Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/836

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814

THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ous processes for methodically exercising the muscular groups of each region. It has exercises for the arms, for the legs, the trunk, the head, and the pelvis; for the flexor muscles and for the extensors, etc. There are several systems of gymnastics. The Swedish system is characterized by simplicity of movement and moderation in effort. The French system is conceived on the opposite theory of raising the physical aptitudes of the man to the highest point of development. With this purpose it seeks ingenious combinations designed to make each movement represent a difficulty to be conquered; and it contrives expedients for augmenting the effort of the muscles and invents muscular acts to which the man is not naturally inclined.

The natural and artificial methods have very distinct and very characteristic tendencies. The most commonplace example will permit us to show clearly the divergence of their processes. Put a man before a vertical pole and tell him to climb to the top. Left to his instinct, he will utilize all the means of action of which Nature has given him command. He will hug the pole with his arms and legs, and will use his feet and hands. It is the natural process and the easiest one. But if he is a gymnast he will have no use for his legs. He has been taught to climb poles with his hands alone. This is an artificial method to which no one feels naturally disposed, because it increases the difficulty of the movement. Here, then, we find a marked difference between the two methods—one avoids difficulties, the other seeks them.

The essential character of our gymnastics is, therefore, that it demands much more intense muscular effort than the pupil is naturally inclined to, and more difficult movements than his instinctive ones. It tends, for that reason, to make him stronger and more adroit than it was in his nature to become. It is a method of improvement more capable than any other of forming chosen subjects. It has the faults of its qualities; it perfects the man, but at the expense of hard work of which not all men are capable; it may form choice gymnasts, but it forms very few. If it is applied to physical education, we find very few children capable of executing at first, or without long preliminary efforts, the movements which it calls for. Most pupils are discouraged by the difficulties at the beginning, and those who acquire a taste for it are those who are best endowed physically, the strongest, or precisely those who can do best without it. This select minority I admit acquires superior physical capacity, but weak subjects, or those of any medium strength, find no benefit in the gymnastics, for the simple reason that they do not practice it. Repelled by the difficulties of the beginning, they refuse to attempt new efforts and continue in their first impression, which was bad and discouraging. Through all their life they have an aversion to exer-