Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Arthur Saxon - Bill Good (1936)

Article taken from:

Life Story of Arthur Saxon, Strong Man of Germany
Bill Good

This is the story of one of the greatest figures of all time in the strength world. A great many feel that Arthur Saxon, the subject of our story, was the strongest man who ever lived. We doubt if in superhuman, colossal strength he equaled the huge, ponderous, powerful Louis Cyr. Cyr, nearly twice his size, takes our vote as the "Strongest Man Who Ever Lived."

Arthur Saxon's greatest deeds were the raising of 371 lbs to overhead with one arm, and the hoisting 448 lbs with two arms. This latter lift was performed in the 'two hands anyhow" style. As the name implies, any method can be used. The clean and jerk, continental jerk (two or more motions to the chest and then jerk the weight aloft), jerking the weight with two arms, transferring it to one, reaching down for an additional weight which is also pressed to arm's length. This style is the one used by Harry Good, the great York professional strong man and bar bell instructor. Surpassing the best the world has ever seen at the bent press, Arthur Saxon used this style to press 336 lbs aloft with his right arm, then reached down for 112 lbs with his left. 448 lbs in all. The greatest weight ever hoisted to arm's length overhead, by a human being, unassisted.

It must be remembered that Arthur Saxon was little more than average in size. Five feet ten inches in height and two hundred pounds in bodyweight. Not a big man as compared to other 'strongest men' in history. The phenomenal strength he developed is the best proof that average sized, or small men can surpass, equal, or closely approach the lifting records of much bigger men. Arthur Saxon has been dead about sixteen years, but he is well remembered for his mighty feats, for his showmanship, honesty and enthusiasm concerning all things connected with the 'iron game.' There may never be another like him. He is one of the immortals of strength, a man whose memory will always be the inspiration and encouragement of strength seekers. His is the case of an average man who made good in a big way.

Arthur Saxon was born at Leipzig, in Germany, on the 28th of April, 1878. His very earliest years gave no promise of the great deeds to come. Unlike so many strong men he did not claim to have been a weak, sickly child, or an invalid, nor was he snatched from the jaws of death by some miracle. He did not claim to have developed his body from weakness to strength, by some secret method. In all things Arthur Saxon was 'open and above board.' He lived the life that all writers in this magazine urge readers, especially the younger readers, to follow. [Arthur, however, was certainly a heavy drinker and once when a Fulham crowd at the Red Lion endeavored for a joke to get him drunk so that he could not go through with his show, he drank some 50 glasses of beer and had the last laugh as he never performed so well as that night at the “Granville.” When he ascertained what had been intended he roared with laughter and told the plotters that he had been ‘weaned on beer.’- Thomas Inch, "My Friendship with Arthur Saxon".]

Saxon in his boyhood practically lived in the open air. He did not go to school until he was fourteen years of age but spent all the years up until this time at all forms of boyish games and exercise. He was very fond of long, rambling walks, and his favorite game was following the leader. Young Arthur, followed by a fair crowd of other young citizens of Leipzig, would wander through the fields and woods. At times they would stop to wrestle. They ran races of all sorts, both sprints and distance events.

In playing 'follow the leader' Arthur would usually lead. The system employed was for the leader to endeavor to perform feats which the other boys could not duplicate. The first boy to fail at a feat had to bring up the rear of the procession. Young Saxon was never in the rear, in time he nearly always reached the head of the line, leadership. Climbing was one of his favorite sports. There was the element of daring in climbing to the topmost branches of the tallest trees. He would go up, up and up, until the trunk was so slender it could hardly be grasped, until it would bend far to the side and sway back and forth. Luckily, they had tough trees in his part of Germany or the rest of this story might not have been told. One of Arthur's favorite stories concerned the manner in which he and his brother escaped from a forest keeper. The forests in Germany are usually owned by the government or by rich landowners. They are well patrolled and trespassers are invited to 'vamoose' as promptly as possible. On one occasion while the Saxon boys were enjoying themselves at their usual sport of climbing trees, an irate warden or forest keeper rushed up to the bottom of the tree which they had climbed. He shouted for them to come down. But what boy would like to come down and perhaps take a thrashing, at the least receive a kick in the southwest portion of his anatomy from the pedal extremity of a member of the forest patrol.  

Climbing had brought into play and developed every muscle in the Saxon boys' bodies, it had helped them develop steady nerves, a cool head and a perfect sense of balance. Instead of coming down as they were ordered to, they climbed up and up. The forest ranger climbed too. Soon the three of them had reached the topmost branches of the tree to a point where the swaying of the tree was 'thrilling to behold,' so reports Arthur Saxon in telling of this escapade.

Hours were spent in the tree. The forest ranger dared climb no higher, and finally after a long period gave up in disgust. He waited under the tree for a much longer time, hurled broken branches and stones at the young climbers. He finally dozed, sitting with his back to the tree. There he was awakened by a stick, which was aimed so straight by mischievous brother Herman that it landed right on top of his head. He finally gave up and went away and the Saxon boys descended, and went to their homes none the worse for their experiences.

There was nothing unusual in the Saxon's boyhood, just a love for outdoor games, sports and later, exercise. Like all men who grow up to be strong they enjoyed an adequate diet of good wholesome, plain foods. Daily Arthur ate whole meal bread, consumed plenty of eggs and milk, vegetables, beef, pork, and fruits in season. As Arthur grew older, like all Germans he indulged in moderation in their national drink - lager beer.

Strength and Health magazine was not even thought of in the days of which we write. Bob Hoffman, as all know as the publisher of this magazine, was not even born until Arthur Saxon was twenty years of age, in the beginning of the prime of all his strength and physical glory. But note how Arthur Saxon followed(?) the Strength and Health system of living these many years ago (Cut that nonsense out!) He writes:

"So you will see that, fortunately gifted with a splendid constitution and possibilities of of a good physique (which by hard work and exercise I developed to the utmost) with plenty of fresh air, good plain, wholesome food, rest and freedom from care I have had every chance of reaching my ambition." Note the similarity to the Strength and Health mode of living. Sufficient sleep, a tranquil mind, plenty of good food, meat, eggs, milk, vegetables, fruits, honey, nuts, etc., and exercise. Saxon's love for the weights demonstrated what can be done with proper weight training.

I have often said in my life, if a man can not originate a better system, why not copy a system that has proven best. Saxon proved that his system of weight training, heavy weight lifting, heavy exercise of all sorts was the best system to produce super strength and super health. Yet there came a period in this country when many instructors offered a system with very light weights or without apparatus altogether. These systems were mostly a waste of time. For there never was a really strong, beautifully built man who did not use apparatus of some form in his training. Light methods of arm and wand waving may be of benefit for young children but they have no place in the training of men who wish to be men in strength and physical ability.

At the youthful age of 16, a friend took Arthur to an athletic club in Leipzig. Young Saxon walked in unobtrusively. Little did the members know that this unassuming young man was destined to bring undying fame to his old club and to Leipzig, in fact all of Germany. Saxon's first training was with 56-lb weights. In a very short time he had made such rapid progress that he was lifting heavy weights and practicing almost entirely with bar bells and dumbbells.

At the age of 17 Arthur had reached a bodyweight of 189 lbs. His strength had increased in proportion and at this time he could excel any man in the club in lifting ability. And this was something. For then as now, weight lifters in Germany were numbered in the hundreds of thousands. There were huge, terrifically powerful men in every city, hamlet and club. A man who could be champion of a club or a village was a champion indeed.

As you who have read in Siegmund Klein's article concerning the bent press which started in the February issue and ends in this number have noted, few continental lifters have become great bent pressers. As Sig tells us, it is not that they didn't try.

Part One here -

Part Two here -

For the greatest honor has always gone to the man who could elevate the greatest weight overhead. With the bent press it is possible for the very best lifters to put up more with one hand than they can in any other style with two. You can be sure that thousands of continental lifters practiced the bent press. However, their failure to approach championship heights in this lift made them it time scoff at the lift. Most of them were too huge and bulky, unable to bend sufficiently to perform a worthy bent press.

Sandow first made the lift famous. He was a German. And Saxon did more to make this lift well and favorably known than any other men. Both Sandow and Saxon were stars in the quick lifts. Sandow, who spent a great deal of his training time improving his physique and practicing muscle control, became what experts consider to be the best built man who ever lived. Saxon was only interested in strength. He paid no attention to measurements or even his proportions. Since the best built man who ever lived, and the strongest man for his weight, who ever lived, spent a large part of their time for all the years of their professional career practicing the bent press, isn't this the best proof that the bent press was then and is now a very worthy lift? That is why the bent press is taught in the York Bar Bell System of Training along with the five International lifts, only. One arm snatch, one arm jerk, two arm press, two arm snatch, and two arm jerk.

At 18 years of age Saxon could bent press well over 200 lbs. He was urged by other members to practice wrestling. Each city, village or club wished to excel at strength sports, so many of the men who loved the weights and preferred weight training only were urged sometimes against their will to 'do or die for old Rutgers' by wrestling for their club against all comers and in championships of all sorts.

At first the hero of our story was thrown easily in spite of his already terrific strength. His shoulders were pinned to the mat on many occasions before he learned the best holds in wrestling. As time passed he soon became invulnerable to the attacks of the best wrestlers that could be found to compete with him. He became in turn club champion, city champion, and district champion.

After the first few months of his wrestling experience he was never defeated by any man, either in wrestling or in weight lifting. He took first prize in many contests and tournaments. His gold medals won in the championships at Leipzig, Werdau and Chemitz for weight lifting are now shown to all visitors at his old club in Leipzig, where Saxon has become and always will remain the greatest of the great, to his former club mates and fellow townsmen. In all his travels he upheld the honor of his club.

Arthur tells of entering his first wrestling tournament. He entered the heavyweight class, prepared to wrestle against the strongest and most skillful wrestlers in all Europe. Needless to say, he astonished all competitors and spectators with his tremendous strength. He was unknown and stood around innocently enough and looked at the time very quiet and he hoped unassuming. His physique and appearance did not denote the strength he really possessed. His 190 lbs of bone and muscle was very small by the side of the many 250 lb-plus wrestlers who loomed above him.

Saxon was ignored by the other competitors. He was not considered as one of the possible winners or even thought to be competition. But what a surprise was in store for some of these wrestling gentlemen. (I understand that wrestlers could even be gentlemen in the ring in those days.) When Saxon went into action it was something entirely new to the other competitors. Most of them were accustomed to come in slowly, spend many minutes sparring around, a half hour more to feeling each other out before really putting forth effort. A truce would be called when either party was winded, both would rest and then go on with their rather amiable demonstration of the art of wrestling. But Saxon tore into his opponents like a wild bull. He hurled them to the mat, threw them up in the air, picked them up and smashed them down and in a surprisingly short time pinned the shoulders of the best of them to the mat. His opponents never ceased to talk of the vice-like grasp of his fingers, of the crushing strength of his limbs, of his irresistible power. One said that it was like trying to stop a locomotive. You could push, and tug, and wrestle, but the immovable force came on and on to overcome all that stood before it.

Every competitor said that Saxon was TOO STRONG to wrestle but Saxon said he hoped he displayed 'a little science besides just strength.' At this time his favorite throw was to pick up his competitor and dash him to the floor. How would you who read this like to be picked up by the man who later lifter 448 lbs to arm's length overhead, who later tossed bar bells around weighing hundreds of pounds, a bell weighing over 300 lbs from one hand to the other. A man who as we will relate in the next chapter of this story, tossed an entire orchestra around, piano and all, just as sport after he had indulged in a hundred bottles of beer. At least so the story goes. I am sure that I would rather be in the writing business than come to grips with such a man as Arthur Saxon.

Saxon is not as well known as a wrestler as he is as a lifter. The reason being that his phenomenal strength very shortly placed him in great demand as a strong man on stage and circus. On more than one occasion however he was challenged by men who sought to improve their reputation by throwing the "World's Strongest Man" as he was usually billed in his act at that time with leading theaters and circuses throughout the world. Saxon had no trouble with any of these wrestlers and always came out victor.

While performing his act in Glasgow a French wrestler persistently worried him to wrestle. He asked Saxon so often that at last Arthur said that he would wrestle him but not be responsible for any damage that was done. It was necessary to 'take on' this French wrestler because he had become a real nuisance. He agreed to the rules and stated he would not bring damages if he became injured. The bout lasted hardly a minute. Saxon rushed at him, caught him in his favorite hold, lifted him high in the air and threw him to the floor. His head was somewhat injured. The French wrestler was very scientific and his early defeat was a great surprise to the wrestler and his friends as well.

Getting off the subject a bit. Present-day wrestlers may compete three or four nights a week. Many professional wrestlers who are now famous throughout the world will stop in the Strength and Health office when they are in this vicinity. Our good friend Henry Steinborn, vice president of the American Strength and Health League, never misses spending a few minutes or hours with us when he is a hundred or so miles from York.

There are cities where Steinborn, one of the finest, most intelligent and even tempered of men, will shake his fist at the crowd, make faces and make himself as unpopular as possible. It makes a good show. But in York Strength is popular and it became known that Steinborn was the strongest man in wrestling. Naturally when he came here to wrestle with all the York weight lifters and their enthusiastic friends Henry was permitted to win if he could. And he did. Ala Arthur Saxon.

On that occasion he was to wrestle Tom Marvin, often known as Chief White Feather. Normally professional wrestlers don't try to injure each other. They may wrestle one another the next night in another town. Tom Marvin is a pretty tough specimen. His real wrestling ability is hard to determine, but he has a lot of dirty tricks in the ring. One of those wrestlers who spends his time with a lot of little injurious acts behind the referee's back. He would rub his clasped knuckles across a man's face and olfactory organ. It mustn't have been pleasant.

I saw that Henry didn't like it. He suddenly picked Marvin up, not so high, only to the crown of his head, and threw him to the mat about twice as hard as I have ever seen a wrestler thrown. The particular ring being used was the padded square in which Tommy won the world's heavyweight boxing championship from Dempsey at the Sesqui-Centennial in Philadelphia in 1926. This ring is still in York and does duty at all the wrestling and boxing shows. It is a substantial ring. Marvin bounced at least a foot off the floor. And then lay there for many minutes until he was carried from the ring. When men like Henry Steinborn and Arthur Saxon slam them down, they stay slammed down for a time.

This is as far as I can get with Arthur Saxon's story in this issue. Look for the next episode in the April issue. There was only one Arthur Saxon. There may never be such another one. It is not right to hurry through his life story. I want to give you all the facts of his life, his training, his triumphs and his great tragedy which led to his death right after the great war ended.

 Strength and Health, April 1936
Harry Paschall, coverman.


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