These Shoes Were Made For

by Jinryu

While I was playing badminton a couple of weeks ago at University of Sydney, I was doing really well.  I don’t often get that feeling nowadays– badminton, somehow, has become a tertiary activity in my life in terms of fun things to do.

When I was younger, I remember that I used to think it was nuts for anyone not to give it their all at something they loved, or to continue doing anything that they didn’t want to do.  Growing up, I learned about the word “compromise.”  Even those who are living their dreams fully and truly, there is in reality a number of compromises along the way– it all comes down to where you get that energy and time, because that’s in limited supply.  And it’s unfortunate that despite the reality of things, but “compromise” has become one of those dirty words that we’re supposed to feel guilty about.

There was a really important physics formula that I’ve always used in martial arts: Force equals mass times acceleration.  The second most important one is one from investment economics for compounded interest, which is basically the idea that your total amount money is equal to the initial amount, plus the percentage interest compounded on itself.  There’s a coefficient in there and an exponential function to it (excuse my lack of finesse for math talk), so it’s a bit more of a complicated formula than F=ma, but the whole point of it is quite simple– there is a relation between the variables involved.

There’s all sorts of simple formulas like that out there that can dictate the way that you look at things simply because you understand the simple but direct relationship between a number of variables.

The ability to pursue passion depends on two ground-level variables– time and energy.  There’s only so much time in a day to divide among the things you want to do, and even if you had a lot of time, you would only have a certain amount of energy to do those things.

The reason why I don’t use just one dimension is that there has to be an account of the fact that we age– as we age, we do things like retire or take more vacations at least– but the amount of  energy we have is generally on the decline from our youth.

Money? A lot of people say they have money problems, or that they’re stuck at work, but in the end, money is one iteration of time and energy.  Money is, after all, something that takes up time and energy.

Resources?  Resources is  a lot like money– it depends a lot on your circumstances, but at the end of the day, resources are also another way of combining time and energy.  For example– suppose your passion is ice hockey.  If you live in Canada, this is likely to be easier than if you live somewhere in Egypt.  The amount of time it takes to drive to a hockey rink and the amount of energy it takes to play hockey are pretty much the bare bones of the situation in Canada.  In Egypt?  You’d need time and energy to earn the money to pay whatever mad price you’d pay for ice in a desert country.  Thus, you’d need the time and energy not just to play, but to earn the money to pay extra to play, to possibly build the damn ice rink, etc, etc etc.  My point is, with enough time and energy, you could theoretically do anything.  Unfortunately, we’re mortals, and the flesh is weak– which is why at the end of the day, there are environmental factors which may limit our ability to pursue our passions.

Which brings me back to my original point.  Badminton has fallen into third place in terms of real passions in my life. And when you think about it, most people really only have one passion to begin with– I’m quite lucky to have had the chance to live so many separate lives in the span of one lifetime, which is why I’m interested in so many things.  At present, it just so happens that law school and judo take more focus.

Regardless, there is still a soft spot in my heart for badminton, and it was a couple of weekends ago at the University of Sydney badminton club that I was reminded of this fact.  I went to the club with [CM], who has been getting much better at badminton.  She’s been playing for a year or so now, but she’s improved in the last few months, which is when she stopped playing casual badminton with med school friends and started going to competitive uni clubs instead.

I played mens doubles– and I played against some of the best of the club.  It was good for me, because I found that I was not only keeping up with the pace of most of them, but I was able to outplay a lot of them.  I’m not the quickest, strongest, or most technical at the club, but I’m definately above average in terms of results– and for me, that’s a pretty big achievement.

The elite of the club clearly have a lot more power and accuracy than I do.  Their smashes from baseline are easily as good as my smashes from 3/4 court.

The only thing I really have going for me is experience, and resolve, which tie in with an understanding of my limitations and skills.  I’ve been playing badminton on and off since the late 90s– some of these players were players were only born in the mid 90s, so yeah, you can say I have a few tricks up my sleeve.  I have the mental toughness to disengage from fighting battles in play styles  or cadences that I don’t do well in, and make the opponent play my type of game instead.

I guess you can tell from the way I talk so affectionately and brag so much that I have a lot of history with this game.  I just found out recently that a couple of players who used to play at my badminton club, RsM, recently had a baby!


At University of Sydney, what triggered all the nostalgia was two things.  First, pain.  I felt that my right shoulder was starting to get tired, as was my right knee.  At some point, keeping pace meant that I was getting a bit out of breath and getting a cramp on my side. It reminded me of competitive play back in the Lakeshore Badminton Association league games, where my partners and I would continue despite all the cramps and injuries; and not only that, but we’d put on poker faces so that the opponents wouldn’t be able to mentally be fueled by the damage they were causing.  This, I think, is one of the differences between the more experienced of a sport, and the less experienced– the more experienced will never show their opponents that they’re hurt.

The second was that I broke my shoes.  The nostalgia came up because these shoes, I’ve owned since around 2006– they’re that old, from an era where I was still running the badminton store.  It is a bit sad that I’m going to have to throw them out, because it’s quite dangerous to have a lose sole in a sport that requires quick, ankle-breaking changes of direction.  But at the same time, these shoes have come a long way.  They’ve circumnavigated the globe several times, from their creation in China, to my usage of them in Canada, then in South Korea, then back in Canada, and now Australia.


I’m a person who is both materialistic, and no materialistic, depending on how you look at it.  I don’t tend to put much importance nowadays on getting the latest cell phone or tablet, although that’s probably a function now of being in abject poverty.  However, I will attach a fair amount of love to something like a PS3 or an XBox, because I associate those devices with literally thousands of hours of storytelling.

Yes, some things come and go, but especially when it comes to things that will last, I tend to get more attached to them.  I’ve used and owned literally over a hundred different badminton rackets, of which I’ve kept a handful: the first racket I ever bought when I was just starting badminton; the first good racket I bought when getting serious about badminton; the first racket I bought when I opened up my store; and the first high grade badminton racket that I used competitively.


Similarly, my shoes have a lot of history to them.  Mind you, the fact that they’ve been used for so long doesn’t meant they’re actually durable– they still grip on the ground, but the cushioning is such that I feel I’m running around on the bare bones of my feet.  But these are my old war buddies– they have stepped on sweat and tears with me, they have burned and strained, literally at the very foundations of my badminton.

You would think that a badminton racket is probably the symbol of a badminton player– however, I’ve always held that it is the feet.  You can give me a 15 dollar racket, and I might not be able to smash as hard or deffend as quickly– but I guarantee that I will still be able to beat the average club player as long as I have shoes that can grip the court.  As long as I have footwork, I can mobilise my ability and play the kind of game I want to play.


And now these shoes are broken. They’re going to end up in a garbage can, without much of a eulogy, and they will be replaced with a newer, better pair with 10 years of shoe technology development.  However, I will miss them, at least for a little while.  Especially as I try to move around the court in the new, unfamiliar shoes, still uncertain of my footing.


I suppose that the reason why they’ve had such a long career to begin with is because of the fact that badminton has fallen a few ranks from a primary activity of mine, so they haven’t seen as much usage as their predecessors, which might be changed every 6 months or so.


I suppose this event is not a huge one– but it just reminds me of this whole ongoing process of balancing passions, which is this big game we call life.