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THE SWEDISH SYSTEM OF GYMNASTICS, WITH

A SHORT SKETCH OF THE WORK OF THE
FOUNDER-PETTER HENRIK LING.

By W. MORTLAKE MANN, M.I.H.

The Swedish system of gymnastics has now superseded all other forms of physical training in this country. It was adopted by the London School Board in 1881, by the British Navy in 1903, and later by the Army in 1906. Public and private schools gradually followed, until now we have a system of rational physical training which, to all intents and purposes, is universal. The advantage of this is obvious, inasmuch as any change of instructor at an institution, school, or college need not alter the working of the classes. Properly qualified teachers in the Ling system are able to carry on where his or her predecessor left off without any interruption or loss to the pupils. As with all reforms the change from the old style of gymnastics at first met with a great deal of opposition, mainly owing to the prejudice and ignorance of those who formed the governing bodies of physical training centres, such as the Gymnastic Schools of our Army and Navy, which were the source of instructors sent to the different regiments and depôts. In fact, with very few exceptions gymnastic instructors and drill sergeants were all Army trained men, albeit of the two Services the Naval Authorities were the first to embrace the possibilities of Ling's system. However, the system slowly but surely commended itself to our most eminent medical men and educationists, who gave it their approval and support, and after it had been brought to the notice of the Naval Authorities by a display given by the London School Board pupils, those who organized and directed the physical training of our soldiers and sailors stamped it with the seal of their approval, and it was forth with adopted by both branches of the Service.

Based upon sound, anatomical and physiological principles, the Swedish system of gymnastics is far in advance of any other so-called system. Every movement, from the easiest to the most difficult, aims at producing a certain beneficial effect upon the body. Nothing is left to chance. Some exercises improve general nutrition, while others are corrective, educational, or recreative. All the various parts and organs of the body are treated separately by suitable exercises, and developed

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by progressive stages according to their own natural purposes and powers, the ultimate object being the harmonious development of the whole body completely under the control of the will. Self-control of the whole body should be the aim of all properly conducted physical training. One American writer declares that the Swedish system

represents the most thorough attempt ever made to discover all of the bodily conditions common to school children and students that can be improved by exercise, and to devise a system of exercises to meet these conditions.”

We have had no “ English " system of physical training. Our style of gymnastics has been a copy of the German : a poignant confession to be forced to make just now. Moreover, there was nothing to recommend the German system, or, more properly speaking, this manner of physical exercises, except perhaps that it was bold and spectacular. Nor was there any science incorporated into its teaching. It was in no sense corrective. At times it might be termed educational, but, generally speaking, emphasized the recreative side. There appeared to be no thought of any physiological effect on the body of the pupil, such as strengthening the vital organs, or increasing the

lymphatic circulation. Everything apparently aimed at producing tricky, showy movements developing immense strength in some parts of the body, particularly the arms and shoulder-girdle, and entirely ignoring other hygienic considerations. Our own Army and Navy gymnastic training was a slavish copy of this kind of work. Instructors were selected who were the

. most skilful performers on “horizontal bar," "

horizontal bar,” “parallel bars,” or “ horse.” After a six months course of training, any man who could execute a long arm swing on the “horizontal bar" or walk with a straight arm balance the length of the “parallel bars,” was sure of a First Class Army Gymnastic Instructor's Certificate. No thought was given as to the why or wherefore of any movement; all was for show. The exercises most approved were always rather dangerous, and for proficiency occupying months and months of exhaustive bodily work and continual practice: and there was the end to it. There was no science behind all this display. Fortunately for the present and future generations of Britishers all is altered now. A short biography of the founder of this beautiful and health bringing system of exercises cannot fail to be interesting, especially at the present time and to those who acknowledge its many qualifications, and have benefited by its practice in the preservation of their health, and often by curing diseases. The

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physical training of our present wonderful Army and Navy and those of America is based entirely upon the Swedish system.

Petter Henrik Ling, the inventor of the Swedish system of gymnastics, was born at Ljunga in Smaland on November 15, 1766. His father was a curate. At a very early age he lost both his parents. His education was commenced in a school at Wexiö, where by his great ability and devotion to study he greatly distinguished himself. As with all large-minded men he was fond of travel, and on leaving Wexiö moved from city to city, residing at intervals in Upsala, Stockholm, Berlin, and Hamburg. During these years he was entirely dependent upon his own resources being constantly exposed to vicissitudes, and often absolutely in want of the ordinary necessities of existence. Undaunted by these trials, and with an ardent desire to improve his knowledge, he travelled from place to place, subsisting upon the barest necessities, often suffering the pangs of hunger, but never becoming despondent. Later on we find him in Copenhagen, where as a volunteer on a Danish ship he took part in the Battle of Copenhagen, when Nelson defeated the Danish fleet in April, 1801. Surviving this engagement, he returned to Germany, from whence he travelled to France, and then came over to England, always bent upon acquiring the language and studying the customs of the different countries he visited. Returning to the Continent, he again settled for a time in Stockholm, where he studied the art of fencing at an academy established by two French refugees. Ling soon developed into a skilful fencer, and it was the proficiency which he attained in the “ King of Games” which suggested to his mind that great results might be achieved by movement based upon sound physiological principles. He suffered from gout in the arm, and this gave him the idea that exercises directed from the brain would have very beneficial results upon the body. All fencers know how the mind must control the movements of the body. He judged, however, that this idea could not be effected by fencing alone, even if practised with both arms, so in 1804, while acting as fencing master at Lund, he commenced the study of anatomy and physiology, which he was convinced should form the foundation of any rational system of gymnastics. He studied the gymnastics and games of the Greeks and Romans, and applied his scientific knowledge to their development and improvement, with what happy results we now know. He investigated thoroughly, and was most exact in his researches. He scientifically demonstrated the physiological effect of every movement he introduced, and although an exercise might appear to be very beautiful and classical in appearance, if it did not produce exactly the desired effect, it was superseded by one that was more perfectly harmonious in its development. He worked untiringly, sparing no pains to gain the results he wished for. In 1812 he endeavoured to introduce his remedial exercises at Lund, but the Government there treated him with scant courtesy and refused to countenance his work. Rebuffs, insults, and abuse failed to diminish his ardour, and in spite of his meagre resources he so successfully evolved his ideas, that in 1813 his movements as a form of remedial treatment for certain diseases were first practised in Stockholm, and those physicians who at the outset had been his greatest opponents were at last compelled to acknowledge his merits and the importance of the science of physical exercises which he taught. His inexhaustible energy and patience gained their reward and his hopes were realized. Ling's system was adopted by the Government of his country, which must have given him immense satisfaction and amply repaid him for all his labours. No man has devoted his life to a better cause or rendered a greater service to humanity than Petter Henrik Ling. Let me emphasize this statement by adding that at the present time in Sweden spinal curvatures and bodily malformations are said to be almost unknown. Ling died at the age of 73 on May 3, 1839, partially blind, caused by a too close application of his studies. He left one son, Hjalmar Fredrik, and four daughters. Whilst on his deathbed, his mind still clear and unimpaired by age, he gave complete directions for the continuation and advancement of the work to which he had devoted almost his entire life, and of which it has been truly said Sweden would never be able to acknowledge duly. The present Royal Gymnastic Institute was founded at Stockholm in 1815 by Ling's desire, and remained under his personal supervision until his death. In 1820 a gold medal was struck in his honour, and in 1835, in addition to receiving a professorship, he was elected a member of the Swedish Academy, an honour bestowed on but few men. A memorial stone with Scandinavian inscription was erected by public subscription at Ljunga, his native place, in 1876. 73, Fordwych Road,

Cricklewood, N.W.2.

THE BINET AND SIMON TESTS AND THE INVESTIGATION OF MENTAL DEFECTS IN CHILDREN.

By John PRIESTLEY.

Senior School Medical Inspector, Staffordshire. The moment arrives for every inventor of a new instrument or a new method when he must come to the actual workers and ask them to say what they think of it. That moment has arrived in the case of the Binet and Simon tests, as applied to the discovery of mental defect in childhood and youth, and as one of those engaged in this often perplexing task I am bound to say I think very little of them.

The scope and purpose of Binet and Simon's methods are by this time pretty well known to educationists. By means of graduated questions suited to the average intelligence of children of different years, it is sought in the first place to classify children according to their mentality. This is, of course, a perfectly proper object, and the results are very interesting. But then by a violent jump, without so far as I know any proof or argumentation, and by a mere ipse dixit, as it were, the conclusion is reached that a child who has a mentality three years behind its nominal age must be regarded, not as backward, which it obviously is, but as mentally defective.

To be perfectly fair, both to Binet and Simon, as well as to the stricter sect of their followers, it should be mentioned that Binet and Simon are themselves not wholly clear about the use of their own tests. They say : A retardation of three years indicates a child who should be regarded as a suspect "l (i.e., suspected of mental defect); whereas, later in their volume, in defining a feeble-minded child as distinct among the mentally defective from an idiot or an imbecile, they say he is one " who shows a retardation of two or three years (according to the rules already indicated) in his school duties, the retardation not being due to insufficient or irregular attendance."

I venture to think that while there is something to be said in support of the first of these passages, the second merits little respect.

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1 See “ Mentally Defective Children,” chapter iii, p. 38. Translated by Dr. W. B. Drummond. London : Edward Arnold.

2 See p. 78 in the same chapter.

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