So ya know how my goal is to become a gaoshou (expert)? Well, it happened. (On a very unassuming Friday night.)
It was past 9pm and I had been playing for a few hours. My coach called me over to play with him and I went a little reluctantly.
“Don’t be mean to me okay?” I said. “I’m gonna try hard but I know I’m not gonna play well. Just accept it.”
“Okay,” he said kinda laughing.
But literally–in that second–something clicked.
My feet move my body to the correct place, my muscles used the perfect amount of strength on varying shots, my brain let me notice the emptiest/hardest to reach spot in my opponents court and my arms hit it at the correct angle to land there.
My coach (and I) were shocked. After every hit he he let out a yelp of surprise and kept laughing. During our second game he said it.
“Gaoshou (expert)! Xiao Bing, tonight you are a gaoshou.”
My whole goal, for months, is to be in the gaoshou level, and to hear my coach say it filled me with warm fuzzies even if I didn’t totally believe it.
But we played together again the next time and then the day after. I would make excuses (“I’m tired, don’t expect me to play well,”) but I kept killing it.
“My student is a gaoshou!” my coach told a bunch of other players loud enough for me to overhear.
“Shut up!” I yelled back laughing. “Don’t give me pressure!”
But I felt the praise wasn’t totally deserved, and as much as I liked to hear it, I fessed up to him later.
“I’m not a gaoshou yet,” I said to him when it was just us. “I can’t play against Wei Chao or Muzi, (some of the highest level boys in the gym.) They go too fast for me.”
“Just because you get scared when it goes fast. But you think like a gaoshou. Don’t be scared.” Being at the front of the net as the birdie is whizzing around can be fraught with danger and players usually just squat, but I–embarrassingly–tend to cover my head with my non racket hand while I squat.
He even openly praised me in the online group, telling everyone I was a gaoshou and other people began calling me a gaoshou even though I told everyone to shut up.
“Finally you have become my apprentice (徒弟),” my coach said during our weekly training.
“Finally?! It’s been a year and a half, what was I before?” I asked.
“You were my student (学生). Now you are my apprentice.”
But I know myself and I knew it couldn’t last. Consistency isn’t my calling card and all week long I was waiting for myself to get in my own way, but day after day I kept killing it and I began to think that maybe this time I wouldn’t regress, maybe this time I earned my high level.
But the badminton gods giveth and they taketh away.
My fall from grace started unassuming. My game was a little off. After playing with me a lot the previous week, and watching me, my coach was a little confused.
“Maybe you’re just tired,” he said. But I played worse the next day, and by the third day I was back to my previous level with no residual talent from my golden week.
“Maybe I was too quick to tell everyone you were a gaoshou…” my coach said after one pitiful game in which I was too slow for just about every shot.
I shrugged. Classic Becky style.
It’s like learning Chinese. I should be at high-level fluency with a understanding of the nuances of the language with all the damn time I’ve spent studying and speaking it. But that’s just not how my brain works. I learn slow, I forget quick.
So when I was having lunch with my coaches family and he was telling his wife that, “last week Xiao Bing was a gaoshou, but this week she isn’t,” I tried to explain.
“One step forward and two steps back,” I said translating the English sentence. “Do you understand that? Is that a Chinese saying?”
My coach said he did.
“I did it once so it means I can do it again. We just have to wait,”I said.
So now we wait patiently, both my coach and I watching for my level to raise more permanently.
“Are you a gaoshou today?” my coach has taken to asking me at the end of each day of play.
Someday soon I hope to answer yes.