by Ed Thomas,
Heaven's Gym #1 is located just inside the Pearly Gates. Old-timers
like George Brosius and his friends train there. If we listen, they will
Thomas--I'm looking for George Brosius.
Koehler--He's my uncle.
Thomas--Then you must be LTC Herman J. Koehler.
Koehler--I am indeed. I'm all but forgotten on earth. What
do you know of my life?
Thomas--You were a German-American born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on
December 14, 1859. You spent your youth practicing German gymnastics, and
you were a member of the first American gymnastics team ever to compete
abroad. Your uncle George Brosius was the coach. You graduated from the
Milwaukee Normal School of Physical Training in 1882 while your Uncle
Brosius was Technical Director there. You are known as the "Father of Army
Physical Training" because you were Master of the Sword at West Point
Military Academy from 1885-1923. You were a genius. The Board of Visitors
reported of you in 1899 that:
We confess that it was exceedingly difficult to believe that
the gymnastic exercises performed by the fourth class could be the
result of only one year of practice under instruction by Professor
Koehler. The feats of agility were simply wonderful; they are valuable
chiefly as evidence of sound muscular, trained bodies.
Military personnel always filled West Point positions at that
time. You must have been extremely skilled to overcome that tradition. You
were known to be demanding, just and a gifted teacher. Your nickname was
"Square Deal Koehler."
Koehler--Actually, my Uncle Brosius was first invited to
apply. He was much more qualified but declined and recommended me. Here he
Thomas--Hi Coach. You must have been very proud of your nephew.
Brosius--Herman was one of the best, but many other great
Turner gymnastics teachers went on to influence the development of
physical education throughout the United States until the "Battle of the
Systems" signaled the beginning of the end for quality physical training.
Thomas--How would you describe your methods?
Brosius--Here comes another one of my students, Henrich
Metztner. Henrich, tell this pilgrim a bit about our methods.
Thomas--Are you the Henrich Metzner who spoke in defense of German
gymnastics at the Boston Physical Training Conference in 1889?
Metzner--I felt outnumbered in Boston that day. The Swedish
system dominated in that part of the country. In our system, we progressed
from simple and easy movements to the more difficult and complex at a rate
that prevented fear of danger or harm to the body. Our equipment was not
complicated or expensive. We trained on-the-ground, off-the-ground and
taught martial skills including fencing. We aimed not only to develop
muscles, limbs and organs, but also to promote courage, self-reliance and
a sense of civic responsibility. Our motto was "Mens Sana in Corpore
Sano." Is anything left of our efforts?
Thomas--Lateat scintillula forsan.
Brosius-What a shame.
|One of the gymnasiums where Brosius
and his students trained.
|1st International gymnastics team
USA. Koehler on far left. Coach Brosius on far
|West Point cadets training with
Indian Clubs under Koehler.
Ed Thomas is the Iowa K-12 Health and Physical Education Consultant.