Knowing Joseph Pilates

Joseph Pilates was a man whose genius and prodigious creativity will make his last name rise to illustriousness. He was born in Germany, on the 9th December 1883 in the small town of Monchengladbach, near Dusseldorf. Since the destiny of Joseph was to become a great erudite and a professional in the ground of physical fitness, the road to getting there began in his childhood.

In those times in the old Germany there were clubs where boxing, wrestling and olympic gymnastics were practiced, and young Joseph was already assimilating and absorbing everything there was about the physical culture. He dedicated himself with strong passion and determination on the cultivation of his own physique, strengthening his body, studying it and improving it.

“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them!” Walt Disney

That’s a very important characteristic of Joseph’s – his capacity and talent to create different machinery used for physical training . The first patent for a machine made by Joseph was applied in the year 1922! A Reformer, a world famous apparatus present today in every Pilates studio had its patent requested in Germany in the year 1924! Almost 100 years ago! Those years, unfortunately, were quite unstable and uproarious, especially in his country, and so his spirit made him leave for more generous lands – in the year 1926 he travelled to the United States for good. His next goal was to open a studio for physical fitness in New York, together with his wife Clara. He was convinced that what he had to offer was different and better from the rest and only time would prove him right. When the studio opened its doors on Eighth Avenue in the Big Apple it was surrounded by dancers, artists, movie actors and people from theater, show and performance backgrounds. In fact, from 1927 the studio started to collect a huge never ending list of very famous clients from all areas of show business.

Throughout the years to come, Joseph’s true dream was to teach and show the world the role that physical fitness has in our general health. He believed that health and a fit body were intertwined, that exercise and health were inseparable! Today we all know and accept this as fact, but 100 years ago this was a completely revolutionary idea. Joseph firmly believed it and lived to make this idea, this notion, accepted and acknowledged by the general public. He had blind faith in the benefits of practicing his training method, the benefits he was obviously hoping to see officially recognized. This recognition, as we know today, would arrive, but only after his death, in 1967. And today, thanks to his lifelong efforts, the advantages of his method are universally known and accepted, Pilates is practiced in every country around the globe, people of different ages and conditions are improving their health thanks to his method and all this makes Joseph’s spirit more alive than ever.

He had a talent for understanding the body, an innate intuition as a guide for his studies. And not only could he improve his own bodily conditions, but he also had a profound and inherent affinity to do it with other people. He was an autodidact destined to become a master. Adjectives we can attribute to him are: curious, tenacious, persistent, dedicated, hardworking. His desire to expand his knowledge made him travel and try his luck in the U.K. but since it was in 1914, the Great War was about to begin, and Joseph, as a German citizen was arrested and confined to a prison camp, for the whole duration of the war. After his liberation, in 1919, he returned to his native country and resumed his work with more emphasis, dedicating himself completely to the study and research of his method. He developed his own personal scheme and structure of exercises. 

His intuition, his hunch, and his total commitment to the study of the body in motion made that far from copying what already existed at the time, he was improving it, expanding it, actualizing it and magnifying it. He called his method Contrology, and defined it as “Science and Art of coordinated body-mind-spirit development through natural movements under strict control of the will“. He was living in Hamburg in the early twenties and was applying his method to many patients in the city. His motto – exercises plus apparatus.