Tuesday, June 10, 2008

20th Anniversary Of Ping Pong

This year marks exactly 2 decades of my experience with ping pong/table tennis. Easily the most popular sport in China (and that makes it among the most popular sports in the world), my first memories of the game involve my observance of my classmates in secondary school going at it at the then newly bought ping pong tables at the back of the school main hall. I remember refusing to join them, already claiming defeat at how difficult the game looks. I had started off playing badminton several years back with wood/steel racquets and was getting nowhere with my game. So slowly, I began to creep into ping pong. It took me about 2 months to get up to the level of my already playing classmates back then. I vaguely remember my first successful smash. It was indeed a rush.

So began my journey into ping pong. We used to play every day from 2pm to 6pm after school. We played till the cheapo MDF tables began to disintegrate. We played till our white prefect pants got stained with the green of the tables. We played till we got into fights when the opposite table keep whacking balls onto our side forcing us to pick them up.

Being a penholder grip player, I had bought my first ping pong bat from Butterfly. I didn't really find anything I liked about it except that it was good for driving and smashing. I still have it - the rubber has already died and maybe someday, I'll get it working again. My 2nd bat is still in service today after 2 decades (also another premade Butterfly bat).

I remember my first experience with bona fide chinese school players (they were at least 5 years younger than us). As expected, their fundamentals were superb. In the end, once we got past their solid style of play, we managed to defeat them using 'unconventional' tactics and guile.

Then I said goodbye to my secondary school and went to Singapore for a couple of years of education. Desperate for playing partners, a couple of friends and I scoured the community centers and void decks of apartment blocks looking for playing kakis. This was when I learned about the 'king' rules where a winning player stays at the table to take on the next challenger. It was fun as I learnt a lot from the old folks playing at these community centers. I tried for the college ping pong team and I remember my nervousness at the trial conducted by the team coach. He ok-ed me to attend the training sessions but insulted my best buddy when he told him, "Is this all you got?" I felt bad so I promised not to join the training sessions if he was not eligible.

It was a couple of years later when I was studying at a local college when I got heavily into ping pong again. This time, I found a consistent set of players to practise regularly with. It was a good time. I even managed to play with the Selangor No 3 at that time (and was of course soundly defeated - only managing to steal a handful of points from him). A subsequent college I went to also found me a few more players with which to play ping pong with. And I learnt more about the game of ping pong.

As I left college and moved into my working years, I found it impossible to find ping pong players (except for the occasional game or two at a friend's house). Finally, after working for a few years, the company decided to book us some tables at the Bangsar Sport Center and we started training again. I had a couple of decent sparring partners. It was the company games back then and a company director insisted to join our team for the games. I remember him turning up for just one training session - inundiated with alcohol. I was so scared that he would collapse during that session. During the games itself, he simply didn't show up. Wtf...

During this time and in preparation for the games, I bought my first 'expensive' bat... a Butterfly Senkoh Z armed with a Sriver rubber. It was my first single ply cypress/hinoki bat.

You can see the grain of the precious wood below...

It was a few years after before the company prepared for us more tables to play at... this time at the company premises itself. We managed to get only a few sessions in before the playing area was closed for renovations.

Fast forward 5 years to the future. I managed to find a couple of new playing partners in KY and Dree. We're trying to push in more games into our hectic schedule (which also includes some badminton and futsal) and hopefully we'll get somewhere. KY and Dree are relative beginners but I have high hopes for them (especially after they just got new bats to play with). To commemorate this, I ordered a Kokutaku Super Cho Tokusen No 1 D-100 from Japan, one of the most famous high end Japanese penholder table tennis blades around. I heard it uses cypress/kiso hinoki wood that is at least 3 centuries old to obtain the beautiful grain and characteristic needed for the right 'feel'.

I will be installing Butterfly's new Tenergy 05 onto this bat. And we'll see how it performs...

Copyright (c) Kelvin Tan

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,