Monday, January 2, 2017

George Hackenshmidt's Comments on Diet Resonate With Macrobiotics

By Unknown -, Public Domain,
George Hackenshmidt (1877-1968) was an early 20th century Estonian strongman and professional wrestler who is recognized as the world's first heavyweight world wrestling champion.

In his book The Way To Live, Hackenschmidt has some interesting things to say about diet in relationship to strength and health.

In regard to the relation between diet and strength, he wrote:
"It is not my intention to discuss here the old problem, whether meat is necessary as food for man or whether man was created and should remain a vegetarian.  My experience has taught me that foodstuffs are of secondary importance.  There are very strong people who are strict vegetarians, whilst others eat a good deal of meat."
Hackenschmidt's father was Baltic German and his mother an Estonian Swede.  He made a remark that suggested he was aware that one's ancestry might affect one's dietary requirements.  He suggested that "A fare which consists of three-quarters of vegetable food and one-quarter meat would appear to be the most satisfactory for the people of central Europe."  In other words, a plant-based but omnivorous diet.  I should note that it is a basic macrobiotic principle that individuals who live in a more northern region (such as Europe) or regularly engage in intense or prolonged physical activity benefit from consuming a somewhat greater amount of food with a more yang (warming and supplementing) influence, of which animal flesh is one possibility.

Of interest, although The Way To Live was published about 1908, Hackenschmidt wrote of the disadvantages of flesh foods, his first concern was "it is most difficult to obtain meat from absolutely healthy animals (I count those artificially fed in stables and pens among the unhealthy ones.)"  This was a considerable time before the advent of the large confined animal feeding operations we see today.

By photo: unknown; file: James Steakley - Begas. Monumente für das Kaiserreich, ed. Esther Sophia Sünderhauf (2010)., Public Domain,

His second concern was "that far too much flesh food is taken."

He also says that "pure vegetables...certainly form the ideal human food" as they are perhaps the only foods which do not "deposit drossy sediments in the body...which may be removed by four channels, the lungs, the skin, the kidneys, and the intestines."  Dross is impurity.

Finally, with regard to consumption of fluids, Hackenschmidt writes an opinion contrary to modern beliefs but in accord with classical Chinese medicine and macrobiotics, namely that excessive consumption of water places a burden on the kidneys and drains the body of vital minerals, particularly sodium and chloride, "which support energy and vital power, and if they are wanting, decay of tissue and decomposition take place." 

Hackenschmidt himself consumed 11 pints (1.375 gallons; 5.2 liters) of milk daily but ate little animal flesh infrequently.  He avoided alcohol, tobacco and coffee.

Hackenschmidt's reported milk consumption reminds me of Christoph Hufeland's statement in Macrobiotics: The Art of Prolonging Life:
"We find that it is not those who lived on flesh, but on vegetables, pulse, fruits, and milk, who attained to the greatest age; Lord Bacon mentions a man of 120, who, during his whole life, never used any other food than milk."
According to strength athlete historian David Gentle, Hackenschmidt had the mental qualities we aim to cultivate as part of macrobiotic practice:
"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."
Hackenschmidt's dietary comments, recommendations and practices resonate with the macrobiotic principles that I discussed extensively in my book Essential Macrobiotics.  Hackenschmidt developed his abilities as both an athlete and a thinker, and he lived fully to 90 years of age, very vigorous his entire life.  I think Hackenschmidt lived a both a great life and a long life, fulfilling both meanings of the word macro-bios. 

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