Jasper Benincasa – A Memorial
Jasper Benincasa – A Strength Legend
March 25, 1921 – January 6, 2012
“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” ~Henry Adams
Jasper at 89 years of age, he did a one arm chin-up that day!
The “Close To Impossible” hold
Panama City, Florida – 1940’s
Jasper Benincasa was a legend in the bodyweight strength community. Sadly, on January 6th, 2012, he passed away at the age of 90. I hope that this page can provide information and at least a modicum of respect that this humble man deserved. I will be updating it as I receive new information and stories. I’d like to start off with a write-up from Jack Arnow. Jack was taught directly by Jasper Benincasa back in the day on a chinning bar in some empty lot in Brooklyn. You can read my interview with Jack Arnow here. (There are various stories of Jasper told there).
Jasper Benincasa, a life well lived
by Jack Arnow
Jasper Benincasa passed away on January 6, 2012, at the age of 90, after a long struggle with cancer. Five years ago, Jasper gave me a written note which said , “I spent most of my life doing feats of power that no one else could do! Ego!” I take him at his word, though he was a very humble man. He told me that after his death I could disseminate the list of his feats contained in this note. He once told me a one arm front lever was impossible, but one day as I approached him working out, I saw him doing it. When questioned, he explained that he was “cheating,” because his right arm and hand were closer to the center of his chest and his legs were slightly straddled. I didn’t notice. His two most extreme accomplishments were doing one chin with a 265 lb man held between his legs, and a C.T.I. (Close to Impossible – arms parallel to the ground while holding a bar with his hands) from a horizontal bar, “not from rings, or the ends of parallel bars.” At the age of 40, he did 50 alternate one arm chins. I had seen him do 3 sets of more than 40 alternate one-arm chins many times. The same year he did 19 consecutive one-arm chins righty and 18 lefty. He taught me to do alternate one-arm chins too. I think he invented them. I never saw him climb a rope with only one hand, but at least 10 different people told me they saw him do this at the old Brooklyn Central YMCA. He did one one-arm chin, holding a boy of 82 pounds with his free arm (1948). He did his last one-arm chin at 89 years of age, two weeks before entering hospice care. His daughter and her husband were present. They asked, but he refused their request to make a video. When I was older and realized the positive influence that he had on me, I thanked him. He told me that over the years dozens had thanked him for the influence he had on their lives. Jasper was a very bright, wise, funny, nice, happy and interesting man. His daughter told me he was a fantastic loving dad. It was my good fortune to have been his friend, first meeting him when I was a teen-ager at a chinning bar that he put up in a vacant lot in Brooklyn. I will miss the many good times that we had. Other feats listed in the note he gave me: When he was 17 he did 130 consecutive chins, his most ever, but he never did un-weighted chins again, because they were boring. In 1948 he was at his peak. He climbed a 20 ft rope at the YMCA in 2.4 seconds, but just missed the touch! He climbed a rope with 148 lb person wrapped between his legs He did 20 alternate one arm-chins with 25 lbs added. In 1952 at Madison Square Garden, to much applause, he climbed a rope in a front lever position.
Ernie Arm’s Memorial for Jasper
“Ernie is now 70, and lives in Staten Island, New York. When I first met Ernie, he was very helpful teaching me how to do many things on the horizontal bar. He’s always been very nice to me. He used to do 10 alternate one arm chins. – Jack Arnow Ernie’s words – ” This is just some of the things I remember about Jasper. He always made working out so much fun. In the summer we used to jog to Raven hall pool. Raven hall pool was in Coney Island. It was about a three to four mile jog, but Jasper used to make a game out of it. He would tell us to get into the car, but there was no car. One person used to go into the front with Jasper and two in the back. He used to tell us to close the imaginary doors, and then we would jog to the beach. Coming home would be the same thing! We laughed all the way and had a great time. After working out all day chinning and playing handball, we would go for a swim in the pool or on the beach. Jasper had very thick, curly, hair. The amazing thing was while running on the beach he was going so fast his hair would blow back in the wind, I could not believe it! On Sundays we would play football on 24th avenue in Brooklyn, in the street. Sometimes we did not have a football. Then, another one of Jasper’s great ideas, we played with a loaf of Italian bread. A little later when the rest of the guys came around we would have a great game of stickball in the street. It was very dangerous because of the traffic but no one ever got hurt. We always had a lot of fun. I did not talk about his feats of strength. There was so much that he did it was amazing, but we were so young watching Jasper do these feats of strength that it did not even phase us until we got older. But that’s another story. These are some of the things I will always remember about Jasper. His friend forever, Ernie Arms. ”
Jasper Benincasa Remembered
by Jerry Bevino
I will not write of Jasper’s strength. Most people would not believe it if they did not see it. I was fortunate enough to grow up in Brooklyn in the 50’s in his neighborhood. He had generations of followers. Harpo, Fido, Flip were part of the older group. My brother Frank’s group. Ernie, Jack and myself were part of the youngest group. He brought us all together with a common interest of exercise and fun. We are in our 60’s and 70’s and still workout every day. In those days it was chinning, stickball, handball and street football. It was the Marx brothers, Gunga Din, Raven Hall and the Brooklyn Central YMCA. Although I have lived in five states, I consider 86th street and 24th avenue my home. How did he influence me? I became a physical education teacher. I still stay in touch with Ernie and Jack. Tony became my great friend. I still do some form of exercise every day. I still weigh the same as I did in those days. He worked with me every day one spring so I could learn to do a kip so I could surprise my brother when he came home from college. He kept all of us on the straight and narrow when it might have been easy to make other choices. Over all, the best memory is the fun I had with the best bunch of guys with just a “spaldeen”, a broomstick and an old football held together with more adhesive tape than leather. Jasper would speak German to the Jewish refugees from World War II. He would speak Italian to my grandparents who were friends of his dad. They were from the same small town in Calabria. He spoke French to my mom. Jasper was a tank commander in Patton’s army in North Africa. Instead of boots, he wore sneakers so he could “run like hell if he had to”. Jasper would challenge us with math problems. He tried to explain E=mc2. No luck. Jasper was a lot more than feats of strength. When I think of the old days, I think of him. ”
Another article of interest was an interview between Brad Johnson and Jasper Benincasa. Brad is a legend in his own right, performing phenomenal feats of grip strength on ceiling rafters. The original article first appears here. I’ve reprinted it here for your reading. ”
A Conversation between Chinning Greats
by Brad Johnson with Jasper Benincasa
Once in a great while, a person becomes a master of his/her art. Becoming a master requires the rare combination of desire, natural ability and intelligent training. I had the opportunity to talk with a master of the art of chinning. What follows is a summary of the conversation that I had with Jasper Benincasa. This was not conducted as an interview and these were not the exact words used. However, I believe that this summary adequately portrays the conversation that we had. It was extremely rewarding for me and Jasper seemed to enjoy talking with someone who had an appreciation for bodyweight strength feats. Brad: I got a copy of The Super Athletes about 10 years ago. I always viewed your feats with great interest because our height and weight was about the same. I understand from Jack Arnow that some of your greatest feats were not mentioned in the book. Jasper: There is a lot of hearsay in that book. I never cared much for publicity and it is not important anyway. Brad: What strength feat were you proudest of? Jasper: The double bodyweight chin. At a weight of 130 pounds, I did a chin-up while holding a 265 pound man with my legs. Brad: That is incredible! I heard that you did 19 consecutive one arm chins! What were some of your other strength feats? Jasper: I once picked up a 90 pound person with my legs and did an Iron Cross. I also held an Iron Cross with one finger on each ring. I used to do a stunt where I stood on a platform with a hangman’s noose around my neck. When the platform was removed and I was falling, I would catch the rope above my head and do a one arm pull-up. I removed the noose with my free hand and then climb up the rope in front lever position. Brad: Did you do any other rope climbing? Jasper: Rope climbing was a sport back then. A friend asked me to climb in a competition at Penn State. I hadn’t done it before and when I got to the top of the rope, I missed the black mark. I would also climb a rope with one arm. Brad: One arm without the use of your legs? Jasper: Of course! Brad: That means that you would have to hop! Jasper: That’s right! It all comes down to I.M. (Initial Momentum). It is also important to have rosin on your hands for this or you will slip. Brad: I understand that you did one arm front levers. I have been working on those for a while without much success. Jasper: Yes. I got tired of doing them two armed. Do you have a solid two arm front lever? Brad: Yes. Jasper: Slowly let yourself down. Turn your body a little to the side and straddle your legs. Do you know what I mean? Brad: Yes. I will try that! Jasper: It will decrease the strain on your body. Brad: Were you a gymnast? Jasper: No. They use a lot of momentum. I liked the strength movements because they are pure. Brad: What are your recommendations on dealing with and preventing injuries? Jasper: I usually did my one arm chins by alternating arms and this decreased the strain on my shoulders and elbows. You will experience elbow tendonitis. The only thing you can do is rest. Brad: How frequently did you train? Jasper: My training was very haphazard. I’d train as often as I could. I was a construction worker and I would chin on the scaffolding after I was already tired from work. I would do alternate one arm chins down the length of the scaffolding and then turn and work my way back. My wife couldn’t understand why I was tired when I got home from work! Brad: It has been an honor talking to you! Thank you very much! Jasper: Thank you! You got my ego flowing! Call me any time if you have any other questions. “
Jasper Benincasa – A Memorial Post
by Brad Johnson
I recently received the news that Jasper Benincasa, legendary strength athlete and bodyweight training enthusiast, passed away on January 6th, 2012 at the age of 90 after a long battle with cancer. I felt moved to write a tribute due to the tremendous influence that he has had on me. I first learned of Jasper Benincasa when I stumbled upon “The Super Athletes” by David Willoughby. I was drawn to Jasper’s feats because they were so incredible and because he was approximately my height and weight. A few years later, I discovered that the feats listed in that book did not even scratch the surface of his strength achievements. The following list of accomplishments was obtained by talking with Jasper, talking with Jack Arnow (Jasper’s student and friend) and searching the internet. Jack reported that “When he (Jasper) was 17 he did 130 consecutive chins, his most ever, but he never did un-weighted chins again, because they were boring.” Jasper found many ways to make exercise more interesting. Many of his bodyweight strength feats were done with people hanging from him! When I asked Jasper what strength feat he was proudest of, he said it was the double bodyweight chin. At a bodyweight of 130 pounds, he did a chin-up while holding a 265 pound man with his legs. Ralph Sorrentino reported on a Facebook page created in Jasper’s name that he knew Jasper “since I was a kid, and used to hang on his legs while he chinned”. Jasper was also an incredible one-arm chinner. He once did 19 consecutive one-arm chins with his right arm and 18 with his left. He also did a one-arm chin, holding an 82 pound boy with his free arm. In our phone conversation, Jasper stated that he usually did his one arm chins by alternating arms, which decreased the strain on his shoulders and elbows. Jack stated that “Alternate one-arm chins was an exercise originated by Jasper …” Jack reported that “At the age of 40, he (Jasper) did 50 alternate one arm chins. I had seen him do 3 sets of more than 40 alternate one-arm chins many times.” Jasper told me that after work he would hang from the scaffolding and work his way down the length of the scaffolding in alternating one arm fashion and then turn and work his way back. Jack said that Jasper performing chins in this manner was “a thing of beauty”. As you can imagine, Jasper was also a tremendous rope climber. Jasper told me that he used to do a stunt where he stood on a platform with a hangman’s noose around his neck. When the platform was removed and he was falling, he would catch the rope above his head and do a one arm pull-up. He then removed the noose with his free hand and then climbed up the rope in front lever position. Jasper could climb a rope with one arm (not leg assisted) in explosive fashion. Jack stated that at least 10 different people witnessed the one arm rope climb at the old Brooklyn Central YMCA. Jasper said that rope climbing was a sport back then. He said that a friend asked him to climb in a competition and that he hadn’t done it before. He climbed the 20 foot rope in 2.4 seconds, but missed touching the tambourine by an inch. The record was 2.8 seconds. Jasper also climbed a rope with a 148 pound person wrapped between his legs. Jasper did not claim to be a gymnast. He said that gymnasts use a lot of momentum. Jasper liked pure strength movements. Jasper did, however, perform static gymnastic strength movements. Did he ever! He once picked up a 90 pound person with his legs and did an Iron Cross. He has done a one-arm one-finger front lever, a one-arm lever with an 80 pound woman hanging from his arm, and an iron cross holding each ring with only one finger. I have tried the two finger iron cross. This is not only difficult due to supporting your entire weight on two fingers but holding the rings at the fingers instead of at the palms or wrists increases the leverage disadvantage by a few inches. This is a huge difference in pounds of pressure. Ralph Sorrentino stated that “Jasper was not one to practice what we called ‘tricks’ on the bar…But it was very easy for him to perform those maneuvers on the bar due to his incredible arm and body strength. For a show he would do a one arm chin-up with so much velocity, his body would fly past the bar and he would land standing on top of the bar. For all those who remember the monkey bars in city parks, Jasper would fly around those uneven bars and brachiate like a chimp.” It is my belief that Jasper’s greatest feat was his ability to perform many of these extreme feats of strength at an advanced age. Ralph Sorrentino stated that “The last time I saw him was when he was in his late 70’s or early 80’s. Even then he was chinning with 60 pounds hanging around his waist.” On a 09-04-2004 post on the DragonDoor forum, Jack reported that he “just got off the phone with Jasper Benincasa. At 84 years of age, he just regained a right handed one-arm chin. He also now does a front lever, and a bodyweight added chin. He’s currently still working to regain his left handed one-arm chin.” Jack also informed me that Jasper did his last one-arm chin at 89 years of age, two weeks before he entered hospice care. Jasper’s daughter and her husband witnessed this feat. What an amazing display of strength and will! Jasper liked to come up with, name, and achieve strength feats that had not been accomplished before. The feat of strength that Jasper invented that he is best known for is the “Close To Impossible” or CTI. The CTI is a lever where you hold a horizontal bar with your extended arms parallel to the ground. Please see a photo of the CTI, as well as other photos of Jasper, in the photo section. All of the photos are courtesy of Jasper’s daughter, who sent them to Jack. The CTI is an incredible feat of shoulder, back and wrist strength. Another exercise that Jasper invented and named was the Crank. To perform this exercise, begin in a hanging “L” position and very slowly raise from that position to a front lever. From the front lever, raise into an inverted hang. You continuously move during this exercise but the rate of the movement is extremely slow. Jasper did the entire movement in about a minute and a half! His goal was to completely avoid momentum. This is a killer! I have incorporated the Crank as a staple in my workouts. I will perform one repetition of the Crank in Jasper’s honor during every workout from now until I am no longer physically able to do it. Jasper had a tremendous influence on many young people who chinned with him in a vacant lot in Brooklyn. When I talked to Jasper, he talked fondly of his ambitious teenage workout partner from the past, Jack Arnow, who he described as a natural one arm chinner. After moving to Las Vegas in his later years, Jasper returned to Brooklyn every summer to visit friends. Jack had so much love and respect for Jasper that he arranged to see him each year at that time. Ralph Sorrentino stated that “Jasper inspired many young guys around Bensonhurst and Gravesend to work out on the high bar. I myself did one arm chins thanks to Jasper who was an inspiration. He was a sweet guy, clear headed, funny, intelligent, talented and a pioneer. He will be missed…” Jim Bathurst included a quote by Henry Adams in his tribute to Jasper: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” What a fitting quote! The feats that Jasper accomplished influenced me, as I am sure that they influenced others, well before I had the opportunity to talk to him. I read about his feats in “The Super Athlete’s” by Willoughby and was immediately inspired. Jasper directly influenced hundreds at the pull-up bar, but how many people that he influenced have gone on to teach and inspire others? Jack is a great example. He passed down Jasper’s teachings to another generation. Jack and one of his students (Alexander Lechner) wrote the definitive guide to achieving the one-arm chin in an article for the DragonDoor website. This article has helped many people accomplish this elusive feat of strength. I was lucky enough to get some direct instruction (over the phone) from Jasper. I told him that I have been working on a one arm front lever without success and, after a quick assessment of my readiness to attempt it, clearly and concisely gave me a couple of pointers. I hung up the phone and was immediately able to do the feat. Jasper will be missed but not forgotten. His influence and inspiration will last forever. Please join Jack Arnow, Jim Bathurst of Beast Skills fame (bodyweight training enthusiast and trainer), John Gill (legendary rock climber) and I in a celebration of Jasper’s life by doing a pull-up or other bodyweight strength exercise on Jasper’s Birthday (Sunday, March 25). It does not have to be an elite feat. Jasper was not an elitist. If you would like to participate in this event: Friend Me on Facebook Do a pull-up or other bodyweight strength exercise on March 25, 2012 Post a comment on my Facebook on March 25th describing what you did If you do not have a Facebook, please send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org My Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003382344457&sk=notes#!/profile.php?id=100003382344457
Photos of Jasper
I was lucky enough to receive a large number of previously unseen photos of Jasper. Jasper’s daughter gave them to Jack Arnow, who gave them to me. I do not have full information on all of them at this moment, but I’d like to share them with you!
Jasper in a front lever on the beach (I assume it’s Panama City, FL)
A young Jasper performs a back lever
A young Jasper performs “the flag“
Jasper in a handstand
Jasper in a one arm elbow lever (appears to be taken the same day as the handstand)
Jasper was a full-time student of the physical game. His strength grew until he could perform the following feats and more…
Jasper in a hand to hand on the beach (I assume he is the top guy)
Jasper doing what appears to be a two finger front lever (one finger of each hand)
Jasper doing a back lever with two people hanging off of him!!!
Jasper performing a one arm back lever! I love the looks on everyone’s faces!!
and of course, the “CTI” – The “Close to Impossible” required one to hold themselves from a bar with arms horizontal to the ground.
Well known CTI photo (top) plus the newly discovered one (bottom)
An Analysis of The CTI
by Jim Bathurst
People had heard of Jasper’s “CTI” strength hold for many, many years. Unfortunately, the only photo of the skill was the one on the top. It was old and did not include his feet in the picture. There was understandable doubt as to whether Jasper had actually performed this skill, whether it was just a swing down/up on the bar, or whether it was even possible! For a man of his strength to call something “close to impossible” is quite a daunting description! When Jasper’s daughter found the new picture of the CTI on the bottom, I believe it sheds a lot of light on this skill. I’d like to give my amateur analysis of the two pictures to give some proof that this was a legitimate hold, not just a swing. — According to John Gill’s website, Jasper claims to have held this position for about three seconds. Can we tell this by looking at the two pictures? I believe we can. First, there does not appear to be any sort of motion-blur on these photos. These pictures were taken in the 1940’s. I can’t believe that they had any sort of anti-blur camera technology that would suggest that this was a swing. Next, let’s establish that these pictures look to be taken by the same person, or in the very least nearly the same exact angle. I look at the two heads of the people under Jasper in relationship to the vertical bar support, as well as the woman on the towel in relationship to the slide to support this belief. Looking at these people in the background, I noticed two very interesting things. Exhibit one –
The circled lady is here in one photo (appears to be walking to the left)
She’s gone! (Assumingly walked out of camera range to the left)
Some people might argue that she’s behind the vertical pole, or she’s been photoshopped out. And people are welcome to believe what they want. Here’s another bit of evidence to show you.
Circled guy(?) on the right appears to be kneeling on a towel?
Now the guy has moved! (On hands and feet?)
In a photo where a lot of the people don’t appear to be moving (two heads sitting next to each other, lady sitting in a towel under the slide), we can surmise that the pictures were taken very close together.
But there’s enough movement in the background (lady walking, guy on towel) that would suggest that a few seconds had passed, not just a split second as would occur with a swing. I even just noticed the lady climbing the slide ladder – it appears as if she has stopped to look at Jasper performing the CTI!!
So the CTI photo without the feet appears to be the first one taken in the sequence, and the CTI photo with the feet appears to be the second one. This makes sense, as it appears Jasper has dropped slightly. But it still means that he held himself out from the bar with horizontal arms!!
The alignment of the arms to the body is nothing surprising, this looks similar to a front lever (which we know Jasper excelled at), the question remains as to how he kept himself from swinging down.
A comment regarding the CTI from legendary rock climber, John Gill, on his site states –
“a levered position that seems to defy the principles of physics, clearly requiring a phenomenal grip.”
Jack Arnow has told me that Jasper use to use various grip aids for his strength work – such as rosin for baseball bats, and even a mixture of aftershave and honey (presumably to dry out the skin then make it sticky). I do not know of this particular time, but it is possible that he was using something on his hands.
Jasper was a man who could climb a rope with one hand. Clearly he had a phenomenal grip. With an extra bit of stickiness on his hands, is the ‘Close To Impossible’ really all that Impossible anymore?
John Gill spoke further about the CTI in an email from January 2012 –
“When I made my assessment of the CTI – going on the original photo – I thought it showed him out so far from the bar that the torque would have been phenomenal and would have required a weld-like grip on the bar. But the new photo shows his center of gravity close to a point under the bar, and I can understand now his comment that it took shoulder and neck strength, but not excessive grip strength. It’s interesting that there is a little bit of a resemblance to a slightly collapsed Victorian on the rings – probably the hardest gymnastic lever accomplished to this date. But being on a bar instead might make it more difficult to hold that posture. Kudos to the great Master!”
The one thing that Jack Arnow repeated to me again and again was how humble Jasper was. He downplayed his own accomplishments as he taught others what he knew. He pushed his body to the limits. He inspired many. He was a veteran. He was a father. He lived life like others never do. Thank you Jasper. Rest in peace.