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Wrestling Tips from Martin “Farmer” Burns (1913)

19 November 2013 3 Comments

Farmer Burns was a famous 20th-century Catch-as-Catch-Can wrestling champion. He earned his fame during the barnstorming days when men would travel from county to county wrestling during fairs and carnivals. Burns was one of the foremost barnstorming wrestlers and very likely wrestled  thousands of matches during his career.

After he retired from the sport, Burns turned to coaching and eventually wrote a book on wrestling techniques, diet, and exercise for wrestlers. Here are some snippets from his work published in 1913:

Practice, Practice, Practice:

My advice to every student is to allow nothing to prevent the regular study and practice every day of the year, even though you can give but a few minutes to the work, for it is the daily and regular practice that finally makes an expert of any man.

Farmer Burns 1

Unless you do practice regularly you will find that you will lose your strength to a considerable extent. The proper thing to do is to keep in FORM all the time. It is easy to stop practicing these things, but it requires decision and will power to keep them up, but I believe you realize by this time the wonderful value of a fine physical body and this should be a strong inducement for you to keep in form.

Your fine health and strong body will enable you to enjoy life more.

You can go on long tramps. Hunting trips, excursions, and not get tired and worn out, and this means that you will enjoy this for more them the weakling who soon grows tired from his exertions.

Having your muscles well trained, it will be difficult for disease and sickness to attack you and you can with greater case throw off diseases when they come. Which an athletic body to back you, you have more force and courage for the battles of lice, and can put tremendous energy and vigor into your business undertaking. You will live a sweet life and enjoy play as well as work. Wrestling and physical culture makes a man good natured, but just the opposite is true in regard to excess and dissipation.

Therefore look upon your training in wrestling not only as an accomplishment that will bring you pleasure and profit, but look upon it also as the greatest thing possible for prolonged life and happiness.

farmer_burns 2


Training should start on a definite date. On the first day a liberal dose of Epsom Salts should be taken, followed by a dose of pure castor oil, in order to thoroughly clean out the stomach and bowels. The diet should be light for the following day. For breakfast one or two poached or soft boiled eggs, dry toast and hot water or weak tea. At noon and evening, the same or a similar light meal.

Poached Eggs

For regular diet during training, breakfast should be light consisting of eggs, dry toast and perhaps a little quantity of bacon or mutton-chops. The noon meal can be boiled dinner, consisting of such as boiled beef and vegetables. Do not eat cabbage or potatoes and do not eat too much of anything, and be sure to CHEW THE FOOD WELL. Think about this when eating and chew each mouthful a long time. Use home made bread that is not too fresh and do not eat sweets or dessert.

For the evening meal a good steak with beans that have been cooked thoroughly and mashed.

steak and beans

This with bread and butter and pure water or week tea, should constitute the meal. If you desire you can have the boiled dinner occasionally in the evening and can substitute fried chicken and fresh fish once or twice a week, and then go to your gymnasium where you should work with your trainer. This work of course, consists of wrestling, bridging, gripping, etc. About an hour or an hour and a half should be devoted to work of this kind. Take a shower bath, not a cold one, and a good rubbing with the towels. Your trainer will now give you a good hand rubbing and kneading. After this you should walk about one mile, after which you should have your dinner.

After dinner rest of sleep until 3 o’clock, when you should go out for a run and walk of two to three miles. The walking and running should be mixed together, walking say 100 yards and running 200 yards. After resting from this work spend one hour in the gymnasium in some fast and speedy exercise under the direction of your trainer. This should be followed with a short shower bath and another hard rub. It is a good plan occasionally to rub the body with olive oil or cocoa butter, as it keeps the skin in nice, soft condition, after taking so many baths. After supper ride or play a game of billiards to occupy your mind, or visit and play cards with friends, but do not gamble or do anything to make you nervous. You should be in bed at 9 o’clock and sleep where there is plenty of fresh air, but they are washing the skin two or three times each day.

Playing cards

Do not take any long tub or shower baths, but always a quick bath in Luke warm water.

The water should be very pure, if possible from a spring, and you should drink hot water in the morning if it agrees with you. If not, substitute a cup of weak tea.

Spring water


Do not dissipate in any form whatever. You should sleep alone, and from eight to nine hours. Get up at 5:30 and take a walk. Eat breakfast at 6 o’clock, amuse until 9:30. For 48 hours before going into the ring, you should do very little work and that of a light nature, eat plenty of good broiled steak with bread and pure water, take light shower baths and light rubs two or three times a day. About 4 hours before entering the ring eat a fine big porterhouse steak with very little bread and no vegetables.

Porterhouse streak

Before entering the ring take a small sip of water, but do not drink heavily of water for some time before entering the ring, and confine your drinking between the bouts to small sips of pure water.

A great deal more might be said in regard to training, but the essence of the entire matter has been given you in this short article, and if you are preparing for a big match you will need an experienced trainer to help you.

Burns and Jeffries

If you have the time, take a look at Farmer Burn’s twelve-part lessons regarding how to be a successful wrestler. He discusses specific calisthenics, resistance training, wrestling techniques, and even Ju-Jitsu’s partnership with wrestling. Even though the book was written for an audience a century ago, how many aspects within his lessons could be used today?


Source:   http://www.sandowplus.co.uk/Competition/Burns/lessons/lesson01.htm


  • Mark Lovejoy said:

    Mini-bio on Martin “Farmer” Burns:

    After having lost his father at a young age, Martin Burns developed his impressive bodily strength working on a farm for $12 a month. As a youth, Burns studied the methods and techniques of catch wrestling. His wrestling career began at a carnival, where while waiting to complete the sale of two hogs, he answered the challenge of the house wrestler. He found the money in wrestling was far superior to selling hogs, and he started traveling the carnival and fair circuit. He got the nickname “Farmer” even though he only worked for about four years on a farm; it stuck with him because he wore overalls to the ring. An 1886 loss to Evan “Strangler” Lewis was discouraging for Burns – who’d gotten caught in Lewis’s feared stranglehold – but following the defeat, Burns worked at strengthening his neck muscles. He eventually built his neck up to a massive 20-inch circumference, and reportedly performed a stunt at carnivals where he would be dropped several feet in a hangman’s noose while whistling “Yankee Doodle.” In 1889, the still relatively unknown Burns got a measure of revenge against the Strangler. In Chicago’s Olympic Theater, Burns accepted a $25 challenge that he could last 15 minutes with top matmen Jack Carleek (a British champion of the time) and Strangler Lewis. (It was here where he was first introduced as “Farmer” Burns.) Martin dominated Carleek with repeated throws across the ring, and he was able to last the 15 minutes against his old foe Lewis without getting thrown or pinned. Burns pocketed the money and was celebrated in the Chicago newspapers for his feat.

    The 165-pound Farmer Burns began traveling the country, defeating men 50 to 100 pounds heavier than him with his arsenal of submission holds and pinning techniques. His biggest win to date came against Japanese great Sorakichi Matsuda in Troy, NY in 1891. Burns’s greatest triumphs were his 1893 win over Ernest Roeber to unify the American Greco-Roman and Catch titles. Even more gratifying was his 1895 pinfall victory over Strangler Lewis for Lewis’s world title, which gave him long-awaited revenge for his loss to Lewis nine years before. Farmer’s long winning streak ended in 1897, at the hands of Dan McCleod (for the American title) and Tom Jenkins. His career record is estimated at around 6000 wins, and only 7 documented losses.

    Like William Muldoon, Farmer Burns made a huge mark on wrestling after his career ended. He established gymnasiums and wresting schools, trained numerous future greats including Frank Gotch and Earl Caddock, and in 1914 published The Lessons in Wrestling and Physical Culture, a mail-order course which became the bible for young wrestlers at the time. Burns’s influence and stature was such that his home state, Iowa, is still the amateur wrestling capital of the country, with the International Wrestlng Institute and Museum based in Newton.


  • Anna Dawson said:

    That was a golden age of wrestling. I am a huge fan of Martin “Farmer” Burns.. the combination of Burns’ superior conditioning, intellect, and advanced skill made him a nearly unbeatable wrestling opponent. Thanks for sharing :)

  • Martin Burns said:

    Hilarious – my namesake. And, he’s from upstate NY, too. Suddenly wondering if I have a farming wrestler in the family tree…

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