Wrestling Tips from Martin “Farmer” Burns (1913)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?