Joseph Pilates was born in 1880 in Düsseldorf, he was a frail, sickly child who suffered from rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever. Determined to overcome this frailty, instead of following an established fitness regime he experimented with many different approaches. Yoga, gymnastics, skiing, self-defence, dance, circus training and weight training all influenced him and he chose aspects of each to develop his own body. By absorbing these methods and selecting the most effective aspects, Joseph Pilates was able to work out a system that had the perfect balance of strength and flexibility.
Having proven his techniques on his own body, he then began to apply them to others. When the First World War broke out he was training detectives at Scotland Yard but was classed as an alien and interned in Lancashire and later on the Isle of Man. With time on his hands, he helped out in the camp infirmary and further developed his techniques, training his fellow internees with amazing success.
Also in the camp infirmary many of the war veterans had been horrendously wounded resulting in amputations. Much of his knowledge of rehabilitation comes from this period.
An indepth biography of Joseph Pilates can be found here: Joseph Pilates Biograph