Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Brawn And No Brain

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 15, 2011

The expression “brawn and no brain” is usually used with regards to males.  The image of someone who is “all brawn and no brain” is usually that of an enforcer … the bouncer at a night club, the security guard at a rock concert … and it’s obvious at first glance that these males have biceps that rival 100-year-old oak trees.  So, who was the first person to think up this expression and dare to use it in public?

In a blog entry entitled, “Tao, Tai Chi, and Tai Chi Chuan” written by Master Marlone Ma for Wutang USA on November 28, 2010, the following can be learned:

In order to understand what’s going on with T’ai Chi Chuan today, it’s helpful to look back at a little of the history of China. The Ching Dynasty was ruled by people who came into China from outside the Great Wall and conquered the area. In an effort to control the population, they inculcated the idea that the most valuable workers were the government workers; and that it was necessary to concentrate on academic learning to achieve this highest status in the society. They taught that martial artists were the very lowest class members of the society. They did their best to create a stereotype of martial artists as being all brawn and no brain. Over the centuries; people started believing this way of looking at things.

Back on March 25, 1991 the Spokane Chronicle carried an Associated Press story out of Vancouver (BC, Canada) entitled, “Author Says Child’s Name Will Affect Image, Life.”  Bruce Lansky, author of “The Baby Name Personality Survey” had been interviewed about his latest book and the research he had done for the book.  The closing paragraph of the news story were these:

“There are very few names for a girl that come across as intelligent or competent,” he said.

Lansky, by the way, goes by his middle name.  He says his first name, Sammy, carries the image of a gangster.

“Now that I’ve done all the research, Bruce calls to mind a big, good-looking hunk who’s all brawn and no brains,” he said.  “That doesn’t fit me, but I felt more comfortable with Bruce than Sammy.”

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix newspaper ran an article on January 17, 1975 entitled, “Recordings Miss The Mark.”  Grand Funk Railroad had just released “All The Girls In The World Beware!” on Capital Records (Capital SO-11356) and the review was far from favourable.

All the girls in the world, beware! It sounds like something out of a comic book advertisement for body building from the bygone era when a man was measured by his muscles.  Those days when brawn was much more fashionable than brain are now long gone, yet Grand Funk, the All-American band doesn’t seem to think so.

From the tone of the first two sentences, readers had a pretty good idea what was about to follow in the “Reviews By Tannyman” column.  A little farther into the story, this is found:

They perhaps would like the first half of the old saying to apply, but somehow you cannot have one without the other and that becomes evident when one gets over being annoyed by the cover and plays the album to discover that it too is fairly annoying.  It is music that fits into the brawn and no brains category.

And on November 16, 1944 the Youngstown Vindicator published a story entitled, “Human Torpedo Squad Captured In Dutch Islands” that referred to WWII German soldiers thusly:

The Allied troops who captured Walcheren Island early this month also bagged 200 expert Nazi swimmers, members of a “human torpedo” battalion stationed on the island to blow up any Allied ships that might try to run through the channel to Antwerp, it was disclosed today.  The Nazis, described by Allied officers as “all brawn and no brains” never had a chance to perform their speciality.  They were captured almost at once when the Canadians broke into the german coastal fortifications along the west shore of the island a few miles from Flushing.

The Toledo Blade ran their story “Cost Of Acre Of Corn” in their March 31, 1910 edition.

It is not always the man who knows the most who makes the greatest success, but the man who thinks.  It is necessary to read, and as a rule the one who reads most, thinks most.  The day of haphazard farming by plenty of brawn and no brains has gone.

And yet, in the Chicago Daily Tribune of January 12, 1873 the story addressed the notion that either brawn or brain would have served Louis Napoleon well as reported in the news story entitled, “The Napoleonic Idea.”  In the news story, the following was written:

In the Franco-German War, he failed because he had underestimated the power of the Germans and because, although he had men associated with him who could execute, they could not fight as well as the men around Bismarck and Frederick William lI.  He was overmatched both in brawn and brains.

In other words, either a brilliant mind was needed to succeed or sheer brute force.  In Louis Napoleon’s case, it was perceived that he had neither. 

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America (1861 – 1865) wrote a letter to his son’s teacher wherein he stated:

Teach them to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidder but never to put a prize tag on his heart and soul.

But it is author Yu Gongbao, author of “Wushu Exercise For Life Enhancement” published in 1995 that writes:

Wu Shu (also known as kung-fu or martial arts) is one of the typical demonstrations of traditional Chinese culture. Perhaps it is one of the earliest and long-lasting sports, which utilizes both brawn and brain. The theory of wushu is based upon classical Chinese philosophy.

Since the concept of brawn and brain is found in classical Chinese philosophy, it is not unreasonable to think that not too long after that, the concept that one may be blessed with  an abundant amount of either trait has that abundance to the detriment of the other trait.

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3 Responses to “Brawn And No Brain”

  1. William said

    Very interesting. The part about the Ching Dynasty is new to me, though I see shades of it in the Roman Empire, the British Empire and many modern day Western nations including the US.

  2. Slava said

    Is the Yu Gongbao part mis-dated? 1995 is rather modern, don’t you think?

    I must also question the conclusion that Napoleon needed either more brawn or more brains. To me it reads as if he needed both in greater supply.

    • No, Yu Gongbao, published his book “Wushu Exercise For Life Enhancement” 1995 in which he states that perhaps wushu “is one of the earliest and long-lasting sports, which utilizes both brawn and brain. The theory of wushu is based upon classical Chinese philosophy.”

      Idiomation concluded by stating that since brawn and brain are found in classical Chinese philosophy, “it is not unreasonable to think that not too long after that, the concept that one may be blessed with sssan abundant amount of either trait has that abundance to the detriment of the other trait.”

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