Pilates Godfather

Pilates Godfather

Tribute to a Pilates Pioneer

Dedication of the memorial plaque in honour of Joseph H. Pilates in Mönchengladbach.

This year, the International Pilates Memorial Day and the Convention in Mönchengladbach (6.-8. May 2011) was highlighted by a special event, the dedication of the memorial plaque in favour of the honorary citizen Joseph Hubertus Pilates. With this dedication, tribute was being paid to a long underestimated pioneer who revolutionized the world with a unique training method.

The life of the innovator and founder of the legendary Pilates Method begins in 1883, in Mönchengladbach near Düsseldorf. He was the second child out of 9, and brought up under rather poor circumstances. The sense for a healthy body and mind was inherited from his parents. His father was a locksmith and a successful gymnast, and his mother, a naturopath.

In his early childhood, he endured multiple illnesses and physical problems including Asthma, Rachitis and Rheumatic fever. His health challenges as a boy is why he dedicated his life to finding an effective method to strengthen and to maintain the body and soul. Next to various sports including gymnastics, bodybuilding, boxing, wrestling and skiing he discovered far eastern techniques like Yoga and Zen meditation. "Joe", the name his followers fondly gave him, developed his own holistic exercise concept step-by-step.

In 1912 he emigrated to England and made a living as a professional Boxer. At the beginning of World War I, out of precaution, he was detained as a German. During his captivity he started to work intensely on developing and optimizing his training method , which he called "Contrology". He also started to develop equipment to perform his new method by training his fellow inmates. Since there was nothing else available in his plain prison cell besides his bed, it can be assumed that this is the reason for him using it as base for his equipment creations. Many of his equipment creations (which reached far over 20 during his life) bear a strong resemblance to those beds. A very interesting aspect is the fact that all of his fellow inmates survived the devastating 1918 Flu Pandemic. This again confirmed his belief in the positive effectiveness of his method.

After a short return to Germany, he emigrated to the United States in 1923. He opened his first Pilates Studio in New York City together with his later wife Clara, a nurse. As luck would have it, the "New York City Ballet" was training in the same building, and that’s where his vision was born. It didn’t take long before he was well known and appreciated in the Ballet community. Soon after , many Hollywood stars, actors, and artists were among his clients and supported the spreading of his vision. Renowned athlete Max Schmeling was one of them. He trained in the studio until the end of the 1920, where the widespread allegation that Jospeh Pilates came to the USA solely to be Schmelings’ trainer is unaccounted for.

"Joe" and his wife continued persistently with his life’s work, but he wasn’t granted to take the credit for his work. At the age of 84, the Mönchengladbach-born Joe passed away in New York, flat broke and pretty much unknown to everybody but his artist community. Even through these hardships, he never lost faith in the international breakthrough of his teachings. He always said he was 50 years ahead of himself, and he was right. This one-of-a-kind whole body training which once was a secret amongst the stars and the celebrities, has developed into an international Top Trend and has recently reached cult status.

The anticipated and predicted development of Joseph Pilates system had an inherent problem: the quality assurance when teaching the "original" Pilates. He did not leave a last will with instructions on how to continue his life’s work. But thanks to the tireless engagement of his loyal students who opened up their own studios, the continuity of his method was ensured.

The difficult part regarding the name and the implementation of "Pilates" was the lack of legal foundation, this being the reason for a long lawsuit in the USA. In this lawsuit, the definition of "Pilates" and the associated teachings were classified as common property and cleared for general use. Therefore, every Pilates provider can claim to teach the original Pilates method without having to fulfil any kind of standards or requirements. International standards were later being established by the formation of Pilates organizations including "The Pilates Method Alliance" (USA) or the "German Pilates Union". These standards guaranteed some sort of quality assurance in the Pilates teachings, consistent with its’ founders principles and his way of thinking.

As a pioneer misjudged, and as a businessman too early for his time , this was the destiny of the legendary Joseph Pilates. With this memorial plaque in his native city of Moenchengladbach a long misjudged pioneer, who lived up until now only in the minds of his followers, was being recognized. The unveiling of this work of art was the kick-off to this years Pilates Memorial Day, an annual gathering to honour the Godfather of Pilates. The Pilates Convention, which goes hand in hand with the Memorial Day, had a large program reaching from classic Pilates mat work to studio- and allegro-training, physio Pilates, and contemporary Pilates for specific audiences. All programs being taught by well known Pilates trainers from all around the world including Joseph Pilates’ student Lolita San Miguel.

This leaves a final question: What is it that makes the Pilates-method so unique, or rather where does the magic to this Method come from? Pilates cut right to the chase: "You’ll feel the difference after 10 hours. After 20 hours you’ll see it. And after 30 hours you’ll have a different body". The secret to this magic lies in the holistic approach. It’s a combination of breathing, coordination, and stretching. The slow and concentrated moves emerging from the middle of your body, the so called "Powerhouse", are getting the body back in balance. The body gets leaner and taller. In a rather short time ,the overall positive effects on body and mind are noticeable. The Pilates Training tightens and shapes ones physique, improves flexibility, strength, stamina, and inner peace. As a result, a completely new body image that amazes everybody - no matter the age.

This is one of the reasons why Pilates plays a big part in fitness training and rehabilitation around the world. The choices range from simple mat exercises and workouts with training-tools to complex exercises on the giant Pilates-machines, like the reformers. The 500-motion patterns leave room for alternation and new training impulses. This being why the fascination with this one of a kind method is still alive to this day, And its’ evolution will fascinate people in the years to come.