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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/491

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PRECISION IN PHYSICAL TRAINING.

Normal bearings, like the most complicated movements of gymnastics, are practiced and taught in the same way. There may be an exception in quick movements, such as leaping, which can not be decomposed because they can not be retarded. But skill acquired in difficult exercises creates an aptitude favorable to learning new ones; and it is well known that those who have educated their movements by gymnastics speedily, become habituated to the most varied exercises. Yet the skill of a virtuoso in any particular art is acquired only by the force of work and patience; and, according to the general law, we are inclined to prize the result of our work according to the quantity of effort it has cost us; in short, to extol the method we have chosen. This is the origin of the schools and of differences in methods, which prevail in gymnastics, as in every other matter—those of Ling, in Sweden; Jahn, in Germany; and Ameros and Triat, in France; and many others who have left various teachings.

Pupils are cultivated by imitation. A group of admirers forms around a chosen person; and among those who seek to imitate him are some who often succeed with great difficulty; the latter are then well disposed to defend their master and their school; they are gratified adepts, who will perpetuate the traditions, with their qualities and their faults. Those minds are rare which can overcome a bad habit when contracted. It is with movements as with moral activity; and that is why every teacher prefers to take his pupils from the beginning, to continuing the labors of his colleagues. It is easily comprehended that the pupil who has contracted the habit of holding his sword in a certain way will find it easier to keep up even a defective attitude, a position that will limit his further progress, than to learn a new one. The effort of attention that he has to make lest he fall back into his false ruts, and to destroy the nascent automatism, is so great that he avoids it. His self-love will not accommodate itself to the idea of becoming a novice, and he prefers going on the wrong way to resuming the toils of first lessons. On these various considerations many practitioners have come really to regard their method as the only good one, and to maintain it, with its errors. But progress in physical education is impossible if we limit ourselves to respect for traditions, to a servile imitation of former things. There can be progress only when we aim at an improvement in attitudes and movements in general. Having been called several times to give our vote in competitive physical exercises, we have been able to observe that the relative merit of the candidates was usually established on conventional bases. Many pupils, who had listened to no other rules than those of nature, and were thus naturally superior, were rated at less than they deserved by judges who were ignorant of these rules. We do not see by what