Wrestling with all the right tactics

15th August 2014 at 01:00
How one Spandex-clad Aberdeen teacher inspires his students

The chant is getting louder: "That's my teach-er! That's my teach-er! That's my teach-er!"

What started as a whisper among a small group of teenagers has spread throughout the crowd of 1,200 raucous wrestling fans packed into Aberdeen's Beach Ballroom.

Professional wrestler Mr P - whose trademark move is hitting himself in the face - is facing down an opponent in the ring. And the pupils who know him as design and technology teacher Dave Paterson are loving it.

Mr Paterson, 35, has been passionate about wrestling since childhood. He shared his enthusiasm with pupils at Aberdeen's Oldmachar Academy in 2011, when he ran wrestling workshops during activities week. The experience convinced Mr Paterson to become a wrestler himself. He "took to it like a duck to water", he says, and has featured in the WrestleZone Aberdeen Anarchy annual showpiece event for the past two years.

Wrestling's popularity has exploded in Scotland in recent years, with several companies organising matches. Aberdeen's WrestleZone caters for the family-friendly audience - so no swearing and not much bloody violence. "You've got 70-year-old women in the front row screaming, and eight-year-old children doing the same," Mr Paterson says.

A memorable gimmick is crucial to getting fans onside, which explains why Mr P punches himself - it is intended to intimidate opponents. "People think, `Oh my God, this guy's crazy'," Mr Paterson says. "I don't look like your stereotypical wrestler - I'm a skinny bald guy from Aberdeen - but when I'm inside the ring, you can tell I'm a wrestler."

Despite his aggression, the Mr P persona does have a moral compass. "He's definitely a good guy, standing up for the good in the world. I didn't want to be the evil teacher; I wanted to be some sort of role model," the wrestler's alter ego explains.

The sport may feature bug-eyed, barrel-chested masochists slamming chairs over each other's heads - Mr Paterson describes "an exciting, feeling-alive type of pain" - but he sees plenty of crossover with his day job. "Teaching is the best type of preparation for wrestling," he says. "The way you animate your body to get a point across in wrestling is the same thing I do with 120 kids a day."

He adds: "I have to teach about wood. It's difficult to make wood interesting, but if you have a laugh and a joke about it, you're teaching things at the same time.

"Some wrestling shows are like watching paint dry because the wrestlers don't know how to interact with the audience. I've been interacting with a smaller audience in school for the past 12 years. I take these skills into the wrestling arena."

The contagious chant of "That's my teacher!" came as Mr P squared up to X-Pac, an American guest star bemused by the adulation for the local underdog.

Teaching colleagues also number among Mr P's fans. "They're blown away - it's always a surprise because they have quite low expectations. Then they see what the crowd's like and it's very infectious. They're standing on chairs, cheering," he says.

Those who dismiss wrestling as "fake" miss the point, Mr Paterson says. Although each event follows a rough plotline, the individual routines are broadly improvised.

Mr Paterson again sees parallels with his profession. "When you're teaching a class, you have an idea of the beginning, middle and end," he says. "But you can take a different route from what you planned, depending on what pupils want, what they're interested in.

"Wrestling's the same. I might go out with a lot of comedy and the crowd doesn't bite. Then I'll pull off a big move that gets them going. I'll know then, `this crowd wants big moves'."

Mr Paterson knows of no other Scottish teachers who are wrestlers, but believes all school staff should have passions outside teaching. "I've always loved teaching, it's one of the best jobs in the world, but it's not the be-all and end-all," he says. "You'd be amazed at some things teachers do: [endurance event] Tough Mudders, stand-up comedy, playing in a band.

"It's important to have an exciting hobby you're passionate about. It's a way to inspire kids."

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