Freidrich Ludwig Jahn




Freidrich Jahn is widely regarded as the founder of modern gymnastics. Jahn received his first instruction in gymnastics at age 13. Jahn, who subsequently became a teacher and physical education instructor in Berlin, was motivated in the promotion of gymnastics as a tool for greater physical fitness as a result of his political beliefs. From his youth until his old age, Jahn was a staunch German nationalist at a time when Napoleonic France exerted significant control over Europe, including the regions that now comprise Germany. On at least one occasion, Jahn was imprisoned for his political views.

Jahn promoted gymnastics in society as a tool where young people could remain physically fit in a pro-German environment. Jahn advocated physical fitness among youth as a weapon against oppression. Jahn referred to his gymnasts as "Turners," and the outdoor recreation areas devoted to gymnastics practice and physical education were called Turnplatz, the first of which Jahn opened in 1811. The clubs established by Jahn for gymnastics were known as Turnverein, a name which has endured in Germany as one describing a gymnastics club.

Jahn's text Deutsche Turnkunst (German Gymnastics) was published in 1815, the first instructional text concerning gymnastics principles ever written.

In 1819, the Turners were prohibited from assembling by the government, as they were perceived as fomenting political divisions within the country. By 1840, the Turners were once again legitimized. Gymnastics became so popular in Germany after 1840 that when the Turnverein concept spread to the United States through German immigration, the number of these clubs established throughout America by the later part of the nineteenth century exceeded 150.

Jahn was also active in the development of various pieces of gymnastics equipment that are the backbone of the modern sport. Jahn devised the first horizontal bar, or high bar, used by male gymnasts to perform various flips and turns. Jahn also built the first parallel bars, upon which the athlete uses both bars to perform various movements that place significant emphasis on upper body strength. The vaulting horse, known simply as the vault in modern gymnastics, was also a Jahn invention. The vaulting horse requires the gymnast to jump over the horse using a combination of athleticism in the jump and style in the manner in which the exercise is performed.

SEE ALSO Gymnastics; Gymnastics vaulting; Pilates.