First Mentors, Influences and Building a Foundation.
It’s always best to keep it simple, as Marcus Aurelius said many years ago, “At every moment keep a sturdy mind on the task at hand, as a Roman and human being, doing it with simple dignity, affection, freedom and justice – giving yourself a break from all other considerations.”
I was tempted to go straight into another blog about a chest and biceps session with Dorian but let’s build up to that as there’s a valuable story in how we trained back then; people would often say how lucky I was to have had that opportunity but when you hear the story maybe you’ll see that there was less luck and more planned intense commitment involved!!
So, instead, today’s blog is taking us way back to my beginnings and the first mentors I had, the people that gave me the valuable lessons and real deal knowledge that has stayed with me over the years and also some knowledge that I learned was not right for me and how you can distinguish between the two! In this day of social media, the internet and ‘guru’s’ in every gym, it seems easy to be inundated with information and advice but much of that advice will contradict each other, some will be useful and some will be downright dangerous! So, let’s get down to what you really need to know and how to make it simple and to remove the BS from the sport; it is not rocket science, believe me, it is really very simple unfortunately people don’t like simple, especially when simple is also brutally, hard, gut wrenching work that no one else is prepared to do but….them’s they’re the facts!!
Before we start, its important to remember that most people carry on with b their lives as though they will live forever, and before they know it , life has passed them by and the true meaning for their lives has been lost in a 9-5 nightmare which stole their life away. “Don’t behave as if you are destined to live forever. What’s fated hangs over you. As long as you live and while you can become good or even great now.”
As previously mentioned in prior posts, I met Jeff King, Lee Haney, Tom Platz, Brian Buchanan and Mike Quin and several other American Pro bodybuilders very early on in my teens but I was really too young to fully appreciate their advice plus at that point I didn’t know that I would, one day, want to become a Pro bodybuilder like these guys were; yes, I was in awe of them but I hadn’t yet had the vision of myself becoming one of them so I never asked a bunch of questions like I would a few years later when I was fully on board into building a Mr Olympia physique.
When I started training with Johnny fuller, I had become serious. He could see that commitment, I don’t think there was any way he would have taken me under his wing if he hadn’t; I was a hard worker, prepared to do whatever it took to make progress. If it was doing 20-25 sets on one exercise, then that’s what I would do and following Johnny’s program that was precisely what we did! We would spend half an hour, at least, on a piece of equipment (completely against gym etiquette but this was Johnny Fuller, the man who stood on stage with Arnold!); what could I do? I wasn’t going to say to him that we were stopping others from using the equipment, I simply followed what he did; he was the expert and I was the beginner and I didn’t know any better at that point anyway thinking the owner would just let Johnny train the way he wanted to! That turned out to be wrong as he banned Johnny from the gym shortly afterwards, probably after a couple of warnings but I wasn’t aware of those; all I knew was that Johnny Fuller had been banned from the gym!!!! I couldn’t believe it. Fortunately, there were other gyms in town and we soon found an alternative, not so well equipped but more hard-core and a better environment to train all out as it turned out. Reps were also high, between 20 and 30 but sometimes going up to 50 reps in a set, especially on legs; the leg press was one of those movements where we would just keep going until our quads literally gave way, after getting pumped they would get fatigued and burn, from there it was the fibres beginning to shake and fire involuntarily until we would have to take a brief rest to gather some air but he made sure the tension was on the quads all the time, never allowing me to lock the legs out. It was a whole new world of pain to me; but it was far from finished, then came the reps where they were coming one at a time and the quads would be giving way requiring Johnny to grab the leg press before it came down onto the racks (luckily they had racks then so the machine couldn’t drop all the way down and crush you!!). That was one set and we would carry on doing these over and over…a leg workout often lasting two or more hours! Oh, what a change there would be between this a training with Dorian!!
The workouts were long, and as much as I enjoyed them I did feel as though something wasn’t quite right; yes, I knew that Arnold and many of the old school legends had trained for 5-6 hours a day but I was working a full time job and I really wasn’t making the progress I thought I should be getting for the investment I was making in terms of time. Maybe my nutrition was lacking? On Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights I worked on the door of a night club and inside as security; and who also worked the same club as me? Yes, Johnny Fuller! There were a few bodybuilders working the doors back then and it was a good job in those days; not much trouble, great teams, good lads and good money in the hand; and….a chance to talk to Johnny all night about training and nutrition. Back then, I was still completely natural so the steroid conversation never really was raised apart from a couple of times when I asked purely out of interest, not thinking that it would make such a difference in someone’s physique anyway!
Johnny was a great source of knowledge on all aspects of bodybuilding but none more so than in the area of nutrition; he was a big believer in organ meats, offal such as liver, heart, kidneys and even tongue and parts of the animal the butcher would normally throw out, or use for burgers!! Working with Johnny was a real pleasure, although he spent most of the night leant against the wall not really worried about what was going on inside, he was always ready to step it up if we had to dive in and resolve a few ‘disagreements’! I remember one night, there was a big ‘off’ inside the club, somewhere Johnny rarely went and it was messy! There was a few guys going for it amongst themselves in the middle of the club and before a few seconds had passed it seemed like the whole place had joined in and it was a warzone. I went in with a couple of the lads and left a message for Johnny to be ready to remove whoever was passed to him; we set up something like a conveyer belt, we would grab one ‘pugilist’ and put him in a lock, throw him to the next doorman in line who would pass him on to the next and so forth until they reached Johnny at the door who simply threw them out into the street; seeing Johnny they were always reluctant to return to argue the point!! Within a few minutes the club was just as it was fifteen minutes earlier and nice and peaceful; the system had worked well and Johnny hadn’t had to move from his spot at the door!!
Johnny lived in a huge modern tower block right in the centre of Swindon, called the David John Murray Tower with his girlfriend Della Shahabi (also a top bodybuilder) but their relationship was off and on, and pretty volatile often Johnny becoming quite depressed at the time but once they went their separate way, I think they both found it was a good decision for the both of them and Johnny was then single for as long as I knew afterwards. He often invited me back to his apartment in the Tower block (it wasn’t a Tower block as you might see in the large cities, it was a modern, quite upmarket place at the time) and he’d always show me a way of preparing food or offer me something to eat or drink there. His favourite drink, for bodybuilding not for taste I don’t think! Was raw liver blended up and necked down in one or two gulps!! The first time I saw him do this I thought he was winding me up; I’d heard him say how many desiccated liver tablets he took during a day but raw liver blended up in its natural state and juices was another thing entirely!! I had started using desiccated liver tablets myself but then he offered me the blended liver I had to think twice; I didn’t want to offend my friend and the great Johnny Fuller but then again I really didn’t fancy necking down blended raw liver! My heart won and I thanked him and took the blender and necked it down straight trying not to let it touch the sides so I wouldn’t taste it!! I got it down but I couldn’t help but taste it!!! I do, though, still think that offal is a much underrated food source neglected by athletes and bodybuilders….but that doesn’t mean that you have to go out and buy a blender and mix up some raw liver each day!
I continued to work in the nightclub for years but Johnny left at some point and moved down to Bournemouth to live and he got another job as a doorman down there on the southern English coast. I never saw Johnny again; the next thing I heard was that he had got cancer and then that he had died. A terrible loss to the bodybuilding world and to his friends who loved and admired him; sadly, he never got the recognition he fully deserved from the magazines nor from the bodybuilding world. He had the biggest calves on a black man I have ever seen and his conditioning was so far ahead of his time, it was crazy; granite dry, vascular, shredded and thick dense muscle, he was awesome. He tore his pec in the States at one point towards what would become the end of his career as his placings obviously suffered after that injury, especially because he failed to get the pec re-attached by surgery; for some reason choosing to leave it alone and trying to re-build it but you couldn’t miss the pec on stage, it was half the size of the other and had shrunk where the pec had bunched up into the centre after the tear. Why he didn’t have an operation, I don’t know; he had access to the NHS in the UK and I’m sure they would have re-attached it if he had insisted on it but it wasn’t to be.
He did tell me some stories from the US and did also tell me about how his pec had been torn; the stories about the States were always a little sad as it was clear that Johnny didn’t ‘fit’ the look that Joe Weider and the magazines were after for training articles and certainly not front covers and he didn’t get much support despite his incredible physique and the even sadder thing was that he knew it and he knew why. The ‘blue eyed, all American, blonde bodybuilder’ was what sold magazines and Johnny didn’t fit the bill; even though he had the freakiest body of nearly everyone on stage during the time! Was Johnny bitter about his career and the way he had been supported by the IFBB, particularly the Weider’s? I think it’s fair to say he was; he never came out openly and said anything disparaging about them but he also made it very clear that he was disappointed and had had his career relegated to almost a bit part due to his ‘look’; those who know me and my posts will know I am not a man to be negative or criticise people as I don’t believe it is any good use of your time nor adds anything positive to the world around us; however, there are certain issues (particularly in the past) which need to be openly said and acknowledged, the first being that black bodybuilders despite being often predominantly the best in the World over the years have not been given the respected rights to cover photos, articles and marketing contracts that white bodybuilders were given. You only need to go back to Sergio Oliva to see that; whilst Sergio was working 12 hour shifts in an iron mill and then working out for 3 hours afterwards with no support from any of the magazines, Arnold and Franco were given a weekly wage, a car and opportunities to make money and front covers and marketing adverts that Sergio never had. Of course, Joe Weider had a business to build and make successful and the figures showed him that a white, blued eyed, blond bodybuilder on the cover of a magazine sold more issues than an edition with a black bodybuilder on the front. I think, to be fair, rather than blame Joe Weider for running with the numbers, it is equally as fair to blame American society for being biased to their buying baits, which were simply a reflection of society at that time; we can only hope that as society moves forwards (and at times it honestly feels that it isn’t; or if it is, it is a slow process) times and the situation has changed. What feels great, is to see Kai as the most popular bodybuilder on the planet right now and for Phil Heath to be the second biggest….even Dorian had his issues with covers and conflicts with being over in the UK and being deemed as somewhat a bit of a ‘rebel;’ but Dorian turned it to his own advantage by adopting the ‘Shadow’ strategy which was basically his own personality anyway but it’s interesting to see how he had to fight at times to avoid being drawn in to the Weider/LA living…..! Dorian certainly had thought of the possibility at times; he had offered a huge contract by Vince McMahon of the newly formed WBF to switch federations and to compete with them and you could never have blamed him if he had done so; he was pretty much broke, living in Birmingham in the small rented apartment that he Debbie and son Lewis had lived in ever since he had begun his bodybuilding career. Despite being British champion, I think the only sponsorship offer that had come in was from Tropicana supplements, a British supplement company at the time which had Dorian advertise some of their products. But there was also Kerry; Kerry Kayes. Now, I’m sure I’ve mentioned Kerry in a couple of other videos by now as he was literally the man who was supporting bodybuilding in Britain at that stage and in the future his role increased rather than decreased; he began Chemical Warfare supplement company with Paul Borreson and then CNP supplement company after he and Paul had to part. As owner of CNP, Kerry sponsored pretty much every athlete worth sponsoring at the time; giving sponsorships away to many people who would never hd received any other offer, really just to assist them in making their journey to improve as bodybuilders just that little bit easier. He then began to promote the British Grand Prix’s when just one week ster the Olympia each year, Kerry as part of the IFBB European Grand Prix circuit would bring over almost the entire Olympia line-up for British fans to see in person, in their Olympia conditioning just days after the big show itself. That must have cost a fortune and I don’t know if Kerry ever made money out of any of those events but the fans in the UK were blessed to have Kerry putting on these events, sponsoring classes at almost every show in the year and then sponsoring a whole tam of athletes on top of that. Well, Kerry had helped Dorian when he first started out winning shows until he got his Weider contract ater he won the Olympia in 1992. So, you can see why Dorian would and could have been tempted by the offer of big money y the WBF; however, Dorian’s goal wasn’t huge riches, although he hoped they would come, his goal was to become Mr Olympia and he ‘knew’ somewhere inside of him that he had what it took. I remember once, in one of our post-workout chats he had told me the promise he had made to himself and Debbie before the 1990 Nihght of the Champions; that f he didn’t place in the top 3 then he was going to retire from competing and turn his mind to something else, as he felt that all the champions had broken through almost straight away, so if he wasn’t noiced in that first Night of the Champions then that was going to be that!! Now, we all know te story, he came second to Mohammed Benaziza, and lost to him due to Mom’s better back development, strange to think of now isn’t it? But, it proved to be Dorian’s greatest victory in a way; for an entire year afterwards, he stuck a picture of Momo’s back on his fridge door and so everytime he looked at the fridge or got some food out, there it was…..a reminder that he had to focus on improving his back to become the victor. In that year he focused lie never before on his back training, training heavier, stricter, squeezing more, ontracting more and recovering better and the next year the result was in, yes…his back had improved and he won the show qualifying him for the 1991 MR Olympia later that year, he hd proved himself right, his faith had been justified and as Lee Haney would discover, there was a new beast on the block that pushed Lee very hard before he finally defeated Dorian to win his 8th Olympia victory, . I believe Lee won that show pretty much straight first but Dorian had defeated Haney in the muscularity round, the writing was on the wall. So, from Johnny to Dorian; I was blessed to have Olympia contenders as my training partners; only it was Dorian’s High Intensity , low volume one working set t failure and beyond that made the difference in how my body grew. I have photos of me before training with DORIAN and then photos taken just 8 months later and it looked like I had put on 30lb; and no, it wasn’t anything to do with supplementation, as some people would love to put it down to, it was all in the training and the recovery.
Well, that’s the story of my first mentor, Johnny Fuller, there were others through the years, not all Pro’s and not all well-known amateurs either; in fact, you’ll be surprised to read about the many, many ‘ordinary’ bodybuilders that helped and influenced me and gave me helping tips and support along the way……(there was Gary Sheldermine, Ian Harrison, Graham Black and so many more), maybe that should be my next blog as it’s important for us all to realise that however insignificant we may ‘feel’ we are in this industry and the world, whether we know it or not, we may be influencing someone ourselves this week…..so, think about how you react and interact with people, especially young guys and gals starting out in the gym for you never know, you may that person that lights the fire for them to become the next Mr or Ms Olympia!
So, there I was in the small town of Swindon in England; I had become the towns biggest and best bodybuilder, in all humility I don’t think anyone would argue with that at the time, and yet I had been to the seminars of Lee Hamey, Patrick Nicholls, Tom Platz, Frank Richards, Brian Buchanan, Bill Kaizmeir, and trained alongside other up and coming National level competitors like Pete Chapman and knew I was missing something major; the high volume hi – rep approach wasn’t working out for me, I was growing but painfully slowly and not worthy of the effort I had been putting in; I knew there was a better way. I had read articles about Dorian and I could see that he was different, a whole world of different…at the 1988 or 89 Sidmouth Classic I had been in the tall class when the guest poser had walked past me backstage to go on; it had been Dorian and as this monstrous mass walked past me, it was literally, ‘what the hell was that!!!!’ all I could see as he moved to the darkness of the stage were his calves; these huge gimnormous balls where a normal humans calves should be; it was almost pre-historic. The lights were off, darknesss surrounded the hall and the tension was so tight you could have cut it, everybody in the room knew that there was something on stage that was otherworldly….as the music began and he transitioned to his first pose, a rear alt spread, the lights came on and the place erupted with screams and yells of noise, people we shocked, impressed, awed but most of all I was dumbstruck but thinking, ‘now, that’s what I want.’
As his rountien finished and the applause abated and silence then returned to the hall, the compere called out the next class, the tall class and yes, I was number one; so on I strolled the first athlete to come on stage after Dorian’s 300 pound s plus off season form, to say I was a let down is to say it nicely; they must have been disappointed beyond comparison after seeing that behemoth and then my 95kg walked on stage to , appropriately Guns and Roses, ‘live and let die!!’ What a night!!
So, from there, where a young Jason Corrick was also competing, a future NABBA Mr Universe, I went home to plan my attack for the year. I would get my head down, train like a beast, recover better, live like a monk and see how I could improve and maybe give the NABBA South a go the following year, which led me to to NABBA British finals and then to my fateful trip to Temple Gym. As it happened I had another show later that year in Torquay at the English Riviera Championship which I placed thid at in my first ever show and returned to win the entire show and overall. A nice feeling and victory but short lived….I know I was swimming in the small ponds and that what I really wanted was to live in the big boys world, that of the Professional bodybuilders so rather than take a break and relax, I went straight back to work to try and improve every aspect of my life; my relationships, my training and my work (at which I would win a fully paid holiday to the Cannes Film Festival which I went to two weeks after I had competed, which caused a few crowds to build on any beach I happened to go to, they thought I was a film star or a Pro athlete…that;’s really ncie I thought and flattering as my photograph was being taken everywhere…but what I really wanted was for them to think oh there’s a Professional bodybuilder and I obiously hadb’t achieved that look yet!)
Well, that’s another roll down memory lane with memories of the break through years of Dorian and of the great great years with my first ever mentor and friend and missed brother in iron, Mr Johnny Fuller. God bless you Johnny
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