The History of Skipping

the history of skipping

While investigating the history of skipping I have come across a lot of information on the internet that is difficult to verify so this article should be taken as an account of how skipping may have developed over the centuries.

The Origins of Skipping

I’ve been teaching skipping (or jump rope if you’re from the USA) around the world since 1997 and if the subject of “the origins of skipping” comes up, it seems the answers and opinions are as varied and contradicting as the chicken/egg argument. So here’s what I think we can all agree on…
The Chinese rope makers invented it as part of their New Year’s celebrations and called it the Hundred Rope Jumping game, or Jumping 100 Threads (source – International Rope Skipping Federation). And also the Egyptians invented it in 1600 BC, whose athletes jumped vines as part of their conditioning routines. Or was it the Aborigines of Australia who were seen jumping vines and bamboo for fun (source – Jump Rope Institute). Someone once told me that the Japanese army were using skipping as part of their fitness regime 2000 years ago. Not sure how they know that though as there’s nothing on the internet about it. So it can’t be true. But he was Japanese. I’ve seen websites that are convinced it started in the 1600s (3,200 years later than the Egyptians) in the Netherlands and went across the water to the States and took off from there, which suggests, rather weakly, that skipping didn’t exist before that except in the Netherlands. Well, we know it did. (Most people would be willing to acknowledge the Dutch for introducing the specific skill of Double Dutch to the States. But skipping in general?) And where would that leave the Chinese, the Egyptians, the Japanese and the Aborigines of Australia…?

History of Double Dutch  

So let’s talk Double Dutch skipping, a whole new debate. According to the Double Dutch Institute, the first recorded Double Dutchers were the ancient Phoenician rope makers who, during the elaborate process of making very long hemp ropes, found it easier to jump in and out of them so as not to slow the process of twisting the hemp into rope. NOT, as some claim, Malcolm McLaren’s Buffalo Gals. (Joking aside, in the two+ decades of running skipping workshops, I’ve lost count of the number of times a parent, teacher or dinner lady has said “Double dutch?  Malcom McLaren came up with that, didn’t he?”. But ask anyone from the Netherlands and they’ll say, with somewhat understandable irritation, “We invented it! Derr….look at the name!”. But ask an American and they’ll say that although the Dutch most likely invented the skill and certainly brought it with them (as documented by English settlers), the other settlers coined the name “Double Dutch” because Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam – later becoming New York – spoke a language that, to most, was unintelligible. We’ve all heard someone say “You’re speaking Double Dutch!”. In other words, I can’t understand what you’re saying. It’s therefore a reasonable argument to say that the children of Dutch settlers singing their own skipping rhymes could get the nickname of Double Dutch. If only we could ask a Phoenician. If only we could ask Malcom McLaren….

History of Competitive Skipping

If there’s one thing I noticed during my short-lived time in the world of competitive skipping , it’s that it is very much like the world of boxing. Now, I must start by saying that I trained briefly as a competitive skipping judge but never fully immersed  myself in it. I have always been too busy teaching. But it soon became clear that, like the world of boxing, it started out with a governing body, then ended up with a complex labyrinth of sanctioning bodies, few of which recognised each other with the respect they probably deserved. Here’s to name but a few, starting with the Pugilistic Club in 1814, then the IBU, ABA, NBA, BBBC, EBO, OBF, WBA, WBC, WAA, IBF, WBO, IBO, WBF, WBU, IBA, WBC and so on… Thankfully, the world of competitive skipping is not so complex.

Richard Cendali is credited with being the first to bring competitive skipping into the limelight and starting the first governing body – the International Rope Skipping Organisation. This was followed by the creation of two new bodies – the International Rope Skipping Federation (FISAC-IRSF) and the World Jump Rope Federation (WJRF). Both have organised world events over the years with champions emerging with, presumably, the title of ‘World Champion’. As with boxing, you then have the ‘My organisation doesn’t recognise your champion’ issue and vice versa. So the two governing bodies merged to create the International Jump Rope Union (IJRU), gaining status as the 10th international federation to be accepted by the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) Council. This is a definite step towards accepting skipping as being a bona fide sport worthy of inclusion in the Olympics. But IRSO felt that other governing bodies that had contributed hugely over the years – namely the USA Jump Rope Federation and the Asian Rope Skipping Association (ARSA) should have been brought in under the umbrella of the WJRF. So they merged and held their own World Championships. Back to square one.

The History of Skipping Rhymes

Skipping rhymes have been sung in almost all cultures all over the world, and still are. They have been a way of having fun, expressing opinions politically and culturally, spreading gossip and recounting tales of the macabre for centuries and some date back hundreds of years.  Through travelling, variations of each rhyme can be found in almost every school, street and back garden. With politically motivated rhymes, the name of the politician is simply updated. The majority of rhymes date back to Victorian times with almost all of them being attributed to the children of the UK, the USA and Ireland.

The themes covered in skipping rhymes are simply endless, as you’ll see if you take a look at our skipping rhymes pages. And they are just a handful of what we found! There are songs about brothers, sisters, parents, politics, neighbours, a girl in the playground, a boy in class, underwear, daily ablutions, illness, counting, spelling and a vast amount more….

When we look back at 2020 and the outbreak of the global corona virus pandemic, associations can naturally be made with the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic that was so devastating. But even then, children found comfort and distraction from those horrors through skipping and singing rhymes. This is what they sung:

“I had a bird,
Her name was Enza.
I opened the window,
And in-flew-Enza”

Only Boys can enjoy Skipping!

It is an interesting point to note that during the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe and America, rope skipping was mainly performed by boys. It seems that the prevailing sentiment at the time was that girls should not be physically active in case they harmed themselves and also that it was an unsuitable activity for girls as it revealed their ankles. Luckily this view in historic terms started to change in the 1800s and both boys and girls were able to enjoy the many skipping benefits. At that time, if anything, it was championed more by girls as a game and is associated with many skipping songs and skipping rhymes when used in conjunction with long rope or double dutch games. During the 1960s and 1970s in America, girls turned to skipping on the streets to stay active as a direct result of being excluded from sports such as football, baseball and hockey which were the preserve of boys. After two decades of teaching in schools, if there’s one thing that has been evident since day one, is that girls and boys compete very much on a level playing field when it comes to skipping.

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