Joe’s Return to Life

on the Isle of Man

 Mo Sherring was the first person to teach Pilates on the Isle of Man since Joseph Pilates was released from the Knockaloe Internment Camp 100 years ago., Here, she shares how she helps keep his legacy alive on the island she calls “The true spiritual home of Pilates”.

PILATES STYLE: What’s the connection between Joseph Pilates and the Isle of Man?

MO SHERRING: At the outbreak o the first world war, Joe was living in London, teaching self-defence to Scotland Yard detectives. As a German national, he was arrested and sent, alomng with other “enermy aliens” to the Knockaloe interment camp here. He lived here as prisoner 14001, until the end of the war. 

PILATES STYLE: How did you end up on the Isle of Man?

MO SHERRING: I grew up here durring the Second World War. I left for London in the 1950’s, where I worked for a dress designer, a catering manager and later as an exercise teacher. When I heardabout Pilates, I knew I wanted to teach it. I did all my training with Michael King of MK Pilates in London.

PILATES STYLE: How did you celebrate the 100th anniversary of Joe’s release?

MO SHERRING: Michael and I arranged a Pilates Heritage Weekend here with classes hosted by instructors from across the globe. They included Roberta Rose Kirschebaum (from Rolates Pilates in New York City), Elisa Withers (from the Australian Physiotherapy and Pilates Institute), Malcolm Muirhead (from MK Pilates) and Kateryna Smirnova (from Kiev, Ukraine).

PILATES STYLE: Why do you refer to the island as “the true spiritual home of Pilates”?

MO SHERRING: Joe was already developing his exercise methods when he arrived here. Instead of letting his interment hinder his research, I believe it enhanced it. In 2015, at the Pilates Heritage conference in Mochengladbach, Germany, I asled (Pilates elder) Lolita San Miguel if Joe had ever mentioned his time on the Isle of Man. She told me that he discribed his time here as “wonderful years” because “they gave me time to work on my method and to work with a variety of people”. Because of the sheer volume of men interned here (23,000), Joe would have had a wide range of ailments to work on, from the physical to the psychological.

PILATES STYLE: Did he leave behind any evidence of his work here?

MO SHERRING: Although there is no written evidence that Pilates worked at the camp hospital, according to word-of-mouth stories, he rearranged the metal springs of the hospital beds lengthways in order to provideresistance dring streatches to help bed bound patients exercise. If you look at any early Mini Reformer, its resemblance to a hospital bed is unmistakable! We’ve also unearthed a photograph of a group of hospital orderlies, one of whom looks very much like Joseph Pilates. Also letters have been found that prove he taught phsyical education, much like the modern day Pilates we know now,anc boxing at the camp.

PILATES STYLE: What is left of the internment camp now?

MO SHERRING: The original location of the Knockaloe camp is now an area of farmland on the west coast of the Isle of Man. An extremely interesting museum opened there on May 11th, 2019 that commemorates the camp, Last year, I was privileged, along with Michael King, to unveil a plaque dedicated to Joseph Pilates that has been placed in a garden at the site, it reads

“In honour of Joseph Hubertus Pilates, interned at Knockaloe internment camp 4, 12th September 1915 – 16th March 1919, where he developed the foundations of the world renowned Pilates method of exercise.”

PILATES STYLE: Do you feel a special connection to Joe, knowing your studio is so close to where he first devoped Contrology?

MO SHERRING: Standing on the Knockaloe site, Michael and I got goose bumps just knowing that this is where it all started. I do feel a connection with Pilates and I feel very strongly that his connection with the Isle of Man needs to be celebrated.

PILATES STYLE: Do “regular” people on the Isle of Man know that Joe developed his method here?

MO SHERRING: I was the first person to teach Pilates on the Isle of Man 25 years ago – people still used to refer to it as “Pilots!”. It was a slow process to educate people about Joseph’s connection, but we now have the museum, and last year, a beautiful bronze-and-stainless steel sculpure, which celebrates Pilates and Manx Artist Archibald Knox, who also worked at the camp, was errected at Peel Cathedrel in the vicinity of Knockaloe.

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