No one has ever questioned Vichael Mak’s commitment to Pilates. And that was before he spent more than 100 days in quarantine over the past 20 months while teaching 45 courses (as well as leading various workshops and overseeing exams) in a dozen different cities across China — all to ensure eager students received a Merrithew® education.
“During the COVID-19 outbreak, no Instructor Trainers from overseas can be admitted into Mainland China,” the Hong Kong-based Lead Instructor Trainer explains. “That means there aren’t enough ITs to serve an enormous market for Pilates education. As one of the few who can teach in China during this time — and the only one for some courses and workshops — I feel that I have a calling to do it.”
This is a responsibility Mak has placed upon himself, but it’s not a burden. He expresses pride in becoming the first Merrithew Instructor Trainer in the Greater China region (covering Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan), and connects it with a sense of duty. While random accommodations, limited food options and periods of intense isolation would drive most of us toward hyperbolic complaints, Mak not only takes it all in stride, but he embraces the quarantines (two two-week stints and four for three weeks) as an opportunity.
Speaking from his most recent isolated waiting period, he says, “It’s like a retreat. I’m not a social animal, so I’m fine to be alone. Thanks to technology, I can also keep myself pretty busy. I signed up for some online courses and workshops, registered for webinars, read e-books and watched movies. I brought a mat and some small props for exercises and to keep my regular workout schedule. Between that and taking care of our studio business, I also lead online classes with my clients.” It sounds as though Mak accomplishes more in quarantine than many of us do in our normal day-to-day lives. But adapting to situations is nothing new to him.
Everyone who partners with Merrithew has a story that is unique, and Mak is no exception. “Unlike most of the ITs I don’t come from a background like dance, gymnastics or physical therapy,” he explains. The co-founder of VIM Pilates Studio in Hong Kong, Mak was a decade into a corporate career before he turned his love of Pilates into a business in 2006. This only acted as a catalyst to get him more involved with Pilates. “As the co-founder of a hosting center, I met a lot of students,” Mak says. “That’s what inspired me to go down an education path with Merrithew. Thus, I became an IT in 2010, and, now, a Lead IT.”
While backgrounds might vary and everyone has their own singular experience with Pilates, it seems there is something of a shared through line among Merrithew partners and instructors: It’s an ongoing journey that prompts a continued commitment. We see this again and again. Being able to see the progress of those you’re helping not only makes a career in Pilates rewarding, it leaves you with a sense of fulfilment. You witness the improvements of clients and students, and that only makes you want to help them more.
Mak says he derives a sense of meaning and also measures his success in the improvement of those he instructs. So, when the need for ITs in China increased, he stepped up again and again and again, travelling to either Shenzen or Shanghai a half-dozen times to quarantine before beginning courses that would keep him from home for at least three months.
What keeps him coming back? “Meeting so many committed and diligent students has been wonderful, and developing more ITs gives me a sense of accomplishment, but most rewarding of all is witnessing my students become excellent ITs,” he says.
Mak is so positive about the entire experience, it’s only when he’s pressed that he comes up with a drawback, and even then, instead of complaints he reveals a further devotion to his work: “I miss my clients and students in Hong Kong and other countries,” he admits. “I look forward to when the pandemic ends and borders can reopen. When more local ITs are available and more foreign ITs can come, I can spend some more time with my clients in Hong Kong and also meet students in different countries.”
But that won’t mean the end of teaching in China. “Of course, I will still teach in Mainland China,” he says. As if there was ever any doubt.