Most of the ping pong coaches in Shenzhen are former professional players, now retired from competition to earn a living from coaching.
I've taken lessons with several coaches but the guy on the right is different. His name is Wang Kejie (王克捷). Talking to him, I gathered he is not retired, i.e. he is still being paid to train and compete. In fact, his palmares includes the China Superleague, the highest level league in the world.
Not surprisingly, he is the most expensive coach I've ever hired. Don't get me wrong, I don't need the best. In fact, a practice partner of his level is kinda wasted on me. Any decent former professional probably would do just fine.
Update: a friend (thanks John!) told me Wang Kejie is rated 2800 on ratingscentral.com. My last rating on USATT was 2100 (from years ago). And a 200 point gap is huge. So a 700 point gap is, well, as wide as the Grand Canyon perhaps...
But, you see, the thing is, I couldn't find anyone I knew to coach me on a Saturday morning. All the coaches that I knew were already spoken for. In Shenzhen, with Hong Kong just next door, Saturday mornings are peak hours, aka prime time. In other words, they're all fully booked in advance.
However, Wang Kejie was available. (His price is 150 yuan an hour, well above the going rate. Usually, I pay around 80 yuan for someone as good as the best in the USA.) I booked him for 3 hours solid starting at 9:30am. I brought a camera and tripod, 6 shirts, 2 towels and 3 liters of cold drinks. In other words, I was ready to sweat hard and really earn my way to lunch time.
I haven't posted videos for a while. Let me rectify that right now. Let's begin with some basic drills.
Single Stroke Drills
Video #1. This is me forehand looping from a fixed position.
Although it may not appear much different, my forehand has undergone quite significant structural changes. Working with another coach Liu Chang, who has been patiently working on changing my fundamentals - whom I'll feature in a later blog entry, I've been aiming to eliminate all tension from my shoulder and arm. In fact, I consciously try to not think about generating power from the arm at all. The closer I can get the power source to migrate down to the balls of my feet, the better my stroke will be. My backswing is also considerably reduced from older videos, a good thing. The followthrough is still too far across the centerline of the chest. It's still work in progress but at least I feel I am finally making some progress in my forehand loop, though I'm still generating too much force from my arm.
Video #2 should convince you (although not visible to the eye) that my arm has really relaxed a lot. This is me being fed underspin balls to both corners. I use my forehand loop throughout.
There is no way no how I could have looped a whole basket of balls using the old (incorrect) stroke with my right shoulder driving the ball forward hard, and maintaining tension on the arm. I guess with my over-big old stroke I would have lasted about 10 balls max. The only one way I could have looped a whole basket of balls, 67 in this video, is with a completely relaxed arm.
Video #3 is to do with the backhand stroke. This is the reverse penhold stroke I've been trying to develop in Shenzhen and Los Angeles. My reverse backhand is far from solid, the arm wobbles a bit too much, but progress here is easier than with my forehand loop. The reason of course is that the reverse penhold backhand is relatively new to me and plastic. By contrast, I've been forehand looping for a lot longer: thus, the way of thinking about how to generate spin and power and long-ingrained muscle memory are all harder to overcome.
Video #4 introduces me to the 敲門 (rap on door) technique for the reverse penhold block. I've always found the reverse block to be less reliable than my old traditional (one-sided) penhold block. And under time pressure, I often revert back to old ways. This video show the reverse penhold block could be a superior weapon. I hope to be able to incorporate this into my subconscious memory as soon as possible.
Set Piece Drills
The previous four videos are all about drills for a single stroke. I believe I'm reasonably competent at the single drill level. However, there are levels above that with drills before we can even contemplate competition play. Unfortunately, rather disappointingly, I start to fall apart and lose stroke discipline at these next levels.
For example, strokes that are very high percentage for me at the single stroke level suddenly become rather 50-50 or iffy. I need to do a lot more work at these levels.
Another disappointing characteristic is that once I feel a bit pressured, maybe ball is faster or lands a bit deeper and closer to my body than I'm comfortable with, I tend to revert back to older strokes. For example, my backswing becomes large again, or I use the shoulder and upper arm to generate power, or my followthrough has wobbled to one side instead of straight ahead. (With coach Liu Chang, as I'll describe in a later post, set pieces are introduced bit by bit with lots of feedback on how to maintain form.)
Video #5 illustrates set piece play. This is where there is a sequence of known shots. For example, the coach may serve short, you agree in advance to push the ball back short. And then the coach will push the ball deep to the backhand side. And you agree to attack that deep push.
Set piece play is more difficult to execute without losing stroke discipline due to the need to adjust and move between the strokes. With movement in and out of the table, balance and weight on the feet undergo large changes, plus timing changes and that all can throw your shot off. Solid percentages can plummet.
Another scenario illustrated in the video is the coach serves short to your forehand. You step in and flip the ball cross-court but have to leap back to cover the deep backhand, as you have agreed in advance to receive his attack there.
Finally, video #6 illustrate semi-free play. In other words, the sequence is only partially agreed upon in advance. Here, the coach will serve short. I will try to receive the ball, maintain stroke discipline and try to cover the table and keep the point going. Unfortunately, I have to confess - even if it's not abundantly clear from the clip - I'm really not there. I feel by this stage of complexity, I've totally lost all the balance and discipline that I manage to exhibit in single stroke drills.
And of course, there are drill levels above this. Notice in the set pieces above, the coach is not really serving at a high level or even pushing like he would in a real match. Both his serving and push levels are deliberately dumbed down so I can actually get a chance to practice the set piece. So even these set pieces don't really count as point simulation.
In a real match, I'm pretty sure I can't get past any of his serves anyway.