The winning team kept it simple. They were strategic, synchronized, focused, efficient, and effective. And I love how they have girls on their team! Cute and impressive! It may seem like they took the game way too seriously than their opponents. But I don’t think so. People of all ages just play differently. Some could be a bit intense, but that doesn’t mean they’re not having fun. It could be that for them seriously going at it and giving their best may be their idea of fun.
A friend and I were having breakfast at an airport cafe in Yangon when someone approached and asked if he could join us. All tables were taken so we let him sit with us. We ended up chatting — with the guy telling us about his travels in different parts of Myanmar. He was such a great storyteller and had many riveting photos to show, especially of Bagan. It was a fun conversation that we were truly sorry to leave him to head to our gate for boarding. The guy was on his way to Thailand before he will travel back home to Germany.
Traveling makes good fodder for compelling stories. And this is why I love travel writing. I have always wanted to try my hand at it. Recently, I have written about some of the trips I have had in the past for a travel site (see links). This whole travel writing for me is slow progress and I am still far from good. But doing it made me think that there are some things you cannot unsee or unfeel.
I was not a figure skating fan before. But stumbling upon a video of Yuzuru Hanyu’s nearly flawless performance in a pre-Sochi Olympics competition instantly made me a huge fan of the young athlete from Japan. The initial admiration for his talent was quickly transformed into deep respect and awe as I learned more about his journey. I always look forward to his performances. Win or lose, I find that he unfailingly leaves a mark — often subtly but powerfully imparting life lessons worth learning.
This article is just one of the many about him that I find truly inspiring. I teared up reading it.
The first Hanyu performance I watched was nearly flawless to my uninitiated eyes. It was a mesmerizing display of skill and grace. It looked like a perfect execution of a routine that must have taken a lot of time and hard work to master. It was awe-inspiring to say the least. Since then, I try to watch figure skating events or check uploaded videos of his performances.
Yuzuru Hanyu delivered as expected during the SP at the Sochi Olympics. His FS was not as good as it could have been, but he pulled it off well enough to secure the top spot. He accomplished what many other Asian figure skating men before him were unable to do – win an Olympic Gold.
Last November, he was involved in an accident during the free skate warmup at the Cup of China in Shanghai. He collided with the China top skater Yan Han. It was what Yuzu did after that made me admire him even more. It may have been risky given the impact and effects of the collision, but it reminded me that it takes a lot of determination to do what he does and accomplish what he has already achieved. He went on to win the ISU Grand Prix Final in Barcelona only a month after the COC warmup incident and the All-Japan Championships last December 27 (see vids below).
I fancy myself doing the exact same thing he did if it were me out there. But at the back of my mind, the question remains, “Will I really be able to step up like he did?”. It takes plenty of guts and steadfast grit to carry on. Falling down and getting back up to continue performing is not easy even without any injury. Imagine how hard it would be to continue on bloodied and all.
To quickly pick yourself up if and when you fall. To keep moving forward regardless of the roadblocks. To drown out the distractions. To deal with the mistakes by pushing on harder than ever. These are just some of the reasons why I am deeply drawn to this young athlete. I have seen him perform at his best and at his worst in the months since the Olympics. Regardless of the results, he serves as an inspiration and a reminder of how far guts and grit can take anyone who embrace challenges like treasured friends.
I’ve wanted to learn Kendo for years now. I even made inquiries early this year from the club manager of the dojo in Manila if there’s Kendo club in Davao. Unfortunately, there was none at that time. So I decided to wait. I have always believed that something worth pursuing is worth waiting for.
About a few weeks ago, the same club manager contacted me. He said that a Davao Kendo club is already being formed. He then gave me the link to the Facebook page and that was how it all started for me. I missed the club’s first practice session. But I was finally able to join last night.
Trying something new is without a doubt one of the most edifying experiences anyone can have. Doing Kendo for the first time last night made me think about a lot of things. And here are just some of them:
Metaphor for life. Sports and martial arts are a metaphor for life. Practicing Kendo reminded me of that. I was particularly struck by what our teacher said about the importance of always looking at our opponent’s eyes. He emphasized the importance of never, ever taking our eyes off the target or turning our heads away even for an instant. It made me think that whatever it is that tries to bring us down, whether an enemy or life itself, we should face it with courage regardless of how we feel in that given moment.
Never go down without a fight. Samurais face each other not always knowing how the confrontation would turn out. Every fight could essentially be to the death. So you stare at your opponent’s eyes and try to anticipate his next move and act appropriately. It takes unflinching resolve to keep on fighting to the end when the stakes are at their highest. You have to enter any fray with a mindset that you will never go down without a fight.
Strength of spirit and will matters big time. Kendo is probably the noisiest sport I have tried. As a former water sport competitive athlete, I’m used to making a lot of noises myself (i.e. exhaling and grunting loudly, shouting while catching a breath at the end of the finish line, etc.). I think most of my athlete friends from other sports do it, too. But usually, not everyone in the boat with me does it. In Kendo though, it seems like every kendōka shouts everytime he or she wields the shinai (bamboo sword) or bokutō (wooden sword) to strike. Our teacher said that is like an expression of the warrior’s spirit or will, which is essential in any battle. The one with the stronger spirit and will has a better chance of winning.
Intense focus. There’s something meditative and intense about Kendo practice. I realized a few seconds into the basic training that I can’t afford to lose concentration if I want to do it right. The drills looked simple while I was watching the others do it. But it was far from easy when I was already doing it. I noticed that the more I focused, the more I could execute them correctly. I felt my mind emptying itself of other thoughts leaving me so deep into every moment. While I am used to focusing, there was something about the experience that was totally new to me.
Some of the many other things I learned include the importance of mastering the basics and staying relaxed while doing the routines. These are familiar concepts that I am sure anyone who has played a sport or martial art would know. But it was a great experience to learn them again.
I have to admit that my first Kendo practice was a most challenging one. I love being a beginner again, but it does not change the fact that it can be painful at times. The two-hour session was mentally and physically demanding for me. I’m not sure if it was because I have been sedentary for some time now or if Kendo itself is by default that difficult to learn in the beginning.
But all the hard work was worth it. It was both tiring and motivating. It was also a humbling experience. Because no matter how much I think I know about a lot of things, there are still more I need to learn. It was a good reminder to me that cultivating the important teachings I learn over time and being in the look-out for more would help define me as a person.
I’m seeing Kendo and its practitioners in a whole new light right now. And I’m so loving this sport/martial art already.
It was worth watching the figure skating events two days in a row. To see Michael Martinez’ performance was of course my foremost reason. But there’s this other motivation that made me force myself to stay awake until the wee hours of the morning long after Martinez’ routine was finished.
I so wanted to see Yuzuru Hanyu perform. I was rooting for him to win that gold even before that awesome short program of his. My heart felt like it jumped out and got stuck on frigid ground when he landed badly on his first jump.
But like all the other figure skaters who fell during their routines, he stood up and battled on. After all, falling is part of the game. And so are quickly coming back up and fighting to the end.
Olympians are such amazing people. And I think that beyond all the stories of great feats and losses that we see on TV and read on the news, there’s something to be said about the IOC and the entire Olympic Movement that continue to promote the ideals of Olympism that inspire us through this biggest world sporting event.
This is a post that took over a decade for me to write. Blogging has not yet gained traction, at least as far as I knew, in 2002. And most of my time then was taken up by daily training that I rarely use a computer unless for emails or writing letters and reports. With no smartphones and social networking sites, much of what happened were mostly imprinted in my memory and captured by a few photographs. I managed to store some good images in my head along with several unforgettable experiences that came with them. So here’s an attempt to recall some of the reasons why the 5th Asian Dragon Boat Championships in Aioi in 2002 was a most memorable time for me:
1. The long road to Aioi
Funding was scarce during my time as a member of the women’s national dragon boat team. Priority for the budget always leaned on the men’s team’s favor. After all, they were formed in 1991, which was well ahead of the women’s team’s inception in 1997, and had several achievements already under their collective belt. So the men’s team was always first on the line-up for international competitions. As for us ladies, we were first on the chopping block if a team has to be disbanded for budgetary reasons.
When I heard about the invitation for the 5th Asian Dragon Boat Championships in Aioi, I was so excited because I’ve always wanted to compete in Japan. I lobbied for a women’s crew, at least for the mixed team event, to be included despite knowing that it was likely to be rejected. But no amount of pleading could budge our head coach then.
After repeated rejections, part of me wanted to just let what seemed to be a lost cause go. But I think a bigger part of me just did not want to give up that easily. BECAUSE JAPAN. And Asian Championships. So it was probably out of desperation that I did something that was not usually done by the national team before. I sent feelers by email to some club team paddlers I knew. To my surprise, I got positive responses from some who seemed quite interested to be part of what I had in mind.
Thirteen women, including myself, eventually came together. Four of us from the national team and the rest from three other club teams. But forming the group was just the first challenge hurdled. I talked to our head coach about my plan to have us women participate in the mixed event out of our own expense. Since food and accommodation will be shouldered by the organizers, we just had to shell out for our airfares. And everyone was willing to do so. I remember our head coach being skeptical about it. It took a while before he relented albeit on the condition that we had to do everything, including the training, on our own. It was a compromise I had to make. After all, I understood our coach’s misgivings. A typical national team training program is much different with the clubs’. He was not taking any chances of having non-national team athletes disrupt the men’s team’s training and momentum. More so since there were less than two months left before the competition.
So we trained on our own. But there were days that we were lent a trainer, especially nearing the competition dates. It was a great time despite the hardships. Mainly because the team that we formed was a bunch of the awesomest people I have met. With the exception of us four full time athletes, each of the ladies were busy career women, one was a businesswoman, and one a university student. But they tried their best not to miss training even on days that typhoons made it impossible for us to venture out on the water. And majority pulled through together during the many crunch times. I remember one day we huddled at the parking lot after training discussing how we can pool money for the airfare of two of our athletes. Somehow we managed to get the plane tickets by lending or contributing whatever amount we can. I also remember days we were busy with meetings, uniform designs, etc. while the men’s team just focused on their training. We were on our own and each of us gave each other strength at that time.
The day of our departure, the men’s team left on a PAL flight to Kansai airport a few hours ahead of us. The 13 of us women traveled via Thai Airways. For the superstitious, the number 13 doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. But I clearly recall thinking when we were at the airport that I felt that luck was on our side. And judging from what happened since we came together, it was not a mistake to think so. I had since considered 13 as a lucky number.
Grandpa was the owner of the small inn where our team stayed. I think each country was assigned to different inns across the city. Grandpa told us that he volunteered to take us in as soon as he heard that there was a team coming from the Philippines. He said he had been to the country before and had some really good memories about it. He immediately struck me as a kind and sincere person. While it was natural for hotel owners and innkeepers to be hospitable to their guests, he seemed genuinely happy to have us there. He went out of his way to make us feel comfortable. And he was always present during meals, bringing in the food, sitting and sharing stories with us. It went on like that throughout our stay. He also took the time to watch our competitions with some of his family members.
3. The Inn
It was small hotel with modern amenities blending with traditional comforts. It was the type of inn where you have to change to indoor slippers and leave shoes in designated racks. I was happy to be in a traditional room with tatami mats. There were also beautiful yukatas for us to use. The bathroom was compact. I was amazed how such as small space could hold a toilet, a bathtub, shower, and a sink. It was the smallest but efficiently designed bathroom I have seen thus far.
4. The people, especially the volunteers
I have so many good memories of the people I met there. The organizers, the marching band who played the Doraemon theme song at the opening ceremonies, the spectators, and the volunteers were kind, efficient, professional, and generally fun to be around. Our liaison officers really took good care of us. Community elders likewise volunteered to keep the venue clean. I remember them taking the segregation of trash seriously. They also made sure that participants throw waste in their respective assigned containers.
5. The city
Quiet and charming is how I remembered most of the places I had been to in the city. It definitely had none of the noise and hectic pace of heavily populated Manila. I remember being amazed by how silently cars glide along clean and traffic-free roads. There was one time we were sitting at a bus stop near the inn and a car quietly came to a stop in front of us as the traffic light turned red. It was the only car we saw at that time in that stretch of road. It just stayed there, the driver patiently waiting for the light to go green. It was noteworthy for us who were used to some Manila drivers who beat traffic lights even on busy roads. It was the hallmark of the discipline Japan’s so famous for among other things.
6. The food
The food served at the inn and the packed meals at the venue were mostly simple fares. But they were immensely satisfying. And then there were the shops that sell whatever food we fancied during our rest times. The grocery was a source of constant fascination with the variety of treats, some of which we tasted and thoroughly enjoyed.
7. The experiences
A lot of good things happened to us in that trip. Maybe it helped that we did not have much expectation to begin with. I think the women’s crew really just wanted to compete in Japan as best as we could given the circumstances. Since we did not spend much time training with the men’s team who were busy with their own training, we were really surprised and happy when we bagged our first silver in the mixed team event. I think it was then that our head coach began to acknowledge that bringing us along may not have been a bad thing after all. We ended up snagging 6 silver medals, 3 for the men’s and 3 for the mixed team events. And we did it by giving the China team a good fight with only a few precious milliseconds of difference in most of the races.
It was a happy time with people I grew to respect even more as our training progressed. After we came home from Japan, I took a chance and asked our association president if we could reimburse the airfare we spent for the trip since we did manage to place second in all three of our events. The president supported us by signing the request and the Philippine Sports Commission approved it. So we eventually got our money back and paid back those who lent extra for our two teammates.
There were many lessons I learned from that experience. But perhaps one that really stuck with me was to never give up on a goal that truly matters to you. I dreamed of going to Japan and to participate in an Asian Championship. Despite the odds not being on the women’s team’s favor, it turned out way better than we expected. Because I and the rest of the team believed. And we made it happen.
I spent my first morning in Tokyo running on the streets and pathways of Shinagawa. The crazy part was, not only did I run for one hour, which I usually do only when I register for a 10K fun run, but I ran with Ani who is a national team triathlete/coach.
I first thought that we would somehow separate after we leave the hotel. I mean, I know how triathletes train and I was thinking there is no way I can keep up with her. I have not been running for what seems like ages. I took up jogging again once a week last month and only logged between 2.5 to 3K tops each run.
So there I was at 7:00 AM, walking out of the Grand Prince New Takanawa hotel with Ani and thinking how stupid I was not to have thought of wearing a jacket. The air was crisp and I was feeling cold by the time we turned the first corner. Then Ani told me that we could run together since she will just do “easy” training. She said we will run for an hour then we will go back.
Cool, I said. And then we ran. In less than 10 minutes I did not feel cold anymore. I actually began to enjoy looking at the scenery around me. Thirty minutes into the run I began to question the logic of what I was doing. I was still feeling good, but this was when I started thinking that a triathlete’s “easy” pace is different from an ordinary person’s definition of it.
But I was really having fun running with Ani by the time I began feeling the discomforts that I resolved to try stick to the plan and finish it with her. I mean, I knew that she was really setting a very relaxed pace by her standards so I thought I should just do my best to keep up with her.
Fortunately, I was able to quickly slip into my force field and focus on the task at hand. I am really glad I did not listen to those tiny little voices in my head telling me that I cannot do it. My resolve is such that I felt a lot of feelings that brought me back to another time, another life (back when running is part of a daily routine and exercise is not just a whim). I am happy to realize that somehow, that part of me is still there and that I can draw a lot from it when and if I have to.