Sunday, January 5, 2020

Percy Wells Cerutty, Trainer of Champions - Donn Draeger (1967)


Percy Cerutty, Herb Elliott, George Hackenschmidt. 

"Elliott," once remarked the wiry, obviously physically fit oldster, "you may run faster . . . but you can't run HARDER than Percy Cerutty." 

Such a dynamically frank statement typifies the turbulent and inspirational personality that inherently underlies the athletic greatness of Australia's Percy Wells Cerutty, the man who had brought weight trained Herb Elliott to international athletic fame, and who has probably had more close contact as a teacher to more top level athletes than any one man in the world today.

I had wanted to meet this great man and I had traveled to Portsea, Victoria to where Cerutty lives comfortably and humbly, surrounded by the many wonderful assets of nature. That area of the southeastern Australian coast is a rugged countryside, but perhaps not coincidentally in harmony with the spirit and disciplines of the man who makes his home there. Portsea's miles of sandy beaches, surf-filled waters, craggy shorelines, and sand dunes of loose white sand speckled by scrub vegetation awaken man's vital inner self. 

The area's appeal to men like Cerutty is one of acceptance of a challenge, and those who choose to follow him are men tempered accordingly. There one cannot find any of what Cerruty describes as "lazy athletes." Cerruty's home is called "Ceres" implying "truth" and "sincerity." For Cerruty, this underlying concept is essential to athletics, nay, to living itself. 

The many hundreds of young men to come to his International Athletic Center at Portsea find themselves welcome, if they will but come with an open mind. This attitude is extremely necessary, for at the International Athletic Center, Cerutty dispenses with orthodox and traditional techniques and uses his own revolutionary concepts. 

Meeting Cerutty on a casual basis provokes various opinions. "Nut" . . . "crank" . . . "eccentric" . . . "washed up," say those who will not try to establish more than a superficial opinion about the man. "Genius" . . . "scholar" . . . "philosopher" . . . "vital teacher," say the men to whom Cerutty has been an inspiration. 

After a year's acquaintance with Cerutty, and as I sit down to write this article, I challenged myself, "how well do you really know this man? Do you know him well enough to write meaningfully about him?" I can only say that I know him well enough to have him invite me to his home and for him to treat me as a friend. I further realize that I know him well enough to understand that he has a message; not only for athletes, but for everyday folks as well. Would that I could persuade him to write a series of articles for S&H readers! 

Until such a moment, let me introduce him to you. Great names in track athletics such as Herb Elliott, John Landy, Murray Halberg, Bill Baille, Dave Stephens, Albert Thomas, Dave Power, and Armin Hary, to mention only a few, are men whom we best associate with Cerutty's teaching genius. The list, however, is much longer when we add those athletic marvels such as Peter Thompson in golfing, John Marshall and Jon Konrads in swimming, and still others. 

All of these men have had what amounts to a direct rub-off effect from the teachings of Cerutty. These are all athletes who "run" for Cerutty. The list lengthens considerably when all who "run against him" are taken into account. Regardless of the personal position of many athletes, his teachings have affected many of the international hall of fame athletic greats. 

Cerutty succinctly points out that "I have never claimed to have coached anyone. For one thing, I am not that enamoured with the title or role. Coaches come, surely, in tens of thousands. Teachers, those who can really impart, are they rare? It is said so." 

To watch Cerutty "teach" is to witness an inspirational unwinding of techniques, endlessly stimulating. Cerutty is a teacher, first and foremost. He "teaches" what he calls "success." "Success, the getting to the top is a technique; a philosophy. I teach just that. And the principle factor, as I understand it, is not to say do this or that, but to show the way; to be able to draw upon one's own experiences; to be able to enter the personality of the person who would learn; to be able to hearten and enthuse, as well as suggest new techniques; new approaches; new aims and goals - even those that normally follow a career as a sportsman." 

Standing on the wrong side of seventy years of age, Cerutty can still "do." He car run a mile under six minutes and defeat anyone his age, or even ten years younger, over long distances. I have seen him give an inimitable demonstration of running styles. Keino, Elliott, Zatopek, Delaney, even Clarke, he imitates perfectly; as if turning on a switch, the style of the man imitated is there. Nor is is only a mechanical imitation devoid of attitude; it lives and breathes with facial gestures as if the man himself. This is the mark of a genius, this quality of imitation of style. 

Cerutty's teachings rely heavily upon method, method filled with emotion, for to him the person without emotion can never achieve great things. Within his methodology breathe his concepts, his philosophy, his principles. 

His own words are best to describe these: "It is not in my nature to compromise, to adopt half-measures or to be content with other than success on levels as high as I can conceive." 

Life has always been highly competitive for Cerutty. He likes it that way, perhaps would not ever wish less.  

Competition is the thing! One competes to win, win easily. Says Cerutty: "I hold it as a weakness to be too magnanimous confronted with the 'enemy.' The 'enemy' are those who would usurp us, who would decry out efforts - no matter what they may be. To me, the 'enemy' is the challenge, the idea or competitor that is to be beaten. i say beaten - on merit - not merely liquidated on principle." 

He stands categorically opposes to what orthodox coaches consider under "sportsmanship," that of wishing your opponent well in competition with you.

"Hypocritical humbug" is what Cerutty calls such an attitude. "If you are out to win you are better not wanting to know your opponent, much less grow to like him - and wish him, honestly, success over you." 

Training methods at International Athletic Center are revolutionary. They are based on what the great man calls "survival." He muses, "I have realized that Nature, that last and supreme determinant, was never, and still is not in goodness or badness, per se, nor in mankind's ideas of loyalties, moralities or ethics, but in SURVIVAL. And it seems to me that survival, unless it means fit, healthy, clean-minded, affectionate-living survival, is a poor thing unless we have a basically 'helpful to others' philosophy, and accord our lives with Nature's laws and principles, which surely should be man's first and last study!"

The actual methods used are of a great magnitude and take into consideration the need for resistance type of training to produce stronger physiques. Weight training of the concentric or isotonic type is constantly under study at Cerutty's International Athletic Center at Portsea. It is a proven fact that running or all-around athletic performance is substantially enhanced by weight training. Herb Elliott's fine muscular body is an example of the kind of "muscle" developed by the Cerutty weight training method. 

Occasionally a weight lifting or weight training authority will find his way to the Cerutty training camp, and criticize the exercises chosen by Cerutty for his runners. Usual areas of criticism are that too much emphasis is given to the upper body development, and not enough to the legs. Still another criticism is that Cerutty's use of the "cheating curl" is not the best possible choice of biceps curling actions that can be made. Since Cerutty is a competent authority in the special area of applying weight training to runners, such criticism, if less than constructive, is not accepted but met by the usual Cerutty love of a challenge. "Don't talk," says Cerutty to his would-be critics. "Show me what is better." 

To back up his point, he takes them to the "hill." 

The "hill" is a sand dune, innocent in its sixty or seventy yard forty-five degree incline, but capable of "murdering" all but the toughest set of legs. All of Cerutty's trainees learn about the hill quickly, learn to respect its training values, and learn to negotiate it daily. The object of the hill is to run up its slope, turn around, and run back down; then repeat as many times as physically possible. This feat alone is enough, but to it Cerutty adds a time limit which must not be exceeded on each leg of the hard course. 

Many a set of legs, including weight trained ones, have failed to impress Cerutty on this course. The average athlete cannot complete ten trips up and down the hill. Cerutty's boys can do scores of repetitions, with a top performer making over 100 trips up the loose sand. With the hill and miles of sandy beaches to run over, Cerutty does not overemphasize weight training for the legs. There is no real need for it. 

Cerutty believes firmly in the dead lift with heavy weights.

All his top performers can be seen seriously exerting over this exercise in the weight training area. The "cheating curl" and the overhead single arm dumbbell press too are favorites that are never omitted. The need for strong arms is well known among top runners, and the cheating curl closely approximates the muscle action of the arms as needed for running. Strict form curling is too isolated an exercise for the runner, in Cerutty's opinion, for whom the concerted action of abdominal muscles and arm-shoulder muscles is absolutely essential. Sit-up actions, with or without weights, of various patterns are also an essential exercise for Cerutty's boys. The inspirational images of past greats such as Elliott, Landy, and others, whose perspiration has actually stained the old and battered sit-up board, gives fresh incentive to the new young trainees that now exercise at the International Athletic Center.

Not all of the curriculum at the Center is physical in the sense that the trainee must exercise. Cerutty requires daily attendance at lectures personally given by himself. The lectures are as inspirational as his methods, for they are uninhibited deliveries of wit, wisdom, fact, speculation, and relevancy. They are replete with valuable information indispensable to the serious athlete. Some of the more unusual subjects are as follows:

The Rhythms That Govern Our Lives
The Inclined 'Saw Tooth' Theory
The Principle of the Primary and Secondary 'Tanks' of Energy
The Concept of 'Yearning to Be' Rather Than 'Willing to Do/
The Part Played in Suffering and Pain
Learning to Die, i.e., To Give All
The Importance of Strength; Skill Alone, Not Sufficient
Traditional and Orthodox Techniques Not to be Relied Upon 
The Importance of Flow, i.e., 'Out-pouring'
Rest in Effort
Tidal Breathing
The Importance of High Intelligence Not Necessarily Measured By Academic Success

These and many more complement physical training at the Center and send an athlete away thinking. It is the thinking athlete that has the potential to be great, according to Cerutty. 

While the Portsea training camp carries the slogan "To train without pain is to train without gain . . .," and the idea that "pain and travail are the best teachers," to bring athletic successes, the great heights, the 'Everests,' both must be superimposed on intelligence so the lessons learned can be assimilated. 

There you have a small insight into Percy Wells Cerutty, the world's best athletic teacher, in my opinion. Many will argue with my generalization, for certainly I have not met all the world's athletic teachers, but few will contest the Cerutty is certainly this century's greatest. 

Cerutty is a master psychologist. He commands, from his trainees, respect; respect gained through his techniques of teaching which play to the individual case. Encouragement, severe criticism, embarrassment, shock, praise, cold indifference, and many more "approaches" are masterful, result-getting teaching techniques in his hands. Cerutty knows how to reach the individual man. As one athlete, American Dave Clark, a physical education instructor who has resided and trained with Cerutty for over the past year puts it, "You can always count on Perc to come up with something unexpected." 

This writer observed that not only "runners" benefit from the International Athletic Center training programs, but athletes in all walks of endeavor find interest and beneficial experience there. A most recent addition to the Center is the use of facilities by combative arts athletes who have learned that Cerutty's teachings improve their performances. 

I close this short article by illustrating the attitude of competitive balance that Cerutty teaches and demand of all his athletes, and wonder it if might not be, as Cerutty intends it, better applied by those who read it with an athletic meaning, to our society itself . . . 

"We are all out to win. Not only win, but win at all costs. Anyone that thinks otherwise must be considered among the simple. It is true, winning at all costs does not mean breaking the rules, but every means open to athletes and coaches are used, naturally, psychologically. In the actual races winning by the main means driving oneself close to physical collapse, even death, as many are capable of and some odd ones have actually encountered, that is, died after finishing a race. 

But when the heat has cooled, it is customary to get together socially, even if not competitively. 

Be generous to the conquered; 
be tolerant of the stupid, but never of the vicious;
be understanding, 
kind and thoughtful for women, but never weak with them;
be gentle with children, yet firm; and
be a good example to the young,
be truthful when volunteering opinions, or information,
but never submit to force, blackmail or pressures to command your truth;
keep the body strong, and particularly, clean inside;
keep the mind informed so that it, too, is powerful, and clean inside.

Add to these concepts a compassion and forgiveness,
extending never to oneself, but 
to all those "lesser" ones, 
the underprivileged ones, 
the rejected, 
the "little" ones, as I call them,
wherever found, whatever race, whatever beliefs,
as long as they, too, are not vicious, selfish and cruel.       


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