Matteo Cugno ’22 enjoys the creative thrill of building something from scratch. As a kid, that...Read Story
A Personal Journey Uncovers a Love of Teaching
After two car accidents left him with unrelenting back pain, Arnold Lee ’98 grew frustrated with traditional Western medical practitioners, who either dismissed his suffering, or recommended surgery as the only solution. Lee began what he calls “a journey of self-discovery” to explore other ways to heal his body.
“I have a very analytical mind, trained by WPI, of course, and I investigated all these different alternative health options,” says Lee, including the Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method, Rolfing, Thai Massage, and the one he ultimately connected with: Pilates.
He was working as a software engineer at the time, not fully committed to the career and searching for more meaning in life. The Pilates connection was so strong, he quit the high-tech world and pivoted to teaching a discipline that had both eased his back pain and brought him inner peace. Twenty years later, he’s a highly regarded lead master Pilates trainer, one of several dozen who offer Comprehensive Pilates Certification, recognized worldwide by any organization.
“The reason I chose Pilates is that it was a wonderful whole body, integrative mind-body discipline that helped me heal,” he says. “We, as human beings, need that mind-body integration—we can’t be all mind, or all body. I knew there was value to this.”
Lee drew upon years of martial arts training to approach teaching in a methodical way, seeking deep understanding so that he could challenge preconceived attitudes.
What started out as a deeply personal journey to try to heal myself turned into an arena where I’m applying a lot of analytical thought to teaching others.Arnold Lee ’98
“For me, I’m very left brain—I like to break things apart,” he says. “When you work out, you may just want to feel good. But sometimes, you want to know why this particular move benefits me. When I started to break it apart, I found that was very useful when it came time to teach other people how to teach Pilates.”
A former board member of the Club Pilates Education Committee, Lee says the best teachers recognize that everyone has a different way of learning. Customized interactions make that person feel valued as an individual. “An instructor is someone who teaches the basic art; a teacher teaches the person. Every time you step out there, you have to ask yourself, are you teaching the art, or the person?” says Lee.
He appreciates the quality of his education at WPI, especially the work ethic that was nurtured by his engineering professors. But he credits Professor Wesley Mott of the Department of Humanities and Arts for expanding his world view. Mott’s class on New England authors awakened his creative right brain and introduced him to new ways of thinking.
Lee recognizes that the collaborative skills he learned through the interactive and major qualifying projects were valuable—even if he didn’t know or appreciate it at the time. The MQP seemed especially burdensome to him as a college senior eager to graduate, but he now recognizes it forced him to learn essential skills, like how to work as a team.
“You may not realize you are developing those collaborative skills, but you are. Being able to work with other people in a community is super important. Even if you are super anti-social, you are always dealing with a community. If you don’t learn how to work with other people, and take care of other people, you aren’t going to take care of yourself either,” he says.
Lee also participated in the WPI co-op program, which added to the variety of his experiences and helped him become a better person.
“When people lock themselves into a certain identity, that’s fine. But I realize the more experiences you have, the more relationships you have, the richer your world becomes,” he says.
The Club Pilates franchise system relieves the stress that comes from running a business, allowing more people to discover the discipline. As new studios open around the world—in Canada, South Korea, Germany, Japan, and Saudi Arabia—Lee and three other Club Pilates Lead Master Trainers evaluate every new instructor who gets hired to maintain quality standards. Ultimately, he wants to be able to provide an experience that is safe, consistent, and helpful.
“What started out as a deeply personal journey to try to heal myself turned into an arena where I’m applying a lot of analytical thought to teaching others,” he says.