Tag Archives: JWC

Tommy Kono: A True All-Rounder

Kono_VanVleck

 

by Thom Van Vleck

When I was a kid I had my Uncle Wayne who was a “Paul Anderson Fan”.  He was all about strength and nothing about aesthetics.  Function first, looks second.  And Function was Olympic lifting!  My other Uncle, Phil, was much more at aesthetics but he also liked strength and he was a Bill Pearl fan.  The one guy they could both agree on was Tommy Kono!

Anyone that is involved in strength sports should know by now that Tommy recently passed away at the age of 85 after one of the most storied careers in strength history.  I did a story on Tommy a few years back and I’m going to say a few things here but you would need to large book to really do Tommy justice!

Tommy is famous for living in Hawaii but he was actually born in Sacramento, California and was relocated to the Tule Lake Internment Camp as a teenager during WWII due to the fear people had against those of Japaneses decent.  While this was a miserable experience in some ways it was the best thing to happen to Tommy.  During his stay the desert air helped clear up his asthma which had made him sickly.  He also got involved in weight training which obviously changed his whole life.

In 1950 Tommy was drafted into the army.  They realized his Olympic potential and gave him the opportunity to train.  Tommy worked hard and this all began to pay off in 1952 when he won the gold medal in Olympic lifting in Helsinki, Finland.  This was followed by dozens of World and National records and titles.  He was again Olympic champion in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics (when Paul Anderson famously won his gold) and the won Silver in the 1960 Olympics in Rome.  He kicked in 6 world championships and 3 Pan Am Golds to boot.  So he had the functional strength my Uncle Wayne appreciated.

Tommy also was a champion bodybuilder.  I don’t mean he looked good and did well against the best of the day.  I mean he was a 4 time Mr. Universe!  This was in the same years he was competing as a lifter as well.  So he had the aesthetics my Uncle Phil appreciated.

Tommy was also just as great a coach as lifter.  He coached three separate nations in three different Olympics.  He was elected to numerous Hall’s of Fame but what I recall that was most striking was being named “Weightlifter of the Century”.  Tommy deserved this and here’s why.

While other lifters may have won more world titles or broke more records there there three factors that made him the best.  First, he was undefeated from 1952 to 1960 on the world stage.  Second, his 26 world records were an amazing accomplishment.  Third, these were set almost equally in the three lifts contested in the day.  He was the best at all of them and not a specialist.  Fourth, and maybe most amazing, was he competed and set records in 4 different weight classes.

Maybe most important of all was Tommy was just a great person.  My Uncles met him in the 60’s while he was still lifting.  They told me he was a happy guy who offered advice and really listened to them when they asked him questions and gave them well thought out answers.  I found this out for myself in 2009 when I met him at the Arnold Fit Expo.  I stopped him in the hallway and introduced myself.  He stopped, talked at length, and made me fell like I was a good friend.  He was famous for helping others and never asking for a dime in return.

So I say Tommy all-rounder because he was the best at all the lifts, the best physique, the best coach, the best photographer of his era, and one of the best authors!  He also was just a great human being who would have been a great friend to have even if he had never picked up a weight in his lift.  So here’s to Tommy Kono.  The best!

 

Weigh your Weights

by Thom Van Vleck

Have you ever weighed your weights?  You might be surprised.  Unless you are buying high end competition grade weights you need to understand that your weights could be off by not just ounces but several pounds!

Back in the day when you bought weights you had the choice of “Milled” and “Unmilled” weights.  Unmilled weights were cast iron right from the mold.  Milled weights had been milled, or had some metal removed, until the weight was exact.  The Milled plates were generally much more expensive so for training the unmilled plates were often bought and used.  It was common to check those plates as you knew they were off when you bought them.

The Jackson Weightlifting Club had both.  York sets that were competition grade and a Jackson set as well.  On each you can see the rings and swirls in the metal where the milling had taken place.  We also had some old Iron Man weights that were listed at 50lbs but one set was 57.5lbs while another was 47.5lbs.  Since they were the same style and all 4 plates looked the same we painted them different colors because if you loaded the lighter plates on one side of the bar you could find yourself 20lbs heavier on one end and 10lbs off overall.

So these days you don’t see “milled” and “unmilled” plates but don’t assume what you have is exact.  I blame cheap overseas manufactures but many cheap barbell plates are off the mark.  While they aren’t as bad as the Iron Man plates I mentioned above I have found 45lb plates off 3lbs in either direction.  Smaller plates are off as well but not as much.

So you might want to take the time to check the weight of your weights.  Who knows, maybe you have a new personal best and you didn’t even know it!

Exercise is the Best Medicine

by Thom Van Vleck

When I was a kid I hung out with my grandparents often.  I probably spent more time with my grandfather than I did my father.  I noticed many things about them.

One in particular was my grandmother took a lot of medications.  Many of them were for physical health issues.  Just as many were for mental health issues with the focus being depression.  Let’s just say it was pretty bad.  She would often cry, focus on the negatives, and in generally seemed miserable most of the time.

I also noticed that my grandfather did NOT take many medications.  He did not have many health issues and later in life when it did it was because he was hit by a car.  He was very positive and he was in a great mood most of them time.  I can honestly say I never saw him lose his temper, cuss, nor complain.  He wasn’t perfect.  He could be incredibly stubborn.  But in general he was one of the least depressed people I knew.

This made them quite the pair in many ways.  Looking at their family history I can say that depression was a common theme on my grandmother’s side.  My grandfather’s side not a much.  So there may have been a genetic predisposition for it.  But I am not going to focus on the things that cannot be controlled.  There was a major difference between the two that I think played a big factor in why one was depressed and the other was not.

That difference was exercise.

My grandfather worked out almost constantly.  He also incorporated exercise into work.  If he had to shovel something he would do 5 scoops to the right and 5 to the left.  I went with him on the mail truck and every stop he would do jumping jacks or push ups.  He would even do isometrics withe the steering wheel or set up a board to do calf raises at his work bench.  I never once heard him complain about work or exercise.  I’m not saying he loved it but he certainly didn’t hate it.

My grandmother was the model of efficiency.  In other words she would figure out the way to get the most done with the least amount of effort.  She was NOT lazy.  She just saw no point to exercise.  Anything that required effort was loathed by her and she complained the entire time she had to put forth effort.  Again, she was not lazy.  She did piece work in a factory and made good money because she was fast.  It was just that when she did anything that required effort all she did was look forward to the next break.

There are dozens of studies telling you what may seem like common sense to many of us who workout regularly.  That is exercise prevents depression.  I know many times I have thought to myself, “I need a good workout” and when I did it I felt better.  The fact is science is showing more and more evidence that this is the case.

When I first came to work at the medical school as the counselor I started an exercise program.  At first my boss thought I was doing it because it was my “hobby” but the reality is I did it to promote mental health.  I knew that if we could set up fast, efficient workout programs with trainers to help motivate the students in a fun but challenging atmosphere those that did it would be better off mentally.  That club, the Osteoblasters, has become the 2nd largest club on campus and we program 7-9 workouts a week that equals over 250 individual workouts.  Fitness was only a sub-goal.

Too often when people get down or depressed the first thought is to see a doctor and get medication.  There is a time and a place for that but it is often overused.  What people really need is a good workout program and to make the time to do it!  To me, taking anti-depressants without working out would be like taking supplements without working out.  There may be some benefit but not nearly as much as if someone were working out and taking supplements!

So fight the blues with a good workout!

 

Variations on the Press

by Thom Van Vleck

I have written about the Press several times before.  My Uncle Wayne Jackson loved doing the Olympic Clean and Press.  As a matter of fact, when they dropped the lift Wayne never competed again in an Olympic lifting contest.  He eventually did 370lbs out of the rack.  I also saw him strict press 330lbs out of the rack.

So wait a minute, you say.  I thought you said he pressed 370?  Well, he did.  Here’s the thing.  The way I was taught there were three variations of the Press.  This is not to be confused with the USAWA rules for pressing movements.  I am listing these to make a point regarding training, not setting a record.

1.  The Push Press.  With the weight racked on the collar bone and you would then dip with knees and hips and then extend to drive the weight overhead while finishing pressing out with only the shoulders and arms with no recovery (rebending the knees or it was then a push jerk). A very quick movement that might slow down at the finish.

2.  The Strict Press.  You held the weight racked on the collar bone and with NO knee bend or drive with anything other than the shoulders and arms you would press the weight overhead.  A very slow and methodical movement if you are using near max weights.

3.  The Olympic Press. Similar to the Push press but with no knee bend.  However, hip drive would be employed to get a “heave” off the chest after sinking with the weight once it was across the collar bone.  Of course the reason the Olympic press was dropped was it started out as a strict press then the rules were relaxed to the point it became more of a push press and impossible to judge.  My Uncle became so proficient at the sinking or “slumping” and the hip drive he actually could Olympic Press as much as he could Push Press!

Over the years I have used all three in my training.  I think most people have used the Push press and the strict press but not many have used the Olympic Press.  I would guess most would simply say that Olympic press was a cheating press or a poor push press and not see any additional value in the Olympic press.

It is my opinion that the Olympic press helps develop hip drive.  It makes you really focus on engaging the hips and I think that’s really important not only in weightlifting but in many athletic events as well.  Mastering that small range of motion can add to a power clean, to a fast baseball pitch, and maybe most importantly to throwing events such as the shot put, discus, highland games and others.

Be sure and focus on the hip drive!  When I’m done training these I can really feel the fatigue in my hips.  A “pro tip” from my Uncle Wayne was he said when he would get set to press he would focus on flexing his glutes hard.

Give it a try and see what you think.  Let me know!

The 1964 Missouri State Champ!

by Thom Van Vleck

Wayne Gardner holding the 1964 State Champ trophy and a copy of the Obituary of his good friend Wayne Smith.

Wayne Gardner holding the 1964 State Champ trophy and a copy of the Obituary of his good friend Wayne Smith.

Recently I visited an old friend and member of the JWC, Wayne Gardner.  Wayne had been a member of the Jackson Weightlifting Club in the 1960’s and had them moved away for a job in Kansas City.  Wayne continued to lift competitively into his 50’s and lifted often in the old Odd Lifting days that preceded the USAWA.

I was looking at all of Gardner’s trophies and he told me there was one that was extra special to him.  It was one that he didn’t win but was given to him because he should have won it.  It was for the 165lb weight class of the 1964 Missouri State Championships.

The story goes like this.  When I was growing up there was a club member (and a former USAWA member and odd lifter) named Wayne Smith.  Smith lifted with the JWC and was on the two time State Team Champs.  Now, no disrespect to Smith as he was a great lifter and chin up champ.  But Olympic lifting was not his best area of lifting.  Gardner was a great Oly lifter and in 1964 they ended up in the same weight class.

Gardner had won the previous year.  He was the favorite to repeat.  As the meet progressed a funny thing happened.  Everyone bombed out except Gardner and Smith!  Going into the last lift, the Clean & Jerk, Gardner needed only a 135lbs to seal his second stated championship.  Smith came up and told him to take it a seal the win.  Gardner didn’t like the idea of taking such a light weight so he stuck with his original opener of 240lbs.  Smith finished his C&J’s and then waited on Gardner.  Who promptly BOMBED OUT!

Smith ended up with his only state championship.  He was pretty happy about it even if the other members kidded him for years about it being by default.  Many times I remember Smith retorting with, “Yeah, but I did what I had to do…to bad those other guys didn’t”!

Close up of the trophy

Close up of the trophy

Over the years Gardner and Smith remained great friends and then a few years ago Smith passed away.  It was a sad day for the JWC.  Gardner went to Smith’s family and asked if he could have that trophy and promised to give it a good home.  So they did and now after all these years it was in Gardner’s hands.

As Gardner recounted the story to me that I’ve heard a hundred times it took on a new meaning.  It was obvious to me this was more about friendship and less about a piece of metal mounted on wood.  A tear came to his eye as he finished knowing that Smith is no longer around to share in the moment.  Which considering Gardner was a Marine and one of the toughest guys I’ve ever known was saying much about how much it meant to him.  I’m pretty sure knowing him all my life I never saw him shed a tear before.

So that’s the story of a long forgotten state championship upon which a lifetime of friendship was built!

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