16 June 2011

Basque Stone Lifting, or The Shit That Inspired My Zercher Fetish

In direct contrast to Jim Wendler's stated hatred of Zerchers, I was inspired to start doing them after reading Of Stones and Strength, particularly the bit about stone lifting.  Given that I have no ready access to stones and don't really feel like going on a real-life WoW quest for some, I decided that Zerchers would be a ready substitute, and started doing the shit out them, which I chronicled here and here.  What I didn't really mention, however, is why I found that shit so inspiring.  As such, allow me to drop some knowledge.
Hates Zerchers, and possibly freedom.

For those of you who are unaware, and I'd venture it's the vast majority of you, the Basques are some of the most interesting motherfuckers on Earth.  Their history extends beyond the written word in Europe, and they speak one of only a few language isolates still extant in the modern era.  Though their origins are lost to us, their recent history isn't, and it's fucking fascinating.  They've existed throughout recorded history in the same area- southern France and northern Spain, and have always stood apart from other people in the region for being insane badasses clinging to a wildly isolated and alien culture.  In spite of the fact that their ancestral lands are divided by two distinct ruling cultures, the Basques have remained singularly focused on maintaining their heritage, and as such have some of the coolest cultural attributes in the developed world.

Beret-wearing notwithstanding, of course.  Oh, and that's a 187.5 kg stone, by the way.

Though you might think I'm out of my mind (and I very well might be), I've always been fascinated by the Basques simply because of their language.  Obviously, they live in an area that's been conquered and reconquired by every man-jack to pick up a sword and roll through continental Europe, and yet the Basques still live in an area that's shown archaeological consistency since the Upper Paleolithic.
That's fucking insane, especially when compared with places like Turkey, in which you can see very distinct archeological eras wherein one group of distinct assholes smote another pack of assholes, razed all of their shit, and built something new on top.  Instead, the Basques have had a unique and consistent culture and language for at least the last 5000 years, and possibly for the last 30,000 (that's not a misprint).  Forget the culture- the fact that they've been speaking more or less the same language, which has been compared to every other language on Earth without finding a single one similar enough to make a grouping, since the Stone age is fucking crazy.
Forgetting that craziness and moving on to the era of recorded history, the Basques set lofty goals for badassery and kept outdoing themselves without even fucking trying.  After resisting the shit out of Romanization and earning near-complete autonomy from the Romans, they fought for their stand-offish sometime masters with distinction, especially at Hadrian's Wall.  Given that they were not compelled to  enter Roman service, it stands to reason that the Basques just wanted to go elsewhere and speak their crazy alien-inspired language while fucking shit up.  Later, the Visigoths were given control of the Basque territories, though they were never able to exert even a modicum of control over the Basques.  Instead, the band of Germanic barbarians who sacked Rome in 410 and beat the shit out of the Roman legions had their asses handed to them repeatedly by the Basques for about 80 years, until the Franks displaced the Visigoths from the area and put the Basque lands under the control of two distinct warring barbarian tribes.  In case you're unaware, the Franks were the guys who were such fucking hardcases with battleaxes (their weapon of choice) that they stopped the Huns dead in their tracks and sent them packing to Hungary.   You read that right- our small group of wacky linguistic misfits found themselves as the meat of a shit sandwich, squashed in between two warring tribes, one of which stopped a roving menace that had laid waste to half of the known world, and the other of which had sacked the capital of the West’s greatest empire.
Much tougher than they look.  Not all that hard to do, really.

 Squashed  in between these two groups of ravening barbarian hordes, the Basques decided to do what Wolverine would do if he found himself caught in the middle of a brawl between the Hulk and Superman- they beat the living fuck out of both of them.  At the same time.  Twice.  (507 and 518)  For the next 400 years, the Basques fought off the Franks, the Moors, the Visigoths, and the Vikings, in addition to Islam and Christianity (many scholars maintain that the Basques remained pagan until the 13th Century).  While doing so, they founded a Basque kingdom called the Kingdom of Pamplona, the independence of which was maintained until the last Spanish king was dethroned in the 19th Century.  During that time, they were recognized as such unmanageable badasses that they operated their own courts, laws, and system of taxation.  In fact, it wasn't until the epic cock-holster of a fucktard Franco established complete control over Spain that the Basques, tiny, oddball bunch of people that they are, lost their autonomy and were forced to act as if they were part of either the degenerate Spanish or French.
Superman's fucking DEAD when we see him.

In spite of the fact that they were, after thousands of years of awesome, forced to abandon their amazing ways and wacky language for either French or Spanish sensibilities, they maintained their badass local customs.  Chief amongst these are the Basque rural sports (Hirri Kirolak), which are celebrated at various times throughout the year in areas all around Basque country and celebrate all of the shit that makes Basques fucking awesome- physical strength, outfits that would put them at ease in either the Thunderdome or the company of the bad guys in Superman II, and the willingness to do insane shit to prove that they're not to be fucked with.
If he lives, he's not to be fucked with.

In 2006, the Basque government named 18 traditional rural sports, all based on rural activities and competitions practiced by farmers and fisherman over the years, as the official "Hirri Kirolak".  All of them are manly as shit, and in no way resemble the pathetic "sporting" events popular in modern America... like golf.  Instead, these sports, in which both men and women of all ages compete, imbue their participants with more testosterone in a single day than most people will feel flowing through their veins in a lifetime- that goes for their women as well.  These anti-golf sports are:

  • wood chopping
  • dragging games
  • stone lifting
  • hole drilling
  • anvil lifting
  • bale lifting
  • bale tossing
  • cob gathering
  • churn carrying
  • cart game
  • scything
  • tug-of-war
  • sawing
  • weight carrying
  • sack carrying

... and unafraid to whip out their metal cocks in public, apparently.

Most of those, I'm sure, seem fairly familiar.  Assuming you have a television and testicles, you have likely seen wood chopping and sawing competitions on ESPN, and they're as odd and hilarious as they are badass.  Half of the rest are common strongman events, and the remainder are just plain fucking odd.  Given the fact that their language is about as strange as they come, this should hardly come as a surprise.  The Basques are weird motherfuckers.
Allegedly a woman.

By far and away the coolest events at which the Basques compete, and at which they are probably undefeatable in the world, is stone lifting.  The shit these guys pull off as a matter of course is beyond amazing- it's practically inhuman.  The two top lifts for men in the stones are 322 and 329 KILOS, or 708.4 and 708.4 lbs for the metrically and mathematically handicapped.  They didn’t just lift them off the ground, either- they shouldered the motherfucking things, while weighing around 130kg (286 lbs).  Women also get in on the action, as the Basques have always been far more progressive than their machismo-laden neighbors and have been rocking a remarkably egalitarian society for the entirety of their history.  Unfortunately, however, I couldn’t find records information for the broads, as all discussion of Harrijasotzaileak revolves around two guys- Miel Saralegi for lifting the heaviest stone to date, weighing 329 kg, and IƱaki Perurena, who’s lifted the 322 kg stone.
Not Basque, but hot as hell, so appreciate the eye wash.

As this thing’s dragged on long enough, I’ll stop here and pick this up with the next installment, then whack you motherfuckers in the face with the second half of the Skinny Bastard series.

A shitload of Wikipedia.


  1. I read shit like this, and I hate myself. Holy fuck I need to man up.

  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=128fbEpKvqQ

    Pakistani have an interesting stonelifting technique.

    Also, I read that Perurena is also an actor once. Weird.

  3. I like the event they do in their competitions where they use a scythe to cut grass. I watched them on a television program put some american strongmen to shame. Shit was awesome.

  4. me and my friend used tow straps to strap a bunch of bumper plates together and used those as kinda ghetto stone lift. they're pretty fun.

  5. Reminds me of highland games. The comprehensive highlands schedule involves running and jumping events also, not just the "heavy events" for which they are mostly known.

  6. Hey Jamie

    Check this book out - Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and Its Applications.

    Absolutely fantastic scientific analysis of anatomy, human biomechanics, biosystems and the like. Highly recommended.


  7. I'll look around for it in local University libraries.

  8. Wendler's allright, but his training programs is a bit watered down.

    Turns out you're not the only one keen on zerchers. Defranco has people do em too.


    zerchers @ 2:15 amidst a lot of other cool excercises.

  9. I've no problem with Wendler. From everything I've heard he's cool as shit. I was half assedly quoting "It's Always Sunny".

  10. Sooooo, to seriously necro this thing. I'm half sure I'm in that picture of the Basque dancers you've posted. I'm also a basque stone lifter, so you were right that some of us were tougher than we looked.

    The guy doing ingude, the anvil lifter, is using a really odd technique. That event is one of the most painful, brutal things I've ever done. You can't breathe through the whole event because the movement causes you to compress your chest and explode back up.

    You might also find it interesting that there is a whole side of the stone lifting that revolves around showing off and one upping each other. It has no strict rule set, but uses marble/granite spheres and showy moves like around the neck rolls or one handed lifts to beat the opponent. This is usually accompanied by free-style singers who make fun of the crowd and the lifters while competing against each other. These singers are known as bertsolariak.

    Let me know if you have any questions. I have a useless minor in Basque studies and am Basque to boot!

  11. Your take on Basque culture and history is endearing... and delusional (the reference to Wikipedia explains a lot). But we do lift stones. That, you got right.

  12. The famous basque boxer Paulino Uzcudun was a wood chopper (aizcolari) in his early days, and also a General Franco supporter. Be careful with basque nationalism brainwashing.

  13. Sports betting system generates +$3,624 PROFIT last week...

    Z-Code System winning picks and predictions for NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL!!!