Sokol – the falcon, is a bird who, by his swiftness and energy, symbolizes the active, vigorous, strenuous, real Spartan life, which is the ideal of Sokol programs.
Czech Sokol Organization
First Organization: Founded in 1862 in the Czech lands which later became Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic and Slovak Republic), the SOKOL organization continues today in the United States as a vital, thriving entity. Based on founder Dr. Miroslav Tyrs’ credo of “A Sound Mind in a Sound Body” the member units of the American Sokol offer physical training in gymnastics and other athletics, as well as providing cultural awareness and family oriented activities.
Born September 17, 1832 – Died August 8, 1884 in Tyrol, Austria
Tyrs, the immortal founder of the Sokols, was an exceptional philosopher, aesthetic, art critic, teacher and leader of men. He was above all an ardent patriot, in the finest sense of the word. Orphaned when 7, with the help of his uncle he received a good education, graduating with honors from Charles University. Interested in athletics, especially gymnastics, and following the example of ancient Greece, he saw that any nation must be physically fit, morally on a high plane, and intelligent to secure its independence and retain it. Elevated to Doctor of Philosophy at Charles University, and member of the Editorial staff of Rieger’s Encyclopedia he formulated his Sokol plan, creating an excellent, entirely new gymnastic terminology.
He was the first Physical Director, editor of the Sokol paper, creator of drills and exercises, placing the whole on a firm scientific basis. The next twenty years of his life were devoted to Sokol, creating extreme hardship in his professional work and leaving him penniless. His conception of the meaning of the Sokols he told in one sentence. “Our idea is not for any faction, but for the whole nation, – it is not subject to change like religious or political ideologies, – rather it is eternally true and important, and stands in that respect, elevated above temporary disputes.”
Born September 12, 1822 in Praha – Died November 15, 1865, in Praha
Co-founder of the Sokol organization, first president, of the original Praha Sokol and builder of the first Sokol gymnasium. Well educated for business, widely traveled, and well read he commanded a high place in the commercial, political and social sphere of his time. Too sublime and generous a soul to be fully satisfied with his life, he became Tyrs’ natural partner in the Sokol organization. Democratic in his relations, devoted to the Sokol ideal, in a few years he set a precedent of self-sacrifice, intelligent leadership and devotion to the welfare of his people and country that are unequaled in our history.
He drew to the young Sokol organization many outstanding men of his time and cemented their relationship so well they carried on after his death. Dr. Scheiner expressed his value the best when he said, “He created a new conception of the Sokol, and that new conception, which was his work, he clothed in those virtues, of which he was a shining example.”
American Sokol Organization
The first Sokol unit was founded on February 14, 1865, in St. Louis, Missouri by three men:
Within a few years Sokol units were formed in Chicago, New York, Baltimore, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cedar Rapids, Omaha, etc. Since then they have expanded from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Canada to the Rio Grande.
This was the age of heavy immigration. The newcomers imbued with the spirit of reawakening in the old homeland brought with them the fire, ideals and culture of a new age. They found the freedom and democracy of this country to be fertile soil for their efforts. As the settlers pushed out to virgin land or moved to urban areas in need of their varied skills they took their Sokol, fraternal organizations, choral, theatrical and cultural ideals with them.
Next to the building of their own homes, they ached for community centers where they could carry on the many-sided training of their young. This they did out of their own hard earned resources. They instinctively felt that in this way they were repaying at least in part their debt of gratitude. By 1879 they had their first competitions in New York with 19 competitors from 7 units. As the American Sokol grew so did the participation at its Slets in 1893, 194 competitors from 24 units-368 children, 300 men and 275 women in mass calisthenics. 1925 saw 617 men, 320 women competing and 1,382 men and women, 170 junior boys, 264 junior girls and 491 children in the mass calisthenics. In 1961 there were 2,253 participating in the Slet. They came from all parts of the country and carried home with them inspiration to carry on their Sokol activities.
The most surprising thing about the early units up to 1878 is that they were organized and grew spontaneously. There was no drive or concentrated effort to form new units. This speaks volumes for the high mental caliber and ability of our forefathers.
American Sokol Today
Well into its second century, American Sokol remains an organization dedicated to the physical, mental, and cultural advancement of its members, the youth and adults that attend its programs, and the local communities we serve. The mission of the American Sokol is to provide fitness and community for individuals and families through physical, educational, cultural and social programs. There are currently 35 American Sokol units, or clubs, operating in North America.
For 145 years in the United States, American Sokol has been shaping the lives of Olympians, Diplomats, Artists, Athletes, and most importantly, the families in the communities in which we serve.
“Ask not what you can get from your country, but what you can do for it. I appreciate the part the American Sokol Movement has played in establishing physical fitness and good sportsmanship as major objectives of recreation, education and our way of life. In years to come, I hope American Sokol’s example will inspire millions more to join in this pursuit of excellence.”
– President John F. Kennedy
“No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical fitness; it is a part of his profession as a citizen to keep himself in good condition, ready to serve his state at a moment’s notice. Finally what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable. Why even in the 13rocess of thinking, in which the use of the body seems to be reduced to a minimum, it is a matter of common knowledge that grave mistakes may often be traced to bad health.”
“Gymnastics as well as music should receive careful attention in childhood and continue through life. I believe that the teachers of both have in view chiefly the improvement of the soul.”
Click the image below to see historical photos.