L. L. D., president of the Bohemian Union of Sokols
(Česká Obec Sokolská).
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK „SLOVANSTVO“
(THE SLAVS) CHAP III. „THE SOKOLS AND TOURISTS“.
J. LAICHTER, KRÁL. VINOHRADY 1912.
Published by the Czecho-Slovak Foreigners’ Office.
Printed by Pražská Akciová Tiskárna.
n the history of the cultural development of the Slavonic nations in the sixties of the past century the Sokols undoubtedly were an eminent and highly interesting element. They are a striking instance of the extensive process of renaissance which is proceeding on Slavonic soil and has no other significance than the expression of the yearning after a more perfect, freer and stronger life. It is the outcome of the awakened impulse of racial regenarition which in the Slavonic nations sprang up again after long years of utter indifference and carelessness regarding their own development, and which drives them to a vigorous strife to regain indomitable fitness of the race.
The Sokol organization, as we see it in our days, is, as a matter of course, not the work of one epoch or disposition of mind; it comprises and represents the whole genesis of the juvenile national movement, especially among the Czech people being the emanation of its soul, of its feeling and development in the various periods which it passed through since the first years of its reawakening to the present times. Out of a simple gymnastic association there has developed in the course of time a prominent and powerful national organisation which assumes important public functions in order to meet the demands of the times and as a natural consequence of its activity which began with the elementary care of the education of the Czech’s body and of his physical recovery and reinvigoration but, step by step, was induced to attend also to his spiritual welfare, to his moral development, considering before everything else his national wants. The very genesis of the Sokol institution was inspired by a mighty effervescence of the national self consciousness, by a desire to show its vitality and the invigoration of the national existence which was weakened to the lowest degree in consequence of the long period of humiliation and decadence. It was in the early sixties of last century that suddenly dawned the hope of free constitutional institutions after the overthrow of the severest system of autocratic government under which especially the non German nations of ancient Austria had to suffer cruel oppressions and wrongs in all branches of public life; then, at last, the long oppressed classes of the poeple who, groaned under the weight of the inimical regime attained a comparative relief in the promised constitution which called them to a participation in the administration of the state.
This sudden turn in the political situation in Austria awakened a gigantic movement in the whole empire; the nations living hitherto in humiliation and bondage rose at once, and with an irrepressible force began to strive and work for the loosening of the fetters which hitherto had constrained their individual and cultural, as well as economical, life. The consciousness of their national rights forced its way with all might and inspired all classes to the steady work of regeneration. With all haste clubs and societies were formed, institutions and organizations founded; everybody rushed to the front to show his fervent desire to serve the common cause of the reawakened nation.
In this marvellous period of upheaval, in this memorable time of the resurrection of Czech self consciousness the impulse for the foundation of the »Sokol« was initiated in Prague.
At first it was a modest step on the part of the sporting amateurs of Malýpeter’s private gymnastic institute who intended to form a society for the promotion of gymnastics; but as soon as public attention was aroused the leading national powers took up this resolution as a great promising means for arousing the exuberant vitality of the Czech nation. The names of the foremost politicians Julius Gréger and his brother Dr. Ed. Gréger, Em. Tonner, Fr. Šimáček, Prince Thurn-Taxis, the famous scientist prof. Purkyně; among literary authorities prof. Novotný, Dr. Tyrš, J. Wenzig and others are eloquent signs that the society at its very beginning assumed a more important task, reaching far beyond the mere training of the body; in truth, it was only a few weeks after its appearance that during the precipitous rush of public life it was placed in the most exposed position as one of the first workers and fighters for the emancipation of the young nation.
On the 26th of February 1862 the constituting general meeting of this first Czech gymnastic society was held in Prague (Praha is the Czech name of the city). By the will of the nalion the new society was immediately endowed with a chivalrous character, tasks were heaped on it; it was flooded with mottoes, in which the whole spirit of the people manifestly represents itself excited by the sudden events, the courage, manliness, demonstrative patriotism, (a proud behaviour, showy uniform)—on the other side the democratic character, brotherhood (addressing each other by »thou« and all the signs of a vigorous youth, as well as of a generous movement which filled the heads and hearts of a people recovering its senses after a trance.
This has also been expressed by giving the society the name »Sokol«, by which especially in the Yougoslav songs of chivalry the noble character of heroes is designed.
The fervent favour of the people brought the cause to an exceedingly rapid growth, containing, however, the germ of ruin lest it should die out or get commonplace; but by a lucky coincidence eminent men took up the new thought and, profiting by a favourabe disposition, led the young efforts into a firm course.
They gave them a solid stamp by a pregnant setting forth of their aims and tasks. It was especially Henry Fügner, the president of the society and Dr. Miroslav Tyrš, the chief, who were responsible for its consolidation.
Henry Fügner, a highly enlightened man of great experience in the affairs of the world and the character of men, imbued with modern liberal ideas, a democrat of the most genuine stock and a most vehement hater of any despotism, endowed the young society with all the noble qualities of his soul and organised it as a camp of brethren with common equality, common feellings, aiming at mutual perfection. In the society there were introduced manners of brotherly intercourse; the members addressed one another with »thou«; the rules, appearance in public, and representations conformed to a democratic spirit because it is congenial to the Czechs and in this way the society was made accessible and welcome to all classess of the nation. By Fügner’s exertions the »Sokol« very soon conquered the public mind and at his inspiration accepted ideas and suggestions, whether their object was a manifestation of the national spirit (excursions, meetings, festivals social intercourse (dances fancy indress balls) or activities for a national propaganda (Havlíček’s lottery) or various cultural aims, (Zvonař’s musical choir on this way, mainly through Fügner’s efforts out of a mere gymnast (German Turner) there grew up the idea of a »Sokol«, the representative of a self conscious, modern, progressive man who devotes his services to the general welfare of the nation.
Dr. Tyrš chiefly took upon himself the care of regulating the inner activity of the young society. He had an eminently esthetic mind, was an enthusiastic admirer and connoisseur of the antique culture of Hellas, a philosopher and historian, and, therefore, supported all the endeavours of the society, principally by a refined physical education aiming at a sound defensive capability of the nation and its artistic progress by a special choice of exercisse. In order to prove the first part of this endeavour, he explained in his monthly »Sokol« with great ingenuity his opinions on the problems the ways and the aim of the Sokols in the service of the nation.
Besides the demand for defensive capability as the fundametal condition of a national existence. Dr. Tyrš considered man as the art product of Nature, and to these demands he adapted his original system of gymnastics in his monumental work »Fundaments of Gymnastics« (published 1871, I. L. Kober, Prague). Whereas other similar systems pursue different aims, either the education of youth, discipline in schools, military drill, or sanitarian problems and the healing of individuals, etc. Dr. Tyrš’s system principally strives to incite physical talents and abilities of the young men to efficiency, to harden their physical powers, to strive after the highest agility and dexterity, as well as to develop physical beauty.
In creating this eminent work, Dr. Tyrš kept in his mind the glorious example of the life of antique Hellas, the beautiful forms of human perfection full of virile strength and pure beauty of body, of a noble mind which combines in a harmonious concord all preeminences of human nature on the basis of a refined intensive gymnastic education. As final aim the requirements of the nation have been set out, instead of the egoistic instict of the individual or the onesided discipline of special interests. By this a firm, high tendency and construction were given to the whole system. Men and freshmen are led to strictly regulated exercises not only to secure a sound digestion and the banishing of pathogenic consequences of the daily life instead of one-sided records but to cultivate symmetrically all physical abilities to take advantage of all capabilities of the body in order to attain an allround juvenile soundness which is to make everyone fit to accomplish the great duties of life in work and in the endeavours and strifes of the nation. Therefore great stress is laid in Tyrs's system up on the combative exercises, that is all sorts of wrestling, fencing etc. and thus an unlimited possibility is given to the abilities of each individual to attain the highest degree ot aesthetic dexterity, of courage and strength.
To conform with the demands of esthetics great care was taken to select pleasing exercises which were to be performed elegantly; and especially to the common exercises was allotted the important function to incite artistic creations and the sense of an ennobling education of the individuals, as well as of society in general.
By this organisation of physical exercises Dr. Tyrš imparted to the material program of the Sokol a genuine spirit and raised it high above a mere drilling or »turnen« or an insipid stretchening of the muscles; at the same time, he roused a general interest in this important part of the sanitation and recreation of the national power. Beside this his work is prominent in its construction on acount of the iron logic of an ingenious philosopher and of a fitting, true and concise terminology which could hardly be found in any other language.
Prague having given the impulse, there were founded in the same year (1862) eight gymnastic societies in Bohemia and Moravia and their number increased every year as the resonance of the awakening national self consciousness and yearning,
Fügner’s ardour for the great mission of the Sokol idea found its highest realisation in the building of a sumptuous abode for the Sokol of Prague, where the society gained a firm ground for its further development—but Fügner’s premature death in 1865 did not grant the author the satisfaction of seeing the success of his work.
When in 1866 war with Prussia broke out, Dr. Tyrš immediately planned a military organisalion, made rules for discipline and drill and began to form a voluntary corps which he offered to the gevernment as a support of home—defence.
This proposition was rejected by the ruling powers, the formation of the corps being forbidden; but the confidence of the people in the Sokols was thus very much confirmed and strengthened. As soon as the war was over the movement hitherto restrained, burst out anew with fresh force; The Sokols gained at this time the highest point of their activity, appearing as the interpreters of the national desires and taking part in the manifestations and demonstrations ot the people in the colossal meetings and camps where the inflamed self-consciousness of the Czech nation burst out and stormed ahead with elementary force.
The number of Sokol societies in Bohemia and Moravia at this time attained almost the figure of 130, and they tried to organise a common union; but the rancour of the government very soon chilled the juvenille enthusiasm by prohibiting the meeting convened for this purpose. This was a consequence of the persecution which was again started by suppressing every revival of the institution and especially every political movement. As a matter of course the Sokols, among whom this movement found a very fertile soil, were the first victims of Beust’s ill-famed system. The Sokol societies were dispersed under flimsy pretexts, their activity restricted, and every attempt to appear in public, processions, excursions or festivities, was frustrated whenever the authorities were asked for their consent; meetings, and even conferences, were prohibited so that the activity of the societies was restrained to the very threshold of the gymnastic hall.
This political oppression was followed by economical ruin and inner fierce controversies among the Czech nation. And the Sokols, as a highly prominent public organisation suffered by this state of things enermous damage. Their ranks were decimated and, owing to the lack of external impuls tho whole program, hitherto so manifold as extensive, was lopped off to its lowest degree. As a result of these causes the Sokols were abandoned by every body who had adhered to it for various reasons, a great number of members deserted them because they did no longer find the desired opportunities for their individual interests and personal desires.
Only a small band of faithful members remaindd with Dr. Tyrš, following his orders and werking with him in order to save and shelter the cause for a better and more peaceful tuture. In 1871 Dr. Tyrš began to publish the periodical »Sokol« in which he ventilated his great ideas of the mission of the Sokols, but a supervening malady deprived the reduoed ranks for a time of his activity.
The societies dispersed, and even propositions were put forward to change them into fire brigades. But on Dr. Tyrš again takingup his work ke began with the help of his faithful lieutenants to imbue the remaining ranks with new hope and self-reliance and to promulgate their lofty aims, independent of external influences.
A new life began to but in the hearts of the Sokols. The impossibility to be active in public offered them an opportunity for arranging the inner conditions and for working principally in the department of gymnastics. As soon, when the times calmed down, Dr. Tyrš set to work to attain the highest idea and to gain the appreciation of physical education of the nation, and after mighty efforts the Sokol of Prague invited at his proposition, in 1882, the first general meeting of the Sokols for which the thinned ranks of the other societies were with all energy aroused and prepared:
The meeting in which, out of 76 societies, 1600 members took part had an enormous succes, especially the public performances of 720 men displayed the real meaning of the cause. New hopes and a firm belief in the innate abilities and resources slumbering in the nation were aroused in the minds of the people, weakened by political dissensions and failures.
This gathering forms the landmark of a new period in the life of the Sokol, whence the cause rises and steadily develops without interruption in spite of the severe blow it sustained by the sudden death of Dr. Tyrš (August 12th 1884), this ingenious creater, organiser and leader of the Sokol ranks. His place is occupied by devoted pupils, who begin to enter deeper inte his teachings and, step by step, carryout the program indicated by him.
In the gymnastics of the Sokol the principal care is devoted to the youth who has outgrown the primare schools; to the age of juvenile and manly vigour accessible to a strict training and externing exercises, full of exuberant strength, proper to his temperament and full of the courage belonging to a sound and well developed body.
To this age is offered an opportunity of making full use of its physical capacities and of attaining that virile vigour, defensive power and bravery which are necessary to a people living in unceasing strife and hard struggle for national self—preservation.
To a juvenile, noble minded emulation there is assigned an open, wide field, always pointing to the final aim and the patriotic duties of every effort suitable to a Sokol.
The combined principle of a free training which begins with simple elements and strives to attain the highest points of gymnastics with the consciousness that it is everybody’s duty to sacrifice himself for the common national weal roused naturally sense for the interests of the whole union and for discipline and devotion to the cause, which fitted the character of the pupils also for their other duties in public life. Herein lies the whole charm and the principal substantiation of the Sokol method in contrast to the egoistical methods and systems which pursue only individual advantages and gains, as well as one sided, excentric, sportive training, acrobatism etc.
Of the Sokol system was to effect its extensive national mission, it was obliged to adapt itself to the social conditions in which we live and which present the majority of grown—up in workshops, industrial or commercial establishments, or in offices, from devoting any time during the day to their training, it was obliged to democratise itself and to become accessible to the broadest classes. It was, therefore, necessary to abstain from daywork and to give up the sunny playground in favour of the gymnastic halls and there to offer to the pupils in a comparatively short time, during the hours of rest, a condensed instruction which would serve its all round training. Besides free exercises without apparels there were prepared exercises with and on apparatus which in their complicated combinations set every part of the muscular system in activity and, following the rules of the art, systematically develop the whole body, although the exercies and plays in the fresh air always remain the ideal of the invigeration of the body.
The common identical aim steadily incited to an association and organisation of all work and to its common adaptation, therefore, from the begining every energy was directed to the organisation of a union in which every activity would be concentrated. The opposition of the government frustrated this intention, the petitions to permit the forming of a union were returned with the stereotyped answer that the pursuit of physical exercise had nothing in common with the unity of the language or the nation. But an unceasing and unabated perseverance suceeded first in the formation of smaller associations in the counties, and at last in 1888, the formation of country—associations, called Obce i. e. Communes or Unions which were founded in Bohemia and Moravia, and finally, after some hesitation, were sanctioned by the government.
From this moment begins a mighty rising of the cause, the meaning and influence of which in its organised entirety evidently manifests itself in a clearer and conspicuous manner. Only now was it possible to bring into life and full efficiency various institutions serving the common interest and to exercise a gratifying influence upon the systematic education of the rising generation. The ruling principles in the organisation were: distribution of work and the granting of home rule even to smaller unities in order to foster and cultivate constant interest in initiative work for the furtherance of the cause. In this way the central administration was delivered of a great burden and enabled to devote itself to higher problems besides solving the principal common questions.
In the course of time, served by experience, a perfect organism was constructed, easily manageable, efficient, full of life, capable of accomplishing difficult tasks, as was proved by the gigantic Sokolgatherings, excursions to foreign lands and other undertakings of astonishing dimensions.
The founder members of the organisation are the several societies which in the entire territory of the Bohemian lands are aggregated in counties with 1500 societies, (župy). There are now 40 counties which in 1913 counted 106.158 male and 21.939 female members, a total of 128.097.
The counties are now represented in one central union, the Česká Obec Sokolská (the Czech Commune of Sokols) in Prague. The central administration is in the hands of a committee under a president, gymnastic matters being dealt with by a Board of Instructors and a technical department.
After the youth has grown into manhood attention is directed to the boys who are leaving elementary schools, pricipally to neglected youngsters forming the rising generation of workmen and tradesmen. These had hitherto been abadoned to themselves without any control or care and grew up unnoticed in the mire of the smothering social conditions. The Sokols were the first to take care of these freshmen, to introduce them into their gymnastic halls where they were offered the opportunity not only of wholesome exercise and training but also of a moral education. It cannot be denied that the influence of this activity among these classes became manifest very soon, that it threw a great deal of light and warmth into their weary lives and raised their moral standard by giving them an impulse to greater care for their education. In the course of time this care developed into an extensive activity which embraces already at present a great percentage of our freshmen, preparing them for future life by strengthening their physical and moral powers.
To the freshmen special and reserved hours for exercises are devoted; a specially appropriate system of exercises is adapted for them; excursions, expeditions public performances are arranged and, on the other hand, lectures, books and publications especially devoted to their interest go far toward raising their intelligence and improving their character.
The same may also be said of the school children, especially where their physical education does not receive proper care and attention in the schools. In this effort the Sokols had to overcome serious obstacles which were put in their way by the suspicion and rancour of the educational bureacracy in Austria; from this the schoolchildren suffered great damage.
The bureaucracy pointed to a difference of gymnastics for men and for children, although Dr. Tyrš’s ingenious system, in its frame, offers room enough for exercises convenient and accesible to every age being opposed to any soulkilling, dull and dry—as—dust, gymnastics which rendes the exercises insipid and repulsive to the youth and drives him from the gymnastic halls into sport of a kind which overstrain his powers.
After man woman had her turn. The physical education of the nation must also encompass in its sphere the woman who is endangered by the same social conditions which permeate all classes and bring their influence to bear upon the development of new generations. The Sokols, therefore, very soon opened their gymnastic halls to the other sex and permitted the formation of separate gymnastical departments for women, thus giving an impulse to extensive work in this province. These departments occupy at present a condign place side by side with the men’s and complete the efforts of the Sokol societies by spreading among their families a sense for sound education and for the Sokol duties.
But the Sokols did not stop in this exclusive sphere of activity; the unceasing efforts, the systematic straining of energy to attain the aims of physical education were naturally folloved by the results in other parts of our life and its work, the manly spirit, cultivated by exercises the personal courage relying on its own strength, the power of endurance and resistance acquired by a daily training of the minds of the young men to a further improvement and steading of their character.
The young men invigorated their sense for duty towards themselves and the nation and began to educate themselves earnestly for their work, because they grew up in a voluntary discipline founded on the conscience of a common aim, and because they always had in sight goal of the Sokol’s efforts.
The opinion a member has of his duties towards himself, his surroundings, and towards the entire world has its influence on his whole civil life, on his personal honour and worth; so the Sokol idea forms itself gradually into the conception of a perfect civil virtue founded on the soundness and steadiness of the body. This persuasion penetrates every effort, regulates the inner and exterior activity of the societies and individuals and essentially changes the former superficial conceptions of the aims of the Sokols, of this so called »nationally army« of which often the most fanciful tasks were demanded. The moral mission of the Sokols comes out clearer and advances them to the field of cultural strife, toward the progress and elevation of the Czech nation in harmonic symmetry with its physical and mental faculties.
It would be erroneous, to judge the Sokols, as it often happens, their significance and activity by their external unessential moments, of which several, for instance, even the dress, are an inheritance of the past, which cannot be discarded, as this would jeopardise confidence and the deeply rooted notions of the masses. The real essence of the cause rests in the inner activity and its execution, in the systematic unceasing pulsation which keeps everybody busy, the youth, as well as the men and women, show an indefatigable aim at perfection in the moral pressure on the thoughts and feelings of the whole camp, at the continuous concentration of all powers which manifest themselves from time to time in undertakings that rouse the whole nation and even foreign lands into admiration.
At present the Sokol institution is no more a mere favourite pastime of a special society; it pervades, although not extensively, all classes of the nation and asserts its influence over them.
It is its own charm which principally captivates the youth which finds the rethe opportunity and the ground for realizing their juvenile ideals and for manifesting the strength of their prime of life in brotherly companionship.
This beautiful trait in the characteristics of the Sokol camp, serving the whole nation without distinction of rank or profession, without differentiation of age’ sex, social aims or political persuasion, has saved it from disputes and dissensions, by which public life generally is agitated and renders it as yet an impregnable fortress, inaccessible to any party quarrels.
The Sokol idea has become a part of the Czech essence, a characteristic trait of the Czech soul, which in foreign lands manifests itself by the foundation of Sokol societies wherever a greater number of Czech kinsmen are settled. A great number of such societies were founded by Czechs in France, Germany and in the Slavonic lands; and the Sokol societies of the Czechs in America have attained an imposing development wherever they were founded early. They exist almost in every state of the Northern Union.
The Sokols, in their progress, took care to remain on neutral ground and especially avoided political currents and influences, bearing in mind its all-national mission and the high aims set up far above temporary questions and interests. It is true that from time to time there appear some attempts to draw the Sokols into the turmoil of daily conflicts or to make use of the powers associated with them, but the devotion of the men and the sense of duty always succeeded in frustraining such attempts and in preserving for them a platform elevated above partisanship.
The Sokol cause, therefore, serves the whole nation, its destination is to support its life, to make progress possible and to adapt its capabilities to the attainment of a powerful future. This conviction as yet rules the whole camp and directs all its steps; its spirit breathes in every one of its undertakings, in its entire press and primarily in every periodical of the Sokols. It its the concern of the Sokol Union to preserve this ideal character and aim. As long as it faithfully executes these prescripts and is led by enlightened and progressive men, without regard to temptations and without yielding to exterier pressure, it will be able to fulfil its noble mission to the nation and to secure for itself the merit of further development and progress.
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