Wrestling and Athletics in Finland

Artwork inspired by a muscle chart in Allén's book

Recently I came across the oldest book on martial arts (wrestling) and physical culture published in Finnish. The book is called “Handbook in Wrestling and Athletics”, and it is written by Carl Allén in 1904. He published the book both in Finnish and in Swedish during the same year, and I am not 100% sure whether the Finnish version is a translation or originally written by Allén.

The book details a systematic progression teaching Greco-Roman, or French, or French-Finnish wrestling, includes a short history of wrestling (with some faults regarding the medieval era, which were corrected by another Finnish writer on wrestling only 8 years later in his book, where Fabian von Auerswald and even Dürer is mentioned. How well the author knew these works is unknown however) and a separate section of athletic training and physical culture including short advice on diet, bathing, sleep and such.

The attached image shows a map of muscles on a man holding up a heavy bell. I will post a full PDF of the work here later on, after editing it together. These maps are copied from Sandow’s System of Physical Training, published ten years earlier.

Allén’s athletic system is based on Eugene Sandow’s works (as Allén readily admits), and consists mostly of lifting Sandow’s grip dumbells, specified to be of 1,5 to 2 kilograms in weight. A 24-day program of exercising is also laid out, to be then repeated with heavier weights or sturdier springs. If someone knows where to get spring-grip dumbells today, please do let me know!

Interestingly, Allén also describes lifts with a barbell, explaining one-handed snatch and bent press, and the ‘almost-ancient’ form of three-phased clean and jerk, where the bell is first brought atop the stomach before being cleaned to shoulder level. He also did the jerk without squatting or splitting, but instead stepping back with one foot to make sure not to lose balance. Truly special, although technically inferior to a more ‘later’ way of lifting where the barbell is only moving directly upwards. Well, I’m sure Mr Allén still lifted more than I do, so I won’t go further to comment on his technique. It is still interesting to see how these were the times when this skill was so new as a science, and was bound to be refined and developed greatly during the next 50 years or so (after which all the interesting aspects, like one-handed lifts, had been dropped from Olympic lifting).

The wrestling style is typically old-style Greco-Roman, very heavy on neck bridging for both offense and defense, which at the time was considered to be one of the strongest aspects of Finnish wrestlers. The book also has a section on illegal holds, that do not include anything related to leg-takedowns, but show a face-lock stopping airflow through nose and mouth, a few choke-holds and a ‘stomach-twist’, which was supposed to prevent the opponent from continuing after a while, even though it didn’t immediately stop the match (the matches might have gone on for hours at a time, being slit in 15-minute rounds with 1 minute of rest in between). As pointed out by Risto Rautiainen, it is also important to notice that these illegal-holds were ‘pure’ of any ju-jitsu influence, since it is highly unlikely that there would’ve been any contact from Japanese fighters yet at that time, although this was to change very quickly after this book was published.

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