THE RUSSIAN LION. PART ONE.
BY DAVID GENTLE
Author David Gentle tells the fascinating story of the fighting master of
wrestling who remained unbeaten in over 3,OOO fights.
Back in an age when, with the exception of a few music hall acts of JU
JITSU. When Yoko Tani introduced the 'Gentle Art' to Great Britain, opening
the first school of this early martial art in England few if any Far Eastern
Masters of Martial arts were known to the rest of the World. One man in
particular a master of his own most ancient fighting skill, more than sheer
coincidence possessed the same qualities of the later to be recognized
Japanese/Chinese martial arts masters, .he had the total formula for combat
domination. Winning between 1889 to 1908 over 3000 bouts, That man George
Hackenschmidt was destined to become famous throughout the World and take
his place in fighting arts history as THE RUSSIAN LION and unlike many of
his opponents and contempary wrestlers, 'Hack' was never mean, vindictive or
unnecessarily rough in his wrestling bouts, contrasting his physical prowess
and fighting skills with a quietness of spirit. George Hackenschmidt was the
epitome of calm self-assurance and inner peace, with full awareness of his
own capabilities and thus like all masters of combat found NO NEED FOR
MACHOISM or outward aggression. His tactic to win was skill and speed, born
of confidence in his own ability and fighting prowess.
He spoke softly, so that you were forced to listen and pay attention, rather
than raise his voice to be heard. His serenity was 'catching', calming all
those in attendance at his lectures...and it was a developed calmness. A
true warrior has to struggle and EARN the wisdom to do battle, with not only
his adversities, but with LIFE ITSELF.
Of Swedish descent,(which accounts for his un Russian name) the fighting
legend Georges Karl Julius Hackenschmidt (aka Hack or The Russian Lion) was
born 2nd August I878, or using the older style Russian calendar July 2Oth
I872.at Dorpat in the province of Estonia, now Tartu Russia. Genetically
favored from his grandfather's physique, he soon excelled at gymnastics,
athletics and weight lifting. Beginning a career in the oldest martial art
of all wrestling. On sport, which was to bring him a fortune and enduring
Saying, "I was from my earliest days a devotee of books on body exercises
and by the time I was ten, I was stronger than any of the boys with whom I
played". By the time he was I8 years old, he could raise overhead single
handed well over the bodyweight of a heavyweight man (200lbs plus) Later in
life he actually beat the famous old time strongman Eugene Sandow's one arm
lift of 255lbs,lifting aloft with one hand.269Lbs in I898.and all for just a
bet to win a pair of trousers. Long before the bench press was a popular
exercise, Hack could pullover and press on back WITHOUT ASSISTANCE 361.5lbs.
George was also very active in swimming, cycling, running and jumping. The
latter expression of explosive power he excelled at even in late life. By
his late 'teens, George met up with the Tsars physician Dr Von Krajewski a
millionaire bachelor interested in wrestling and under his guidance, living
in the Dr's sumptuous apartment in St Petersburg (Leningrad) George made
rapid progress and in due course won the Greco Roman amateur wrestling
championship of Europe in Vienna in 1898.The same year he won the Russian
weight lifting championships. Just one demonstration of his power at this
period was his single handed Deadlift of a 660lbs stone. He could also lift
and carry a horse. By June I900 Hack had become a professional wrestler,
with his first appearance in a tournament in Moscow that lasted 4O days.
salary of 2,500 Francs per month and despite lowly beginnings, his rewards
were eventually great. Such that in the midst of his career he went on to
make more money on ONE month, than the average (British) worker could EARN
IN A LIFETIME.
Hack was a natural wrestler. His superiority came from the spontaneous way
he could always avail himself of opportunities for holds using courage and
aggression (in the ring only) speed and great strength. He tore into his
rivals much as would his namesake THE LION.
In the brief but intense years of between I900 to I9I4, hit like most things
by World War I, professional wrestling was THE MAJOR SPORT dwarfing all
other athletic activities, including boxing. It was almost literally the
Golden Age of Wrestling with grand wrestling tournaments at one time all the
rage in London. Thus in the early I900's Hack was a box office sensation
with his All Comers Challenge. Night after night he would beat all
opposition attempting to win the tempting high purses on offer. On many
occasions he would pin to the floor six or more ambitious opponents in just
one performance. He fought the roughest and toughest men in the world.
Strongmen capable of lifting enormous poundage's, ex boxers, Savate experts
and far eastern fighters. All met the same fate and hit the dust in rapid
succession and he toured the world, U.K., Europe, Australia, South Africa,
New Zealand and America.
At first Hack a super wrestler, but no 'showman' defeating his opponents so
quickly, that the matches proved no real spectacle. Later his 'act' was
polished by 'showmen' and he was persuaded to allow his challengers to 'look
good' for a while before he eventually threw them. Powerfully developed
although not huge, especially when compared to today's behemoths and
Powerlifters. Hack stood but 5ft 9 ins at around 2OOlbs bodyweight. Hack
once told Nat Fleischer how at school he excelled at gymnastics. Winning his
first prize at 14 as Dorpat Grammars schools best gymnast. At I4, when he
was then only 4ft 7ns and weighed only 12Olbs.He then specialized in broad
jumping, doing sixteen feet and could jump five feet high. He said his love
for bodily exercises he inherited from his grandfather, which caused him to
go into weight lifting. He was also an expert cyclist. When fully matured
his massive neck was his greatest giveaway of his chosen profession. His
neck was so strong, that he was capable of taking the well known 'wrestlers
bridge' position and then pulling over and pressing to arms length a barbell
weighing 311lbs.this he did for two reps, a feat unbeaten for over 50 years,
(until Jack Walsh the strongman in I950).