'Homo-Universalis' (stop snickering at the word 'homo'), or 'Polymath', is a concept that comes from renaisance Greece. To be a homo-universalis a man (or woman) must be considered a genius in, excell in, or forever change several fields. They demonstrate how you need not limit yourself to one 'speciality' and how one person can potentially completely redefine almost everything they come into contact with. They should also have a powerful physique and be athletically skilled and there are several specific 'sporting polymaths' who excell in numerous sporting events. They are the best they can be mentally and physically - shifting paradigms, breaking boundaries and changing history.
The poster boy for the Homo-Universalis is Leonardo DaVinci, and he exemplifies the ideal in many ways as an artist, philosopher, engineer, mathematician, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician and writer. In many ways Hitler was an incredible example too (although praising Hitler is pretty unfashionable since the whole 'holocaust' incident) having been a great orator, writer, politician, philosopher and even an artist. He was inspired by the musings of the madman Nietze (who gets allot of bad press - his ubermensch stuff actually sits quite well with the content of this site) and then managed to almost single handedly take over the world (you try it!). It's just a shame he was also a deranged evil lunatic. There are others however who demonstrate it in entirely different ways, many of them who count unbelievable physical condition among their achievements. The Bodybuilder is already one step towards being Homo-Universalis for he knows that he can improve himself through hard work and determination, and that there is no limit on human potential - only on human ambition (I've given up with the politcially correct 'she' thing. Screw them). Below are some characters who've taken their success in bodybuilding and turned it on the world to fantastic effect. Read on.
The Slyman is often cited of one of the most underated talents of recent times. Known mainly for an impressive physique, with bodyfat to rival that of Bruce Lee, Sylvester Stallone is also an accomplished writer, painter, actor, director, entrepreneur and philosopher though he is rarely credited as such. Many would be suprised to learn that Stallone's IQ is actually over 150 making him technically a genius and smarter than Carol Voderman - the gold standard against which all intelligence is measured. He could beat her in a fight too with no problem (though she's fitter). Sly's big break came when he wrote the screenplay for Rocky (allegedly the first draft only took three days) and then held out against monetary offers until he himself landed the role. This success came despite a slur in his speech, a severe lack of funding and nerve damage to his face (the result of an accident with forceps during his birth). Sly wouldn't take second best and took the punches to go after his dream and this story was mirrored almost exactly in the story of his protagonist in the film.
The film of course brought him phenominal success and he was praised for both his writing and acting skills, the latter being compared to those of Marlon Brado. Stallone went on to script several more highly succesful films such as Rambo and Cliffhanger and saw the importance in having a body that could reflect his characters. He therefore took his training to a new level and was named 'body of the 80s' with an incredibly low body fat and high amount of lean muscle mass. Stallone had created the archetypal muscle-bound action hero long before Arnie hit the scene in a series of films that defined a decade.
For his role in 'Copland', which took Stallone back to his dramatic acting routes alongside veteran DeNiro, Sly purposefully shedded his muscle and put on a pot belly to help him get inside the mind of the character. Of course when it wrapped he immediately hit the gym and returned to his old physique proving that there's no excuse for the overweight.
After a quiet patch Sly has returned in a big way with 'Rocky Balboa' and a new 'Rambo' which he wrote, starred in and directed. The odds again were completely stacked against him and at 60 years-old most studios were completely uninterested in funding the film. Many critics expected desperate failiures but this was far from the case as he not only created believeable and exciting stories but also managed to get to a level of fitness unheard of for his age group.
Just to cement Stallone's position as Homo-universalis extraordinaire he paints in his spare time and cites his idols as none other than Da Vinci and Edgar Allan Poe.
'It ain't about how hard you can hit - it's about how hard you can get hit, how much you can take, and keep moving forward! That's how winning is done!'
Bruce Lee is a legendary icon because of his screen persona and exciting action films but he has also left his mark in the worlds of martial arts, literature, popular culture and philosophy.
Majoring in Philosophy, Bruce Lee's basic rule in life was to act on gut instincts and reactions and to eradicate thoughts or movements that could slow you down. He applied this to both his Martial Arts and his way of life and it was from this philosophy that his own martial art, 'Jeet Kune Do', or 'Way of the Intercepting Fist' was born. Jeet Kune Do favours direct, instictive and emotional strikes over the 'fancy mess' of traditional Kung Fu and he the system was comprehensively documented in his book 'Tao of Jeet Kune Do' which he dictated to his wife while recovering from a spinal injury (an injury that he used his dogged determination to recover from before his action carreer despite some doctors believing he would never walk again).
Bruce Lee was contantly reassessing his philosophy as well as his art and had an extensive library of books, newspaper and magazine cuttings. His notes have gone on to inspire hundreds more books on philosophy, Martial Arts and bodybuilding. Meanwhile he trained his body to a level of fitness that has never been surpassed making him quite possibly pound-for-pound the most powerful man ever to have lived. Some of his physical feats include:
Throwing grains of rice up into the air and then catching them in mid-flight using chopsticks.
2 finger press ups
Doing 50 one armed chin ups
Steeling a coin from the hand of a participant before they could close it (for added effect he would exchange it for a different coin)
Thrusting his fingers through unopened cans of Coca-Cola
Holding a 40kg barbell in one hand at arms length
Holding the V-sit position for 30 minutes
Bruce Lee also had a powerful on-screen presence and an unshakable self belief. He used these to become one of the best known actors in America despite the culture barrier and public stereotypes towards orientals. Bruce Lee never lived to see the remarkable success of Enter the Dragon but he certainly achieved his goal of introducing the West to Eastern culture. He not only destroyed the stereotypes of the Chinese but also introduced Martial Arts to people around the world - a trend that still continues today.
Shortly before Bruce Lee died he disowned the name 'Jeet Kune Do' claiming that Martial Arts should transend style and titles. Where his training and his philosophy would have taken him had he not died so early is something we can only speculate.
Okay, so Tony Stark is a fictional character (allegedly), but he still demonstrates an example of human achievement. Humour some of my more geeky behaviour for a moment and read an interesting story with some pertinent points.
Tony Stark is a genius, an engineer, superhero, politician, martial artist (as taught by Captain America... yes you read right, Captain America) inventor, futurist, business man and scientist. At a young age he inherited his Father's company Stark International, which developed weapons, when his parents were killed in a car-crash and took it from a small struggling outfit to a hugely succesful multi-national enterprise. While on a business trip he was critically injured and captured by terrorists to develop weapons for them. Stark however used his genius to turn the tables - secretly developing a life support system and battle armour - the first Iron Man - which he used to escape captivity.
Upon returning to LA Stark continued to redevelope his suit introducing flight and other capabilities as well as an iconic red and gold design. He juggled his role as MD and the company's chief inventor with a part time Super-Hero gig. He even funded the Avengers, donating his mansion and butler to the cause.
Later Starks company fell apart after the intervention of business rival Stane and Stark turned to alchohol for solace. This didn't last long however and overcoming the disease he managed to completely rebuild his enterprise from the ground up demonstrating his bounce-back-ability.
This he demonstrated once again when he was shot in the spine by an obsessive ex (he's also a lady's man). He was unable to move for some time and so created the 'telepresence armour' which he could control using just his thoughts. He eventually went into a kind of stasis while he recovered, briefly fooling the world into believing he was dead before returning with a nice new suite of armour and in full health.
He also briefly served as Secretary of Defence, before upgrading his armour in the biggest overhaul since it's initial conception. Critically wounded (again) he injected himself with the 'extremis virus' altering his DNA in such a way that he could control the suit with his very mind. On top of controlling the suit though he can also control various other things, stream video footage from his visual cortex, browse the web and see through satelites (using his own 'Zip-Sat' constellation). He can even make phone calls without a phone. During the Civil War storyline Tony then went on to take on the rest of the Marvel heroes and win in a bid to get registration for all heroes. From here he was offered the position of head of Shield (a secret agency that keeps an eye on Superhuman activity) in the place of Nick Fury (God I'm a geek).
Comic-book character or no, Tony Stark demonstrates the kind of ingenuity, forwards thinking and drive to improve himself that we all should strive for.
Arnie is perhaps one of the most successful men of the last hundred years and has demonstrated an ability to not only excel in, but practically conquer, any field he enters. His beginnings were humble in a small town in Austria, but after taking up and interest bodybuilding he began a to achieve a kind of success that few would have predicted. Arnie took to the sport with gusto and packed on the muscle fast winning several small competitions. His determination was such that he once snuck out of the army during his service to attend a competition. Another popular story that's now cemented in bodybuilding lore is that he used to break into his local gyms for a workout when it was closed on weekends.
This success took him to America where he lived a local gym with his best friend and fellow competitor Franco Columbu. Funded and supported by the now legendary Joe Weider Arnie became a star in the sport and it wasn't long before he'd won his first Mr Olympia. At this point he had already acquired his vast wealth through his business acument - investing in real estate with money he raised from bodybuilding pamphlets and a small brick laying enterprise.
By his 6th consecutive win Arnie had his sights set on Hollywood, much to the amusement of his contempories who saw his giant frame and thick Austrian accent as impossible obstacles. Helping him though was the documentary 'Pumping Iron' which filmed his final competition against the Incredible Hulk (not the actual incredible Hulk, but Lou Ferrigno). The documentary was an incredible success thanks mainly to Arnie's charisma and it managed to take Bodybuilding out of the shadows from a fringe endeavour to something that was seen as acceptable and cool. Arnie had already done for fitness and training what Bruce Lee had done for Martial Arts.
This success acted as a spring board and helped him land the role of Conan the Barbarian - again a great success. Arnie's next big hit was the Terminator, a film we all know well, and from there he became a megastar. The ability to market himself that he'd learned from his business endeavours and bodybuilding days proved incredibly useful to a carreer in acting and he also demonstrated a good eye for scripts picking out many instant classics such as Commando, Total Recall, Predator, True Lies and Twins. When he realised audiences were getting tired of the action gig he demonstrated his versatility by switching to comedy in a succesful transition that relied on his inate charm and likeability.
Always one to seek challenges though Arnie already had his eye on another field - politics - and so he dropped out of the film industry to pursue several small time political gigs mostly related to encouraging health and fitness. He did resurface briefly to appear in Terminator 3, managing to return his body to the exact weight and measurements it had been for Terminator 2. This put him back in the public spotlight when he announced that he was running for govenor of California.
Again Schwarzenegger's charm, ability to talk in soundbites, and feel for marketing all helped him to get an edge over the competition. Many of his past demeanours came out of the woodwork as his oponents tried to discredit him - but he was truly bullet proof. In a country where one extra-marital affair can cost you Presidency, Schwarzenegger proved invulnerable to all attacks despite accusations of groping, sexual harrasment, affairs and even the occasional gay experience. Schwarzenegger won a convincing victory and has to be one of the few politicians in history with the catchphrase 'girly men' (probably the only if I'm honest).
After a rocky start Schwarzenegger has proved successful and popular in his new role and everyone knows where he might be headed next - presidency. In a life that seems to mirror that of his early on-screen character Conan, Schwarzenegger has literally gone from barbarian to King. If America chooses to amend the law preventing him from running then there's no doubt in my mind that he will win and probably bring the country back the respect it's lost. If his previous successes are anything to go by then Arnie is more fit for the role of 'most powerful man in the world' than anyone else.
All these characters have several things in common - incredible drive, determination, vision and creativity. All aspects that bodybuilders have in buckets. Next time you want to try something new, attack it with the same gusto as your workouts. Don't accept limitations and shoot for the stars. First stop the gym - next stop - the world!
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