Joseph Hubertus Pilates
Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in 1883 near Dusseldorf in Germany. His poor health and frail physique encouraged him to do a lot of exercise and practice different sports to obtain a strong and healthy body.
The study of anatomy and physiology, in particular muscle development, were the main interests of his youth, so much so that he was able to pose for anatomical charts of the human body by the age of 14.
His research took him far beyond the knowledge of official western science of the time; he studied Eastern philosophy and Yoga in depth.
In 1912 he moved to England where he practiced boxing, worked as a self-defence instructor for the Scotland Yard police school and as a circus acrobat.
Interned in Lancaster during the First World War, Pilates did not lose heart and organised training for himself and his fellow prisoners, refining his theories on health and training.
Later transferred to the Isle of Man, he lived in contact with war veterans – injured, disabled, bedridden and immobilised men – and this encouraged him to study exercises that could be performed in a supine position to recover and maintain correct muscle tone, using the springs of the hospital beds.
Back in Germany in the early 1920s, J.H. Pilates continued to design and perfect equipment, some of this apparatus is still in use today.
In Hamburg he began to collaborate with the world of dance, thanks to a meeting with the creator of Labanotation, one of the most renowned forms of recording human movement in the world. Rudolph Von Laban incorporated part of Pilates’ s work into his own teaching methodology. The dance-pilates partnership began here.
In 1925 Joseph refused an offer from the German government, asking him to work as an athletics trainer for the new national army; he left Germany for the United States. During the journey, he met the woman who would later become his wife and close collaborator, Anna Clara Zuener.
In New York in 1926 J.H. Pilates opened his first studio and began to structure and codify his training technique, which he called Contrology, referring to the complete control of the body by the mind during movement. The technique was initially focused on Matwork; that is to say, on a series of exercises performed by the body on a mat, which he would describe in the book Retum to Life Through Contrology, published in 1945.
He therefore dedicated himself to the improvement of the tools designed at the time of his internment, the Rehabilitation Table that we now call Cadillac and the Universal Reformer, as well as the protocol of exercises dedicated to them.
In the 1950s two of his students, Carola Trier and Bob Seed, opened their first studios in the United States, following the teachings of their master and spreading his method.
J. H. Pilates died in 1967, without leaving official heirs. His wife Clara continued her work and then gave the New York studio to Romana Kryzanowska, a direct pupil of Joseph, of whom my teacher and mentor, Anna Maria Cova, was in her turn a pupil.
Rientrato in patria all’inizio degli anni ‘20, J.H. Pilates continua a ideare e perfezionare le sue attrezzature, alcune delle quali sono ancora oggi in uso. Ad Amburgo inizia a collaborare con il mondo della danza grazie all’incontro con l’ideatore della Labanotation, una delle forme di registrazione scritta di balletto più rinomate nel mondo. Rudolph Von Laban incorpora parte del lavoro di Pilates nell’impostazione della propria metodologia didattica. Inizia qui il sodalizio danza-pilates.
Nel 1925 Joseph rifiuta l’offerta del governo tedesco che lo richiede come come preparatore atletico del nuovo esercito nazionale; lascia la Germania e parte per gli Stati Uniti. Durante il viaggio, conosce colei che diventerà poi sua moglie e sua stretta collaboratrice, Anna Clara Zuener.
A New York nel 1926 J.H.Pilates apre il suo primo studio e inizia a strutturare e codificare la sua tecnica di allenamento che chiama Contrology , riferendosi al controllo totale del corpo da parte della mente durante il movimento. La tecnica è inizialmente incentrata sul Mat Work, ovvero su una serie di esercizi eseguiti a corpo libero su un materassino (mat), che descriverà nel libro Retum to life through Contrology, pubblicato nel 1945.
Si dedica quindi al perfezionamento degli attrezzi ideati ai tempi della sua prigionia, la Rehabilitation Table che oggi chiamiamo Cadillac e l’Universal Reformer, nonchè al protocollo di esercizi a questi dedicato.
Negli anni ’50 due dei suoi studenti, Carola Trier e Bob Seed, aprono i primi Studio negli Stati Uniti, seguendo gli insegnamenti del maestro e diffondendo il suo metodo.J.H. Pilates muore nel 1967, senza lasciare eredi ufficiali. La moglie Clara continua la sua opera per poi cedere lo studio di New York a Romana Kryzanowska, allieva diretta di Joseph, di cui è a sua volta allieva la mia insegnante e mentore Anna Maria Cova.