Early History

The idea for physical training centers was not a new one. The Sokol movement consciously traced its roots in physical education to the athletes and warriors of Ancient Greece. More directly, the nature of the Sokol was influenced by the German Turnverein, mass-based, nationalist-minded gymnastics societies founded by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn in 1811.[1]

Miroslav Tyrš, the founder of the first Sokol in Prague in 1862, continued as the most influential figure in the movement until his death in 1884. Born Friedrich Emanuel Tirsch into a German-speaking family in 1834, Tyrš grew up under the influence of the Romantic nationalism that gave rise to the uprisings that swept across Europe in 1848. He received a thorough education at the University of Prague, where he majored in philosophy. It was not until the early 1860s that he became involved in the Czech nationalist cause, and changed his name to the Slavic form. After he failed to find a position in academia, Tyrš combined his experience working as a therapeutic gymnastics trainer with the nationalist ideologies he had been exposed to in Prague: the first Sokol club was formed.

The first Sokol worked to develop new Czech terminology for the training exercises, which centred on marching drills, fencing, and weightlifting. They designed a uniform that was a mélange of Slavic and revolutionary influences: brown Russian trousers, a Polish revolutionary jacket, a Montenegrin cap, and a red Garibaldi shirt. A Sokol flag, red with a white falcon, was designed by the writer Karolína Sv?tlá (and painted by Czech artist Josef Mánes).

The Prague Sokol initially drew its leaders from the ranks of politicians and its members from the petite bourgeoisie and the working classes. The first president was Jind?ich Fügner, an ethnic German who was a member of the Czech cause. Most founders were also members of the Young Czechs party, the most influential including Prince Rudolf von Thurn-Taxis, Josef Barák, and Julius and Eduard Grégr. The authorities of Austria-Hungary continually kept a close eye on the movement, but the reputation and prestige of the Sokol continued to grow; soon the Sokol members were known by most as the "Czech national army".