joseph pilates
History of Joe

Born in 1883 in Germany, Joseph Hubertus Pilates was a sickly child who suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. Determined to overcome his health issues and develop his body, he embarked on a journey of a lifetime that lead to the creation of Contrology. 

Given a discarded anatomy book as child, he learned every page and every part of the body. He would lie in the woods hiding and watching animals as they moved. He studied both Eastern and Western forms of exercise including yoga, Zen and ancient Greek and Roman regiments. By the time he was 14, Joseph had developed his body so extensively that he began modelling for anatomy charts. He subsequently became a successful boxer and gymnast in Germany. 

In 1912 he travelled to England to follow a boxing career. When the war broke out in 1914, he was interned in a prison for German nationals where he taught wrestling and self-defence boasting, resulting in the emergence of students from the camps in better physical fitness than prior to their internment. This is where we first start seeing the development of the system that came to be known as Contrology.

Joseph was eventually transferred to the Isle of Man where he became something of a nurse to sickly internees who suffered from diseases due to incarceration. He created equipment to rehabilitate them by taking springs and other materials from beds to create exercise apparatuses that look surprisingly like modern day Pilates apparatuses. When the influenza epidemic of 1918 swept the world, not one of his patient or internees succumbed even though many prisoner camps where hit the hardest. 

After the war, Joe returned to Germany and began training the Hamburg Military Police in self defence. He began inventing his now famous machines, allowing him to train clients without using his own strength. When he was asked to train The New German Army, he declined due to the political climate in Germany at the time. He decided to leave Germany in 1925, and voyaged to New York he met his “wife” Clara. She would become his life long partner and co-founder of the first Pilates studio, situated on 939 Eight Avenue in New York City. 

In New York the building he settled in also happened to house many dance studios. He rehabilitated many of the dancers when they were injured, creating the relationship between Pilates and dance. Additionally, Joe had many socialites, doctors and even plumbers as clients. 

Joseph Pilates died in 1966 at the age of 84. Clara, his wife, often regarded as the superior teacher, ran the studio until her death 10 years later. The studio was left to Romana Kryzanowska, a longtime student and friend of Joe and Clara’s. She dedicated the rest of her life to the teaching of Joe’s method, until her death in 2013 at the age of 90. She trained many new teachers in Classical Pilates, including my teachers Amy Taylor Alpers and Rachel Taylor Segal.



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