The Chuo University Faculty of Letters is home to three athletes who are striving to become the best in the world—Ryo Murakami, a 4th-year student competing in Wushu Taijiquan; Meg Hemphill, a 3rd-year student competing in track and field; and Ryo Nagano, a 2nd-year student who is a Paralympic swimmer. Manabu Tsuzuki, Dean of the Faculty of Letters, met with the three athletes to discuss the appeal of competition, their daily training routines, and how they balance athletics and study. The power to take on the world comes from a thirst for victory and a hatred of losing.
Murakami uses every finger to express himself during a martial arts demonstration (photograph provided by Murakami)
Tsuzuki This is the first time that you have all met. As an introduction, would you please discuss the appeal of your sport and why you started competing?
Murakami I was influenced by my parents, who liked Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. I have been training in traditional Chinese martial arts since my first year of elementary school.
Hemphill Upon entering junior high school, I wanted to compete in some kind of sports. I have always liked running, so I chose track and field. At first, I competed in the hurdles. Afterwards, my coach advised me to try the heptathlon. The large number of events makes it difficult to compete, but I get a real sense of happiness and accomplishment after completing everything.
Tsuzuki What is your specialty?
Hemphill I’m best at the hurdles. Recently, I have also become good at the long jump.
Tsuzuki It seems to me that it might be better to focus on one event...?
Hemphill I’m motivated by doing things that no one else can do. If I focused on one event, it would be really difficult to set a new personal best as moving up. However, there is always lots of room to improve when competing in seven events. Even if I perform poorly in one event, I can still post outstanding results in the others.
Nagano I started competing in para swimming for disabled individuals upon entering high school. My goal has always been to compete in the Paralympics. My physical education instructor at a school for the blind was a para swimming coach, and he invited me to train for the team. Competitions are divided into different classes of disability. Each athlete works hard to overcome personal difficulties and find the best way to reduce water resistance for fast swimming. I have continued swimming because nothing brings me more happiness and satisfaction than posting a good time.
Practicing 8 hours a day
Hemphill pulls in front of other runners at the 2016 Japan National Championships, which features the top athletes in Japan (photograph provided by the School Newspaper Division “Chudai Sports” and taken by Kayoko Oguni.
Tsuzuki How much time do you spend practicing each day?
Nagano I practice together with the swimming team. Every morning, I spend about 2 and a half hours to swim from 4,000 to 6,000 meters. I also swim for about two hours in the afternoon.
Hemphill 3 hours is not enough time for me to train. On long days I spend about 5 hours on training; on really long days I train for 8 hours (everyone involved in the discussion is surprised). In my case, I have to practice running, jumping, and throwing. During the offseason in winters, I spend time on training in the preparatory phase. I always have many exercises to do and it takes a long time.
Murakami I train outside of the university. It takes about 90 minutes by train to reach my gym and practice together with a team. When I see an outstanding performance by another person, I feel motivated to increase my own training time or to incorporate the movements which I observed into my own routine. For that reason, I believe that training with a team is best. Athletes can motivate each other.
After posting a Japanese record, Nagano stands on the awards platform surrounded by reporters (photograph provided by Nagano)
Tsuzuki Please talk about your top performance so far in your athletic career.
Hemphill My best performance was at last June’s Japan National Championships (Hemphill won her second consecutive victory while posting the second-best score in the history of Japan). However, my most memorable competition was at the Japan Intercollegiate Track and Field Championships held last September. My condition at the time was poor, but I was under immense pressure to win. Actually, I wanted to quit so much that I cried during the competition. Still, I overcame my struggles and ran the final event (800 meters) as if my life depended on it. Ultimately, I was able to escape with a narrow victory.
Nagano My best swimming ever was at the Japan Para Swimming Championships held last November. I was able to achieve my goal of setting Japanese records in two events, the 50 meters freestyle and 100 meters freestyle. The Japanese records in my class hadn’t been beaten for several years. I was very happy to be the swimmer to finally break through and post new records.
Murakami I was able to give an outstanding performance at the All Japan Wushu Taijiquan Championships in the summer of 2016 (Murakami won the Tai Chi Division). Wushu Taijiquan is a competitive sport that incorporates artistic elements—sort of like figure skating. During competitions, there are severe score deductions for even the slightest wavering in a performer’s body. There is immense pressure, but also an indescribable feeling of happiness when giving a good performance. At the championship, I was so overjoyed that I cried. Some spectators even told me that my performance moved them to tears. At the previous championship, I made a big mistake in my routine and wasn’t selected to represent Japan at the world championships. It was a huge disappointment for me. At the 2016 championships, I made another mistake during my first routine, but was able to focus and get myself back on track.
Studying on the train/bus and at the end of the day
Tsuzuki How do you keep up with your studies?
Hemphill I can make time for studying once training is finished. On days when I have long practices, I wake up early the next morning to study. I never waste time, not even only five or ten minutes. For example, I can study for ten minutes while riding on the bus from the student dormitory to the campus.
Murakami I take a train ride of about 90 minutes twice a day. I spend a total of 3 hours on studying. I also concentrate hard during class. As long as I concentrate and study on a daily basis, it isn’t necessary to cram before tests.
Nagano On weekdays, I study during free periods or at night. I don’t train on Sundays, so I use the day to finish up any schoolwork left over from the week. I hate the feeling of being left behind, so I always try my hardest to keep up.
Tsuzuki It seems that you really hate to lose!
Nagano Yes, people often comment on my competitive nature.
Murakami I also hate to lose. It doesn’t matter if it’s a practice or a university test—I always want to be on top.
Hemphill I also hate losing. For example, if I am unable to perform as well as a teammate at practice, I will stay after everyone else has gone home and keep practicing until I do it right. More than anything else, I hate losing to myself.
Tsuzuki A hatred of losing is definitely something that you all have in common. On a different note, what is your favorite class?
Hemphill I enjoy philosophy. In general, I like classes during which the instructor introduces his or her own view on life.
Nagano I’m looking forward to taking special support education theory, a course which focuses on education for students with disabilities. Personally, I am a student with a disability and I have studied at schools which provide special education, so I’m sure that I will find the course interesting.
Murakami I enjoy classes on Chinese philosophy. I have also read several books on my own. Concepts such as taiji as well as yin and yang in Chinese philosophy are connected to Tai Chi. It also gives me an understanding for the historical background of China and Chinese people whom I interact with through Tai Chi.
Admiring my father as an athlete
Tsuzuki Which athlete do you admire most?
Murakami The figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu is amazing. He’s filled with confidence and exudes resolution when he speaks. Even when he fails to give a good performance, he faces his mistakes head-on and openly discusses them. His comments are always extremely insightful.
Nagano I have two favorite athletes. The first is the Chuo alumnus Shinri Shioura (represented Japan in short-distance swimming races at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics). He’s filled with confidence and always looks so cool when he is competing.
Tsuzuki Who is your other favorite athlete?
Nagano My father. He used to play professional basketball and competed in the world championships. I have admired him ever since I was a child, when I used to watch his games and his training at home.
Hemphill The female wrestler Saori Yoshida is incredible. The reason she cried tears of frustration at receiving a silver medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics is that she has worked tirelessly behind the scenes. I admire her both as a woman and as an athlete.
Tsuzuki All of you endure difficult training in order to perform at an even higher level. I truly respect your efforts. Through this discussion, I realized that your training for a higher level of performance has given you the discipline to control all aspects of your life. What are your next goals?
Murakami I want to capture a medal at the Universiade. I also want to win a medal at the World Championships (to be held in Kazan, Russia in September).
Hemphill I have the same goal—to win a medal at the Universiade. In order to compete in the World Championships (held in London in August), I will have to post a score better than the current Japanese record. I’ll do my best.
Nagano At the World Championships (Mexico City in September), I want to give my best performance and set a new Japanese record. My ultimate goal is to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
Tsuzuki I’m sure that each of you can achieve your goals through hard work. I will pray sincerely for your success!
Students Thank you very much!
Note) The men’s decathlon also includes events such as the discus throw and pole vault.
||Second Day (last day)
|100 meters hurdles
An international multi-sport event organized for university athletes by the International University Sports Federation (FISU). Held once every two years. The 29th Universiade will be held in Taipei, Taiwan from August 19 to 30, 2017.
Devising own special training methods
During the discussion, Dean Tsuzuki referred to the German philosopher on education Otto Friedrich Bollnow, who had a strong interest in traditional Japanese martial arts: “When being forced to train, no amount of training will be effective. However, when devising and repeatedly implementing one’s own special training methods, the athlete will be able to adapt to any situation in competition.”