How were gymnastic clubs used and conceived in differing gymnastic traditions? This question is the starting point for an examination of how objects, tools and the body interact. Thus the article is a contribution to a theoretical discussion about the meaning of materiality in historical analysis.

The source materials are handbooks on gymnastics from Germany, Norway, the USA and England from 1800 to today. The article tells the history of the club’s journey from India to Europe in the inter-war period. Rhythmic gymnastics from Germany after the First World War, Norwegian school gymnastics in the 1950s and martial sports in the 2000s are treated in their historical context. The question is whether a tool, the club, determines its use by virtue of its materiality, or to what extent varying context changes both the use and the understanding of the club. The article asks what clubs «do» to the body and human action and relates empirical evidence to different theoretical explanatory models. It is argued that clubs display an inherent resistance to arbitrary interpretation. Clubs encourage action, make possible new experiences and thus have a potential to create new meaning in interaction with a body in movement, which also sets thoughts in motion.