The Brutal Sport That Shaped Pilates!

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The surprising connection between Joseph Pilates and this grinding sport!

Pilates is the most popular exercise method worldwide, attracting mostly women. So how is it that the origins of Pilates are found in the most male sport of all! That’s right! Joseph Pilates was a professional in a sport so brutal that it is banned in many countries!

On the other side of the coin, this sport is enjoying renewed interest and there is even a popular new fusion of Pilates and boxing known as Piloxing! Here is the fascinating intersection between boxing and Joe Pilates!

Read all about it here!

Joe Pilates and Boxing

Boxing and Pilates – from my point of view these were two completely different worlds which had nothing to do with each other. But when I started to take a closer look at the life of Joe Pilates I realized that boxing was his passion.


Boxing was a big part of Joe’s life. His father taught him. He was an enthusiastic gymnast (Turner) – for him boxing was an integral part of gymnastics (Turnen). This was by no means the general opinion of 19th century Prussians. Most people thought of boxing as rude and typically English which made it an unpatriotic act for a Prussian to indulge in it. Boxing in public was banned.

At the beginning of the First World War Joseph Pilates was living in England. Like all German men of military age a couple of months after the beginning of the war he was interned as an “enemy alien”. September 12th, 1915, he was transferred from a camp in Lancaster to the internment camp Knockaloe on the Ilse of Man. Among the internees – more than 20 000 men from Germany, Austria and Turkey – were many boxers…

Joe Pilates quickly became an important part of the boxing community of Knockaloe. He is mentioned in the camp paper Knockaloe Lager Zeitung of January 25th, 1917, as a referee in a boxing match…


The high quality of the training organized by Knockaloe boxers showed when they were allowed to return to Germany in 1919. German heavyweight champion Hans Breitensträter was the most glamorous and best known of the group. Joseph Pilates also was a part of the boom, even if he didn’t reach the highest level of professional boxing: He opened a boxing gym in Gelsenkirchen and he also climbed into the ring himself. In 1922 Box-Sport wrote about several professional fights of Joe Pilates…


When Joseph Pilates moved to Hamburg in 1923, he closed his boxing gym and ended his active boxing career. But boxing was still an important part of his life. He was teaching self-defense to police men of “Ordnungspolizei” Hamburg. Self-defence meant: boxing and jiu jitsu. And he watched high class boxing matches organized in Hamburg by promoter Walter Rotenburg . This is how Joe Pilates met boxing journalist Nat Fleischer from New York, founder of the legendary Ring Magazine. US promoter Tex Rickard had asked Fleischer to keep his eyes open for a possible opponent for heavy weight champion Jack Dempsey. It was Joe Pilates who pointed out a young talented boxer to Nat Fleischer: Max Schmeling. Fleischer didn’t hesitate for too long. He encouraged Max Schmeling to come to the United States. And when Schmeling arrived in New York he helped him  find his way into American boxing…

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