Physical Training May 2001

Indian Clubs

The Riverside Magazine For Young People
An Illustrated Monthly
Vol. 3, 1869

Hurd and Houghton NY
November, p. 492-495

by C.R. Treat

It may be well to state, for the benefit of those who do not know, that "Indian Club" is the name of a certain club-shaped implement used in gymnastic exercise. Concerning gymnastics in general, I propose, with your Editor's permission, at some future time to say a word to you; but for the present, I must content myself with supposing that you only need enlightenment as to this particular kind.

Before I give the authentic history of the Indian Club, I wish to propound a theory, which you may accept or not, as you please, but which seems to me to assign a very ancient and satisfactory origin to the implement. The theory is that a certain Oriental tale, which I am going to relate, contains an account of its discovery and earliest use. The story runs as follows: -

An Oriental king, whose kingdom (according to my theory) must have been in India, by the luxurious life of a palace had lost appetite for food, and relish for occupation or pleasure. At length, dreadfully weary of doing nothing, yet too weak of will to rise up and find something to do, he called his wise men about him, to prescribe a remedy for his evil condition. At this they were a good deal puzzled, for it did not require much wisdom to see that all the king needed was to stir himself, and shake off the slothfulness that had fastened upon him. So, one after another, evading the real difficulty, proposed a journey, a change of diet, a sleeping potion, or some light tonic; but, as the wise men expected, these remedies accomplished nothing, while the king grew daily more listless and languid. At last, an obscure man, who had heard of this strange malady, made bold one day to ask an audience of the king, professing to bear an important message. The king granted his request, and with an air of great languor, asked his message.

"To cure thee, 0 King," he said.

The king was astonished and unbelieving. "How canst thou," he said, "accomplish what the learning of my kingdom has failed to do?"

The stranger quietly replied, "I bring thee this club. Within its handle lie hidden potent drugs, which will impart their virtues only when thy hand, grasping the club, and brandishing it thus and thus, hath become heated, and imparted its heat to them. Then will their healing power be aroused, and the cure begin. Rise with tomorrow's sun, eat sparingly of simple food, and when the sun is three hours high, withdraw into thy garden. There, for the space of half an hour, swing this club as I have instructed thee; and after that, go to thy bath and thy couch. Two hours after the midday meal, go forth again to thy garden; use the club as in the morning, and afterward bathe and rest. Continue thus till the cure is complete."

The king was persuaded to try the remedy, though much doubting of any success. To his surprise and joy the first day gave relish for the simple food allowed him, and at night his sleep was sweet and unbroken. The rising sun called him to a second day of trial, which he spent like the first, with increase of good result. Thus passed a third day, and many more, till the keen delight of returning health reminded him of the debt of gratitude he owed his unknown benefactor. Summoning him to his presence, his eagerness to reward him knew no bounds, and he would have lavished upon him wealth and honors without stint. But the stranger modestly declined the royal bounty, saying, "Thou owest nothing to me. No drug could have worked so marvelous a change. Thou owest all to the exercise thou hast taken, and the temperate living thou hast practiced."

Now, to you, my wise young reader, this wonderful advice is very plain, and you are ready to laugh at the simple old king. But when you have lived a little longer, and have grown a little wiser, you will think differently about the simplicity of the transaction. The world has scarcely changed from that ancient time; it is certainly not much sharper than then. How many do you think to-day will follow the few plain laws of health, and thus get really well, and keep so, rather that go to some shrewd quack, swallow his scented, sugared pill of bread, if nothing worse, and open wide their purses in profound gratitude? Therefore do not, I beg of you, scorn the lesson of this tale, but take a word of advice about the Indian Club, which, like the wise man of old, I would commend to you. I shall not try to lend the charm of mystery to it, but shall hope to draw you to its faithful use by an "unvarnished tale " of its genuine merits.

Leaving now the region of fabulous story, let us turn to the accounts history gives of the Indian Clubs. In the narratives of missionaries and travellers in India, of the national sports and pastimes, mention is made of the swinging of heavy clubs in curiously graceful and difficult motions, requiring great skill and strength. An officer of the British army, stationed in India, describes these exercises as follows:-"The wonderful club exercise is one of the most effectual kinds of athletic training known anywhere in common use throughout India. The clubs are of wood, varying in weight, according to the strength of the person using them, and in length about two feet and a half, and some six or seven inches in diameter at the base, which is level, so as to admit of their standing firmly when placed on the ground. The exercise is in great repute among the native soldiery, police, and others, whose caste renders them liable to emergencies where great strength of muscle is desirable."

Soon after the occupation of India by the English, the excellence of the club-exercise was felt to be so great, that it was adopted for army use, as a part of the preliminary drill. The exercises thus introduced were mainly modification of the so-called "extension movements " of the regular drill, such as raising the arm at full length with club extended, and by a movement of the wrist bending the club back upon the arm, and returning it to the perpendicular, or to an opposite horizontal position. From the army it was natural that the Indian Club should find its way into the hands of all lovers of athletic exercise. These, however, were not content to practice the few simple movements of the "extension" drill, but borrowed largely from the original source, the Indian practitioners, and added many of their own suggestion. From England to America the transition was also easy. When, a few years ago, the interest in gymnastic exercise became great enough to encourage the establishment of gymnasiums, with teachers to give systematic instruction in gymnastics, the use of the Indian Club was taught, with that of other apparatus. But the club of those days was a very different thing from the club of our day. The march of improvement has not left unchanged the Indian Club. What was then a short, round post, with a handle at one end, has become a thing of elegance and beauty. The proportions of handle and "body" are not left to chance result, but are shaped with mathematical precision. The point of greatest weight must be as nicely adjusted as that of a Damascus blade. Nor is all this care and study wasted, as you might think; for there is thus secured a higher degree of skill, and a vastly greater amount of pleasure. Of this latter consideration you can hardly fail of being sensible; for the real difficulty in persuading the sick, and all who are likely to become so, to take the proper and necessary amount of exercise, lies just here: that exercise is a burden and a bore. The remedy is to make it attractive, and a source of pleasure. This is the avenue through which we can reach the enervated and enfeebled ones of modern times. They will hardly believe a tale of the wonderful virtues of a hidden drug, and so be induced to brave the toil of club swinging; but they may be persuaded by the ease and fascination of the health-giving motion.

Before, however, we discuss the advantages of the club-exercise, I wish to describe the implement itself more accurately, in order that your notion of it may be more definite, and that you may follow the discussion more intelligently. Of the standard Indian Club, as we Americans use it, there are two distinct patterns, each with its advantages, each with its enthusiastic admirers and warm partisans. One of these is the Boston pattern, the other the New York pattern.

The Boston pattern is used altogether in the larger part of the New England States. Its shape resembles that of the original model, the Indian and the English club, modified to suit a Yankee taste. It differs only in the shape of the "body," which is largest at the middle point, and grows gradually and evenly smaller toward either end. For example, the " body" of a club weighing eight pounds, would be three inches in diameter at either end, the bottom being flat, and four inches in diameter at the middle. The length of the Boston Club is about thirty inches, or two feet and a half, the handle occupying six inches, the "body " the remaining two feet. The handle is largest toward the end, and is shaped like an elongated egg, so as to fit the palm, and fill the space within the hand when shut. The improvement upon the original pattern consists in fixing the point of greatest weight at the middle of the "body," making it easier to control, and hence more productive of pleasure.

The New York pattern is a wide departure from the original club. It would bear a strong resemblance to an enlarged champagne bottle, if the neck were somewhat longer, and the lower part of the bottle were smaller. It is very much like the "bottle" pin used in bowling, and is sometimes called the "bottle" club. There are several varieties of this pattern, but, as far as I can learn, the original design is due to the ingenuity of Mr. S. D. Kehoe, of New York, from whom the club is ofter called the "Kehoe" Club. It is not so long as the Boston pattern, varying from twenty-four inches to twenty-eight inches in length. As to thickness, it varies according to weight; one of eight pounds would measure about five inches at its longest diameter. This pattern disposes of the weight differently from either of the other two. The old style of uniform thickness from top to bottom of the body, was without any point of balance, merely acting like so much dead weight. The Boston Club placed the greatest weight half-way up the "body," relieving the weight of much of its deadness. The New York Club places the greatest weight near the end of the "body," as far as possible from the hand, without destroying the "balance" of the club. The result of this is to relieve the hand still more of the sense of weight, and almost to make the club swing itself. In some future articles, which will give exercises in detail for use with the clubs, I shall furnish accurate measurements of these various patterns; until then, however, it will be best to defer a further description.

As a proper termination to a general article upon the Indian Club, it will not be out of place to state the reasons for its use, and the benefits that may be expected to follow. It is of course plain that the hand, wrist, arm, and shoulder, are the parts actively used. The muscles of the chest and back are the agents of the principal motions; while the muscles of the waist, in order to hold the body firmly upon the legs, and the muscles of the legs, in order to furnish a steady support, must also bear no unimportant part.

Now, consider for a moment what the most important organs of the body are, and what functions must be performed, and well performed, in a healthy body. The most vital functions must be those of preparing the food for passage into the blood, and of effecting the second change, by which the food supplies new tissues, and fresh energy. These two functions are digestion and respiration. The parts that perform these functions are the stomach, with the intestines and the lungs. This statement is not perfectly accurate, but is enough so for our purpose. What exercise, then, will most benefit the stomach and lungs, and best enable them to perform their functions properly? Will it be the form of exercise that touches the parts nearest, or that touches the parts most remote; that, in short, which uses the arms, or uses the legs? Remember that I am not going to recommend the exclusive use of the arms, but only to represent its advantages. You will agree at once that the best exercise for bodily health, must be that of the arms. Take, for instance, the process of digestion; it is very much aided by an active circulation of the blood, and is very much retarded by a sluggish circulation. It is also aided by the movements of the broad muscles that lie over the intestines. What will the use of the legs do for these great objects? It will make the circulation active, and will call into play the broad muscles of the abdomen. But, on the other hand, if these muscles are used in holding the body in its place while carried by the legs in walking or running, they are used much more in holding the body in place, when to its own weight is added the weight and motion of a pair of Indian Clubs. As to increasing the activity of the circulation, a form of exercise that will make the blood flow as fast, and make you breathe as hard as the fastest running, while it makes the chest itself grow larger, and so makes the capacity of the lungs greater, must be better than exercise which leaves the chest unchanged. If the blood flow faster than the lungs can provide passage for it, you would better stop running, and in future run more slowly. Of course, in time, by walking and running, the chest would share in the general growth of the body, and the lungs would provide passage for a more rapid circulation; but the club-exercise with the arms reaches this point at once and always. It has all the advantages of leg-exercise, as to helping the great functions of the body, and more, because it does the work better.

The club-exercise will do much to develop the proper outlines of shoulder, and chest, and back, and waist. The man who uses the clubs diligently will never need to have his coats "built out" on the shoulder, or padded in front or rear. He will have the form of a man, as his Maker intended him to be. The club-exercise will do more, perhaps, than any other, to check the bad habits of body, so easily contracted by students, professional men, business men, and all who have to bend much over books and desks. It will cure such habits more quickly and thoroughly than any other exercise. Like the wand of some kind fairy, the Indian Club transforms all whom it touches. It makes the crooked straight, gives a manly fullness to the narrow chest, gives breadth and massive power to the rounded back, puts firm, knotted muscle in place of flabby, impotent matter, and fills every vein with bounding life.

One word more, and I am done. Most that has been said in favor of the Indian Club will be true of the faithful use of any good, honest exercise. There remains one last advantage, which few other kinds of exercise possess, - it is convenience. Many a man has given up active exercise because he cannot spend time enough to go to the gymnasium, or to the river, or to the ball-ground; and often it has been impossible to avoid the sacrifice. A boat needs a roomy sheet of water; a ball-ground, to avail much, needs the enthusiastic cooperation of fifteen or twenty kindred spirits, and a gymnasium cannot be sustained in every town. To be sure one can put up a single bar, or pair of bars, almost anywhere, although it is not easy to find a suitable place that can be used in all weathers and seasons. But the Indian Club can be used out-of-doors, if the sun shine; within doors, if it rains; in the wood-shed, if the weather be warm; in the study or parlor, if the weather be cold. It can be used by the merchant in his counting-room, the mechanic at his bench, the lawyer in his office. It can be taken up for a moment's relief from labor, or continued for half an hour's sharp practice. Odd moments, or solid time, may alike be devoted to it, with the certainty of a rich return. The Indian Club stands always ready to furnish health and pleasure for the strong and the weak, for young and old, for man, and woman, and child.

Editor's Note: If anyone else would like to try their hand at club training, EJMAS is making them. There are photos on the EJMAS equipment page and we'll sell them to you.

I know of no other sources for the training clubs, but there are several sources for light juggling clubs online, try a google search for "indian club" or "club swinging" (make sure your anti-porn filter is on before you try that last one. Another possibility is the club used in Rhythmic Gymnastics but they are also very light, being around 150g -Kim Taylor

Physical Training May 2001