Friday, February 20, 2009

shenzhen Ping Pong: warm-up

This blog entry is about warming up by hitting forehand forehand balls. But first, a re-cap...

Recently, I've written about how I got started playing ping pong (here).

Having been away from the sport for a number of years, I've also mentioned that I've spent some time getting re-acquainted with the game at the 深圳市世纪南华乒乓球俱乐部 Shenzhen Century South China Table Tennis Club (here).

I used a Canon HF-10 HD camcorder (shown with a Sony 0.7x wide angle adaptor) to record my training sessions with the professional coaches there. I recorded over 100GB of high definition video for my own study.

This is also an opportunity for me to experiment with video uploading and share (and discuss) a few (appropriately downsized) clips.

Modern table tennis is ruthlessly fast. You've got a small 40mm ball that can be spun and redirected to so many different places. Seemingly inconsequential, sometimes nearly imperceptible, adjustments in terms of readiness, timing and stroke mechanics have large consequences on that 9' x 5' playing surface.

Because of the lack of time and possible variation, one has to marry conscious decision-making with well-trained (subconscious) muscle memory. All in all, a sometimes overwhelming real-time challenge to cognitive/muscular systems. And for a non-elite level player like myself, that muscle memory, programmed over long hours of repetition, is sometimes simply wrong. It's not easy to unstick those bad habits that have somehow become (seemingly hopelessly) ingrained. Learn something wrong, it may take twice as long to fix. But re-programming is crucial to progress.

Assuming I don't get distracted, I'm planning to write a series of entries lest I forget my Shenzhen training and experience.

Some caveats are in order at this juncture. First, this marks the beginning of an experiment. I'm merely a club level player. Second, the blogsphere is by no means the ideal venue for communicating technique and stroke mechanics. Video, even high-definition, coupled with words are not enough. Finally, it goes almost without saying the best way to learn is through one-to-one interaction with a coach who has excellent communication skills and the ability to highlight problems, debug and help re-wire our strokes.

Forehand to forehand warm-up

Nearly everyone warms up co-operatively using this forehand to forehand drill. (I use the term co-operative because there are some who don't co-operate in the warm-up.) And after a few minutes, we usually move on to the real training session. Being able to hit forehand to forehand comfortably is usually taken for granted. After all, we only do this on the warm-up, and in any case, points are never played this way. So why practice or study it? Personally, I think one can deduce a lot just from watching the forehand forehand warm-up.

There can also be involuntary non-cooperation. In other words, there are some who can't hit with any consistency, i.e. in ping pong parlance we say they can't keep the ball on the table. (Some days, I am that person.) It's about the ability to control one's stroke: to wait, also to be able to adjust the ready position, to time the contact at right point of the bounce, to stroke cleanly with a good arc, and to recover and reset (the arm and the body) in time for the next ball. These are not skills of little consequence.

For example, in the two clips below, it's abundantly clear who has the better stroke mechanics in each case.

The first clip is an unedited one minute out of my 8 minute warm-up with 景文婷 (Jing Wen Ting), introduced previously here.

It's early in the morning for me, and I'm adjusting to the playing conditions and trying to get a feel for the ball on my paddle.

Shenzhen ping pong: warm-up forehand (relaxed pace) from Sandiway Fong on Vimeo. [The above embedded video is SD (standard definition). A larger video is available if you click on the link to go directly to the vimeo page. You can turn on HD (highdef) but somehow it doesn't work for me on my macbook. (Maybe only in full-screen mode?) Anyway, there is also a link in the lower right corner of the vimeo page where you can directly download the 1280 x 720p video file I uploaded.]

Things I find useful to remind myself about when I (re-)watch a clip. These may or may not resonate with your requirements:

(January 2010: updated slightly.)
  • It's not just a forearm-driven stroke. Is my body doing any work?
    Waist and body rotation simultaneous with forearm is key to making the shot reliable and consistent.
  • How am I finishing the stroke?
    My stroke should have an unforced, relaxed, natural arc.
  • Am I spraying the ball around much more than my coach?
    Watch where my ball lands on the other side. And adjust.
  • How is my timing?
    Position myself so I can contact the ball at the top of the bounce each time.
  • Am I adjusting for the unexpectedly long or short ball?
    Despite the repetitive nature of the warm-up, it's not like the steady rotation of a bicycle wheel.
    I need to both be able to wait or step forwards to take the ball earlier.
  • Proper recovery and preparation for the next stroke?
    Weight goes back onto right foot, simultaneously backswing (arm goes back) and rotate the waist.
You get the general idea...

More to come...


  1. I would like to spend a week in shenzen at the table tennis center to train like you. How long were you there ?

  2. Hi Sandi! Very great video you have. may l know what penhold you are using? thanks

  3. Dear Anonymous,

    Currently I am using Butterfly Amultart blade with Tenergy 05 forehand and Tenergy 05 FX backhand. In the video, I was using a slower Sword blade and Donic rubber.