On the origin of professional military sports education in Russia (from monitor school to Major Military School of Gymnastics and Fencing)


Professor, Dr.Hab. A.A. Obvintsev
Professor, Dr.Hab. A.A. Gorelov
Military Institute of Physical Culture, St. Petersburg

Introduction. Over the course of more than three centuries, the closely related systems of professional military education and civilian higher education have been functioning side by side. However, the two systems differ from each other, specifically in the methodological context of officer cadet training. Concerning sport education in general and military sport higher education in particular, it can be stated that the latter differs from the former as well, whether it is conceptual tendency, content, organization or training methods that are taken under consideration. Taking into account the centuries-old history of military sport education, it is an undeniable fact that the relevant issues of studying its origin, giving retrospective analysis of its content, tendency and training methods are of primary concern.

Objective of the study was to provide retrospective analysis of military sport education development in Russia.

Results and discussion. For the first time the issues of Russian military sport education history were addressed over thirty years ago by B.V. Evstafyev; as a result of a long-term investigation into the history of Military Institute of Physical Culture, he discovered the archival records of the first sport teams and schools where monitors, the teaching assistants in fencing and gymnastics, are being trained [2]. Fifteen years later, prominent Russian psychologist V.L. Marishchuk in collaboration with N.N. Poplutina also examined the issue, although this time the study comprised the aspects of development of physical training process in the Russian army; consideration of the issues within physical education specialist training [3]. Lastly, the present day research on historical facets of military sport education was carried out by S.V. Fedorin [7] and Yu.N. Myagkov [4]. The analysis of study results conducted by these authors, as well as the review of available archival sources have revealed that, according to the Central Russian State Archive of Military History (data card 14 664, case 4954, page 5), the first military education school under separate Guard Corps for training of monitors, the teaching assistants in fencing and gymnastics, was established in St. Petersburg in 1816 [8]. The institution functioned until 1855. A.A. Valtville was the school principal and the head fencing teacher of the cadet school. School personnel included eight teachers appointed from among the best school graduates. Duration of education was 1 year; the number of students – 7-8 soldiers and noncommissioned officers from cavalry regiment, 5 soldiers from every guards infantry regiment. Practical classes lasted up to 4 hours a day. According to the materials of the Russian State Archive of Military History submitted by V.L. Marishchuk and N.N. Poplutina [3], it is known that 240 people graduated from the school in 1820, 50 people in 1822, 54 people in 1825, 100 people in 1828, 274 people in 1852, 84 people in 1853. The provided data proves that the establishment of military education school in 1816 was a successful experience, which launched establishment of analogous schools a year later (1817) in other cavalry corps, and for the period from 1818 to 1821 in Page Corps, the First, Second and Smolensk Cavalry Corps, the Imperial Military Orphanage, the Noble Regiment and the Noble Cavalry Squadron [9].

According to B.V. Evstafyev, this particular period set in train the military sport education in Russia and provided a niche for the staff specialists in military physical training.

Naturally, the dates accuracy is open to question and can be disputed. After all, there must have been some training schools for warriors, for instance, quarters of bodyguard in 6th – 9th century Russia, in which the members of a monarch’s armed forces had been living and training. Another example is the military discipline system of Alexander V. Suvorov, which promoted moral ethics and developed physical qualities of the military personnel. However, the examples mentioned above pertain to training of soldiers rather than their instructors.

Monitors were nothing but teaching assistants and did not serve as teachers themselves. So who was in charge of teacher training? Since ancient times, young soldiers were taught by skillful warriors seasoned by battles, having experience in warfare tactics and their own techniques of fighting with weapons and barehanded, which allowed coming off close combat victorious. Young recruits were instructed on these very techniques. Experience of the local battles, as well as the Patriotic War of 1812, provide further insight into “classical” approaches to teaching skills and movements, which later evolved into specific techniques, as evidenced by the Regulations for Teachers of “Elegant Arts and Gymnastics” consolidated by the Imperial Court, which conferred the XII grade on the teachers in these specialties [2]. However, designation of teachers and their assistants was possible provided that they had graduated from the appropriate educational institutions. Thus, the edict of 20 August 1825, signed by the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, prescribed that only the graduates who are accomplished, consummate and talented at fencing should be assigned to fencing masters as assistants [6, 9].

The period of the 1830s is characterized by increased interest towards specialist training in the field of gymnastics and other types of motor activities. Consequently, the specialized unit was established within the St. Petersburg cantonist battalions for training of gymnastics teachers. The status of teachers and teaching assistants in gymnastics, fencing, horse riding, swimming and dancing was officially legislated by the Resolution of 27 May 1836 “On service in terms of military education institutions” [9].

Archival data shedding light on the issues of instructor training for teaching gymnastics in public gymnasiums and specialized schools appear to be of particular concern. The Ministry of National Education had been developing the project of gymnastics institute establishment at the beginning of 1834, then in 1857 and 1868. In 1874, the proposal for establishment of the Central Gymnastics Institute under the Military Ministry was formulated by the commission under direction of the State Secretary K.K. Gros. Nevertheless, all these projects just withered on the vine since were not implemented [4, 7].

In the context of professional training of gymnastics teachers, the significant event took place in 1862, as the Naval Gymnastics School was established following the marine gymnastics team of the Baltic Fleet in order to “train the competent expert teachers in the field of gymnastics for the marine service”. The head teachers in gymnastics and fencing discharged most pedagogical functions in the institution. Thirty monitors served as their direct teaching assistants. The monitors were chosen by the school principal among the graduates of both the marine gymnastics team and the Naval Gymnastics School. Besides, the expert pedagogues were hired to conduct the theoretical, practical and tutorial classes. Education lasted 1 year for officers and 2 years for enlisted men. Officers took lecture courses in pedagogics and teaching methodology. The authors of popular scientific and scholarly works A.P. Zagorsky and L.A. Galuzinsky delivered lectures on anatomy and physiology. The course of pedagogics, which included the basics of psychology, was conducted by N.N. Stlyapinsky, one of the successors of K.D. Ushinsky, the founder of scientific pedagogics in Russia [6, 7]. The Naval Gymnastics School had been functioning until 1878.

Academic courses conducted by Peter F. Lesgaft in the Second St. Petersburg Military Gymnasium from 1877 to 1882 were among the most successful ones. Its effective organization is attributed to immense support of the Military Ministry.

After retiring from Kazan University in 1871, Peter Lesgaft was employed independently in the Military Medical-Surgical Academy. At the time, Dmitry Alekseyevich Milyutin, the intelligent and well-informed representative of clerisy, was the Minister of War at the Military Ministry of Russia. In 1875, the reforms to organization of gymnastics discipline within military units were carried out under his administration. Dmitry A. Milyutin recommended Peter Lesgaft “to take a look at the way gymnastics activities are arranged abroad and then introduce gymnastics courses into the training program of officers; after return, Lesgaft rendered the report on ‘Training of Gymnastics teachers in the countries of the Western Europe’”.

In 1876, Peter Lesgaft presented the project “On Central Institute for Personnel Training in the Field of Physical Education”, after which the professional training courses for officers, future gymnastics teachers, were introduced in St. Petersburg. Lectures on anatomy, physiology and movement control theory were delivered as part of the courses. In this journal, the photograph on page 3 illustrates the first class of graduates attending these courses. Peter Franzevich Lesgaft is the fourth from the right, in the second row.

The experience in the course organization was prosperous enough to institute quite a lot of various courses, schools and other educational institutions in Russia by the end of the 19th century for the purposes of specialist training in the field of gymnastics for further military and educational service. Aleksey Dmitrievich Butovsky, the prominent specialist, well-known among the military circles, was in charge of the courses organization.

Efforts were made not in vain. In 1894, the project on establishment of the Major Military School of Gymnastics and Fencing was developed, although set aside till 1900, then till 1904; finally, in 1909, the project was brought to life, as the first state physical education institution aimed at training of certified specialists in gymnastics for the service in the Russian Armed Forces was established. “… On the most humble report of the Minister of War, on the Military Council resolutions of May 8 and September 25, 1908 … Concerning the establishment of the Major Military School of Gymnastics and Fencing, on May 17, 1909 … Institute the Major Military School of Gymnastics and Fencing on September 1, 1909” [1].

Conclusions. The retrospective analysis of military sport education development revealed that the role of specialists in physical training, their educational and competency levels have been crucial for the last 200 years. They made an important contribution to development of the Russian soldiers’ reliability in defeating the enemy. 


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The term "sport education" has appeared in the physical culture thesaurus quite recently, instead of the term "physical education", which originated in the 70ies of the XIX century. This happened due to the fact that at the beginning of this century the word-combination "physical education" was interpreted as education in the field of physics. At the same time owing to the over century-long existence of the term its meaning could be gradually understood and formulated and now it is interpreted as process or result of mastering the system of scientific knowledge, cognitive skills and abilities directly related to the fundamental and applied aspects of the human motor activity in ontogenesis. Accordingly, the term "military sport education" applies more to motor activity in a particular military profession. So far, the sources of professional military sport education were associated mainly with the Major Military School of Gymnastics and Fencing established in St. Petersburg in 1909. However, available archival sources suggest that the first military educational institution providing professional training of military physical training specialists was established back in 1816 and if the Moscow School of Mathematics and Navigation opened in 1701 is considered the origin of navy education in Russia, then 1816 is the beginning of formation of military sport education.