Since the dawn of time, strength has been a symbol of power—both literally and figuratively. During the Paleolithic era when Neanderthals roamed the earth, females generally chose to mate with the biggest males. They were considered the strongest and healthiest.
Strength training in various forms has been performed worldwide for many centuries. In Western countries, when we think of powerful figures from the past, we think of names such as Charles Atlas and Eugene Sandow. For people residing in Asia however, there is one name that is synonymous with strength and power: The Great Gama. Today we’re going to learn more about this amazing human being.
Who was the Great Gama?
The Great Gama, whose real name was Ghulam Mohammad Baksh Butt, was a formidable and undefeated Indian wrestler. Many consider him to be the greatest catch-can wrestler to ever walk the earth. The Great Gama is renowned for his amazing technical wrestling ability, along with his impressive strength, while being completely drug free.
Ghulam was born in the Punjab province of British-controlled India on the 22nd of May 1878. He was born into a family of wrestlers, so it’s safe to say that wrestling blood coursed through his veins. Gama’s family were feared, formidable, and highly respected wrestlers of the very highest caliber. His father sadly passed away when he was only six years old. Ghulam was then placed under the care of his maternal grandfather, and after his grandfather passed, his uncle took him in. His uncle, a man named Ida, was a keen wrestler and began training Ghulam in the discipline. The Great Gama was an amazing child prodigy.
At the age of ten, he entered his very first strongman competition and instantly got recognition. Over 400 wrestlers attended this contest, and Ghulam made it to the top 15. The Maharaja of Jodhpur was so impressed by his strength at his young age that he named him the winner of the contest. Later, the Maharaja of Datia took the young sensation under his wing and Ghulam began training in earnest.
How he became famous
After learning the art of wrestling under some of the region’s best, the Great Gama rose to fame at the age of 17. He was now confident in his ability and he challenged the current Indian wrestling champion, Rahim Baksh Sultani Wala, to a bout. Wala was a formidable man. The Great Gama stood at 5ft 8 in in height (173 cm) and weighed a little over 210 pounds (95 kg). Wala stood at over 7 feet (213 cm) in height and weighed in at just shy of 300 pounds (136 kg).
The two had their match at a wrestling festival. Many people expected that Wala would win in a few seconds. Gama was giving up over one foot in height, and close to 100 pounds (45 kg) in weight. On paper, Gama’s only advantage was his age. The two competed for over one hour in one of the greatest wrestling bouts the world had ever seen. Amazingly, this youngster who came out of nowhere was able to earn himself a draw. In his debut, he took the national wrestling champ to his limit. Gama was now firmly on the map. Many considered him to be a future Indian Wrestling Championship winner based on this first performance.
The two competed again a few months later, this time grappling for two hours, and again, the bout ended in a draw. Something surely had to give. They competed a third time, and again, the bout was a draw.
By 1910, Gama had defeated some of the most respected wrestlers all over the world. He still had yet to topple the enormous Wala. Finally the two famous wrestlers had their fourth encounter. Both men were out for blood. Gama went on the offensive and adapted a more aggressive style. The two men traded holds, throws, takedowns, and pin attempts for close to three hours. The fans were loving it. The match was so aggressive that Wala sustained a broken rib and was forced to concede.
The Great Gama had finally overturned the champ. Gama was now the king of the hill. He was the most feared and highly respected wrestler in all of Asia, and dare we say, the entire world!
Now the Great Gama was famous, and he travelled the world looking for opponents.
In London, he was initially refused entry to a tournament because of his “small” size compared to some of the heavyweights. He laid down an open challenge, stating that he could throw any three heavyweight wrestlers in under thirty minutes. If he failed, Gama would pay them the prize money for the contest and go home in shame.
On the first day, only one wrestler stepped forward, a US wrestler named Benjamin Roller. Gama pinned him in just 100 seconds. They met again, and Gama again pinned him, this time in 9 minutes and 10 seconds. Nobody else stepped forward that day. The following day, however, he defeated 12 wrestlers and gained official entry into the tournament. As the years went by, he continued to wrestle and defeat some of the best wrestlers from all over the globe. Gama kept bulking up and improving his condition while competing.
There are pieces of evidence, that the Great Gama remained undefeated all his life! This made him one of the best wrestlers in history.
The Great Gama workout
Gama wanted to be the best, and knew that he needed to bulk up while staying fit. Therefore, he trained for several hours each day. Upon waking, he performed 5000 double and single-legged Hindu squats, along with 3000 one-armed and two-armed Hindu Push ups. That was considered a functional warm up.
In the afternoon, to hone his skills, he grappled for four hours with up to 40 fellow wrestlers located in the Akhada court. That wasn’t the end of his training routine. To work on his stamina and leg strength, he would go running through the jagged and unforgiving mountains of India. This intense strength and conditioning routine allowed him to bulk up to 260 pounds (118 kg) of solid muscle. Most impressive of all was his amazing strength, which we will look at in more detail a little later on.
The Great Gama diet
To bulk up to 260 pounds (118 kg) of solid muscle, while remaining fit and agile, surely you’d expect a diet rich in lean proteins and low in fat, coupled with plenty of veggies. Well, not for the Great Gama.
Each day, he drank 2.6 gal (10 liters) of milk, mixed with 1.5 pounds (0,68 kg) of crushed almonds. He also consumed half a liter (0,13 gal) of ghee, 6 pounds (2,7 kg) of butter, fruit juice, 6 chickens, 2 legs of mutton, and several pounds of seasonal fruits each day. The Great Gama was consuming well over 10,000 calories to support his intense training, and he still remained lean and powerful. Personally, I suppose that this diet was only for the most intense periods of training. It’s hard to believe that someone could consume such a large amount of food for a long time, but who knows…
Gama’s diet, coupled with his training regime, was what helped him to overpower countless wrestlers that were much larger than he.
The Great Gama and the 1200 kg (2646 lb) stone
The Great Gama is a real-life hero, especially in India and many other parts of Asia. He was one of the strongest men to ever walk the earth.
The following story is uncorroborated but it’s still a great tale. Supposedly, Gama lifted a stone weighing in at a staggering 1,200 kg (2646 lb) up off the ground in Baroda, leaving the audience absolutely stunned. This alleged feat of strength is absolutely astonishing if true. The stone itself is housed at the Baroda Museum, helping the legacy of the Great Gama to live on.
Bruce Lee and the Great Gama
Before we wrap things up, we’re going to talk about Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee is a true legend in the world of martial arts. He is the hero and inspiration for many keen martial artists. Bruce had his own hero and idol whilst growing up: the Great Gama!
He was so impressed with Gama’s training regime that he adapted it to suit his own training needs. In particular, Lee utilized the ‘cat stretch’ and ‘Hindu squats’ to help him build up his strength and power while promoting flexibility in the process.
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- Solomon, B. (2005). Pro Wrestling FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the World’s Most Entertaining Spectacle (FAQ Pop Culture). Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Backbeat.
- Speirs, S. (2009). 7 Weeks to 100 Push-Ups: Strengthen and Sculpt Your Arms, Abs, Chest, Back and Glutes by Training to do 100 Consecutive Push. Berkeley, California: Ulysses Press.
- The Great Gama.