At the Olympic Games, it isn't the most beautiful or strongest who are crowned, but those who compete. - Aristotle
On the heels of the postponed 2020 Olympic games that will be held in Tokyo, Japan it seems fitting to revisit the essence of the games and how physical vigor is a vital human component often overlooked in modernity.
Olympic Games began over 2700 years ago in Olympia, in South West Greece. Every 4 years , around 50,000 people came from all over the Greek World to watch and take part . The ancient Olympic Games were primarily a part of a religious festival in honor of Zeus, the father of the Greek gods and goddesses. There were no Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal during that period.
The ancient Olympic Games began in the year 776 BC, when Koroibos, a cook from the nearby city of Elis, won the stadion race, a foot race 600 feet long. The stadion track at Olympia is shown here. According to some literary traditions, this was the only athletic event of the games for the first 13 Olympic festivals or until 724 BC. From 776 BC, the Games were held in Olympia every four years for almost 12 centuries.
During the ancient contests a sacred truce was observed amongst all the states of Greece as the best athletes of the Western world competed in boxing and foot races, wrestling and chariot races for the wreath of wild olive which was the prize of victory. When the winners returned to their home cities to lay the Olympian crown in the chief temples they were greeted as heroes and received rich rewards. For the Greeks prized physical excellence and athletic skills among man’s greatest goals and among the prime foundations of a vigorous state.
The modern day Olympics was inspired by the ancient Olympic Games which was held in Olympia, Greece, from the 8th century B.C. to the 4th century A.D. The first modern Olympics were held in Athens, Greece, in 1896. The man responsible for its rebirth was Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who presented the idea in 1894. His thought was to unveil the modern Games in 1900 in Paris, but delegates from 34 countries were so enthralled with the concept that they moved the Games up to 1896 with Athens as the first host.
The Olympic games is a celebration of discipline - Sunday Adelaja
Thus the same civilizations which produced some of humanities highest achievements of philosophy and drama, government and art, also gave us a belief in the importance of physical fitness which has become a part of Western tradition; from the mens sana in corpore sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body) of the Romans to the American belief that physical exceptionalism allows one to gain victory not only in battle but ion the playing field as well.
This knowledge, the knowledge that the physical well-being of man is an important foundation for the vigor and vitality of all the activities of society is as old as Western civilization itself. But it is a knowledge which today, in much of The West, we are in danger of losing.
A Consistent Decline
The ancients prized a balanced life filled with study, recreation, and leisure. Typically in that order. Modernity has flipped this model on its head with the lust for leisure and ease above all else.
The first indication of a decline in the physical strength and ability of the youth in the west became apparent among United States soldiers in the early stages of the Korean War, 1950 to be exact. This was 70 years ago, makes you really think about whether Heidegger was right - that the ancient Greeks were the peak of humanity and we have been on a steady decline ever since.
A more recent study shows that nearly 80% or four out of five people are rejected by Selective Service as mentally, morally or physically unfit. This number is up dramatically since the 1960’s when the number was around 50%. Think about that, 8 out of 10 people are unfit for service. That is a startling fact, how does a nation defend itself in physical combat if no one is fit to battle?
The physical characteristics of the U.S. fighting soldier have long proved to be a significant factor in the maintenance of a strong military force. Through-out history it has been demonstrated that the stronger, more fit, mentally sound soldier is better able to perform his or her assigned duties at optimal levels of proficiency. - Wheeler
But the most startling demonstration of the general physical decline of American youth vs their counterparts around the globe. This is probably not a surprise to many as America is notorious for sugar consumption and large waistlines. America is a nation of extremes, its inhabitants range from the very best in the world to the very worst. America has Kevin Durant, Harvard, Taylor Swift, and Amazon. Unfortunately it also has the one of, if not, the highest obesity rates in the world, rampant drug abuse, income inequality, and fledgling STEM scores. In short, American exceptionalism is real, but so is American inferiority. It’s all relative and its no fun to be average in America.
Despite Americas nearly unparalleled standard of living, despite ample food and recreational areas, despite the emphasis on athletics, American youth lags far behind much of the world in physical fitness. Not only is America falling behind on the mental battlefront it is also losing the physical battle. A healthy mind needs a healthy body. Physical fitness is all encompassing - endurance, stamina, strength, and flexibility.
American schools have been urged to give increased attention to the physical well-being of their students. Yet there has been no noticeable improvement. Of course, physical tests are not infallible. They can distort the true health picture. There are undoubtedly many American youths and adults whose physical fitness matches and exceeds the best of other nations.
But the harsh fact of the matter is that there is also an increasingly large number of Americans who are neglecting their bodies—whose physical fitness is not what it should be—who are getting SOFT. And such softness on the part of individual citizens can help to strip and destroy the vitality of a nation.
The strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must.– Thucydides, “History of the Peloponnesian War” (c. 400 BC)
Physical vigor is one of the most precious resources one can have. If one wastes and neglects this resource, if one allows it to dwindle and grow soft then one will destroy much of ones ability to meet the great and vital challenges which confront society. One will be unable to realize ones full potential.
A recent study led by The Citadel in South Carolina in collaboration with the U.S. Army Public Health Center and the American Heart Association found that recruits from 10 Southern states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas — are “significantly less fit, and consequently are more likely to encounter training-related injuries than recruits from other U.S. states.” So not only are the soldiers less fit, they are also more likely to get injured when in battle. Can not catch a break…
Those 10 states have accounted for more than 37 percent of the Army's new recruits in recent years, according to data from U.S. Army Recruiting Command.
The Citadel study found that recruits from those states are 22 percent to 28 percent more likely to be injured, with each recruit lost to injury estimated to cost the Department of Defense approximately $31,000.
New age methods such as monitoring nutrition, sleep, mental stress and spiritual well-being, as well as ensuring soldiers have the proper equipment to train their bodies as part of a one-stop shop for soldier fitness. We are measuring more and more and yielding less and less. One manages what they measure, but how is the signal parsed from the noise. No one can successfully manage 100 metrics. Focus is needed to excel in the physical domain.
We've been telling people for 20 years that they should get more physical activity to improve health, although it is the military's problem. It is not a problem they can solve. It really is society's problem to solve. - Bornstein
Throughout history man has been challenged to armed conflict by those who sought to destroy independence and threatened freedom. Historically, the youth have risen to those occasions, giving themselves freely to the rigors and hardships of warfare. But the stamina and strength which the defense of liberty requires are not the product of a few weeks’ basic training or a month’s conditioning. NO.
These only come from bodies which have been conditioned by a lifetime of participation in sports, recreation, and interest in physical fitness. Ones struggles against aggressors is often one markedly in advance on the playgrounds and corner lots and fields. Thus, in a very real and immediate sense, growing softness, increasing lack of physical fitness, is a straight up menace to security and society.
A wise man rules his passions, a fool obeys them. - Publius Syrus
However, unlike the ancient Spartans, who trained their youth to be the most efficient warriors, it is the profound hope that Americans will never again have to expend their strength in armed conflict. Hence the importance of not only physical fitness but mental clarity as well. Battles are more likely to be fought with drones and dollars than bombs and bullets.
But physical fitness is as vital to the activities of peace as to those of war, or put another way, during times of rest and times of activity, especially when ones success in those activities may well determine the future of freedom and health in the years to come.
We face in the modern world a powerful and implacable adversary determined to show the world that natural law still reigns supreme in the form of dramatic obesity, heart disease and invisible viruses. One needs to posses the vigor and determination necessary to satisfy awakening aspirations for progress and the elimination of these pernicious ailments.
To meet the challenge of this enemy will require determination and will and effort on the part of all involved. These issues, although, they seem to be individual issues, span to the entire society. There are second and third order consequences due to someones inability to maintain health and fitness. Only if one is physically fit will they be fully capable of such an effort.
For physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body; it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity. The relationship between the soundness of the body and the activities of the mind is subtle and complex. Much is not yet understood. But we do know what the Greeks knew: that intelligence and skill can only function at the peak of their capacity when the body is healthy and strong; that firm spirits and tough minds inhabit sound bodies.
In this sense, physical fitness is the basis of all the activities of society. And if bodies grow soft and inactive, physical development and prowess decays, ones capacity for thought, for work, and for the use of those skills vital to an expanding and complex society erode along with them. Excellence emerges from things that are hard. David was carved from stone not play-doh.
Thus, physical fitness is a vital prerequisite to the realization of ones full potential and to the opportunity to make full and fruitful use of ones capacities.
It is ironic that at a time when the magnitude of dangers makes the physical fitness of people a matter of increasing importance, it takes greater effort and determination than ever before to build the strength of ones body. The age of leisure and abundance have destroyed vigor and strength as effortlessly as a boat through water. Today human activity, the labor of the human body, is rapidly being engineered out of working life and not much is being done by individuals or society to counteract this seemingly unstoppable force. In the not so distant future the person who works with they hands will be almost extinct in developed nations.
Many of the routine physical activities which many took for granted are no longer part of daily life. A single look at the packed parking lot of Costco will tell us what has happened to the traditional yielding of food that helped to build young bodies. Social media, movies, and the myriad conveniences and distractions of modern life all lure our people away from the strenuous physical activity that is the basis of fitness in life. Modernity makes everyday life mundane and lethargic, this is exactly what has led many people to lead lives full of disease and despair.
Now is the Time
Of course, modern advances and increasing leisure can add greatly to the comfort and enjoyment of life. But they must not be confused with inertia. Theodore Roosevelt stated it clearly when he described it as- “slothful-ease,” with an increasing deterioration of physical strength. For the strength of ones body is among the most important assets one possesses. This growing decline is a matter of urgent concern to nearly everyone across the globe.
This is a global problem, and requires global action. By calling attention to deteriorating standards of physical fitness individuals can then address the underling laziness of modern life.
But no matter how vigorous the leadership from above, one can fully restore the physical soundness only if every person is willing to assume responsibility for ones own fitness. We do not live in a regimented society where men are forced to live their lives in the interest of another. One is as free to direct the activities of ones body as one is to pursue the desire of thought. But if one is to retain this freedom, not only for oneself but for coming generations, then one must also be willing to work for the physical toughness on which the courage and intelligence and skill of humanity so largely depend.
One must consider ones responsibility for the physical vigor of all of those in society. One does not want ones children or grandchildren to become a generation of passive spectators. Rather, one wants them to be a participant in a vigorous life. Be the model for others to follow, as stated before, mimetic desire is one of the most powerful tools driving society, why not make the desire to be fit and sharp the most desirable thing?