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Calisthenics: Pomp, colours as 5,000 students showcase Bola Ige legacy

By Gbenga Olarinoye, Osogbo

Some of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola’s programmes have attracted national and even global recognition.

One of such programmes is the Osun School Calisthenics, best known for the awesome spectacles whenever televised during the state anniversaries and ceremonies. Beyond the colours and the spectacles are intangible beauty and benefits worthy of massive propagation and capable of triggering national re-orientation, renaissance and development in the long run.

*The students during one of the celebrations in Osun

The founding fathers of education established it on the tripod of three domains: Cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains. The cognitive domain generates activities that dispense knowledge for skills acquisition; in the psychomotor domain, we find gymnastics and all physical engagements to build a sound mind in a sound body; and the affective domain takes care of morals in general, where exemplary conduct is built, as importantly and indispensably as sound knowledge and vigour.

In Nigeria, even in the past, apart from the teaching of Civics and History, almost all students were engaged in Physical and Health Education (PHE) and enrolled into one co-curriculum activity or the other. Meanwhile, PHE nearly became history in contemporary Nigeria.

The appalling situation was no different in Osun at the inception of the Aregbesola administration, and, following the woeful performance of students (less than 13% made five credits including English and Mathematics in public examinations, it called for an Education Summit, chaired by Prof. Wole Soyinka, to map out a way out of the situation.

Calisthenics, introduced to schools as a co-curricular activity, is a less talked about aspect of that intervention.

Calisthenics – kalos (beauty) and stenos (strength) are body weight exercises believed to have originated from Greece. From being individual exercises combining elements of gymnastics, ballet, acrobatics and yoga, it evolved over the centuries into a complex system of exercises including all body weight exertions around running, standing, jumping, pushing, pulling, swinging, bending, kneeling, etc. with the gain objectives of strength, fitness, flexibility, balance, agility, coordination, etc.

Group calisthenics is the finest expression of the modern calisthenics display, distinct from but sharing certain characteristics with modern aerobics exercises, synchronised dancing, rhythm kata in martial arts, among others. Whereas all of above exercises take place either in a large hall or in an open field (field display), the most distinct aspect of calisthenics is the incorporated display of words and patterns (captions) by participants arranged in grades, usually in a gallery (background display). Exercises are performed in unison with amazing precision by participants in beautiful costumes. The exactitude of words and patterns formations by the background display participants makes one thinks of a computerised display, not humans precisely exhibiting flags of different colours at command prompts.

Calisthenics, especially when introduced to large number of students as a systematic programme, over time, produces interesting and positive results as a result of the inherent attributes of the games. The most fundamental aspects of this phenomenon are that these benefits are some of the most critical needs for citizens in an ailing, underdeveloped society! The poverty and underdevelopment of nations are compounded by the existence of a majority of elites and citizens who are disorderly, bereft of aesthetics sense, are self-centred and inconsiderate, and lacking in  basic faculties of discipline (like punctuality, promptness, precision, etc.), and are handing over these negative attributes, wittingly and unwittingly, to the coming generation.

Our education with its cognitive focus, not being problem-conscious nor solutions-oriented, is a danger to freedom and development in itself if it equally fails to deliver on the benefits of the psychomotor and affective domains, the engagement of which have been utterly abandoned. Having determined to turn around the standing and import of education, especially public school education in the State of Osun from its Day 1, the choice of the co-curricular activity to adopt along with all its other intended transformations is then a critical matter.

This is where calisthenics comes in, in the sense that of all major sporting engagements that could be promoted, it alone has the unique attributes of imparting in participants all the gains derivable from all the three domains of education all at once, and to as many thousand participants as possible at a go! It is a simple masterstroke of visionary management.

In 2011, two calisthenics experts from Cuba were engaged by the Osun government to train 40 physical education instructors and games’ masters, who were assembled under a chief calisthenics instructor, a Bulgarian trained expert instrumental in commencing the programme in Nigeria during the tenure of Chief Bola Ige in the old Oyo State.

Seven years after, five major calisthenics displays during various anniversaries, and some other minor displays have taken place, including the spectacular Oodua World Children’s Day celebrations in 2013 and this year’s Children Day celebrations. Over 20,000 students from Middle and High Schools in more than 30 schools from Osogbo and Olorunda Local Government Areas have passed through the training.

In 2017, a new state-wide competition template was adopted, allowing entry from all schools in Osun, private and public. More than 40 schools formed themselves into nine teams, training for two school terms, with elimination displays and senatorial stage championship and prizes. The grand finale took place last November between teams representing the three senatorial districts: the students involved were more than 5,000 and the prize money, which went into the sports facilities development of the participating schools, was N10, 500, 000 apart from trophies and certificates of participation.

Beyond the pomp and colours, one can begin to imagine what attitude and orientation these thousands of students, averagely aged 13 presently, will take into tertiary institutions and thenceforth into the professions and the society at large in a little more than decade to come.

As Ogbeni himself has drummed out repeatedly, “Calisthenics is not just an out-of-school activity, but a life-changing engagement introduced to schools as a way of producing a new generation of youth who are physically robust, mentally sound and socially well-adjusted in addition to being knowledgeable.”

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