"Tennis or badminton, which one you wanna focus on?" he asked. As if I have any shot of being world class in either. I was about eight, we're discussing which sport to throw my effort into.
It was a legit question though. Tennis is more glamorous and lucrative after all; but badminton is true gung fu. And we're in Malaysia, there's no place for professional tennis.
Implicitly we understood the concept of focus. I'm glad dad didn't have the sophistication to put me in lame ass piano classes. That he had me focusing on badminton ruled out other sports. When I was much older I wondered if that was the right bet when my fists punches had statistically scored more damages than badminton victories.
I can't say what motivated him about badminton. He was not particular great at it but knew enough to be dangerous, which is more than what you can ask for from anyone in any domain.
Since I was about ten dad and I had a routine. If I'm not out playing with friends and he's not occupied by 5pm, we would play badminton in the open park until sun is down. By about fourteen, that routine changed to the morning when we shifted to another place.
Sometimes friends would join and we'd play together. If there are enough friends for company, he would leave us and go jogging instead.
What started as casual playing evolved into serious training. He would drill me on lobs, net shots, drops and the goddamn footwork.
Dad did not have specialties to impart but he did over emphasized footwork. I hated footwork training. The process looked like army drills complete with sergeant yelling, they felt like shadow boxing only in the most uncool way. But it was a core badminton skill that unlock everything else so I put up with it.
He picked up these essential skills not from competitions or self-generated insights. He learned tips and tricks from watching tournaments on TV and reading newspaper pullouts. These then became my training.
Newspaper was influencial enough they had segments discussing the game and what happened in town. One time dad read something and he bought me to what was deceptively a student recruitment drive for kids.
There Yang Yang was demonstrating basic skills footwork, me and other kids were practicing along. Came one point Mr. Yang took me out and used me to illustrate the correct pose for delivering a serve. Reporters were around, pictures were taken. The following week the full page cover of the newspaper pullout featured Mr. Yang and me in the same frame.
Classmates were half-impressed. "Dude you taught Yang Yang badminton?" they teased. Yang Yang was fresh off of his retirement from the top. That was a cool moment for me.
Too bad I did not capitalized anything out of the that. Neither girls nor the school noticed. Dad did not sign me up for that academy, I presumed it was too costly. By that I mean it cost a positive amount of non-zero dollars, which is costly to dad by definition.
Side note. Now that I know how these things work, I think had I exhibited any discernable talent the academy would've spotted it and possibly pay us back to play for them. It's the talentless kids with competitive aspirations who get suckered into contributing training revenue.
After enough years it's proven that there's only so far I can go. I had zero inner-game; my skills did not extend beyond the mere tacticals. I wasn't good enough to amount to anything tournament-worthy.
Practice do not make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. The non-professinal training done all these time were that much short of the real deal.
We played only in outdoor courts. Environment were windy, floors were cemented or tarred, the sun was the lighting. Worst of all we played with plastic shuttlecocks. No self-respecting player would stop the game half way to wait for the wind to stop blowing the shuttlecock out of its vector. All these add up to a game-setting so distant from the real game I can hardly claim we were playing badminton.
Above all I was not exposed to real competition. I was only better than the least talented kid in the park. The painful fact was clear when I enrolled in an inter-school tournament. The other school had professional coach and setups, my school had one open-air court and professional gangsters. I couldn't match the poorest player in their team.
Without getting into the real battlefield enough times, you don't have a true measure of where you skill is. It's not about beating others, it's about getting beaten up to find out where to course-correct.
I have to guess that did not cross dad's mind. Maybe it did but we're not hardcore enough to bother. Or maybe he was serious enough but did not think tournament is necessary, which would be a terrible mistake on his part.
A more interesting possibility is his unspoken understanding on my hang ups with the idea of competition. I'll have to expand on not being competitive in the next festive season.
Despite the results, dad did turn a poor player into an average one in me. That has to count for something.
By about mid-teen, for the first time after years of trying, I beat him in a game. It felt great and then it did not. It was a crisscross of my progressing trajectory meeting his declining one.
From there on he has taught me everything he knew. There was only so much, the rest was entirely up to me.
This game was the strongest point of connection between us.