1902 Encyclopedia > Gymnastics


GYMNASTICS, in the general acceptation of the term, denotes every exercise which tends to develop and invigorate the bodily powers, such as walking, running, riding, fencing, rowing, skating, dancing, and many others. In another sense gymnastics includes those manly and healthful games which have been encouraged by all high-minded nations as calculated to improve the physical strength and keep alive the martial spirit of their people. In a more limited sense, the term has been employed to denote the modern system of bodily exercises. Physical strength was the veritable god of antiquity, and we therefore find the elements of a system of gymnastics in most nations from the earliest times. In the infancy of society, when the individual was valued according to his personal strength and prowess, it was only natural that the utmost care should be bestowed on those arts which most surely led to distinction. All education then consisted chiefly in the practice of such exercises as were best calculated to develop muscular strength and make the tenure of life as secure as possible. The first gymnastic exercises, both of those nations that reached the highest civilization and of bar-barians, were the same, viz., running, leaping, swimming, and the throwing of missiles. These exercises were at a very remote period systematized and reduced to a science by the Greeks (see GYMNASIUM). Among the Romans of the republic, the games in the Campus Martius, the duties of camp life, and the preliminary military exercises to which the soldier devoted himself, besides the enforced marches which were imposed upon him, and the part he took in the erection of public edifices, served to take the place of the gymnastic exercises required by the Greeks. In the Middle Ages, chivalry with its jousts, its feats of horsemanship, and encouragement to the arts of fencing, single stick, &c, took the place of the ancient gymnastic exercises. The invention of gunpowder, which modified the system of warfare, and the increasing value of indi-vidual life,—in a word, the progress of civilization—_ closed the career of the champions and votaries of phy-sical strength, and gymnastic exercises in the course of time were neglected. Rousseau, in his Emile, was the first to call attention to the injurious consequences of such indifference; and it is in a large measure to his eloquent appeals that gymnastics have in recent times been held to constitute an integral part of school education, although it cannot be said that in every country the practical application of his views has met with much success. The good effects of the innovation which he advocated have nowhere been more strikingly exemplified than in Germany. When many parts of that country groaned under the iron yoke of Napoleon, Jahn and his followers, encouraged by the Prussian minister Stein, were establishing Turwplatze or gymnastic schools, from which issued the well-trained youth who in due time drove the French legions across the Rhine.

Of late years public attention has been drawn to the increasing deterioration in the physique of the population of England, and several proposals have been put forward to check an evil which can no longer be concealed. These proposals may be arranged under the banners of two rival camps. The one maintains the opinion put forward in a work just published on exercise and training, in the follow-ing words {Exercise and Training, 1878):—

" In onr opinion the natural varieties of exercise of cricket, football, and rowing for boys, hunting, shooting, &c, for men, pursued at the different seasons of the year, are quite sufficient for a proper development of all parts of the body, in aciordance with the uses of the different limbs, for the development of special muscles ; or, where a great variety of exercise cannot be procured, a system of gymnastics may be pursued. To the advocates for the adoption of systematic physical education by means of gymnasia at our schools, whilst we concede the immense value of such establishments in our large towns, where outdoor exercise and field sports are difficult of attainment, or in cases where from the physical debility the muscles have to be gradually developed, still we maintain that the national games played by the English schoolboy are infinitely superior to any system of artificial exercise ever devised."

On the other side we have the advocates of physical education by means of regular gymnastic exercises superintended by trained and educated teachers, the whole placed under competent medical supervision. Among the staunch supporters of the latter view may be named Dr Roth, and Mrs Westlake, a member of the London School Board. The following considerations appear to be of great weight as supporting the views put forward by the advocates of physical education. While the national games may seem to some sufficient for the physical development of the ordinary youth and manhood of a country, it must not be forgotten that there is a vast and rapidly increasing portion of the population, especially in large cities, to whom the " national games " are quite unknown diversions, and that it is among this class that the most marked deteriora-tion in physical development is only too apparent The children of this class dwell cooped up in narrow, ill-lighted, and worse-ventilated courts, from which they are often dragged to undergo a certain amount of mental training, in many cases perhaps too severe to be sustained by their de-bilitated and enfeebled bodies. Whilst so much is being done for the mental culture of the rising generation, their physical culture is left very much to inclination or chance. But there is another source of danger put forward by those who advocate the sufficiency of the national games, viz., "the neglect of any classification of games at school, and allowing the weak and strong to engage in them indiscriminately, to the detriment of the physical wellbeing of the more delicate;" and they proceed to show the injury that may be done by the present system of competitive outdoor sports unregulated by judicious restraint. Important information on this subject will be found in two papers published in the, St George's Hospital Reports for 1874-76, by Mr C. Roberts, F.R.C.S., and by Mr Street, and another in the Tenth Animal Report of the State Board of Health of Massachusetts, by Professor Edward Hitchcock. Mr Roberts points out that between the ages of fifteen and seventeen the greatest amount of physical development takes place, and that if at this period a boy is subjected to a great strain upon his strength his future growth may be interfered with, or the foundation laid of constitutional disease. Prof. Hitchcock's paper embodies the experience of seventeen years of careful observation. Acting upon the well-grounded opinion that neither mental serenity nor mental development can exist with an unhealthy animal organization, and admonished by " the sad deaths of two promising young men, and the breaking down in health of others just at the end of their college courses," the authorities of Amherst College were impelled to demand that the college officials should give a proper attention to physical health as well as to the culture of those powers for which departments were ordinarily created and endowments made. In 1859 a department of physical education and hygiene was created, concerning which we read in the catalogue of 1861-62 that—
"Its design is to secure healthful daily exercise and recreation to all students ; to instruct them in the use of the vocal organs, move-ments of the body, and manners, as connected with oratory ; and to teach them, both theoretically and practically, the laws of health. This daily physical training is a part of the regular college course. The professor is an educated physician, and has not only a general oversight of the health of the college, but students have the privi-lege of consulting him without charge. While the gymnasium will furnish opportunities for the highest physical training, the required exercises will be such as can be performed without undue effort or risk of injury."

Each class, at a stated hour on four days of the week appears at the gymnasium, and all perform their part in systematic and methodical exercises timed to music. The statistics of this department show some interesting facts in reference to the duration of sickness among students. While the average amount of time lost on account of sick-ness by each labourer in Europe is found to be 19 or 20 days each year, the returns of Amherst College sick-list for term time give 2'64 days as an annual average of time lost to every student, and 1L36 days to each sick student for 17 years. A decrease in the amount of sickness during the course is also an important feature in the health of the college.

From replies to questions put by Dr Roth to the heads of the educational bodies, and also from the recorded personal experience of his son, Mr B. Roth, F.R.C.S., it appears that considerable attention is now being paid to the best methods for improving the physical education of the people in nearly all the Continental states. The greatest activity is perhaps shown by Sweden, Germany, France, Belgium, and Italy ; and even in Russia the question is attracting much public attention, Dr Berglind having been ordered to write a special book on the subject. In Hungary also the Government has made physical education an obligatory part of the school curriculum. In Prussia gymnastic instruction was formally recognized by a cabinet order of June 1842, and by a royal order of 1862 a guide-book of gymnastic instruction was introduced into the primary schools and into the training colleges for teachers. In Sweden this subject appears to have earlier attracted attention, for in 1813 the Government, under the direction of P. H. Ling, founded the Royal Central Gymnastic Institute at Stockholm, where teachers of both sexes are gratuitously trained for two years, and receive a diploma after undergoing a theoretical and practical examination. In Belgium, under the united efforts of MM. Delcour and Emile Greyson, considerable progress has been made, although much has still to be done, owing to the opposition raised by the municipality of Brussels to the views put forward by the Government. In the girls' schools the exercises are accompanied by music, after the example set by Colonel Ameros, who about the beginning of this century introduced into France a series of gymnastic exercises adapted to a jingling rhyme and to music. The chanting governed the movements, marked the intervals of repose, and helped to strengthen the organs of the voice and respira-tion. In France the necessity for the physical education of the people began to attract attention about the year 1845, owing probably to the energy displayed by Jahn in Prussia. M, de Salvandy proposed to introduce the teach-ing of gymnastics into the Lycées of Paris and Versailles, and a commission was appointed by him, which, however, never presented a report. In 1850,1851, 1855, and 1856 several attempts were made to enforce compulsory gymnastic training, but the principle was not accepted till 1869, when M. V. Duruy took for his basis of action the labours of the commission presided over by Dr Hillairet. After the fall of the empire, M. Jules Simon addressed the head masters of the colleges and schools in France as follows :—

"I beg you to assist me in introducing gymnastics into our habits in a profitable and earnest manner. This is not only in the interest of public health ; a healthy child is better prepared for study, and especially for the battle of life. Morality gains by this education of the body ; much money is not wanted for the purpose ; and in case of need, exercises can be performed without a trapeze or dumb-bells. Our medical men will bel p us to do our task ; if the children are once accustomed to, and take pleasure in, these healthy exercises, we may be sure of a prompt amelioration of the race. "

In England we find that the first attempt to introduce scientific physical education among the people was made in parliament in 1862 by Lord Elcho. This attempt failed, as also did another made in 1875 by P. A. Taylor, M.P. for Leicester, although supported in an able speech by Mr Butler Johnstone. Lord Sandon, then vice-president of the committee of council on education, told Parliament that " the Government has done all that could be expected of them for physical education by taking steps to substitute military drill for ordinary drill." The substitution, it may be remarked, does not appear to have any advantage over the drill it displaced, as the military authorities declared the ordinary military drill to be insufficient for the requirements of the soldier, and have during the last sixteen . years instituted gymnasiums at Aldershott, Gibraltar, Malta, and elsewhere, the teachers in which have, for the most part, passed under the care of Mr Maclaren of Oxford, one of the principal authorities on the subject in England. Without entering into details, it may be admitted that the physical condition of the people, if not actually deteriorat-ing, is not improving, and it is a significant fact that within the last year or two it has been found necessary to lower the standard in the British army, and that Dr Ord, in his report for 1869, states that out of 5567 boys 4410 were rejected as under the standard of width of chest and height. We have already referred to the tendency to rely on the casual outdoor sports for maintaining the physique of the population, and to a great extent to depreciate systematic gymnastic exercises and physical education. That in some quarters, however, this opinion is not entertained is shown from the fact that the London School Board has appointed Miss Lof ving of the Stockholm Training College to instruct certain of their teachers so as to fit them for teaching the girls in the schools. It is to be regretted that in the blind asylums so little is done for the physical education of the inmates. An institution in Milan provides for the training of ricketty children by carefully regulated gymnastic exer-cises ; but this institution seems to be the only one of its kind in Europe.

To show that the importance of gymnastics has not been overstated, we may describe the effects produced on twelve non-commissioned officers sent by the military authorities to be trained as teachers for the British army by Mr Maclaren. The men ranged from nineteen to twenty-nine years of age, and in height from 5 feet 5 inches to 6 feet. In Mr Maclaren's own words, " the muscular additions to the arms and shoulders and the expansion of the chest were so great as to have absolutely a ludicrous and embar-rassing result, for before the fourth month several of the men could not get into their jackets and tunics without assistance, and when they had got them on they could not get them to meet down the middle by a hand's breadth." In a month more they could not get into them at all, and new clothing-had to be procured, pending the arrival of which the men had to go to and from the gymnasium in their greatcoats.

Although there is some diversity of opinion among teachers of gymnastics as to the relative value of the different exercises, some holding that "free exercises" are sufficient, others that certain mechanical appliances are necessary, yet all agree that, to ensure healthy and perfect development of the organs of the body, a course of gymnastics must commence with such simple exercises as walk-ing, running, jumping, &c. The introductory course ordinarily consists of "movements and positions" and the use of dumb-bells and bar-bells. In some French gymnasiums, especially those presided over by M. Laisne of Paris, an instrument invented and called by him a '' xylofer" is in use, consisting of a wooden stick strengthened and weighted with a rod of iron, and corresponding apparently to the bar-bell of English teachers. Another form of movable apparatus, also in use in some Continental schools, consists of sticks on which slide wooden spheres of from 6 to 7 inches diameter, prevented from slipping off by india-rubber rims at each end. The movements which accompany the use of the stick are intended to expand the chest and increase the power of the muscles of the back. In stretching the arms outwards from the bent position, the spheres fly outwards and very much increase the energy of the movement.
For the preliminary exercises with movable apparatus, the dumb-bell is that usually selected. It was in use in England in the time of Elizabeth. It has many advantages over the Indian club, the practice of the dumb-bell requiring a less amount of room, and not presenting the risk the club does of overstraining the body by its unskilful use.

The dumb-bell admits of being exactly proportioned to the individual strength of each learner, and can be adjusted in weight as_ his strength increases. The exercises also that may be performed with it give employment to all parts of the body and to both sides equally. The bar is simply a two-handed dumb-bell. Next in order come walking, running, and leaping, the exercises being so regulated that both the distance and speed are gradually increased. The leaping rope is suspended from a beam, and enables the leaper to clear a barrier at the same time that it gives employment to both the upper and lower limbs. The leaping pole is usually made of ash, and varies from 8 to 10 feet in length. Its use may be left to the pleasure of the pupil after he has acquired some dexterity with the leaping rope.

The horizontal beam is a round wooden beam so mounted that it may be moved up and down. The exercises on this are chiefly bal-ancing the body in the sitting and erect posture, and when moving along it.

The vaulting bar differs from the preceding in being somewhat thinner, so as to be easily grasped by the hand. The appropriate exercises on it have for their object the strengthening of the muscles of the upper extremity and loins. The vaulting horse allows of a wider range of exercises, and requires a greater amount of strength and dexterity. The muscles of the upper and lower limbs and trunk are all benefited by its use. The fixed parallel bars are used to deveiop the muscles of the trunk and upper limbs, but chiefly the former. The movable parallel bars may be used for the same exercises as the preceding. The trapeze consists of a horizontal bar suspended by ropes at a height of 4 or 5 feet from the floor. Considerable practice is required to perform the exercises on this machine with dexterity and neatness. The horizontal bar, the bridge ladder, the plank, the inclined plane, the prepared wall, and the mast, and several modifications of these that are used, permit of a great variety of exercises.

In "calisthenics" the exercises are more directed to ensure grace and ease in the several movements of the body than muscular development, and are, therefore, closely allied to the "movements and positions" or "free exercises" of the gymnast. Among these exercises dancing takes a prominent part, being at once healthful and graceful.

See Combe's Education, its Principles and Practice, edited by Jolly ; Maclaren's Physical Education ; the various works (in French) of Prof. N". Laisne, Capt. Doex, and Dr Le Blond; and numerous pamphlets by Dr Both. (H. A. H.)

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