Sunday, 8 July 2012
When Maxick topped the bill.
The Victorian and Edwardian music hall provided the backdrop for a great many larger than life characters but few would capture the imagination of the public quite like the contingent of Japanese jujitsu exponents and continental wrestlers and strongmen who sought fame and fortune on the British music hall stage. Some of these strength athletes were far from being one dimensional figures. Yukio Tani was a tiny little man who would take on and defeat all comers as part of his act. When he retired he devoted his life to the establishment of judo as an integral part of what he saw as the development of a rounded human being. Eugene Sandow was in his day probably the most famous man in the world. Weightlifter, wrestler and physique star, Sandow was a household name. He rubbed shoulders with the movers and shakers of the age but he used his fame to highlight a tireless campaign for social reform that included establishing a Ministry of Health, sanitary inspectors, free school meals, family allowances, physical education in schools and pre-natal exercise clinics. The mighty Russian Lion, Georges Hackenschmidt was the most famous wrestler of his time and caused London's first ever traffic jam when he fought Madrali the Terrible Turk at Olympia in 1904. When Hack finally retired from the mat game he went on to write a number of books on philosophy. The era of music hall strength athletes was beginning to draw to a close when a Bavarian "pocket Hercules" who went by the name of Max Sick stepped ashore to seek his fortune. You did not need to be the sharpest show-biz entrepreneur to grasp that the newcomer was in need of a name change if only to spare him the worst excesses of the rowdier elements in the cheap seats. Farewell Max Sick and enter Maxick. The little man was an outstanding weightlifter but the most spectacular part of his act was his mastery of muscle control. He could isolate and control individual muscles in a way that had never been seen before and it went down a storm with the hard to please music hall audiences. Not long after he made his London debut Maxick teamed up with fellow strength artist Monte Saldo and together they produced and marketed a postal muscle building course that they modestly named "Maxalding". Amazingly enough Saldo's son continued to sell the course, complete with sepia photos of the founders, right up until the 1970s. A free online treasure trove of Maxalding books, courses and memorabilia can be found here. Many of these old time strongmen were very influenced by the new science of psychology and none more so than Maxick who placed great emphasis on the correlation between mind and muscle; commonplace in today's world of sports psychology but innovative at the time.
When the First World War broke out Maxick was interned, not that he had any intention of returning to fight for those he described as "Prussian bullies". Upon his release from internment he sold his share of the business to Monte Saldo and set off to explore the Amazon and Orinoco rivers. Maxick was approaching eighty and living in Buenos Aires when he passed away. After an afternoon spent arm wrestling in a local bar the old strength athlete cycled home and knowing his body so well, realised that the end was near. The farewell note that he left concluded with the words,"Remember that the infinite is our inner freedom manifested through the consciousness." An epitaph that I hope will mean more to some readers of this blog than it does to me.