Centuries ago, if not millennia, fitness was martial/military first. To defend a nation, or, well, to invade another. I haven’t researched as far as whether there is documented evidence of tribes of cavemen attacking each other, or the battle of Grok (2000 B.C.), but I am pretty sure it happened (that’s a fake one, btw, and Grok is a made-up mascot for a famous blog site…)
In the third part of Georges Hébert’s Practical Guide to the Natural Method (which by now you must know I am transcribing for your historical fitness reading pleasure), good ole G.H. addresses sports, games, manual labor and martial arts training (referred to as combatives, with self-defense, boxing and wrestling). He tested his method first and foremost on people in the military, particularly in the Navy, as well as on children of various ages to demonstrate the effectiveness of his method. He truly paved the way to what was to become standardized training in the armed forces and similar methods have spun from his work. Because he credits others himself, I can’t say for sure whether his successors emulated and inspired themselves from his work, or if it was pure coincidence, or from others. Maybe all of it. When it comes to the research I have been presented with, his work is the farthest I have seen, going back in time.
I recently saw a FaceBook post where a gentleman by the name Stephen Santangelo posted pictures of a Survival Fitness Program he used to teach Special Forces in various branches of the military, some depicting carrying 55-gallon drums.
Hébert had his people carry rocks, stones and anything heavy as part of their lifting routine. All this to get ready for the unexpected. One of the shots Stephen allowed me to use is depicting 2 gentlemen carrying a fallen comrade. Hébert strongly emphasized such rescue drills himself, starting even with children being at least able to carry someone their own size, as in times of trouble,there is no discrimination to defend yourself and being able to survive.
Next to the contemporary picture from Santangelo are a few pictures from early 1900’s with soldiers (in minimal garb, to build resilience to weather and freedom of movement, as part of Hébert’s philosophy).Also, if you note in the wrestling moves the stances adopted by practitioners, they are actually also the stances used during the warm-ups: forward slit, trunk extension, backwards slit etc… No wasted movements, everything is being linked, very much so like in Pavel Tsatsouline’s kettlebell training system (linkage vs. leakage).