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PERSONAL physical fitness has become one of THE talking points of today's society. I don't think anyone can deny that when you are physically fit, you are able to do more things. How to get hard working people into a place where they can find the time (and DESIRE) to exercise however has been a question posed by government departments for generations. Equally, how can you motivate the young, the elderly, and the unemployed to do something when they don't have the money or the means to learn? After all, we can't all nip out for that daily 11 a.m. Pilates class, right?
The answer to improving PERSONAL fitness, might actually lie in the concept of GROUP fitness.
In the West we tend to think of 'national exercise' as being an Eastern thing (we've all seen groups of Chinese people exercising in a park), or even something associated with the Hitler Youth where huge rows of the 'Aryan elite' would perform perfectly orchestrated calisthenics. The truth is perhaps a little more surprising.
Back in the 1920's an American insurance company promoted something called 'Metropolitan Life Health Exercises.' The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ran 'The World's Biggest Gym Class', broadcasting daily radio instructions to MILLIONS of people. The insurance company wanted people to stay fit so they would not have to pay out, and for the people to live longer so they could pay more premiums! Along with record sets such as Walter Camp's Daily Dozen, the American population was spoilt for choice in terms of ways to get their daily fix of fitness.
It was these calisthenic routines that were taken to Japan and adapted for their own population. This is where things get complicated again. During this period Japan was embarking on a difficult period in its history, culminating of course in the devastating events of 1945. The Allied forces deemed these exercises too 'militaristic' in nature and so they were banned for a time.
By the early 1950's however, and after some rewrites, these calisthenic exercise routines re-emerged in Japan and also China. America had moved on to a period of prosperity where radio exercises gave way to Jack LaLanne on TV and a nation just kind of lost interest.
This book is going to take a look at the routine that eventually came out of China, and found its way into drama classes all over the world. Divorced from the politics and the history – just the exercises!