For the first time in my life, I feel desire for something. And it isn’t an innocent desire… I want to win right now. I want to win, no matter what.
I wake up in bed groggily after a long evening of doing nothing. My coworker claims that the changing of the seasons from fall to winter is to blame for the sudden shift in sleepy overtones, but I brush off his ideals as nonsense. YOU control your attitude, not something as innoculate as the passing seasons.
I waited the whole year for summer, and spent it outside as much as possible. I loved the feeling of being outside, it feel so free and opening to have the sunlight dance through the tree leaves and the gentle cascades of wind rolling over my skin. It made me feel like I was alive and full of possibility, two things lacking as I wasted away indoors in the stagnant air of temperature-controlled edifices.
Summer came, and summer went, and with fall turning over its role to winter, the days felt longer, moreso than usual. Rolling out of bed took an egregious amount of effort compared to normal. My lower back, neck, and hands were all aching, bemoaning yet another day dawdling in front of the master screen. Nothing about this felt right, but my contract to the material world dictated that this was the norm, lest I try to strike out own my own in this unforgiving consumersit society. Capitalism is king, and if you aren’t worth anything, you are worth noticing. We work and slave away to be able to pay for utilitilies and living expesnes at minimum, but pay for moments of extravagantness soon washed away by the monotony of the everyday grind. It was awful.
When was the last time I felt alive truly?
I have this considerably annoying notion of wanting to be competitive in all regards of my life. Even something as simple as getting chores down or competing monotonous tasks was given a little spritz of life when re-contextual in the arena of battle. Most people I interact with just shake their head in dismissal of my juvenile attitude. We’re adults, get with the times, nothing about this is fun anymore.
I dream, and remember the selves of me from yesterday. I rarely ventured out of my comfort bubble, and paid the price severally as an underdevelopd and underprepared adult, but just for brief moments, the glimmer of life radiated in my soul. Competition was the catalyst, and my rivals were the fuel. Though admittedly, it was never in a huge arena like high school football for the atheletes or quiz bowl like the intellectuals, but it was in realms somewhere in between. Tennis and Swordplay were at the forefront of that arena.
In high school, I joined the men’s tennis team at the behest of my mother. I spent most of my days sitting restless to and from the hour-long bus ride to my speciality school, and wasn’t getting in enough excersise in the meantime. Most high school sports were out of the question: they required born-and-bread olympians or a vast investment of capital for supplies. I had neither at my disposal, so the amount of sports I could participate in was extremely limited. Spots were also competitive too: after all, this was HIGH SCHOOL team sports, we only want to raise winner. Tennis… was none of those things. At least, not when I joined.
I remember having my mom drive me to the local country club I had no idea existed (way outside my pay grade) to a giant insulated dome-looking strucutured, explictly deployed for the sole person of playing tennis year-around. It was fascinating, I had never seen anything like his at the tennis courts at my local park. The nets were a bit modly and the pavement lines were all worn out and fading. This arena… was different. The nets were new and the lines looked extremely fresh. The courts were divided in two, with the men and female’s team performing their team tryouts simulatenously. Both genders had around the same number of participants, but the tryouts were conducted in extremely different manners. The girls had a male coaching looking serious and red with veins popping out as he barked orders to the girls, and the boys had a strict but firm female coach with a sligtly younger assitant coach. After failing pretty much every trial ( I only played tennis recreationally, and the more priliedged fellows looked like they had been doing this for years), I swalloed my pride and was decideing how I would pout about not making the team when miracuously, I made the team! The boys’ coach decided that she would accept all participants, high school was a time of growth in her opinion. A LOT of the girls on the opposite end of the courts did not fair quite as well as me. The girls’ coach was a lot more serious, he only wanted REAL tennis players to continue playing under his watchful eye.
My tennis arc was quite immmorable because I never took it seriously. I was ranked 16th out of 17th on my team (I was only ranked second-to-last because the last place guy was kind of a jerk), and since most high school teams had up to 10 players at most, I never really had a chance to compete. I would tennis practice not to strength my body or mind, but just to goof of my with my new friends. We would get together and play, without regards for winners or losers. Occasionally there would be moments of pure adrenaline and insanity, a never-before-see play that left the spectators (and participants) speechless for just a moment, then a rousing cheer would ensue from all viewers. It was a simple and quaint time, and gave small pockets of joy whenever I attended tennis practice.
One day was particuallry different from all the rest, so much so that the memory is probably seared into my soul. We were playing an away game and the sky started as a calm and polite white fluff, but soon transformed into the onset of a storm. Most scheduled matches were done, but before all remaining matches were called off, my coach waved me over to tell me something. “You’ll be playing today, kid. I hope the fruits of your training show up today!”
Play? Today? I just came here to vibe with the boys, why am I being forced to playing tennis on the boys tennis team?
I unconciously rolled my eyes, but geared up for battle. It wasn’t a ranked match as my rank was too low to ever be calculated, but the opponent I faced today wasn’t ranked either. In fact, he wasn’t even officially on the roster, he was just their water boy! I scoffed, what a quick and easy match this was going to be.
It was not a quick and easy match. I was absolutely annihilated. My laxadaxical nature of playing became my downfall, and I had no time to cheer or appaud for the opponent’s nice swings because he was so hyperfixated on winning. Once the match was officially over (a complete sweep, I painfully add), he approached me for the sportman’s post-game handshake. I… wasn’t sure how I was feeling after the match. He was not rude or obnxious, but something felt WRONG about how I lost. Like… I could have tried harder, but limited myself because I didn’t think the stakes mattered. Apparently my opponent thought so too, and gave me lots of pointers on how I could have made the match a lot closer. I thought it was weird that he went out of his way to try and help me out, why was that? And how was he so keen to pick-up the playing tendencies of someone he just met? I exclaimed in utter confusion, and he sort of started rubbing the back of head with one hand and started laughing. He wasn’t as good as the main roster of his team, so he had to make up the deficient in raw talent with something else. Something that made him stand out compared to his peers. Something that made him strong, his own personal style of play.
As my opponent finished his final pointers, it started to rain. The rest of the matches wrapped up, and my team was quickly shooed back into the bus. My friends were rousing at how much fun they had today, but today I was ununsually quiet. Something was different about today’s series of events. Why was I even on this team in the first play?
Years pass, and high school becomes college. My elected major was computer science with a dash of Simplified Chinese, which translated into saying I spent a lot of time indoors and in libraries. It was quite a shame too, as a lot of my peers were making the effort to stay in shape and keep a social life too! (Their baggy eyes dicated the sleep was taking the greatest toll, however). This idea completely flew over my head, which is also a shame because the historial figure who founded my unversity had a straightforward motto regaarding excercise too:
““Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.”
Feeling like I was missing out, I somehow breached past one of the smallest walls in my comfort zone, and found the sport of Kumdo. It is Koreann swordplay, a bit akin to the cousin of the more famous Japanese Kendo variant, and the only reason we practiced the Korean variant was that the founder of the club was Korean. Swordplay was neat, it was the highly stylized variant of combat where you could pick up a metal blade and make it an extension of your body. Through thousands of hours of binging anime later, I decided that this was the road I would take. Luckily enough, there was a small little club doing just this on grounds. Unfortunatly for me, I was bad at asking for directions, so I ended up at the wrong gym for the club’s first meeting. Tis a shame, best impressions are only made when all contendors are new.
Through two years of sweat and grinding, I became a regular in the club. And for a brief moment of luck, all the members of the club were extreme anime otakus as well, we pretty much joined for the same reason admittedly. Fast friends and lifetime companions, those days were filled with fun too. The only part I hated was actually coming to practice, I HATED feeling tired and I HATED feeling sore aftwerwards. Becoming a swordmaster takes effort, and that effort was something I had not conceptialized in my mind yet.
Though it took several months since joining, I eventually earned the right to wear armor and spar. If doing excercise felt like time and half stopped, I was bascially reversing time whenever I had to step into the ring to truly spar. I secretly hated it because it was so much ritual to get into the fight, so much effort to put on and take off the armour, and it was doubly if not triply harder to move around in heavy armor, I was already unfit enough as it was! Unsurprsinglyh enough, I kept the same mentality from my high school tennis days. I was just here to vibe, not to improve my body, mind, or anything of the like.
One day was particuallry different from all the rest, so much so that the memory is probably seared into my soul. It was the day my club has embarked on a journey to fight at a college tournament set up by a neighboring college. Unfortunately for the hosting college, we were the only competitors that were within a 4-hour drive. All others would have to drive 8+ hours for a 6 hour event, and most did not think it was a worthwhile endeavor. So the exchange was just between the neightboring college and us, and wow, that eventful was exceedingly memorable. My Kumdo club was small and we lost our greatest members to the most vile G word of all in college: Graduation. When we lost him, we lost the will to take ourselves seriously, and our skill and practice sessions became laughably poor as a result. This neighboring university… was a completely different monster. Every year, they had new blood in their leadsership bringing down custom, culture, and tradition from a very-serious Kendo dojo somewhere in the state. They had not only actual practice sessions, but a large club as well, about 4 or 5 times the meager 5 person crew we had at my univesity. We first warmed up together, and it felt like the equivalent of a rock concent for Swordplay. We practice in a small side-room at the central gym on grounds, they have an entire auditorim at their disposal, complete with audio and sound. Being blown away by the immersion of it all, I lost myself and soon felt int othe motion of practice, but with intent. The blood in me was flowing, the rigors of passion for this craft I did not even know I had started bursting at the seems. I was raring to go, itching to fight at the next fight. Something different awakened in me that day.
The moment of truth had finally arrived. My time to spar was finally at hand.
Honestly, I probably would have done a lot better if I took this seriously. I had gone to the gym seriously for the first time in ever with a friend who was a serious body builder, and it had left me quivering with my body barely able to support myself after our rought session. Despite how aching my body was , none of that matter when I finally donned the ceremonial armor. The usually heavy air of being inside a suit with slits for eyes mattered to me very little: all that before me was my opponent. It was a rather small girl, who I had the chance to shoot the breeze with just briefly before the joint event began. She was quiet and unassuming, but under the suit was something else entirely. A shrieking force of nature had just entered the arena, but I didn’t care at the transormation art before me. I was in the zone, and I was ready to go.
One step, two step, my feet glided across the floor. My opponent did the same, and soon we found ourselves crossing swords. I pushed back against her sword and briefly assessed the situation. She was still reeling as I used my weight to throw her off balance, so in the brief moment I went for the only strike I could somwhat perform effectively: the body strike. “Hori!” I shouted at the top of my lungs, and I wildly swing my blade to strike at the openeing in her lower adomen. I struck, and hit, but the blow completely missed. To gain a point in a duel, one must strike with the top edge of their blade. I focused too hard on trying to strike with my eyes instead of striking with my swords, and brushed against her with the bottom half of my bamboo blade. Seeing my complete miss, the girl catch herself on her back foot, and recomposed herself to strike. I was still sailing past her, and attempted to turn around to defend myself, and just as I was almost back to facing her-
A sharp smack of the tip of her blade found its way to the top of my helmet, and the judges signaled to stop. Three distinct judges raised the approval flag (two of them were from the hosting school, so it was obviously riggged), and the girl cheered as she got the first match point. I sighed, and recomposed myself to get ready to fight for the next point. But once I regained my senses, I noticed I was EXHAUSTED. This was the first match in the history of my club where I felt like I was alive. There were no stakes, but the raw adrenanline of fighting against somehow hell-bent to win light a fire in me too. My mind finally had some excitement to fuel its kindling, but my body became desynchrozed in that moment. When the next round signaled to begin, I felt sluggish. All my movements took an extraorading amount of effort to perform, moreso than usual. I blinked, and saw the small girl rapindly approaching me from the other side of the arena. I desperately tried to raise my sword in order to block her next attack I foresaw, but my weak arms could not bring itself up in timie.
The judges paused the fight, and all raised their approval flags. The match was over. I had lost.
I dragged myself off the arena, or at least tried to. By some magic hell that was the bracket, I was immediately shifted into losers bracker, and forced to fight immediately without rest! Needless to say, the next match when about as poorly as the second half of the first match.
Exhausted, I truged back to my waiting teammates. I had lost both matches, and expected them to be worried or disappointed as I was the first entrant in the tourney, and I had lost both matches. But they were excited, gleaning even. I had never shown so much life in practice or sparring before, and the amount of hype my match gen aserated inspirited them to get into the fight themselves. And one by one, we all competed. Very frew from our 5 person crew made it past the first round, and only one made their way to the second round, but we soon found ourselves eliminated to absolutely no one’s suprise. But this lost was different, it was inpirational. We knew EXACTLY what we were lacking as we finally had a base of comparison to stack ourselves against. Moved by the absolute kindness but fierce fighthing spirit of our rival college club, we hung out for a bit in post-event boding, but eventualyl made our way back to our own college. Today was sweet. I hope we get a chance to fight them again some other time.
Seasons pass and go, and I find myself at the receving end of a global pandemic. My habits of prioriting job over health returned, and my body was continally weakened every day of my neglect. I had tried my best to excerise regualary, but it wI sift thas all so monotous and boring. Sometimes I saw the change in my body, the smal burst of strength or endurance revelaing themselves in keep moments of my routine, but it wans’t tangible. It wasn’t comprable. God, I was so bored.
At the height of the pandemic, gyms closed. Social interactions was the biggest vector of infection, so my chance at the regular routine was DEFINTELY never going to happen now. But something strange washed over me as I was lamenting yet another excuse to not work out today. Earlier in the pademic, I had re-found bits of myself in virtual reality. What I had missed and was roaring for was a community of creatives ladled with accountability: someone to contiually csontrsutively crique and challenge me to ascended to greater heights, and that I would gladly return the favor for as well. But this was just in my mental domains, and my mind would be nothing if my body withered away first. As I was laying in bed thinking about how I would remedy this, I turn to the corner of my bedroom and notice a quiet bag lying against the wall. It was a long cloth bag with a strange design repeating all over it, and inside the green cloth bag were two bamboo swords. Those swords had no meaning to me as I never took my time in college seriously, and a single tear escapted from my eye. Damn, I really didn’t do all that much, huh.
When this pandemic is over, I gotta find a dojo to attend.
Today’s word count: 3,396 words
Total word count until today: 35,829 words
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