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From The Desk Of Clarence Bass

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Better to be under-trained than over-trained.

For every ‘down’ there should be an ‘up,’ but you can stay ‘down’ if you tax yourself too often.

Training hard and lifting heavy are all important, but belief in your own ability [is what] makes you ... a champion.

A good lifter...does not make excuses. Whatever you have, think that it could have been worse, so be [grateful].

With complacency comes eventual regression. 

Think, plan and expect positive results

          – Tommy Kono, world and Olympic weightlifting champion and coach in three Olympic Games

Lifting Wisdom from Tommy Kono

                        Tommy Kono was arguably the greatest Olympic weightlifter the world has ever seen. And now, he’s written a clear, easy-to-understand, no-nonsense – and enjoyable – book revealing how he worked his way to the top and stayed there for eight consecutive years. Unlike many champion athletes, Kono knows how he did it. What’s more, he can explain it in a manner that’s relevant and meaningful to lifters and non-lifters alike – anyone interested in becoming bigger, stronger and more athletic. Olympic lifting aficionados -- and many others -- will love Tommy’s book.

A year or so back, when I was given the honor and responsibility of participating in the selection of an all-millennium American weightlifting team, some of the choices were difficult, but a few were undisputable. Tommy Kono fell into the second category. He was a clear choice on everyone’s list. His records have been eclipsed, but very few lifters, if any, cast a bigger shadow over international lifting than Kono.

World Records in Four Classes

Tommy Kono established world records in four body weight classes: lightweight (148 pounds), middleweight (165), light-heavyweight (181), and middle-heavyweight (198). Only two years after beginning Olympic lifting, he made the highest total of any lightweight lifter in the United States. Within four years of this first contest, he won the Gold Medal at the 1952 Olympic games in Helsinki, Finland. He was world champion every year from 1953 through 1959, which included a second Gold Medal at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. He established 26 world records and seven Olympic records. As if that wasn’t enough, he also won the "Mr. World" physique title and was three times crowned "Mr. Universe." After retirement from lifting, he became the national and Olympic coach for Mexico (1966 – 1968) and for West Germany (1969 – 1972), and United States Olympic weightlifting coach in 1976. 



                          OLYMPIC & WORLD CHAMPION             MR. UNIVERSE


Since then, he’s stayed active as an International Weightlifting Federation coach and referee. In 1994, Kono was inducted into the International Weightlifting Hall of Fame at International Olympic Headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. In 1996, Tommy was one of 100 Golden Olympians invited as Special Guests of the Atlanta Olympic Games.

I first saw Tommy Kono in the flesh at the 1953 national championships, held in Indianapolis, Indiana. I was still in high school; it was the first of many national championships that my dad and I attended. As we walked into the auditorium, I distinctly remember seeing Bob Hoffman behind the microphone, and Tommy standing off to the side in a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt. I don’t remember many details about that contest, but seeing Hoffman and Kono, whom I had come to know and admire through the pages of Strength & Health magazine, is clear as a bell.

Learned from Experience

You can imagine my fascination almost 50 years later reading the inside story of that contest in Tommy’s own words: how finances almost prevented him from competing, an attempted psyche out by the Pete George contingent, and the competition. Tommy won the 165-pound class, beating Pete George by a wide margin. His lifts were 285 press, 280 snatch, and 350 clean & jerk, for a 915 total, which substantially exceeded the existing world record of 892. 

Most importantly, Tommy tells what he learned from that competition. That’s really what the book is about. Tommy was not one to make the same mistake twice; he learned from his experiences, good and bad, and became a better and more formidable competitor with each passing year. As Arthur Drechsler writes in the foreword, "During the 1950s, from the time he won his first Olympics in 1952, Tommy was invincible."

To my delight and the great good fortune of his readers, Kono’s ability to communicate what he learned over the years comes close to matching his lifting prowess. Like the bar coming off the floor in a well executed snatch or clean, Tommy’s book starts slowly and builds momentum chapter by chapter.

If you’re expecting hard-to-follow explanations of complicated lifting techniques, and training plans full of confusing percentages and complex cycles, you’re in for a surprise. If you’re looking for all day, every day European-style workouts, look elsewhere. However, if you want straightforward explanations and training plans born of long experience and common sense, Tommy’s book is just your cup of tea. That’s not to suggest that important details are omitted, because it’s all there, but in plain, simple language that only comes from a clear and complete understanding by the author.

Starts with the Basics

Characteristically, Kono begins with the "ABCs of Olympic lifting." For example, this section includes the simplest and best instructions I’ve seen on how to achieve the strong back arch essential for proper performance of the Olympic lifts -- and all movements using "the seat of power." The seat of power, Tommy explains, resides in the hips, buttocks, thighs and lower back. In addition to the snatch and clean & jerk, this includes basic exercises such as the squat, power clean, bent-over row and many others exercises commonly practiced by weight trainers. As I indicated earlier, the principles taught in this book have application far beyond Olympic lifting.

After laying the foundation, Kono moves to the correct performance of the Snatch, the Clean and the Jerk, which, of course, comprise the Olympic lifts. Next comes the "Training Plan," which includes some refreshing revelations. For example, according to Kono, there’s no need to spend 30 hours a week in the gym. "You must tax the muscles," he writes, "but, at the same time, give the muscles ample rest time to recover. Kono emphasizes quality over quantity; he calls it "Quality Training" or QT.

You can train 2 or 3 times a day, 5-6 days a week like the Europeans, says Kono, "but it doesn’t necessarily mean you will improve that much faster." Moreover, he opines, it may lead to overtraining, injury and bad habits that come from lifting tired. Says Kono, "Training three times a week tends to create more enthusiasm, and because you enjoy the training, you put more heart and soul into it and reap the benefit of improving faster."

Speaks His Mind

If that's the case, Kono asks rhetorically, "Why have most [Olympic lifting] coaches picked up the idea that ‘more [training] would be better?’ Why not train harder and longer?" Then, in the outspoken style found throughout the book, he asks readers to ponder several more pointed questions: "If you have 10,15, 20 lifters under your charge as a coach and they have all the time in the world to train (as they do in some countries), what would you do to keep them occupied? If these are 16 to 21 year old athletes, what can you do to keep their mind focused on weightlifting? And how would many of the coaches justify their full-time jobs?" Enough said.

Wonderful Stories

The most fascinating sections – the true high points of the book -- are those where Tommy relates his weightlifting experiences and tells wonderful stories illustrating the supreme importance of "The State of Mind."

In addition to the 1953 national championship, which I mentioned earlier, Kono describes nine other competitions, starting with his first contest and ending with the 1963 nationals where he decided to retire, and explains in engaging detail the take-home lesson from each experience. This section alone is worth the price of the book, but he’s not done yet.

Equally intriguing are his stories about Chuck Vinci, Norb Schemansky, the George Brothers, Joe Puleo (all well-known champion weightlifters) and, of course, himself illustrating the importance of maintaining a positive mental attitude. Even my wife, Carol, who has never done Olympic lifting, enjoyed this section. (Tommy tells us that he was surprised how much his wife, Florence, liked the stories.)

Wisdom of the Old Country

Carol was especially moved by Tommy’s final story about fate and being grateful. Tommy, a Japanese American who along with his family was placed in the Tule Lake Internment Camp in Northern California during the Second World War – his next-door neighbor at the camp introduced him to Olympic lifting – tells of hearing his parents talking with friends from the old country about accepting that which cannot be changed and the importance of being grateful for what you have. Tommy says those conversations made a deep and lasting impression. They taught him to be "thankful for even a crooked bar or a broken up platform to lift on."

"By far the most devastating and detrimental behavior for an athlete is making excuses or looking for excuses for their poor performances," says Tommy. Speaking from experience – his training for the 1953 and 1954 world championships was often done in the basement of his house which had a low ceiling and a dirt floor -- Tommy counsels lifters to make the best of what they have. Don’t be "a complainer," he says, because "it will soon affect your disposition and – your lifting!" Be grateful for what you have, because "things could be worse!"

Tommy says, "Shikata-ganai" and "Arigatai," Japanese for fate and being grateful, are words to live by. "Remember [them]. Think them. Use them."

You can see why I have such high regard for Tommy and his book. My only complaint is that I wish he had not been so modest and included more photos of himself; the illustrations, which he did himself, are excellent, however.

To get your copy go to www.tommykono.com and order from the website ($39.95 + shipping)

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Ripped Enterprises, 528 Chama, N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87108.  (505) 266-5858, e-mail:  cncbass@aol.com, FAX (505) 266-9123.  Office hours:  Monday-Friday, 8-5, Mountain time.

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Copyright©2001 Clarence and Carol Bass.  All rights reserved.