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The Secret World of Indian Clubs
Lost Secrets of Strength and Development
By Tom Black
I've been putting off writing this article of quite awhile. I have been using my homemade Indian clubs for about a year now, and certainly don't feel like an expert on using them. However, after much searching and contemplating I realized that their was so little information on Indian clubs out there that even my random musings would be better than nothing! The first thing I would like to do is clarify what I'm talking about when I say Indian Club. The picture on the right is a large sized Indian club, which I believe is called a Karela . I am uncertain exactly how much this weighs, but even with a light wood I can imagine that it would be at least 50-pounds. If you've ever done any antique shopping you may have seen the Clubs made in the West, and it is doubtful that you've seen one this big. In fact, from the ads in the back of a 1914 Spalding instruction book on Indian clubs, the biggest they sold was only 3 pounds. It is no wonder that they fell out of favor in the the West, when they were a pale shadow of their original forms. Compared to lifting weights, the 3-pound Indian clubs would not build much in the way of muscle and strength compared to a barbell or heavy dumbbell.
This second picture may be even
more fascinating than the first. My jaw actually dropped when
first seeing this picture, and as I studied it I noticed much more than
the clubs. From the left notice
the donut-shaped object with a handle seemingly in the center. My
first thought was of the thick-handled dumbbells that have become so
popular among grip strength trainers again today. It is conjecture
on my part, but it seems that this could be lifted by the handle or by
the sides. The next club was called a Ekka. It is 6 feet
nine inches tall, but I do not know the weight. The two matching
clubs have spikes sticking out of them! The club on the right is
basically a stick with a stone on the end. Note the stack of
even larger stones on the right. I am unsure if the person in the
picture is a caretaker of these clubs, or a trainer. A friend of
mine says he must be the "Master" but consider the two
pictures below of two famous Indian wrestlers, Gama and Bhollu. Both are shown with Indian clubs, but Gama's may be
ceremonial. Note that Bhollu's looks more like a training club,
and if made of wood I would imagine that it would be 15-20 pounds.
These clubs are usually referred to as Gadas.
Training with Indian Clubs
The main part of my training is with the big 10-pound club described above. Because the club is fairly heavy I unusually only train with one at a time, but Army Macquire trains with one in each hand. I've attached some pictures below from a classic work on the subject of Indian clubs from Spalding's Athletic Library, circa 1914. Also, see "Dick's Indian Club Exercises" in the Links below. I also recently purchased two antique 3-pound clubs, my feeling is that some of the more complex movements will be easier to learn with the small
clubs. I may even discover the value of the smaller clubs, but still stand firmly behind my belief that the larger clubs will build more strength.
Since I'm using a fairly heavy and awkward club, my movements are more static than those with 3-pound clubs. I tend to swing the club fairly slowly to a certain position and then stop there and hold the club steady, feeling the torque in my wrist. I generally hold the club parallel to the ground in many different overhead positions, with my hand at varying angles to my forearm. One of my favorite exercises is to swing the club in front of my body and switch hands in the center as I swing the club and then hold it straight out and parallel to the ground (See a video of this HERE). I basically catch the club at the top of the swing and hold it. I also can lift the 10-pound club strictly off the floor from most positions without swinging, beginners may have to choke up on the handle to do this.
Results of Training with Indian Clubs
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the results of training with big Indian clubs is a description of my first meeting with Army Macquire, the person who showed me the use of these clubs. He came to my condo and I demonstrated various grip exercises. He already had a fair level of regular grip strength, but I was real impressed that he levered my 6-pound hammer over his head with ease in very strict style. I was impressed because it had taken me a couple of months to master this feat myself. I was perplexed about what he had done to accomplish this feat so easily. Implicitly I knew that something in his training prepared him for the sledgehammer, and watching him I thought that he could have done 10-pounds or more with a minimal amount of training. After talking training, steel bending and recovery for hours we headed to the parking lot and Army pulled out his two sand filled baseball bats.
He swung them around effortlessly and handed one to me, putting the handle in my hand. The weight was significant, with most of the sand near the end it presents quite a bit of torque, but I levered it up and swung the bat around a few times. Army seemed as impressed with my quick study on the club, and it was clear then that the two exercises complement each other well. In reflection the club is superior for a full body workout, because, as you will see if you work out with one, it can be a very aerobic workout. The movements are dynamic, unlike the sledgehammer, which is very static and slow.
Training with Indian clubs will make your wrists thicker and stronger, will increase your flexibility and your hand-eye coordination. My favorite movement is a squat thrust with the club swung behind, I discovered after the first day with this that I had worked my triceps extremely well with this movement. If you combine your Indian club training with Hindu Squats and Hindu push-ups you will be a throw back to another age and time, and a force to be reckoned with.
More construction Ideas
I listed my favorite construction idea above, but there are some others. Of course, you can lathe turn the clubs, but this is obvious if you have a lathe, and an expensive option if you don't. In the March 2001 issue of Milo Fred Hutchinson describes making a heavy club with a 1" outside diameter bar cut 2-feet in length. Plates are then secured on one end with collars. He describes also using a rope to secure the device just in case is slips from the hand. If making this type of device using threaded pipe, I would recommend using an end cap on the end of the pipe with the plates, whereas the article describes using a collar. Then you would be sure that the plates will not go flying off the end. One thing nice about this idea is that progressive training can be used.
Another method to make Indian Clubs is the construction of a Gada similar in size and weight to those in the pictures of Bhollu and Gama above. Take a 2-inch square piece of maple or ash about 2.5 feet long and build up a block of wood around one end using thin boards, anywhere from 3/4" to 2". Once the block is created and glued on one end use a heavy wood rasp to fashion a round head. The handle can also be rounded with the wood rasp, and it is not all that difficult to achieve a round handle with a rasp, as I have found out making wood covered thick-handled dumbbells. You might want to make the end of the club with a small ball shape to aid in holding the club.
Really Big Clubs
Recently there has been an exciting new development in the world of clubs. It was nearly impossible to find clubs over 5-pounds each while searching e-bay, and even my huge bat above is "only" 10-pounds. Scott Sonnon of RMAX Productions recently introduced his 15-pound Clubbell and instructional video. His website is full of information on this type of training, reenergized by Scott's enthusiasm and authority on the subject.
Links to Indian Club sources:
The Clubbell The ultimate
in Circular strength training equipment and literature.
This is an affiliate site, for details here at Bigsteel click
or go to the clubbell page by clicking the banner below:
Wooden Swords- Indian Clubs at Wooden Swords.com- These are highly recommended. I own a pair of their 5-pound clubs and they are well made. They are one of the few sources of larger 5, 10 and 15-pound wooden clubs on the internet.
Physical Training-Dick's Indian Club Exercises
Physical Training- Indian Clubs- Article from 1869
New England Antiques Journal: Indian Clubs- Going Gaga over Gada
Indian Clubs.com: http://indianclubs.com/
More on Gama:
The Wrestling Museum- The Great Gama
Black Belt Magazine- Gama The Lion
Neo Wrestling- The Great Gama
Other Sites of interest:
Five Secret Tibetan Rejuvenation Rites- Downloadable eBook reveals easy-to-do exercises that will give you more energy and help you feel.
Copyright September 2002Number of times this page has been viewed since September 28, 2002: