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Health Wands and How to Use Them

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.


Indian Clubs – History and Uses

The Indian club was brought to the west from India by British soldiers. Club swinging was very popular with soldiers and physical culturists in the U.K. and made its way to the U.S. becoming a staple in physical education programs for children and fitness enthusiasts. Club swinging eventually became an Olympic event though only for a short time. Juggling has always been an interest of mine and I was happy to hear from a friend who attended Ringling “clown college” that the Indian club movements were taught there as “Juggling 101.” Using clubs as an adjunct and recovery modality to enhance mobility, stability and reactive strengthening of the shoulder musculature while promoting physical literacy.

Club swinging was part of Indian and Persian physical culture, and was practiced by mcic1wrestlers, soldiers, police and others as part of their daily fitness routine. The ancient clubs were simple in shape and were swung in basic movements helping practitioners gain flexibility, coordination and upper body strength. The British Army began to use club swinging as part of their daily exercise drills and also introduced club swinging to Europe where it became part of German and Czech systems. Indian Physical Culture used heavy clubs called Jori and there is a Persian tradition of Mils or Meel clubs which are also larger and heavier than the Indian Clubs that were adopted by the British Army and then brought to the United States by Simon D. Kehoe who popularized in America.
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Simon D. Kehoe manufactured and sold gymnastic (exercise equipment.) Mr. Keheo travelled to Europe, England and Ireland in 1861 for a rest and engaged in all the current physical culture pursuits on that side of the Atlantic. One of the most influential encounters he had during this trip was a display of heavy war-clubs by noted English Gymnastic Professor Harrison. Upon his return to the U.S. Mr. Kehoe brought together his ideas and created the Indian Club shape and weights that were manufactured and became popular in American Physical Culture. Spalding and other manufacturers also began to make and distribute Kehoe’s version of the club.

The exercises performed with the clubs have morphed from the simple traditional exercises performed with the larger heavier war-clubs (Jori and Meels) into exercises influenced and geared toward sword fighting, boxing, juggling and rhythmic gymnastics. Club Swinging was a Rhythmic Gymnastics event in the 1904 and 1932 Olympic Games. Indian Club exercises were widely accepted by organizations like the YMCA, and heavily promoted in gymnasiums, and by proponents of the German and Swedish Systems in U.S. schools.

Take a look at what an Indian Club and Wand class can look like.