Yesterday’s scene behind the small temple played out in my dreams with a disturbing twist. It was all fine up to the point where I threw K in the pond. But then, instead of marching back to me in anger, she remained in the water and stood still while an ominous shadow slowly swept over her body. My mouth grew dry as I watched her from the edge. I called out to her, beckoning her with my hand to come to me. K!....K! Get out, fast! The words still echoed on my lips as I jerked forward on my futon. I was sweaty, my heart was beating fast, and my ears were ringing.
I lumbered into my mini bathroom and splashed cold water on my face. Stupid dream, I reassured my reflection in the mirror above the sink. With all that the day promised I quickly forgot about it and dashed to the dining hall at the earliest possible hour.
Not to weight down my stomach before the training, I took a Japanese breakfast - a soup and some rice with a piece of grilled salmon. By the time other fighters began to arrive, I had already finished eating. Sipping my tea, I glanced at the clock on the wall every few minutes. After breakfast, she said.
Tired of prying looks in the dining hall, I decided to wait for K outside. With my sports bag packed, I was ready to go to the gym immediately. I suspected though, K would not show up till the very end of the breakfast hours.
Surprisingly, I was wrong. When I stepped out of the house, she was there, picking up the can of coffee that just rolled out of the vending machine.
“Ohayo, Nik san!” she called out in a vibrant voice and popped the can open. “That means good morning in Japanese…“
“Yes, I know.”
“Good! Are you ready for today’s training?”
“Lets’ go then.”
The first gym building was just a few minutes away and the two others followed within the same distance. All three buildings were mostly made of wood and were built in a traditional style similar to the lodging house of K. We stopped in front of the second one, which was the largest. A set of about ten wide steps led to an impressive wooden door. Before entering we took off our shoes and placed them on the allocated space near the door, next to several other pairs of shoes. The massive door opened into a large hallway, which eventually turned into stairs leading to another floor below.
As soon as we entered, K was approached by a man, who looked very surprised to see us. She engaged in a conversation with him, while I, attracted by the familiar sounds, strayed towards one of the double doors, which led to the gym halls, and peeked inside.
The time I had tried to enter one of the gyms on my own, I was refused the entrance before I even took my shoes off. No proxy, no entrance was the rule that was enforced firmly. Now I finally got inside and just seeing part of the ring and two fighters on the punching bags, made my blood rushed quicker. But before I could relish the full view, K’s loud talking diverted my attention.
The man was pointing his finger onto a page of a thick notebook on his desk, and it seemed something on that page triggered the dispute between him and K. He then turned a few more pages in that notebook, pressing his finger on each one of them. As K skimmed over the pages her face grew thoughtful. She gave a quiet nod, bowed to the man, and signalled me to follow her out.
“What’s going on?” I asked once we were outside. She left the premises so quickly I didn’t have time to tie my shoelaces.
“Mmm… nothing. We go to the other gym.”
I raised my eyebrows at her and pointed my finger at the building behind us. “But why not here?”
“I’ll explain later. Let’s go now and not waste too much time.”
“Wait….dammit…” I squatted down to tie my shoes and hurried after her.
The same story repeated at the next gym and also at the third. In the narrow reception hall inside the last gym building, the smallest one of the three, K’s face grew tense and she uttered a sharp kuso – an equivalent for the word shit - as the man behind the desk pointed at a page in the similar, thick notebook as in the previous gyms. When she beckoned me to follow her out, I didn’t oblige.
“K, what the fuck is going on?” With my arms extended and palms turned upwards I demanded an explanation. This gym had only one hall, its doors were wide open, and I’d be damned if some receptionist was going to prevent me from entering. “I’d really like to do some training here. Look, only a few fighters are inside, there’s plenty of space. I’d like to do some power training and some boxing with a coach or on the bag--”
She shut me down with her intense stare. “I say what, how much, and when you get to train. You don’t get to choose.”
Something was wrong. Her reaction was way too intense. “Fine, then just tell me what to do. Why are we hopping from one gym to another?”
“Oh, did K not tell you?”
I turned toward the voice my mind already recognized. Kentaro. In a suit befitting a tacky nightclub, he was leaning against the doorframe of the gym, arms folded, and a grin on his mouth.
“You have to reserve the coach and the halls in advance if you want to train in the gym. But, it seems everything is already full for today.” He shrugged, his grin changed to a smirk.“It’s the rules, darling, everyone has to respect them. Even K…”
After yesterday’s humiliation in the dining room, I thought he’d be more prudent, but he bounced back with an even greater amount of smugness.
K didn’t respond or even look at him. She stood like a stone, her chin pushed down. “Let’s go,” she said quietly.
I wanted to object, but she just walked out. Kentaro flashed his white teeth in a complacent smile. The receptionist already stood up, reading himself to point me towards the exit. I got it, my proxy left so I had to leave as well.
Dashing out, I put myself in K’s way. “So? Care to explain?”
She averted her stare to the ground and exhaled an audible sigh. “You’ll have training today, but later. All halls are currently reserved.”
“What?” I shook my head in disbelief. “ Reserved? By who?”
“Some by Yamada san, most of them by Kentaro.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“No. Kentaro made sure to fill up the schedule with his fighters.”
“Ok…” I said nodding. “But we do have a training today…you said so, right?… When is it?”
“At 6:30 pm.”
“What do we do until then?”
“Umm…” Every second she spent thinking made me angrier. “You go jogging now, and then do all the exercises in the park you have been doing so far on your own.”
Fuck you! All you had to do was to make a reservation! My thoughts channelled into a cold: “Ok”. Grinding my teeth, I decided not to vent my frustration at her and rather save the energy for the punching bag in the evening.
I was waiting at the junction of the wide, gravel paths that ran throughout the compound. Unsure to which gym building we’d go this time, I stood in a spot where all the three buildings were in my view. Five minutes before we were supposed to start K appeared, coming from the direction of her sleeping quarters.
After the cold exchange of greetings, she continued towards the first gym and I followed.
“So what’s the training plan?” I asked while we were taking off the shoes.
“What are we going to train in this session?”
“Oh…it’s a mind and body coach.”
“A what?” I frowned.
“It’s a modern method of training. Supposed to be very good for fighters.”
To my relief, the man at the desk was not surprised to see us and after greeting us with the bow he let us proceed inside the gym without any arguing.
The gym was not very big. It had a ring, although smaller in size than the actual ring, several boxing bags, and some weight lifting equipment.
The coach looked Middle Eastern and had a body of a super athlete with bulging muscles from shoulders to feet. He greeted us in impeccable English and with an enthusiastic explanation about the content of his training.
He seemed like a nice guy, but I had reservations about him from the start. Listening to him, I felt like I came to one of those personal trainers for fitness and weight loss. He lacked that murderous, quiet focus, typical of more experienced, old-class trainers like Peter.
Once we started the training, my first impression only worsened. The guy made a science out of body movements and had his own ideas about how to improve my punch, which involved everything, but the actual punching. He made me crawl, jump and flip inside the ring, catch and throw the tennis balls in awkward positions, and solve simple mathematical problems while performing certain movements.
“You have to relax your shoulders…. relax in your hips, relax your mind…” he kept repeating, making me tense even more. K was sitting cross-legged on the mats by the ring and observing everything with a dull expression.
In the end, this being the worst of all, I had to tell him how I felt during this or that exercise – to talk feelings. He wasn’t very satisfied with my answers, which did not go beyond a shrug, a ’fine’, or an ’ok’, and - when he tried to dig deeper – capped at firm ’nothing’.
“So, how was it?” K asked me after the training.
I sweat and felt every muscle in my body, but this type of training just wasn’t for me. Peter - I trusted him as a person and as a trainer, so his methods got me where I needed to be. This guy didn’t inspire the same authority and his methods seemed off. I didn’t trust him.
I stretched my arm out to release the muscles in my shoulder. Now that the training was over, I actually did feel relaxed. “The truth?”
K nodded, her face showing uneasiness.
“Not what I expected.”
“Mh-mmm. Well…it’s good for you. It will help you to strengthen your injured body before you start training more heavy stuff.”
“If you say so.” I had a feeling she doubted the whole thing as much as I did. “Tomorrow we have some other trainings, right?”
She nodded, her eyes breaking away from mine. “I’m going to do reservations now. We meet tomorrow, same as today, after breakfast.”
She began to walk away.
“Okay, but K…” My words trailed away in the air, too slow and too quiet to reach her. What would I have said to her anyway? This whole day was so underwhelming and right now I doubted the coach as well as my proxy. And doubt was never a good thing in fighting.