During the golden age of American Physical Education (1885-1920), Indian Clubs, dumbbells, Medicine Balls and Wands were the 4 horsemen of most exercise systems. The wands (a wooden dowel) had parallel origins in Eastern and Western physical cultures probably stemming from sword and martial traditions. Various military training manuals including the 1914 – Manual of Physical Training for Use in the United States Army, show that these wand exercises also became rifle exercises and could also be done with
“The object of these exercises, which may also be performed with wands or bar bells, is to develop the muscles of the arms, shoulders, and back so that the men will become accustomed to the weight of the piece and learn to wield it with that “handiness ” so essential to its successful use.”
In the 1896 book – Gymnastics : a text-book of the German-American system of gymnastics, published by the Normal School of the North America- Gymnastic Union the following description of the wand is given though no mention of its origin is discussed.
“The wand is a round stick, generally of wood or iron. Thickness, length, and weight should be in proportion to the person using it; viz., always long enough to form the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle, when the hands have grasped it at the extreme ends, and the arms are extended at right angles. When of wood the thickness varies from three-quarters of an inch to one and a quarter inches; when of iron, from five-eighths of an inch to one inch. The wand for the adult may weigh from five to eight pounds.”
The weight of the wand and the materials used to make them (wood or metal) suggest that the wand also morphed into the modern barbell as it got heavier. Many of the wand exercises, curls and overhead presses are standard barbell exercises today. Additionally, the resting and carrying position for the wand is describe as being like a gun suggesting the military origins of the wand. “when taken from its place, it should be carried like a gun, either at the right or the left side. The wand should rest on end on the first joint of the first finger, with the thumb brought around in front, pressing the wand firmly against the shoulder.”
In the German-American System, the wand was used along with other apparatus (clubs, medicine balls, dumbbells) for the purpose of “wants of good honest ” class-work, as well as to make them pleasing to the eye, in the hope of awakening a sense for quick, accurate, and decided action, as well as for the beautiful in form and position.” Certainly many of these wand exercises were also used in medical gymnastics, though the Swedish System seemed to use more Swedish Ladder (Stall bar) and other apparatus and less of the wand exercises than the German method.
During the 1970’s the book – Chinese Wand Exercises by Bruce L. Johnson was
published and this created a renew interest in the use of this type of apparatus from a Chinese Martial Arts perspective.
The exercises presented in our workshops are a composite of many of the exercises described in books by Kehoe, E.B. Warman, Spalding, English and U.S. Military Training Manuals and Physical Education texts from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The exercises are however arranged with respect to biomechanical, training, rehabilitation, and motor learning principles as opposed to their origins or traditional uses, order or purported purpose.
Take a look at what an Indian Club and Wand class can look like.