by Tromp Van Diggelen
To English speaking people this phenomenal man of might and muscle, Max Sick, certainly carried the strangest name that one could apply to a man so utterly fat that his condition amazed even the great Eugene Sandow. So peculiar did Max’s name sound to English people that we eventually changed it MAXICK and during the past 37 years this name has become familiar to hundreds of thousands of Iron Men and even to very many who are not really interested in the cult of the body. Knowing, however, that there are many who know little or nothing about this muscular phenomenon, I, who first introduced him to the world now take up my pen to tell you about a man who, although 64 years old, is still one of the world’s strongest men under the weight of 150 pounds.
Health & Strength, the London Physical Culture journal, said some years ago: “No man in the world has greater experience of strong men than Tromp Van Diggelen” and I must say that I am inclined to agree with them in this, for I have had the pleasure of the personal acquaintance of nearly every great Iron Man of the past, including Arthur Saxon, Eugen Sandow, Lurich, Stanislaus Zbysko, Steinbach (who was a protégé of mine), Swoboda, Bobby Pandour, Nosseir, Hermann Goerner (who trained with me) and other greats of the past, and despite this unusually intimate knowledge of men of muscle, I cannot help feeling that Max Sick was the greatest phenomenon amongst them all. No photograph can do him justice, he has a “quality” of muscle which is absolutely unique. When contracting his muscles he looks like an anatomical chart, yet when I used to massage him in a hot bath (helpful for athletes who undergo great muscular exertion at times) his muscles felt like soft wet chamois leather in my hands.
You will note that I do not speak in the past tense when I tell you of his quality, for although now 64 years old, he tells me that he still has the same physique and strength that he had when he last visited me in
Max Sick was an artist’s model as was Sandow, and also like Sandow he gave stage performances which absolutely left the audiences spellbound. On the stage he never lifted barbells, his chief act was a gymnastic exhibition on two long silver chains (no rings); on these chains he performed remarkable stunts such as crucifixes, etc. While the spotlights showed up his unparalleled development; when Max then gave his muscle control act (I can assure your from very vast experience that the world has never seen the like) one could hear long Ah-a-a-as an Oh-o-o-os from the audience such as one hears from a crowd watching a particularly fine display of rockets at a fireworks show. After this, Max, who usually weighed under 140 pounds in his music-hall performances, would invite any heavy man in the audience who would like to be lifted to come on the stage. This human dynamo would even take a 240 pound man, apply his open palm to the man’s lower spine, get the man to grip his (Max’s) wrist with both hands, then he would hoist the cumbersome human dumbbell to his shoulder using his left hand to help and then without any fuss push him to arm’s length (using the one arm only) and walk off the stage with him. Max has often run down a long flight of stairs holding me aloft with one hand. He was also a super gymnast and hand balancer and really only used weightlifting as a means of exhibiting the amazing strength which his colossal mental concentration enabled him to use to unusual advantage. At finger pulling, a favorite sport in the
Here is another feat of speed and almost atomic energy which my grand protégé accomplished laughingly: He would take an empty champagne bottle, fill it three quarters full of water, grip it tightly by the neck with his left hand and then give the open mouth a smart tap with his right palm; he never failed to knock the bottom out, except when the bottle just collapsed in a general way. Just get hold of a champagne bottle and try this feat, it will give you some idea of the unusual dynamic strength my buddy had, and I think, still has.
I am thinking of visiting him in South America next year and bringing him to your glorious
To show the terrific strength of his abdominal muscles Sick used to lie flat on the stage and I, or some other 180 or 200 pound man would stand seven feet above him and jump onto his abdomen; believe me, I bounced as if jumping onto solid rubber. You mathematicians can work out with what force the feet of a 200 pound man would strike Max’s rectus abdominus when falling from a height of seven feet.
Here is just another “stunt” that even Saxon would have found hard. I used to lie with my back on Max’s open palm and he would tell me to close m eyes and it is honestly true that he would then press me up so slowly that I would not know I was at arm’s length until he told me to open my eyes. He never used the bent press, had he done so he would certainly have put up TWICE his own bodyweight.
It was in the year 1909 that I made up my mind that England (where I was then living after having spent seven years in Germany, France and Switzerland with occasional visits to Russia, Poland, Italy and the land of my forefathers, Holland) should learn what muscle control really meant. I was good at it (and still am, I don’t think even Arco could beat my own control) but I knew that Max had attained the absolute mastery of all voluntary muscles and could even control to some extent an involuntary muscle (the heart), so I arranged for him to come to London, using as a bait a contest in weightlifting against Thomas Inch, who then claimed to be the middleweight champion of the world. At the time I asked Max Sick to come to me in London he weighed just over 140 pounds and Inch well over 200 pounds, but little Max felt like a giant-killer and eagerly accepted my offer. Well, despite numerous meetings as well as arguments in the Sporting Press, Inch and Max never met and it was nearly a year later that Edward Aston (what a lifter! One of the very few who have done a 300 pound bent press) met my Max as a substitute for Thomas Inch. In the meantime, to let the British public know what Max Sick was capable of, I issued the following invitation in the press:
“To prove Sick’s lifting abilities and to show his unparalled muscular development and control he will give an exhibition of weightlifting and posing. Sick undertakes to easily break one English record. More than this, he will not promise to do, in view of the fact that he does not wish to make public his ability as regards other English lifts. Inspection of the scales and weights will be refused to nobody.”
The event duly took place at the
“That Max Sick is by way of being a physical phenomenon is beyond question. His muscular control is marvelous. In a series of poses, with which he followed up his lifts, he thrilled the onlookers by the splendor of his development, and the manner in which he “commanded” (and that is the word for it) each muscle of his body.
“His will seemed to act as commander-in-chief, and at a signal from him, and without any forcing, the deltoids, etc. seemed to do whatever they were told. His body, in fact, was like a transformation scene. One moment he was all chest; the next he was all back; and again you saw his abdominal muscles marshaled, so to speak. It was really very wonderful indeed.
“He certainly astonished the onlookers by his weightlifting feats. He commenced with a number of one-handed lifts, including the 202 pounds one-handed jerk five times. This seemed quite easy to him. Then one after the other he performed a series of two-handed lifts. The weights were tested by Mssrs. Russell, Caswell, Carquest, Szalay and van Diggelen, who testify that he lifted 222 pounds clean to the chest, and then pressed it above his head, with his heels together and body erect. His next feat was a 240 pound lift clean to the chest. This he pressed above his head in the recognized Continental style. His next lift drew forth a spontaneous encomium from Professor Szalay, who declared he had never seen such lifting. Sick raised the barbell of 254 pounds clean to his chest, then in a singularly graceful style pressed it above his head by means of a steady two-handed press. In none of the three lifts described did any of the weights come in contact with the lifter’s body. Both the above lifts are claimed as world’s records, and it is a pity that we have not as yet seen a recognized weightlifters’ association, by whom such claims could be officially decided.
“Another lift which received much admiration was the raising of 302 pounds any way up to the chest. This, which was double his own weight, he then jerked above his head, and really he did not seem to find it very difficult. This was done in the German style: up to the waist, then to the chest, and then aloft.
“After the 254 pounds lift Sick made an attempt upon a still further advance upon this. The weight of the barbell in the case was kept a secret, only to be revealed in the case of success. Though he made several very creditable efforts, he failed, but it was announced that he would try again on a future occasion.
“The exhibition was distinctly interesting, and not by any means devoid of dramatic incident and humor. Max Sick with his remarkable physique also had a very attractive smile. It lit up his countenance every time he made an attempt upon a lift, and it softened into tenderness once or twice when Monte Saldo’s pretty flaxen-haired daughter (aged three) insisted on walking up to him as he was resting and demanded a kiss.
“I only know another smile like that of Sick, and curiously enough, that belongs to Thomas Inch; and that is a
“And talking about Yorkshire reminds me that one of the first to congratulate Max Sick upon his splendid exhibition was Edward Aston, the wonderful
Max Sick once won the lightweight, middleweight and also the heavyweight class in the Tyrol Championships in one day; an exhibition not only of strength but of unbelievable endurance. A famous anatomist once said to me: “When Sick does feats of strength he actually seems to exceed his physical powers” and it is true that his mental concentration is something phenomenal. I have personally seen him jerk 240 pounds with one hand and 340 pounds with two, and also press 275 pounds two handed (with a back bend)! Max Sick has, since the word muscle-control was first used, been the “greatest ever” at this form of muscular adaptability. I personally claim to be the first man who introduced muscle-control on a scientific basis for in 1900 I was taken to Vienna to show my exhibition (not half as good as I saw later from Max Sick) to the world-famous nerve specialist Kraft-Ebing. Can anyone else claim to have used the term “muscle control” more than 46 years ago?
By the way, although Max Sick lived in
Here are Max’s measurements at his prime and I have little doubt that they are now (at the age of 64) very much the same. He tells me to expect a surprise when I see the photographs he will have taken later this year. Remember that the quality of his muscle is such as I have never seen before or since and I have examined many hundreds of real strong men. Height 5 ft. 4 ½ in., neck 17 in., chest contracted 36 ¾ in., chest expanded 45 ½ in., forearm 13 in., biceps 16 in., wrist 7 ½ in., thigh 23 ¼ in., calf 15 in.
About the middle of 1910 I received a note from Eugen Sandow asking me to bring Max to see him. To me the meeting of those two men was a dramatic moment and I was proud to introduce my protégé to the man whom I always have and always will regard as the most beautiful example of homo sapiens that has existed. Sandow was as interested in Max as Max was in him and as we luckily all three spoke German, things went smoothly for Max had not acquired much English yet. Sandow spent a full half hour examining him and appeared really amazed at the extraordinary perfection of each and every muscle and when Sick stood on a low table and gave a five minute exhibition of absolutely super muscle control Sandow turned to me and said, “Du lieber Gott soetwas habe ich doch wirklich nie gesehen!.” When we left the man who was the ideal of physical beauty, he said, “Well, Tromp, I have been really thrilled and you may tell the world and use my name when you say that this man has reached absolute perfection in physical development and that in my opinion he could not be improved upon.” You can imagine that young Max was thrilled for I had told him before that Sandow couldn’t quite believe the wonderful things I had said about him in the past.
At last the much talked of match between Max Sick and Edward Aston took place in 1910 on August 4th at the
“When Max Sick’s disability was discovered a parley was held, and Monte Saldo counseled his principle to retire. But the plucky German lifter, who was certainly not his best by any means on that fatal afternoon, would not hear of it. He would keep on trying, he said, and he did. He had commenced the double-handed barbell clean at 223 pound 3 ounces, he got up as far as 244 ¼, and then (after Aston had finished at 261 1/4 ) he tried 263 pounds, 14 ounces. He raised the bell to his shoulders, and tried to get it up, but it was no go. So, persuaded by Monte Saldo, he went back to his corner, and Monte, coming forward, announced that on the Continent Max Sick had pulled in 266 to the chest, and had jerked 323 pounds. Yet now he had failed – failed because of his accidental inability to jerk.”
Truly Fortune is very capricious. On some occasions, when it doesn’t matter very much, she endows you with the powers of a demi-god, so that you can accomplish marvels; at other times, when it really does matter, when you have something really at stake – money, reputation, love, perhaps even life itself – she will, without warning, desert you. Oh, it happens thus in every sphere of life! You submit yourself for some scholastic examination, and as you face the music you are ‘ploughed’ in every subject in which you are most perfect. You learn a recitation, and learn it well; at rehearsal you are great, yet on the night marked out for your triumph you collapse, not because you cannot do the blessed thing, but because you cannot do it when you want to do it most. I myself have seen Max Sick lift infinitely better than he did on August 4th, and Aston himself, I know, will bear me out.”
Chivalry of Victor and Vanquished
“Major Best, on behalf of the Granville proprietors, presented the cup to the victor, and Aston, in responding, expressed his great regret that his opponent should so unfortunately have been disabled. Max Sick came forward, smiling pleasantly like the sportsman that he is, and offered his hand, and Aston, that other sport, took it and wrung it feelingly. The whole thing was so spontaneous, and the two lads looked so splendid standing together there, that the crowd forgot that the contest had been shortened and that they had been disappointed, and gave both the winner and loser a great ovation.”
After the match, behind the scenes, Arthur Saxon said something about Max which I objected to, in a moment my coat was off and for a second it looked as if I, who was then a really tough and undefeated wrestler of 185 pounds in weight was about to test my fighting abilities against an opponent who after my protégé Steinbach was probably the world’s strongest man, but it was not to be; at least a dozen stage hands and scene shifters flung themselves on Arthur and me and the whole crowd of us rolled on the floor in a lovely catch as catch can mess-up, as a result of the interference better nature prevailed and we parted not quite so angry after all. Arthur Saxon was, of course, annoyed with me for I had repeatedly challenged him to meet my man Steinbach in a contest for the world title, and I had again and again offered him 1,000 pounds side stake to make a match. There was a great deal of newspaper talk and more than once Saxon wrote that he would accept our challenge but instead he went to the USA and the whole thing came to an end. Here is the challenge which I first issued for my man on 12th March, 1910:
Challenge To Arthur Saxon
“I, Josef Steinbach, of
1. One-handed bent press.
2. One-handed jerk.
3. One-handed snatch.
4. One-handed military press (military position bending the body)
5. Two-handed press (two dumbbells)
6. Two-handed press (barbell)
7. Two-handed jerk (two dumbbells)
8. Two-handed jerk (barbell)
Steinbach writes me that he has never before heard of Saxon’s challenge to the world; now that I have communicated the fact to him, and also that Saxon is called “the strongest man in the world,” he is very anxious to have a match. The first lift he mentions is the bent press. This is certainly a sign that he means business. He knows that Saxon is not a bluffer, and that he can overcome in the neighborhood of 400 pounds in this lift. Lifts 4, 5, and 6 ought also to be Saxon’s advantage, as great strength is the chief factor in each of them.
Further details as to the match can be arranged as soon as an answer has been received from Saxon.
The three Saxons are well known to Steinbach, as they practiced with him at his club in
One-handed barbell jerk (pulled in clean) 234 pounds; Two-handed barbell jerk (pulled in from floor to waist and then clean to chest) 392 ½ pounds; Two-handed barbell press 330 ¼ pounds! Two-handed barbell press (pulled in clean) 317 pounds; Two-handed barbell snatch 264 ¾ pounds; Two dumbbells press 314 pounds; Two dumbbells jerk 341 34 pounds.
Steinbach would most certainly have defeated Saxon. Is there any man living today who can beat my protégé’s dumbbell lifts or his two-handed press?
The best two-hand jerk of Saxon’s at that time in
To my friends all over the world I hope this true story of Max Sick, a man who in his way is a phenomenon that has not been equaled, will come as a pleasing addition to what they already know of the other greats of the past, such as the unique Eugen Sandow and the incomparable Georges Hackenschmidt.
At present Max Sick lives in
Will I be glad to meet my pen-friends John Grimek, David Willoughby and Ray Van Cleef! I MUST come over there once again, and this time I promise to do my best to bring the phenomenal Max Sick with me. So, Iron Men, I’ll say “TOTSIENS!” that in my Afrikaans home language means, “I’LL BE SEEING YOU.”