Keeping it in the room: health, happiness and living in Berlin
Arriving at Bethnal Green’s Resistance Gallery ahead of me were two girls, having the same dilemma as I did a couple of weeks before: is this the place? I was behind them with my bike, so I encouraged them to go in, and hung my bike on the stair rail as usual.
But the room wasn’t set up as normal. Normally, it’s empty, with lots of mats stuck together covering the floor; this time, a large ring took up about half the floor space. Inside, were several people throwing each other around. The ring bounced and squeaked as they bounced and yelled.
Having changed out of my cycling shoes and into clothes which were free of post-cycle sweat, I went downstairs, where I was immediately greeted by several people. Some I knew, some I didn’t, but that didn’t matter.
Everyone was being friendly. Among them were about six new people, a range of ages from just turned 18 to somewhere in their mid 20s. All received a small round of applause for having the guts to take that step through the door, just as I and several others had just a few weeks before.
By now, most people were standing outside the ring, on soft mats that had been taped together. There were about 20 of us, including the two teachers, Greg and Garry. In the ring, were two people: one was introduced as Ross, a wrestler who goes by the stage name of RJ Singh and is a deputy head teacher by day. The other was Jimmy Havoc, a man who makes his living from wrestling.
We were led through about 20 minutes of stretching and warm up exercises by Greg and Garry, then invited up on the ring apron, getting in to practice, in turn, shoulder rolls, front rolls and bumps. All the time, I was wondering at how friendly the atmosphere was; how non judgemental it was; and how good the newbies were. “Normally we wouldn’t let you near the ring until you really know what you’re doing,” said Garry, “but we’ll make an exception so you can experience it this time.”
I marvelled at AJ, a tall skinny guy who I decided should be called bendyboy, for his ability to flip and bounce around; and at one of the newbies, who seemed almost too good; I wasn’t sure that he hadn’t done all this before. It turned out that he’d done taekwondo for over 16 years. He’d met Garry at one of the Resistance Gallery’s club nights, who’d suggested that he’d be good at it.
We practiced in front of the others; then, with partners, practiced with each other: lock ups, wrist locks, reversals. First I paired with someone who started the same week as me, and has picked moves up so quickly that you wouldn’t know he’s not been doing it for months; and next with one of the newbies, who picked up the moves at impressive speed.
Finally, I paired with a girl who’d also started at the same time as me, a Canadian who’d hurt herself the previous week and had to sit at the side for half the evening; she beamed and bounced with excitement every time a move worked well for us.
We then practiced a sequence of some of the holds we’d learned in front of the rest of the group. All the time, I was impressed at how much we’d learned and how quickly we’d progressed; but also how friendly everyone was. Doing a turn in front of everyone else is nerve wracking; but even when people got it wrong, it was simply a learning process for everyone else.
And before we knew it, it was 10:30 and time to leave. Bethnal Green to Elephant & Castle always seems to be slightly downhill with a following wind – I flew along, covering the four miles in less than 15 minutes. Either that, or I was still so psyched from my three hours’ exercise that I was pedalling twice as hard as normal!
Happily, dinner was waiting for me at home, and, as I went through what I’d done in my head, I smiled to myself at how much fun I was having.
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