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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. 


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     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.

    The proponents of Indian clubs in the 19th and early 20th century rarely used over 3-pound clubs.  Those practicing today, for the most part, also seem to have adopted the smaller club.  There certainly are benefits to the smaller clubs.  They are said to promote shoulder flexibility and good health.  Marital artists have adopted the clubs recently as well because they mimic some of the sword and stick movements they do, but with a heavier weight.  While these things are an interest too me, as usual I am much more concerned with building strength.   If you study the hands, wrist and forearms of Bhollu (see picture below) and Gama (to the right) you will see the results of heavy club swinging.  I'd even venture to say that there would be few combat enthusiasts today that would step into the ring with either of these men.  In fact, while my knowledge of Gama is somewhat limited, I do know he was dodged by some wrestlers in his day when he visited Europe and totally devastated Doc Roller and Stanley Zbyszko.  Zbyszko commented after seeing Gama that his hands were incredibly strong. 



     The English adopted the Indian club after observing its use in India.  It was first introduced into the British Army, accordingly to Dougherty in the Spalding Athletic Library edition "Indian Clubs and Dumb Bells, 1914."  Shown here is Staff Sergeant Moss with an interesting variation to the Indian design.  This club is obviously very large and unruly.  I would estimate that it would have weighed at least 20-pounds.  Sergeant Moss was considered the Strongest man in the British Army, once jerking a "block-weight" weighing 56-pounds 100 times in 2 minutes 52 seconds. (Willoughby, The Super Athletes).
   Eugene Sandow is shown here with a large Indian club, which looks to be made to look primitive in form.  If made of wood, this would be quite a monster of a club.  Sandow had a physique that was one of the best of his day, and even today is revered as one of the first true bodybuilders.  I don't know what type of training he did with clubs, but if he did any training at all,  it certainly is a lost part of bodybuilding training today.  So in terms of strength, and aesthetic bodybuilding training, it seems that the Indian club has been lost for the last century.  Sadly, clubs are sometimes sold and mislabeled as "juggling" pins, which is odd considering that they are usually in pairs of two, but jugglers prefer at least three pins.


Constructing an Indian Club

     Now, if you think that I am going to give you all this history and not tell you how to easily create an Indian club the size that these classic Indian wrestlers are using, then you are mistaken.  I am going to explain how to make a heavy Indian club in the simplest manner possible, and then with three other viable techniques below, depending on your inclination.  The first method I cannot take credit for.  One of the readers of this web site, Army Macquire, who lives about 30 miles from me contacted me and we have become friends; this is his technique for creating a 10-pound club.  The first step is to go to the local toy store and purchase a big hollow baseball bat.  They can be purchased at K-mart for around $2.00, and they come with a hollow ball (which I filled pennies for juggling).  





The K-mart bat is 26.75" long, 4.25" in diameter and orange.  I have even found a little cheaper one for $1.00 at the Dollar store, but the plastic is a little thicker on the orange ones.  Also purchase
some sand and  plastic epoxy at the hardware store.   Slit a "T" shaped hole on the top of the handle end, and peel back the plastic a bit.  Pour the sand into the club.  I made a funnel out of paper to help the pouring of the sand into the club.     I also recommend breaking up the sand clumps before pouring, in the center of the bag the sand is clumped together and hard to pour into the club.   The epoxy is used to plug the handle up. 
      Get the sand close to the top of the handle, and swing the club a little to make sure the sand is compressed toward the top of the club.  Fill the handle with epoxy, and make a plug about 3-inches long in the top of the handle.  Repeat for a second club.  Since the clubs are fairly heavy you may want to make only one club at first and see how you do, two 10-pounds clubs together is fairly difficult.  K-mart also has a bigger hollow bat that I estimate would be 15-pounds when filled.  

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

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 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.

        This picture below is overly complex, but does illustrate some basic positions of club swinging.   I have been fortunate to have purchased clubs with the exact same markings as those in the diagram.
     This artist drawing is one of the more advanced exercises from the Spalding book.  It was described in the manual as being for heavy clubs, and shown as a one club movement.  This is one of my favorite exercises with the clubs, and I do a variation of this in which I perform a lunge with the extended leg (See a video of this HERE).  For more videos I've made swinging clubs see this PAGE).


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. 

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 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

   This is my idea of a big club!  This is simply the Ironmind Olympic loading pin with 60-pounds of plates and two collars, for a total of 65-pounds.  DO NOT try this with a pipe with collars toward the end near the face.  The loading pin has a bottom piece welded on so the weights cannot slip off the end.    For a really strict lift the weight can be lifted slowly, with the bar parallel from the ground, and then held at arms length before levering back as shown.  My best is 75-pounds levered strict off the floor in this manner.

The Clubbell 

     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 Here 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:

Gama the Great

The Wrestling Museum- The Great Gama

Black Belt Magazine- Gama The Lion

Neo Wrestling- The Great Gama

A Day to Wrestle


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 2002

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