It all started because of my good friend Haru. I met him a few years ago and we clicked instantly since we had a lot in common. One day he had invited me over to his house like he usually did, but that time he brought me into another room in his house I had never been in. There was a large ping pong table inside of it, and Haru had grinned at me, asking me to play. I had only ever really played ping pong as a kid, and I never took it all that seriously. It was always just for fun, but that day I played with Haru changed my life forever. I went from just playing ping pong for fun to learning all kinds of things from Haru: he told me techniques, how to be patient, how to analyze my opponent. It was amazing how much he taught me.
Haru was a great teacher, but I did a lot of practicing myself. Sometimes I’d just play by myself and I’d hit the ball against my bedroom wall, or sometimes I’d play with other people at Haru’s house. I eventually ended up buying my own ping pong table, and it absolutely consumed me. When I wasn’t at work I was playing ping pong. There were times when I’d eat with one hand and hit the ball with the other – I was obsessed.
One day I was online, just scrolling through Facebook, not paying all that much attention when I came upon a post that made my eyes widen:
Ping Pong Tournament
$50, 000 Cash Prize
Sign Up Now!
I smiled widely as I entered the form, and my mind filled up with thoughts of traveling to Korea and making it big. It would be amazing to win a tournament, and of course the prize money was exciting as well. I shut my laptop off and let out a sigh, suddenly feeling a little anxious. While I had made a lot of progress over the past month and had become quite a confident player, I knew I still needed as much practice as I could get.
The other day Haru had mentioned some ping pong club that met every week. They were located up in North Japan and got to together to play the game and exchange advice. It was exactly what I needed. I needed to be around other ping pong lovers and be the best player I could be. Picking up my phone, I called up Haru, hoping he’d come along with me to the club.
“Hey Kaito,” greeted Haru, picking up on the fifth ring. “What’s up?”
“Do you remember the other day when you told me about that ping pong club?” I asked.
“Yeah, the one in North Japan? What about it?”
“I think I should go. I need to play more, and not just by myself. I want to talk to other players as well. I was wondering if you’d come up there with me.”
“Well, they meet up every Friday apparently, and I’m free then, so sure,” said Haru. “You’re taking this ping pong thing seriously.”
“I just entered a competition in Kora. If I win, I get fifty thousand dollars,” I smiled. There were butterflies in my stomach as I thought about winning. I could do so much with that money, plus there would be the glory of coming first. I could already feel myself craving that first place title.
“Really? That’s a lot. But I’ll come with you. We’ll have to get the train there, so meet me at the station at three,” said Haru.
“Great, thanks! See you then!” I grinned, excited that Haru would be coming with me. I couldn’t wait to meet the other ping pong players. It would be great to meet people with common interests, and I wanted to hear what advice they had. I needed all the help I could get if I wanted to win that competition.
On Friday afternoon Haru and I met up at the station. I could barely handle my excitement and had been waiting all week to go up to North Japan. I was curious about what the people in the club would be like. It was a good hour on the train to North Japan, so Haru and I got settled in our seats, and he sat near the window, leaning his head against it. He had his earphones in and I pulled out my phone since I wanted to get some reading done.
A couple days ago I had downloaded an eBook to my phone titled How to Hit 1,000,000 Ping Pong Balls in a Year. It was a great book and it had already taught me so much. It gave a lot of details about concentrating hard when playing, and told me how to handle high pressure environments. I knew the competition was going to be ridiculously stressful, so the book was rather helpful. It also taught me not to be afraid of my opponent and to just focus on winning. The biggest thing it taught me was skill, and it encouraged me to just keep on playing. I spent the entire train ride reading the book, my eyes intently scanning my screen. I was learning so much and I almost didn’t want to stop reading, but we finally got to North Japan.
“That went really fast,” I chuckled, putting my phone in my pocket.
“That’s because you spent the whole time reading that book,” laughed Haru.
We exited the station and Haru lead the way, taking me down a rather busy street. The sun was shining behind us, hot on our backs and heads as we strolled further through the crowd. Haru had the address on his phone. He had been to the club once more before, so he knew the way.
It took around ten minutes for us to find the building, and soon we were standing outside a local recreation centre. “Here it is!” Smiled Haru.
I grinned widely, so excited to meet all the people in the ping pong club. The room was all the way in the back, and with quick feet Haru and I made it there. The door was open and I peeked inside, spotting three large ping pong tables. There was a crowd of a few guys in there, standing in a circle as they happily chatted away. Haru’s hand was on my back and he pushed me inside. We were both making noise, and the group turned to look at us.
“Oh, hey Haru,” said one of them. “Long time no see.”
“Yeah, I know, I’ve been super busy,” Haru said, walking further into the room, and I quickly followed behind him.
“Who’s this?’ One of the other guys smiled at me.
“Oh, this is Kaito. I told him about the club since he’s super into ping pong,” explained Haru.
“Hey everyone,” I said with a shy wave, and I let out a small sigh of relief when I saw the group wave back.
“Nice to meet you. My name’s Reo. And this is Sora, Gaku, and Eita,” said Reo, pointing at all the boys. “So, you’re into ping pong?”
“Yeah, Haru kind of got me into it. I’ve been playing a lot, and I want to be a tournament pro,” I smiled. “Which was why I wanted to join your club. I knew I had some more things to learn, plus I wanted to hang out with other people into ping pong.”
“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” smiled Sora. “We definitely love ping pong, and we’d love to help you go pro.”
“Yeah, we’ll do the best we can to help you out,” said Eita with a wide smile.
I felt so calm around them, and all the nerves left me when I saw how friendly they were. All I wanted was to learn and get better, and I had a feeling they would be the ones to help.
The boys and I spent some time training and going over techniques. They all taught me something different, and I was very appreciative of all the knowledge they were giving me. All of them were so smart and knew a lot about ping pong, plus it was fun to just play with them anyway. I wanted to show them how much it meant to me that they were helping me, so when the session was over and we walked outside I proposed an idea. It was night time now, and the streets were still a little busy. As I looked past the road I saw a shop all lit up, telling me it was a bar.
“Anyone want some sake? My treat,” I said with a wide smile.
“Sake sounds pretty good right now,” said Haru, and the other guys piped up with their cheers as well. We all crossed the street quickly to avoid the cold air that was too strong and entered the bar. There was a table in the corner of the room that I set my eyes on, and I directed the guys to go sit down while I ordered the drinks.
“Six sakes please,” I smiled at the bar tender. It a took a moment for him to get the drinks ready but he soon handed them over to me on a small plate, and I went back to join the guys. We downed our drinks with loud gulps and laughed at each other’s jokes. “I just wanted to say thanks for today. You really made me feel welcome. I was worried I wouldn’t fit in with your club.”
“Well, you fit in just fine, and like we said before, we’re happy to help you out,” said Eita.
“Yeah, you’re a great player already, but I’m sure you can get better. I wouldn’t worry too much about being a tournament pro,” said Reo with a wink.
I smiled at the comforting words from my friends, feeling content and relaxed. I hoped and prayed that they were right. I wanted nothing more than to be a tournament pro.
A few weeks had passed and I had spent a whole bunch of time going to North Japan. I was having a lot of fun just hanging out with the guys, and I had learned so much as well. Next week was the tournament in Korea, and I was still preparing for it. My nerves were getting worse as each day went by and I found myself with butterflies in my stomach. Despite that, I was still excited for the tournament ahead. I wanted to compete, to go to Korea and prove to everybody what I could do. There was nothing in the world that I wanted more.
“How are you feeling about next week?” Asked Gaku as we played some ping pong.
“Nervous and excited at the same time. There’s not much time left now,” I said, hitting the ball he just directed at me.
“That’s a good thing. You don’t have to wait anymore. Soon you’ll be in Korea. Soon you’ll be a champ.”
“God, I hope so,” I murmured. “I really want this.”
“You’ve been training hard. You’ll win this thing easy. Trust me,” said Gaku.
His words of encouragement helped me relax, and we carried on playing, hitting the tiny ball between us with ease. Gaku was a good player, which meant I had to be fast with my mind and hands. Sometimes he was hard to keep up with, but I usually managed to win.
“Yes!” I cheered when I won the game against Gaku.
“Damn it, you’re too good,” Gaku mumbled. “You’re gonna beat everyone when you go to Korea.”
“I hope so,” I prayed.
The day had finally come. I was going to Korea after all the training and waiting and nervousness. I never thought the day would come, and as I stood outside the giant building where the tournament was being held I gulped. There was a big crowd outside, with people walking all over the place, their voices loud as they walked in and out of the building.
I took a deep breath before walking inside, holding onto the straps of my back pack tightly. As soon as I entered the main entrance I spotted the receptionist. I had already signed up online, but I needed to register once more and let them know I had arrived.
“Hi there,” I said as I approached the table, and the receptionist looked up at me with a warm smile. “My name is Kaito. I wanted to register.”
“Kaito, Kaito, Kaito….” The woman murmured, looking down the long list of names. “Ah! Here you are. Kaito, yes, take this sticker,” she said, giving me a giant sticker with a number on it. “That’s your registration number. Keep that with you and good luck today!” She said with a bright grin.
“Thank you,” I replied, popping the sticker onto the front of my shirt. I followed the crowd of ping pong players, watching as some of them held onto their paddles nervously. One of these people would be the winner… Maybe it could be me.
I don’t know how I did it. I don’t know how I managed to beat so many people. Maybe it was luck, or maybe it really was just my skill, but either way, I was in complete and utter shock. I had somehow managed to beat a whole string of other players, sending my name up the board. I was winning game after game, and my mind was a whirl. I honestly didn’t think I had it in me to get so far.
I had just won another game a few minutes ago, and the crowd around me erupted in cheers. They were all cheering me on, encouraging me, and I felt so good about myself. My confidence was growing but I was also still quite nervous. Because I won the last game, and because of all the points I had accumulated, I ended up going to the finals. When they told me I screamed so loud I thought I’d go deaf, and for a second I thought maybe I was dreaming. But no. It was all real. My life had the potential to change forever.
“Okay, Kaito,” one of the announcers said, coming up to me and leading me to where the finals would be. “This is it. Are you ready?”
“I’m ready. I’m definitely ready,” I nodded, taking in a deep breath.
He brought me to the next room and it was full with another crowd. I could see the guys in the audience, and they all sent me waves and thumbs up. I gave them a wave back before taking my position behind the table. My eyes locked onto my opponent, Hinata, and he looked at me angrily for a moment. I gulped at the sight of him. I did not want to lose. I did not come this far to lose.
The last game of the day soon started with a whistle, with Hinata starting off. He sent the ball flying to me, but I hit it just as hard. That went on for a few minutes until Hinata hit the ball so hard that I couldn’t keep up, and I missed it completely. I swore under my breath, but I knew better than to give up. We carried on playing again, each of us hitting the ball hard and fast. My strong arm hit with more force than I ever had before, and I smiled when Hinata missed completely. He sent me a growl, but I stayed focus on what I was doing: I needed to concentrate. That was what all my training taught me. Concentrate, Kaito, I told myself, just concentrate.
Again, we went back to hitting the ball fluently, and sometimes I missed, and other times Hinata missed. It seemed like the game was going to go on forever until I hit the ball so hard my arm felt sore. It flew by over the net and past Hinata. He didn’t have much time to react, and he had no chance of hitting it.
The crowd suddenly erupted, cheering my name loudly, and the announcer ran over to shake my hand. Did I just win? Did that really just happen? I was in total shock.
“What… What…” I stuttered.
“Congratulations, Kaito!” Screamed the announcer, a wide grin on his face as he held my arm up. “You’ve just won the biggest ping pong tournament in Korea, and better yet, you’ve just won fifty thousand dollars!”
I gasped at him, shocked that I managed to pull it off. I won! I actually won! I let out a surprised laugh as they brought the trophy over to me, and I held it up above my head, a wide smile on my face. That money was all mine. That fifty thousand was mine to spend and do anything and everything I wanted. If you told me this time last year that I’d win this much cash from playing ping pong I’d laugh in your face, but the proof was there. I had done it. With the help of my friends I managed to secure the title of being a tournament pro and win a ton of money.
“Well, how do you feel?” Asked the announcer, microphone in my face as the audience continued cheering.
“I’m in shock, but this is the best day of my life!” I smiled. “I’m so happy to be here, and thank you for this amazing opportunity!”
The crowd got louder with my words, and as I waved at them, some of them even stood up to cheer. I looked at my friends and eyed them with a grin, so happy that I had them in my life. I couldn’t have done this without them. They had helped me so much throughout the last month or so. I had plans to buy them all the sake they wanted.