Can you do better, in the way that I’m using it, is more commonly phrased as: “I’d like to see YOU do better!” It’s a good comeback when someone is being overly critical or just generally putting someone else’s efforts down.
In my twenties I started looking for my activity ‘thing.’ I’ve never been into football, which being from the North-East of England cut my options down by about 80%, but I persevered. It being right at the turn of the century, however, meant looking at the back of the local newspaper to see what classes were advertising, or hoping the group were early users of the internet. I got through a pretty weird and wonderful mix of activities including fencing, taekwondo, kickboxing, boxing, judo, karate, and possibly even some others I’ve forgotten about (I focused on martial arts as they were pretty much the only things being advertised in my area – although I did also go to a GCSE art class). My life changed (and this is no exaggeration), however, when I decided to try something called Tai Chi.
All of the classes I had tried up to that point had one thing in common: I either didn’t like the instructor, the class, or both! Admittedly I was turning up to these things on my own, and they had their own schedules, etc., but I barely even got a hello out of these people. I’d always phoned ahead, or emailed to say I was coming, but this was rarely acknowledged, and I was left feeling like a right spare part!
Finding My Thing
When I turned up at Belmont Community Centre for my first Tai Chi class, things were different. John, the leader of the group, greeted me personally, had printed out some information for me, and literally spent the entire class with me going through the basics. Maybe it was a bit arrogant of me to have expected that kind of treatment from other classes, but John’s friendliness (and the other lovely members) really made me want to come back. I had found my thing!
I went to that Tai Chi class every Thursday night for two or three years. The price was £10 per quarter(!), we got free green tea, and there was enough left over from the subs to buy toys to donate to a local charity every year and pay for a Chinese meal at Christmas. I also got to perform at some Chinese New Year celebrations held in Durham City.
Eventually, life got in the way, and I stopped going to the class, but it was winding down a little as the community centre sought to oust those clubs paying old peppercorn prices! I kept up my practice at home, however, and always had it in mind to try it again.
My Thing: Revisited
Fast forward ten years, and with time on my hands once more, I went through another round of “what can I have a go at?” Being a man on the wrong side of thirty seemed to exclude quite a few things, so I thought I’d see what was around in the world of Tai Chi.
The first class I went to was in Belmont Community Centre again, albeit more expensive and a different group, but that wasn’t going to be an issue. By a huge coincidence, a lady from the old club was also trying this new one out and we caught up. She informed me the old club had left the centre shortly after I stopped going and people’s enthusiasm seemed to disappear. But here we were, ready to try this ‘new’ class.
The fluidity of Tai Chi comes from the transfer of your weight, and it is this transfer that protects your joints from being twisted as you can move ‘empty’ body parts into position before transferring the weight back.
There was no fluidity in this class, and after being repeatedly asked to do a movement that would twist my knee in a bad way, I knew this wasn’t going anywhere.
My second class (once I get it in my head to do something, I’ll tend to actually do what it takes to do!) meant travelling a bit further afield – Newcastle – but what the hey, it looked good online. The instructor, I kid you not, came out from an anti-room like he was in Vegas. It transpired he demanded (not just liked) to be called ‘Sifu’, and the whole thing was run a bit like a boot camp. Incidentally, I have no issue with the term Sifu, it just means master, or skilled person, but I dislike that kind of arrogance. At my old club we were visited by an actual grand master from China, and after watching us hack apart his beloved Tai Chi he could not have been more respectful towards us for having a go, or kind about our efforts…before shaming us all, lol.
My third class was further still, but the tranquil mood was spoiled somewhat by an argument about the website saying the first lesson was free, and her demanding £10!
Time For Me To Do Better
Long story short (about time I hear you say) I wondered what I would need to do to teach Tai Chi myself. I had already completed a level 3 fitness instructor qualification (I had left a job and was looking for a ‘fresh start’ – seems I’m always looking for fresh starts!), and after some hunting around I found an insurance company that would cover my teaching a non-contact Tai Chi class. It was THAT simple! I should add, however, that it helped that my training was from a recognised teacher.
I drew up a disclaimer, I hired a room in the newly opened Stanley Academy (on a Thursday evening, of course) and advertised it in all the usual places (the image on the flyer was a photo of some graffiti I saw on holiday in Greece). I got some wonderful, and loyal, students right away, and they were an absolute delight to teach. One random night I ended up teaching fifteen people (i.e. full capacity), but those numbers were rare. It was just a lot of fun.
Ultimately, I got to teach Tai Chi how I wanted, and run the class how I thought a class should be run (personally greeting everyone, asking how they were, remembering which bits they were good and not so good at etc.). After about a year, the Academy wanted the room for their own activities, my small group were looking to try other things, and so the experiment ended. I didn’t really make any money from the whole thing, in fact I think was lucky to break even, but that was far from being the point.
I got to do my Thursday thing again, although I had to put a bit more personal work in, working out the lesson plans and whatnot, but that was no hardship – it was a good summer that year!
A Learning Experience
Based on an experience (a couple of experiences actually) I thought I could do something better – so I had a go. Literally, if someone was to come at me with “I’d like to see YOU do better!” when I was whinging on about the poor quality of Tai Chi classes, I’d have been able to say: Here you go, this is what I did.
Now on the wrong side of FORTY, I’m looking for my activity ‘thing’ again, and Tai Chi may well get another look. If I can’t find a good class? Well then, I’ll just have to make my own and do better!
I include this picture from a warm-up session just because I had forgotten I was ever that flexible: