Joseph Pilates was born near Düsseldorf, Germany in 1883. Little is known about his early life, but he appears to have been a frail child, suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. His drive and determination to overcome these ailments led him to become a competent gymnast, diver and skier.
In 1912 Pilates lived in England working as a circus performer, boxer and self-defence instructor. During the First World War, he was interned with other German nationals. During this time he developed his technique of physical fitness further, by teaching his fellow internees. During the latter part of the War, he served as an orderly in a hospital on the Isle of Man where he worked with patients unable to walk.