Physical Culture – Part Two

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Several blogs ago, I provided some information as to why we use the term “Physical Culture” in the name of our research facility—The Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports—and why we’ve used the term for 20 years in the title of our journal—Iron Game History—The Journal of Physical Culture. A number of emails arrived with comments about what I’d written, and I thought I’d use one of those emails as a springboard to expand the conversation and to share with readers how one thing can sometimes lead to another, better thing—“paying it forward,” as they say.  In any case, here’s the email with a bit of information on an unrelated subject edited out or, as it’s called in some circles, redacted.


The first time I heard the term “Physical Culture” was during our first conversation.  It was Saturday, July 19th, 2008. The term struck me so hard that I commented on how much I loved it and you then gave me (as you did and still do with many historical events) the origins regarding the term. Understandably, we had a lot to cover, and we didn’t get into the reasons why the term fell out of favor. It’s now almost 12:00 am Saturday and after reading your recent blog about Physical Culture, now I know the reasons. You and your team’s experience, knowledge, and instinct to maintain the term is inspiring and teaches a lesson: if you feel strongly about something even though it might contradict the normal standard, rules, policies, practices, protocols, or whatever–if you feel that passionate–never compromise.

Here’s a connection.  You told me a great story regarding Dr. Kenneth Cooper and I told you I had three certifications from his Institute.  Anyway, when I talk about Dr. Cooper to my clients I mention that he’s called the “Father of Aerobics” and that Webster’s definition of the word was provided by him. I know one day soon I will say the same about the definition of “Physical Culture” and how it was defined by you and your wife. Since you and I had that first conversation, I see the term all over the place.

It’s me again, Foghorn Bloghorn, to make a comment or two before returning to the rest of the email.  Naturally, it’s very nice, but inaccurate, to be compared with Dr. Kenneth Cooper as the creator of a term now widely used in popular culture.  I’d love to have done a tenth of what Dr. Cooper did, which was to literally create a noun from what was theretofore a modifier, but the term physical culture is even older than I am—and that’s saying a good deal.  In fact, just recently, Jan found a reference to a university early in the last century which, at that time, called one of their departments “Physical Culture and Athletics.”  Having said that, I do believe we’ve played a small role over the past quarter century or so in disinterring a term which had fallen—for reasons described in the earlier blog—into disfavor.  During the last 25 years or so, we’ve used the term “Physical Culture” as often as we reasonably could and we plan to continue to do so.  Please join in.  In fact, in the future I may even share with readers the lyrics to “The Physical Culture Song,” which is entertaining if somewhat moss-bound.

Back to the letter:

It was a Sunday night, June 22nd, 2008, when I first read your article from IGH, “Al Roy: Mythbreaker.” I was completely overwhelmed by the information and couldn’t believe I was learning it for the first time; it was about my industry, and it took place in my home town!

That night was life-changing to say the least. From then on I’ve felt compelled to make sure Alvin Roy’s legacy wasn’t lost where it needs to be recognized the most–here in his home, Baton Rouge.

Since then my journey has been amazing, spiritual at times, and humbling at others. The people I have met and the things I have learned have brought me much closer to my hometown’s place in physical culture history and, in return, they’ve made me a better person and trainer.

From day one I have been interested in one thing and one thing only—preserving the memory of Al Roy here in his hometown. I want to follow your lead and to preserve Roy’s legacy as to how he impacted the world of Physical Culture.  I want to educate as many people in my city, state, and nation as I can—and the world beyond, too. Lately, I’ve been bombarded with one thing after another, but Doc I never lost the fire or passion for this project.  When the developers came to tear down the building where Roy had his famous gym I tried to save it.  I did everything but chain myself to that son of a bitch. The only reason I didn’t do that was because those sneaky developers heard us coming with some political thunder, got nervous, and lit a fire under some bulldozer man’s ass and tore it down before we got there. The Historical Foundation still wanted to do something, and we decided we might try to start a campaign to commission a statue of Al that could be erected in a prominent and public place (Don’t think I forgot what you told me about the statue.).  Doc, the spirits are stirring. I saw coach Gayle Hatch two Mondays ago, and this past Tuesday one of my clients came in telling me about a press conference they had the day before with Billy Cannon. It’s the 5Oth anniversary of his famous Halloween run against Ole Miss during that legendary ‘58 season. Please watch this:

The question Billy answers in the press conference was the second one asked, and I love how he really makes it a point to say that he felt the biggest advantage his Istrouma High School and LSU teams had was Al Roy and the weights. You’d explained in your IGH article that the success of those two teams was one of the most significant things that ever happened in the fight against the myth of muscle-binding.


Foghorn again…The article about the pioneering strength coach, Al Roy, explained that after Roy met the US Weightlifting Team at the 1946 World Weightlifting Championships in Paris and saw how explosive, flexible, and athletic the team members were he decided to dedicate his life to sharing with a wider world what was then a secret—that rather than harm an athlete by making him/her musclebound, progressive resistance training would actually help an athlete by making that athlete faster and more flexible.  At first Roy was only able to work with single athletes, such as Piggy Barnes and Jimmy Taylor—both All-Americans at LSU—but he struck the mother of all lodes when he put an entire team on a weight program.  He did this first at Istrouma High School in 1955 and he repeated it at LSU in 1958.  Luck was with Roy because both teams featured the now-legendary Billy Cannon–Heisman Trophy winner and, in the words of writer Frank DeFord, “Everybody’s All-American.”  One of the iron game’s greatest tales, the Roy/Cannon story is uplifting, almost cinematic, and I’d urge readers to listen to what Cannon said more than a half century after the original events unfolded.

Back to the letter:

Doc, this haunts me. This doesn’t go away.  I’m going to continue to do what I’ve been doing. I’m trying to get caught up to a position where I can do what I need to do for Alvin.

It’s been almost a year and a half since I first read your article. I know you’re busy, but I’ll call you so we can talk about Al Roy and how to help him live on.  At the end of your blog regarding the definition of “Physical Culture” you used the phrase “onward through the fog”.  I immediately identified with it. Even though I could only speculate on what you meant, I took it to mean that although we may not be able to see exactly where we’re going, or maybe we don’t even know where we are going, let’s keep moving forward. Seen this way, being in the fog is a spiritual thing.  I’ve been in the fog for a year and a half now and it’s been the best year and a half of my life!

What this young man has done so far in his quest to find a way to enshrine Al Roy’s memory (and Billy Cannon’s, too) in their shared hometown is in my judgment a very fine thing.  He didn’t have to pay it forward but he is; he’s summoning his will for what may lie ahead.  He still has a ways to go, but he’s going.  Just like Sheriff Ed Tom Bell’s father in No Country for Old Men, he’s carrying fire in a horn to light the way forward for those who follow in the darkness.  Sometimes, such efforts are so narrow and singular that many—perhaps most–people would see them as unimportant, yet they mean the world to the person who has chosen to follow that particular path, that particular challenge, that quest.  Conversely, sometimes–at the outer edge of either a real or imagined world–such efforts can be understood by almost everyone.  Such efforts require will, courage, and faith of a sort which can only be adequately described by our greatest writers.  Others might offer better examples than the one which follows, but for me such super-heroic efforts have never been rendered better than they were in a book written over 50 years ago.

The book’s key scene features a group of people, primarily men, who had before them a task which was so grave, so dangerous, so important, and yet so confounding that even these men—the most valiant, wise, and battle-hardened of their era—felt inadequate to the challenge.  To undertake the task meant carrying a very special object a very long way into the very heart of evil, and the task presupposed almost certain death because it appeared to be impossible to complete the task and to also live through it.  Even so, as this council of leaders and champions discussed their dilemma it became clear that to do nothing was not an option.  To do nothing would result in the inexorable extinguishing of goodness and freedom in the world.  One by one these leaders, these giants, deferred, but then, as the story is told, the focus shifted to someone only half their size,

A great dread fell on him, as if he was awaiting the pronouncement of some doom that he had long foreseen but vainly hoped might after all never be spoken.  An overwhelming longing to rest and remain at peace…filled all his heart.  At last with an effort he spoke, and wondered to hear his own words, as if some other will was using his small voice,

“I will take the Ring,” he said, “though I do not know the way.”

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