The last 5 or 6 days were shit. I had the flu, and in the middle I had a travel day moving from Osaka to Sapporo. Ugh, it was miserable, chills, fever, etc. At one point I also accidentally took 3 immodium instead of 3 painkillers, so ya. Killin’ it. When I am super sick, I am always reminded of a theory of evil that is tossed around in the philosophical world which postulates that without pain, suffering and evil, we wouldn’t be able to recognize pleasure, joy, or peace. I am not sure I totally agree, but most people can relate to the feeling of sheer joy when their symptoms finally lift. That first day without a fever is biblical.
Today was that day for me. I woke up, and felt super-human. I decided I’d rested enough and headed for a gym that I found deep in the ex-pat forums for Hokkaido. It appeared that there was a community gym with a room dedicated to weightlifting, and even a sand sumo-ring. Sold! And it was only a 2.5km walk.
On the way there, I felt like I was in a viagra commercial or something. Lights were turning green for me, my shoes were gripping the snow while other people were slipping, the snow was pretty, sun was shining etc. At one point a taxi had tried to do a u-turn but got stuck near the sidewalk I was on, and since I was clearly super-human for surviving the flu, I decided to give him a couple pushes and sent him free. The car even felt light (just kidding… but seriously).
I arrived at the gym, which looked more like an old communist building from the outside. Sapporo Chuo Taikukan, which I think means something like Sapporo City Gymnasium. I bought my tickets, 6 vists for 1950 Yen, which is like 25 bucks Canadian or equal to being allowed to look inside a Crossfit gym in Japan (drop ins are 25-40$).
As I opened the door, my heart jumped. The lights weren’t on yet as no one was inside. It looked as if I’d travelled back in time and landed in a 1980’s training hall. This must be how christians feel when they enter the church before anyone else on a Sunday.
This may be the closest to an old-school olympic lifting training hall I’ll ever get. There were two large platforms made of wood covered in battle scars which just made you think about all the lifts that had taken place in here. I saw on the board someone had recently done a mock competition and went 5/6 coming out with 110kg in the Snatch and 140kg in the Clean and Jerk. Very impressive numbers. I had the space to myself for about twenty minutes where I selected my favourite bar from the rack, looked at all the old plates, chalked my hands, and just enjoyed the atmosphere. There were even brushes here to clean the bar after you used it. This was truly a temple, its orderliness was unlike anything I had seen in a gym.
Eventually a silver-haired man walked in who looked old enough to be my Grandpa, but also looked like he was there to do the same thing I was. I watched this man warm-up. It was eerily similar to my own. He clearly had accumulated some injuries over the years, but as he kept moving, he kept getting more limber, and after about ten minutes he looked more mobile than most of the 18 year old hockey players I train when we get them at the start of summer.
After his warmup he took out some burly knee sleeves, and laced up his old wood-heeled lifters. After that, he walked to the platform and lined up all the stacks of plates, which was another eerily similar trait we shared. Then he started with some back-squats.
This man, who I later found out was 72 years old, squatted below parallel, and was hitting about 70kg for reps. GOALS! We eventually got to speak a little bit with his limited english and my complete lack of Japanese. In between his sets of deadlifts at almost 225#, he showed me a huge scar on his back from what looked like a recent spine surgery. His name was Toyoshima, and this was clearly his gym, his happy place, and his turf. I think he could tell how humbled and appreciative I was, and that we shared the same religion so I felt like we really connected. I even got a bow as I left which I most definitely reciprocated.
I am still glowing from this experience and will be going back tomorrow. It also makes me wonder why we can’t have community gyms like this in Canada. I guess we have community gyms in our pool facilities, but they are filled with machines, because I guess that safe and effective….anyway, that’s a topic for another day.
Grit Human Performance