed as one of the top three posers in that contest.   Billy was not a big man, he was small boned and short, but he made the most of what he had!   Phil lost touch with him and Randy over the years and I’m currently trying to locate him so if you know where he’s at, let me know!

Make it “Official”

by Thom Van Vleck

Phil Jackson judging in the 1960's

I guess I’m officially “OLD”.  I went to a funeral the other day and was upset with the clothes people wore.  They were in jeans, sweat pants, jeans with holes in them, etc.  I was in a suit and tie.  I was there to show respect.

I guess I’m old school and I like to show respect. I respect my elders, my betters, ladies….errr…women.  Because that is how I was raised.  I open doors for older folks (seems to be fewer of those every year…don’t understand why!?).  I stop when I see someone needs help.  I greet folks with a handshake and acknowledge them in some appropriate way when I can.  In general, I’m nice…..Ok, MOST of the time I’m nice.

I was going through some old pictures recently and came across one of Phil Jackson judging a meet in the 1960’s.  He was wearing a suit and tie.  I asked him about it and he acted like that was a stupid question!  He said all the judges wore respectable clothes back then.  He said it made the meet look better, like there was something going on, but most of all it was showing respect to the honorable position of being a judge.  I would also point out that Phil had lifted in that meet and changed to judge the later classes.

Now,  I’ve judged meets in jeans and a t-shirt so I’m not casting stones here (but I will in regards to that funeral….that just made me mad!).  I would be curious what other members of the USAWA think about this.  I’ll guess that if you are over 40, you think that a judge should look the part and at least look half way decent and if you are under 30 you could care less as long as the job gets done.  Ages 30-40 are probably in the middle!!

Log onto the USAWA Discussion Forum and let me know and I’ll follow this article up with the results.

JWC: The Pro Football Connection: Part II

by Thom Van Vleck

Press clipping after the NFC Championship Game

Tom Geredine was a wide receiver for NMSU and was actually picked ahead of Lenny by the Falcons.  He ended up playing for the Falcons for two years and the LA Rams for one.  He was never a starter, but he did have one great game on a Monday night that had Howard Cosell fired up.  It was November 19, 1973 and Tom was at wide receiver.  He had three receptions of 52 yards as a back up, making it has 2nd best game as a pro.  The catches were at clutch times and helped the Falcons beat the Vikings 20 to 14.  That was a year the Vikings went to the Super Bowl and that was only one of two loses they suffered that year….an upset!

Then, there was Lenny.  Lenny played Pro football for 9 years. Six years as a Bengal and his coach was the legendary Paul Brown.  An assistant was this guy named Bill Walsh…..that will be important later!  Lenny played with the Browns but after 6 years his knees were getting banged up and he was released.  Bill Walsh had since become the coach of the 49ers and saw something special in Elliott.  He picked him up and Lenny came to the 49ers as a third stringer.

Then, came “The Catch”.  In the 1981 season, the year the 49er’s won their first Super Bowl, the “niners” found themselves  in the NFC Championship game against the great Dallas Cowboys who had made a habit of winning Super Bowls in the 70’s.  You have to remember, at this time the 49er’s were losers, they had never been to a Superbowl and they had some rookie QB named Joe Montana that everyone said at the time was too small and didn’t have a strong enough arm.  Then came a 4th quarter drive that Joe Montana would become famous for. Walsh knew the Cowboys would be looking for the pass so he looked down the bench and got a washed up running back (Lenny) who had been cut from the team, and only recently picked back up, and began to feed him the ball.  Lenny set up that Catch, and right before the catch, ALMOST scored a touchdown that would have meant the catch never happened!   If you are a fan, you remember “The Catch”, but did you know that Lenvil Elliott, JWC member, was the MVP of that NFC Championship game?  He set up that play and it was his finest hour as a player.  He did not play in the Superbowl and his bad knees forced him to retire the next year…so it was his last game.  A story fit for a movie!

Here’s another layer to this story.  There was a book called “The Catch” by Gary Myers.  In it he talks about this famous moment in football and characterizes it as the moment when Pro Football became bigger than Pro Baseball in America.  It was the moment when Pro Football became AMERICA’S GAME.  In the book, there’s a point where Gary Myers states that the “unsung hero” of that game was really Lenvil Elliott.  I like to believe that the training Lenny got from my Uncle helped his career and led to that moment.  I guess I don’t just believe it….I know it.

I recall many fun times with Lenny.  He was a nice guy.  He gave me his training camp shirt one year and I wore that my entire Senior year of high school….until it was in tatters!   We have a family cabin that we all often went to and used.  Lenny often brought his Pro Football friends out to get away from it all.  My Uncle Phil said they liked the fact he treated them like they were regular guys.  One of those guests was named “Walt” from Chicago.  You guessed it….Walter Payton.  My Uncle Phil said that when he left after a weekend of hunting he commented that he appreciated Phil not making a big deal about him and he offered him an autographed photo.  Phil told me that he turned him down and told him the joy of his company was enough.   Later, Lenny told Phil that Walter said he really liked Phil and our family cabin.  I recall lots of “big guys” coming out and Phil telling me to treat them like regular guys.  We did and we had a blast.

That’s only part of the JWC Pro football legacy….how about Part III??!!

JWC: The Pro Football Connection Part I

by Thom Van Vleck

Lenvil Elliot: JWC member and Super Bowl winner!

I had thought about titling this article: How the JWC made Football America’s Game over baseball.  That’s quite a claim, isn’t it?   Well, it’s true!  First, let me talk a little about Lenvil “Lenny” Elliot and the rest of the the Pro football players that came out of the JWC.

Lenny came to school at Northeast Missouri State University, which is now Truman State, here in Kirksville in the fall of 1969.   My Uncle Phil returned from Vietnam after a stint in the Air Force and started school in 1971.   Phil already had two years of credits so they were both Juniors.  They were both in school to be Physical Education teachers so they took a lot of classes together.  They began to train together, but more than that, they shared a love of hunting and fishing and spent nearly every weekend doing just that for the next two years.  That was the source of their real friendship.

At this time my Uncle Phil aspired to be a football trainer, maybe even for a professional team, and Lenny was on track to play in the NFL.  So they had a lot in common and Phil often shared his unique training philosophy with Lenny and personally trained Lenny for a year and a half before the NFL draft.  Phil had the JWC in the basement of his house and basically it was the only gym in town.  He told me he got enough in membership dues to pay the rent on the whole house!

Northeast Missouri State was in a “golden” era in football. In 1969, 1970, and 1971 they won the MIAA conference and out of those teams they had 5 players drafted into Pro football.   This included four that were trained by Phil!  Besides Lenny, there was Tom Geredine who was drafted into the NFL.  Then, in the WFL there was Craig O’Sadnick and Marvin Robinson.  Phil designed training programs for them for the off season (it was unusual to train in the offseason back then) and they lifted at the JWC gym.

This is remarkable in a couple of ways.  Northeast (or Truman as it is now known) had about 10 players EVER play pro football.  That means that the 5 that came out of this group was HALF of that total.  Pretty amazing and I have often wondered how much the training they got from Phil helped.  I think it had to help!  I was just a kid, but I recall Phil, Lenny, and the guys hanging out, and hitting the town.  Phil has a lot of stories…after all, it was the 70’s and the school has always been about two thirds girls for it’s enrollment!

Next: Part II  The JWC, Walter Payton, Winning a Super bowl, and Pro football becoming America’s Game.

USAWA in Print: Book Review

by Thom Van Vleck

Steve Scott and John Saylor's latest book promotes USAWA members and USAWA lifts.

I recently got an issue of Steve Scott’s latest book.  He wrote it with John Saylor, a well respected martial arts instructor and Champion.  Steve sent me an autographed copy because of what was inside.  I’ll get to that in a moment.  First, let me tell you about Steve.

Steve is one of my best friends and someone I admire greatly.  When I first met Steve he was a top master’s thrower in Scottish Highland Games and was running Highland Games in KC.  Because of Steve, I became friends with Al Myers and Chad Ullom and was introduced to the sport that I’ve enjoyed my greatest athletic success.  For that, I’m very grateful.  Steve’s wife, Becky, also was a top thrower and always at his side in any project he took on.  I then found out that Highland Games were just the tip of the iceberg as far as Steve & Becky were concerned.

Steve was, and still is, a top Judo coach.  He has a widely respected club in Kansas City called the Welcome Mat that has been in operation since 1969.  It has produced National, Pan American,  and World Champs as well as some of the elite men and women in our fighting forces and a Secret Service Agent that was on George W. Bush’s personal detail.  Becky was a National, Pan Am, and World Champ and Steve once told me that Becky could have been an Olympic Champion but back then women did not compete in Judo in the Olympics!

Over the years, Steve has written over a dozen books on martial arts, training, coaching and this one is his best to date in my opinion.  It has a very broad appeal.  My Uncle, Phil Jackson, who is, in my opinion, the most knowledgeable person I ever met in regards to weight training, once told me that the hardest sport all the way around was boxing.  It was mentally, physically, and emotionally draining.  I would say the same applies to all combat sports.  You have to be tough and that comes from how you train.  Steve, with John Saylor, has (in my opinion) created the ultimate resource on Combat training.

This book is HUGE and full of all types of training.   There are over 300 pages of illustrated exercises.  There are detailed explanations of not only how to do the lift, but how to properly train and utilized the lift to fix a weakness. There are workout routines and tons of advice.   I would say that if you wanted to do some off season conditioning for USAWA lifting or Highland Games, this book would be a valuable resource.

Now, I’ll tell you why mine was autographed.  Inside were pictures of me, Al Myers, and Chad Ullom demonstrating some lifts.  Appropriately, it was in the “OLD SCHOOL” training section.  Steve  talks about training wisdom that came from Bill Clark,  and his book even contains an exercise that is a variation of the “Inman Mile”!  I knew Steve had requested the photos, but I had no idea what a first class product he was producing.

Concepts on General Weight Training

(Over the years, my Uncle Phil Jackson has been my coach, but also much more than that.  He has been my guru, my father figure, and a best friend.  Phil has coached numerous state champs, bodybuilding champs, and he ran a couple of gyms.  He met all the greats of yesteryear including Bill Pearl, Paul Anderson, John Grimek, and many more.  He also has a degree in Physical Education and has maintained his teaching certificate.   He shared thoughts and ideas with these men and has a wealth of knowledge that  today’s lifter might view as old fashioned, but I think USAWA members realize that the old timers knew what they were doing. He sent me this routine some time ago typed upon his manual typewriter back in 1969. – Thom Van Vleck)

Concepts on General Weight Training

by Phil Jackson

Weight training is possibly the greatest supplement an athlete can add to his training schedule.  Yet it can also be the worst mistake he could ever make.

Weight training applied properly can add strength, endurance, speed, and a certain degree of flexibility.  If it is not applied properly you may find yourself somewhat stronger than you were before but your athletic performance has not increased and in some cases even decreased primarily due to a lack of flexibility.  For example, you could give a baseball pitcher a weight training schedule that was too heavy, lacking full range movement that would ruin his pitching arm.  Yet you carefully design a schedule using weights to strengthen his throwing muscles, and it will improve his pitching.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to make a distinction between the terms weight lifting and weight training.  Weightlifting is the process of lifting weight primarily for the purpose of increasing muscle size and strength, with no regard to athletic performance, where as weight training is the process of training with weights for the purpose of increasing strength for the purpose of athletic performance.

Most of us as coaches will be using weight training for the purpose of increasing strength for athletic performance, yet at the same time one should strive for as much flexibility as possible in the weight schedule.  This is usually provided by emphasizing the stretch with the movement. I would like to demonstrate just a few of these exercises and the whole purpose here is the stretch technique use whenever possible: Bench Press to Neck, Deadlift off bench, Lunges to floor, One arm tricep extension, Wrist Curls, Straight Arm Pullovers, Seated Twist (always first), and Calf Raises.

Two biggest mistakes you can make, Compare yourself to others and directly applying others technique to you…you find what works for you.

As a coach, when you’re making up weight training schedules for your athletes there are 7 concepts which will help.

1. Cardiovascular: Increasing and maintaining heart rate

2.  Respiratory: How you control your breathing in an athletic event, holding breath, releasing it, and breathing control.

3. Stamina: Ability to go day after day

4. Endurance: Ability to go as near 100% in a one day event, continuous ability to perform at a high level

5. Muscle Twitch: stretching just beyond the normal range.  Very determined by the specific sport.  Increasing the ability to Explode (Phil calls it muscle snap).

6.  Flexibility: All kinds of stretching for active recovery, teaching the muscle to relax for performance improvements, getting in touch with the muscle.  Increased the range of motion and muscle twitch.

7.  Complete training: building the minor muscles and foundation muscles for the specific sport event.

Uncle Phil

by Thom Van Vleck

Phil Jackson (R) arm wrestling in the old JWC gym

A lot of you guys hear me mention my “Uncle Phil” and a few of you have asked me to tell you more about him (some of the old timers still around like Bill Clark, Charles Scott, and Wilbur Miller will remember him personally) .  He is Phil Jackson and he’s the one really responsible for the Jackson Weightlifting Club today.  He is also the source of most of my training knowledge.  He has been a father figure, a friend, an mentor, a coach, and sometimes agitator!  The photo above was when Phil was just a teen.  He was a fantastic arm wrestler and says he was NEVER beaten and I can find no one who says they did!   Phil’s main passion was Olympic lifting and Bodybuilding.  He had a disdain for powerlifters calling them “Olympic lifting rejects”, but that was mostly good natured (at least I think it was!).

My grandfather initially started the JWC in 1928 with his brother in law, Coda Baugher, and some friends.  But to be honest, this was just some neighborhood friends hanging out and lifting weights and it quickly broke up as they grew up and left home.  However, my grandfather would tell the stories to my Uncles and they started lifting in 1957.  Initially, it was my Uncle’s Leroy and Wayne.  Phil was the “baby” of the family and started a couple years later.

Leroy was a star athlete and interested in weights only to benefit his other interests in football, basketball, baseball, and track and he was very successful in those sports.  But Wayne took an interest in Olympic lifting and entered his first contest in April of 1962 (run by Bill Clark) and out of that, the modern JWC was born!  Phil was always the “go getter”, the guy that would pull everyone together to train, compete, and put up money for contests.  He soon rounded up over 30 members to the newly named JWC and fielded teams that traveled to dozens of meets across the Midwest during the 60’s.  During that time, the JWC won two team state championships in Olympic lifting against teams from St. Louis and Kansas City.  Phil lifted on those teams but he was always the “coach” and main motivator. Phil has always been an “old school” type coach.  If he thinks making you mad will make you better….prepare to be madder than you’ve ever been.  Phil knows how motivate people, one way or the other!!!!  He used his coaching lessons later in life to win 42 out of 42 consecutive sales awards during his career as a sales manager for a large insurance company.

In 1965 Phil earned a unusual distinction.  That year he entered the Missouri High School State Championships in Olympic Lifting, held in Kansas City that year.  At that time Phil was around 17 years of age and he lifted either 165lbs or 181lbs.  He became adept at making weight when he had to.  He had an ongoing battle with another lifter and Phil was going to make a point of beating him at this meet.  He thought this fella was going to lift in the 165lb class so Phil (already with a qualifying total in another meet at 165) cut weight and showed up to lift on the first day.  That day, the 114lb, 123lb, 145lb, and 165lb classes were due to lift on Saturday.  The other guy found out about this and gained up to lift 181lbs obviously trying to avoid the confrontation.  Phil lifted 165lbs and won, but the other guy started talking some trash about how he was “lucky” Phil had avoided certain defeat had he entered that class.  So Phil showed up on Sunday to weigh in, having hit the buffet and downing a gallon of milk to make the 181lb class.

Phil had a qualifying total at 181 and stated he wanted to lift.  The officials told he he couldn’t and Phil said, “Show me in the rules where it says I can’t”!! The officials couldn’t find any rule so decide to let him lift….much the the chagrin of his “rival”.  Phil hit the exact same total as the previous day and won!  Two state titles in two weight classes…..the same YEAR!  The following year, the AAU made a rule explicitly forbidding anyone from doing that again.  While no one named Phil as the reason for the rule….it always seemed there had to be a connection.  Later, all other lifting organizations, as they developed, lifted that rule from the AAU rule book and today it’s standard in all lifting organizations.

In March of 1966, Phil was going to be drafted so he joined the Air Force.  He was soon after sent to Vietnam for a year where he poured himself into his training as an escape and got into the best shape of his life.  When he came back from Vietnam he was stationed in Alabama where he met and trained with greats such as Joe Dube, Frank Zane (although Phil always called him “chicken legs Zane”), Boyer Coe, Casey Viator, and Karo Whitfield to name a few.  He also met and had a long personal conversation with Paul Anderson during this time.

In 1969 Phil came back to Kirksville to attend Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State) and during that time him and my Uncle Wayne achieved some of their greatest strength lifts.  In 1971 Wayne won the Missouri State title in Powerlifting AND Olympic Lifting with Phil at his side pushing him the whole way.  During that time he became best friends with Lenvil Elliot, a friendship that lasted until Lenny’s passing a few years ago. Lenny was a JWC member and later played 8 years in the NFL and was the MVP of the 1982 NFC Championship Game (the game where Joe Montana threw the famous pass to Dwight Clark) and Lenny won a Super Bowl ring.  So, a JWC member has a Super Bowl ring!

In 1973, Phil graduated and the rigors of a family and job, plus moving away, led to him giving up heavy lifting.  During that time he would always challenge himself.  One time he made a goal of being able to do 100 pushups without stopping and trained for that.  I often visited him and we often went hunting and fishing together and he made a point of always “showing me up” with some feat of strength or endurance.  At the same time, he always let me know that if I wanted to beat him, it was as simple as being willing to “pay the price” and get stronger.  Phil often reminded me, “The only time Success comes before Work is in the Dictionary”.  I was always impressed with his exploits and feats of strength and it fired me up to be strong!

In 1977 I took an interest in weight training and soon Phil was my coach.  Since he was my mother’s younger brother people thought we were brothers and I suppose we acted like it, cutting up all the time.  Phil guided me in my early training and often stated, in his old school coach way, “I’ve forgotten more about training that you’ll ever know”.  This has, to date, been a 33 year relationship that continues to this day.  While he lives in Colorado and has since 1984, we talk a couple times a week.  Often about many things, but weight training is a constant.  I lived with him in 1988 and he trained me into the best all around shape of my life.  We often debate heatedly on training, but in that process, I know he’s pushing me to become better.   Over the years I’ve been out at least two dozen times for visits and he comes back almost yearly and during that time we have intense meetings on training, politics, and life.

Then, in 2000, after a 27 year absence from serious weight training, Phil made his “comeback”.  Since that time he trains about 3 hours a day, usually a split routine, and often almost daily.  He trains old school, long, hard hours in the gym and he has had some amazing results.  I am hoping that someday I can coax him into a USAWA meet!  I am confident he could break many records.  But that doesn’t seem to interest him as much as just communing with the iron and using his lifting as a way of life rather than a path to glory.  I can honestly say that at 60 he was in the best shape I’ve ever seen for a 60 year old man

Phil has had some bad luck as of late.  Severely injuring his shoulder in a fall that required surgery and some health issues that appear to be related to his exposure to agent orange and DDT in Vietnam (he worked in a warehouse that ordered, stored, and dispersed the product and he said the area around the base was sprayed constantly).  But Phil never stops, he never gives up and that’s what I’ve come to expect from him.  I am currently working with him on a book about the JWC that will involve life stories along with real, hardcore, training philosophy.  Even if it never gets published, I know I’m already better off from the knowledge and lessons learned in the process.

In closing, I’ll just say that what I admire most about Phil was he had the mind of a champion.  Once he locked on a goal, he was unbeatable.  He may not have been gifted genetically, but he would get 100% out of what he had and often beat others stronger, faster, and more athletic than he was…simply with determination!

Defining “Drug Free”

by Thom Van Vleck

The most recent issue of MILO came out and in it is an article that I did that I’m particularly happy about.  I got to interview John Godina (top discus thrower and world champ in the shot put).  He was a lot of fun to visit with and he had a lot of comments about training, drugs, the politics of throwing, and other related topics and he pulled no punches.

My favorite comment was related to being a drug free thrower.  John has always advocated being drug free in his throwing and training and he has never tested positive for anything which, as much as one can, backs up his claims of being drug free.  When I asked him about drug use in sports he said, “People who use [drugs] are cowards because they are afraid to find out if they are the best without it.”  That’s a pretty strong statement.

I have never used performance drugs (that’s probably pretty obvious based on my lifts!) and have no plans to do it in the future.  I can’t say I haven’t been tempted, but that’s another story.  Many people involved in the USAWA are in it for the drug free aspect.  However, exactly where we all fall often leads to debate.  One of the most heated debates on steroid use I ever had was on the USAWA forum!  It’s just not that simple!

I often talk training with my Uncle Phil Jackson, the JWC guru.  One day we were talking about drugs and he posed this question to me:  “If they came out with a 100% safe steroid would you use it”.  I stated, “No, because as soon as I stopped using it I would lose much of what was gained”.  Then, in typical Phil Jackson style, he took it a step further.  Phil has always made me think….and think hard about things.  He asked, “What if you got to keep the gains?”  Well, now this DID make me think.

My two main arguments regarding being drug free has always been that, first, there are health risks, and second, the gains you make would be lost when you stopped taking the drugs.  Since those two conditions had been met, I said I would.  Then, my Uncle added another layer to the discussion by asking:  Would that be cheating?  Regardless of whether it is allowed or not, in my heart, would I feel like I was cheating using a drug to get stronger.  At the time, I said I would not feel like I was cheating because I had removed my two main concerns regarding performance drug use.  My Uncle told me like he saw it:  “I think you’d be a cheater”.  That made me mad….but it has made me rethink my stand and that’s exactly what the old coach was challenging me to do!

At the time, I countered that I would not feel like I was cheating if everyone had access and the choice to drug use.  I thought I had him with that one!  But Phil said to me, “So you lift to beat others and win?”  Back to square one.  I have always wanted to believe that I lift for me.  I lift to make myself stronger, not just in body, but mind and spirit in the painful journey to build the body God gave me into the best I could possibly be……and would using a drug to circumvent my own genetic limits be cheating?  Would removing the pain, suffering, and the defeat that drugs would take away, lessen the experience and all the benefits?   When I thought about it, my heart told me that it would.

Finally, Phil asked me, “What if they came out with a drug that would make you strong without ever lifting a weight…would you use it?”  Wow!  I had never thought of that, but with gene therapy, splicing, you just never know what is on the horizon.  That added yet another dimension to my moral dilemma. To me, the joy of lifting a big weight has come at the cost of hard training and that “cause and effect” has had intrinsic value that has led to lasting satisfaction  In other words, as Phil always told me, “The only time success comes before work is in the dictionary.” That was easy, “No way would I use a drug that made me strong without paying the price.

Again, this is an ongoing process for me, but a question every lifter should consider as part of their journey to fulfilling their own potential.    You challenge yourself in the gym, you should be challenging the reasons you are there and strengthening your desire to work hard and reach your goals.  To me, that’s every bit as important as the lifting.

Training Over 40

by Thom Van Vleck

Picture of Hermann and Elsie Goerner from a 1948 issue of Ironman.

I was looking through my 1948, June/July issue of Ironman recently and came across this article on Herman Goerner.  Herman is a favorite of mine and this article was by Edgar Mueller, who wrote a biography on Goerner titled “Goerner the Mighty”.   I included the photo for  couple of reasons.  One, it’s a great picture of Herman and a rare one with his wife, also a very strong woman.  For another reason, it gave me a chuckle that Peary Radar, who captioned the photo, makes the statement that she was “not the slender, willowy type of figure so popular with women today”.  That’s the truth!

As I read it, there was a comment on Herman training after the age of 40.  As I am rolling in on 50 it is of more and more of interest to me how older men train.  I was once talking to my Uncle Phil Jackson, who trains several hours a day even in his 60’s about being sore.  I told him that when I was 20, I could train hard and then train hard again the next day.  At 30, it seemed to take a day or two to recover, and now in my 40’s, it seemed to take a week.  His response:  ”Thom, I’ve been sore for the past 10 years!”.  He explained that if waited until he was “fully recuperated” he’d probably never train and there was a point, around age 55, that he just decided to keep training regardless of how bad or sore he was.  It has paid off for him!

In the article, Mueller talks about Goerner training in his early days 5 times a week with 2 days full rest.  Then, during his professional career from 1921 on, he worked out daily.  But then it mentions after the age of 40 he trained 3 days a week.  It seems that he obviously cut back on his training for a reason.  This may have been retirement, or it may have been his recuperation has decreased.   I say this because at one point Mueller states in the article, “He (Goerner) trained always as the mood took him – varying his program to suit his energy and condition of the moment and never did he force himself to perform and workout when not feeling  in the mood.

My theory is that Goerner cut back on his workouts as his recuperation went down at 40.  I realize there may be other factors, such as retirement from performing, but I believe recuperation was the primary factor.  I have also cut back on training time as I have gotten older.  My workouts are as hard as ever, but more time between them and less “maxing” out in sessions have become the norm.  But what happens when I’m not in the “mood” as Mueller puts it.

I think that day will come, like my Uncle Phil, and when it happens I need to push through it like Phil does.  Because he will say, once he starts, the soreness goes away and the “mood” comes back and he benefits from it.  Recently, on a trip to the JWC gym, Phil hit a seated press behind the neck with 180lbs at a body weight of 220lbs at the age of 63 in a fashion so strict I think Bill Clark would have stood up and applauded!  My point is, he’s in good, strong shape!

So, as you age, you need more recuperation.  But don’t mistake recuperation with taking it easy!  Make your workouts count and don’t let recuperation become an excuse for a missed workout.  The day will come with it doesn’t come as easy, but the benefits will make it worth it.   Right now, I think I’m still in my Goerner phase, but when my Jackson phase come, I plan on sticking with it.  After all, Art Montini, Bill Clark, and Dale Friez have paved the way and set records for the rest of us to shoot for!

The Jackson Weightlifting Club and Paul Anderson

By Thom Van Vleck

A lot has been said about Paul Anderson over the years. He has become an almost mythical person with often fantastic feats of strength to his credit. Paul was the 1956 Olympic Superheavyweight World Champion, this is well documented. He then became a professional strongman and traveled all over the nation, and world, next couple of decades using his strength talents to spread a Christian message. Often, exactly what Paul lifted and how he lifted it has been the center of debate. Paul rarely lifted in anything close to contest conditions and his weights could rarely be verified. Often, his lifts were exaggerated by enthusiastic fans and few of the hundreds of exhibitions he did were well documented. No one can say exactly what Paul did or didn’t do over the course of his entire career.

However, two of my Uncles did see Paul when he was in his prime. I consider them to be reliable sources and I recently talked to them again to get the “straight scoop” on what they saw and their impression of Paul.

Wayne Jackson met Paul in February of 1967 Monroe, Iowa. Paul was preaching and performing after an Olympic Lifting meet held there that day. The meet was over and Paul came out and talked for about 30 minutes. Wayne said Paul would have been 34 years old, and that Paul said he weighed 375lbs. Wayne was always good at guessing people’s bodyweight and he thought that was pretty accurate. He also said he’d guess Paul was 5’8” to 5’9” tall. He said that Paul started lifting after he finished talking. Wayne said that if he warmed up, he did not see him do it and that it was impossible for him to have warmed up after the speech he gave. Wayne said that Paul did no warm ups, just went straight to the weight and lifted it. He said that Paul used the bars and weights used in the contest and Wayne felt certain of the weights he lifted. Wayne was always a master at glancing at a bar and telling you how much was on it and was meticulous about things being accurate. He said Paul did the following lifts and feats:

1. 755lb Squat, below parallel, barefoot, swimming trunks, t shirt, belt only.

2. 700lb deadlift

3. 370lb Power Clean and Press followed by a 390lb power clean and press (Wayne said he did a slight squat on the clean to catch it and did not hold the press at the top, but pressed it in a strict fashion).

4. Drove a nail thru a board with the nail wrapped in something using arm strength.

5. Back lift with volunteers in the audience, Wayne said he could not recall them mentioning the weight, but he’d guess there were 20 teenage boys and girls on the table.

6. Finally, the last feat was Paul skipped rope and did all kinds of moves with the rope. Wayne called it “real fancy footwork like boxers did”. He said he was amazed how fast and nimble Paul was and this impressed him as much as the weight lifted.

Phil Jackson met Paul twice. The first time was in April of 1968 at a Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He said that Paul had on a black outfit, tight and stretchy like wrestlers wore and the letters “PA” were embroidered on breast of the shirt to one side. Paul did a side press with a 225lb Dumbbell for 15 reps. Phil said that Paul didn’t lock out each rep, but that he had each rep to arms length and felt he could have locked them out had he wanted to. Paul blew up a hot water bottle, drove the spike through a board and did a back lift. He said he got to sit on the table when Paul lifted it and that there were a lot of young people, mostly teens on the table. He guessed there were about 2000lbs total. He said Paul lifted it easily, and then twisted from side to side with it. Afterwards, Phil had his wife take a picture of him with Paul.

Phil requested a private meeting with Paul and was granted it in the study of the Church after the show. He said Paul appeared very tired and when Phil tried to tell him how much he admired him Paul said, “Admire me for what I say and not for my strength”. They sat and visited and while Phil is a devout Christian and felt secure in his own salvation he felt Paul was uncomfortable talking about his own strength and much preferred to talk about his Christian faith. He said in hindsight Paul probably thought he was being sent someone who wanted to become a Christian and not just a fan. Phil said he was not “put off” by Paul at all, though.

Phil offered to help him load his gear into the truck and trailer Paul had. Paul refused help and said he loaded and unloaded his own gear at all times. Phil said he went and sat in his car across the street and watched Paul load his truck. He said that he was amazed at how strong Paul looked and how thick his shoulders, back, arms and in particular his neck were. Phil said he was in “Awe” of Paul and had never seen anything like him up to that point in his life. He said that the next time he was impressed by someone that looked to be on Paul’s level was when he met Joe Dube, which would have been about the time Dube won the Superheavyweight World title in 1969. Phil saw Paul speak at a Church in Atlanta about 3 months later. Paul did no feats of strength, just delivered a message while wearing a suit and tie. Phil said the suit and tie made him appear even bigger.

Both of my Uncles were devout Christians before and after meeting Paul Anderson, but both stated they were inspired by his words and his lifting. I recall in the 80’s, just before Paul passed away there was a big event held in, I think, Florida that honored him. I wanted to go at the time, but could not afford it and could find no one that wanted to split costs. Now I wish I would have made that trip even if I begged, borrowed, or stole the money to do it. I have that picture of Paul with Phil hanging in my gym and consider Paul an honorary member of the JWC.