what tennis has taught me in the past few years

January 3rd, 2020

im a little bit nervous, because tomorrow i’m playing in the semi-final of the men singles tennis tournament of the central western district. this is organized each year by the local (district) government. i’m hoping not necessarily that i will win (although that would be nice) but that i can at least play my own game, meaning the other has to beat me, and that i am not losing to myself. in that regard, i wanted to tell you a story, and also an important lesson tennis has taught me in the past few years.

i’ve picked up tennis in the last few years, after i joined the school of journalism and communication at the chinese university of hong kong. little did i know that the school boosts a vibrant tennis community! i played tennis for a few years when i was in high school, but stopped once i graduated, and hadn’t played tennis for more than twenty years. initially, i was completely out of shape. some of my muscle memory was still there, but to say i was rusty would have been quite an understatement. as a matter of fact, i remember when i was playing for the first time after so many years, i twisted my ankle and injured myself (kids, always warm up properly!).

but it wasn’t just my fitness or my technique that was rusty, it was also my mindset. simply put, i would constantly criticize and be angry with myself. i guess i was raised with relentless criticism that nothing i did was good enough, and subsequently, that i wasn’t good enough. at some point i just internalized all this crap, and i’m still working hard to unlearn most of it.

it took me some time to learn that giving myself shit isn’t helpful. a super helpful book in this regard has been tim gallwey’s book “the inner game of tennis”. what tim taught me is that i needed to be kind to myself. trust my own body. stay relaxed. and i will play better tennis. tim talks in an almost meditative way about how to approach tennis. but meditative in this sense doesn’t mean it isn’t real. tennis is really practical in that regard: if the lesson works, you get immediate feedback on the court, you play better tennis, and you win more points.

sometimes you play tennis with someone, and they are amazing in training and in rallies. they’re hitting winner after winner, and are super consistent. you’re like, holy shit. but the second the match starts, their shots suddenly lose power and consistency, sometimes up to 50% if not more. this difference is mental. maybe you’re like this. i certainly was. this is what i meant earlier in the essay when i talked about being able to play my own game, not losing to myself. a healthy mindset is something you can work on, like fitness and technique. tennis has been a great teacher for me in this regard.

so here’s the story that i promised. earlier last year, i got invited to play in a tennis league. that was super exciting to me, because i was looking to play more competitive matches. but after a few weeks, i was asked to leave the team. guess why. some of my friends guessed: “because you’re too old!” others were like “because your tennis sucks!” a nicer, kinder friend guessed “because your tennis is too good!” but the answer is that i got kicked off the team because of … (drum roll) political differences. i was surprised, because i don’t exactly talk politics when i am playing tennis. but apparently, one of the team members came across my name on the internet.

so when someone asks me how yellow i am, i can now answer “so yellow they dq’d me off a tennis team”. in all seriousness, this surprised me. and it made me sad. and i hope i will have the temperament, the patience and the wisdom to be a better person when i am in a similar situation, say next time i meet someone from the other side of the political spectrum. at some point, all of this, the protests, will end, it really will, but at that point, we still have to (learn to) live with each other.

ps i know this is easier said than done, to be honest, but hey, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and all that …

Posted in freedom, hong kong, politics, sports

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book and sword : gratitude and revenge

is the first novel written by Jin Yong. The protagonist is Chan Ka Lok, who is the leader of the Red Flower Society. The book title refers to Ka Lok being famous for being well-versed in culture and martial arts, but also for having to make a difficult ethical decision. My father named me and my brother after him.

The subtitle is from a poem Desiderata