Friday, May 5, 2017

Time to shut it down

It's been a good run but I think it's come time to retire this blog.

I've often wondered if the name of this blog being Chronicles of Gossima was a little too vague & obscure for people to understand. Truth of the matter is most people don't know that Table Tennis, in one of its many early names was Gossima. Thus the name of this blog. But for those outsiders, if you just saw the blog name, would you know what it's about? Probably not.

It's not so much a stop but rather a restructure. More than even i'm interested in keeping penhold play going in this age of duel inverted shakehand. More specifically, pips play in penhold as that's what I find most interesting. And with an interest in keeping this tricky twiddle game style going here in the western part of the world, I am launching a new blog simply called Penhold Pips that will focus on that style. Thank you to all who have occasionally stopped by to read this blog and hopefully I will see you on Penhold Pips.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Want to improve? Learn how to lose.

One of my other hobbies other than playing table tennis is competitive gaming. Chess and RTS (real time strategy games) Think the board game RISK but on a computer game. Truth be told, I find it easier to squeeze in a quick video game vs finding a buddy and get table time in unfortunately.

I couldn’t help but notice a striking similarity between these things the other day and it is the inspiration of the title of this blog post.

What do they have on common? People are competing vs one other. We’ve all been there. There is nothing better than being challenged and coming out on top. It’s the highest of highs. Conversely, few things at times seem worse when you’ve given your best and you fall short. It’s the lowest of lows.

In the competitive gaming word, there’s even a thing called Ladder Anxiety. The phenomena is explained here in this video below.

Basically it’s the anxiety once feels when they’re queued up to find a match and they’ve found someone and the match is loading. It’s Mano-a-mano. Their hands start sweating, they’re nerves start rushing. Quite simply, they’re afraid. Afraid of losing. Perhaps it’s human nature but this fear can often outweighs the thrill of victory.

Interestingly, in the competitive gaming world, often team based games are more popular than the ones where it’s 1v1. When I think about our table tennis club that meets weekly, I would say the vast majority of it is doubles play compared to singles. I’m guilty of this myself. When I think about how I feel when I play doubles compared to how I feel when I play singles, it’s night & day difference. Why is that? That’s because when you lose in a team based environment, the negative self in us can shoulder the blame with another person. It’s how we justify it in our minds. But when it’s singles? There’s nowhere to hide. It’s all on you.

Sound familiar at all in regards to table tennis?

I have a buddy who I hit with at work once a week over lunch. He refuses to play a singles match. He only wants to hit... Quite simply, he's afraid to lose. Ladder anxiety.

I sometimes think for some players who are so blindingly confident in their game, warranted or not, are lucky. They always think they are going to win so they are confident & free. If you are one of those people, congratulations. Please stop reading now.

However, if you are like, what I can only assume the rest of us, what would really help your game? Learn how to lose. That’s right. Stop being afraid to lose.

I’m going to let the cat out of the bag here but your self-worth isn’t wrapped up in your table tennis game. It’s not wrapped up in your ranking in Star Craft 2 (which is a popular video game featured in the video above). Truth of the matter is probably nobody cares as much as where you are in your chosen competitive hobby as you do. Actually, check that. I can almost guarantee that. As a Christian myself, my self worth is wrapped up in my relationship with God. This is not said to sound self righteous. Trust me with my faults, I’m the last one who could feel that way. The point was made in transparency & with the hope that whatever it is for you, you would realize there are bigger picture things more important in life than table tennis or said game. That's all they are... Games. Perhaps it’s your time with your family? It could be a number of things.

Imagine if you got to a point of going into matches where you obviously wanted to win, tried your best to win but wouldn’t be crushed psychologically if you lost. Imagine if after a tough loss the only thought in your head was “well shoot. I’ll get him next time." and you truly felt that way. Nothing more. Nothing less. Would you then play more singles matches? Imagine if you played countless singles matches over & over against people who are better at table tennis than you. Note I did not say better than you. I said better at X game than you. That’s all we’re doing here. Playing games. How much better at said game would you get over the span of a few months? If you do not play a lot of singles matches now, I dare say you’d transform into a completely different player over that time.

"I lost? No biggie."
So I will wrap it up there. Want to improve? Want to get better? Want to finally beat that person who has had your number for a long time? (Psst. Psychological tip here. Table tennis is a spectrum. That guy who you desperately want to beat has another player he desperately wants to beat. We’re all somewhere in the middle) Then keep playing him. Keep losing to him. Learn how to accept it. Do not assign any type of self-value in your wins or losses. Try to improve and just focus on closing the gap. If you can let go of that ladder anxiety & learn how to lose, you might be surprised by the results.

Friday, March 31, 2017

A New Discovery: Part 2

I hit against the robot feeding me topspin. First with inverted penhold. Then with inverted shakehand.

Perhaps it's a mental thing with me, or what I've trained my body to do but I was clearly hitting with more spin with the inverted shakehand. The natural angle of the blade when the arm is extended with shakehand lends me to believe this to be optimal.

See this demonstration.

As you're reading this, if you can, extended your arm to the side. Fingers pointed & all. I think most, if not all people would do something similar to this person above. This is a natural, relaxed position. Now lets imagine he's holding a shakehand blade.

You see how closed the face of the blade is? Skimming the top of the ball (obviously he'd have to open up a little) would be no problem. This is kind of what I was experiencing last night.

Now lets take the same natural grip & put a penhold blade in it. The face of the blade would almost be completely flat or even. If he wants to topspin he incoming ball, he will have to change his finger placement to accommodate for the FH. Slight finger placement change is common place in penhold.

What you do is with your fingers extended on the back, apply pressure with your thumb or not to essentially teeter totter the angle of the blade accordingly. Penholders do this naturally without thinking about it.

Well I don't extend my fingers on the back of the paddle. I curl them. Its the only way I can twiddle with the speed I do. If I never twiddled, I probably would go with the fingers extended approach. Consequently, with the fingers curled on the back, It's much harder to adjust the angle as instead of there being a thin point on the back of the paddle (fingers extended) there's a circular flat shape. I hope that makes sense.

Long story short. For me, for one reason or another, I find it more natural to hit into the ball more flat with penhold vs massively spinning it.

I put my TSP Spectol Red in place of the inverted last night and it was back to normal. What a relief. The TSP is a tuned more firm sponge designed for the 40+ mm ball. I initially didn't like it because it was too fast but I feel I didn't give it enough time. It's still plenty fast. Faster than my inverted actually. I just have to be controlled while I get use to it.

An additional plus is that the stroke mechanics between a SP FH and a LP FH are not dramatically different. So my body doesn't have to learn two completely different techniques for every shot.

I will try to bring more club play as I progress.

A New Discovery: Part 1

Wow have learned a lot over the last week or so. Coming off a tournament I suppose it was an okay time to try new things. I'm thankful it didn't take long to find out.

I was contemplating switching from my penhold twiddle game to something more mainstream.

  • Duel Inverted shakehand
  • Modern defender shakehand
  • Duel Inverted Penhold
I wanted to play a more modern style of gaming thinking it could help me reach a higher level. But there's always a struggle with, "what do you enjoy more?". That being said, I knew duel inverted shakehand was out for me. Just too standard. As someone who likes gambits in chess (non-standard type of play that has aggressive risky openings), unusual metas in RTS games, why would table tennis be any different. It might not be the most optimal always. But clearly I like going against the grain.

So that just left Modern defender & duel inverted penhold. last Sunday I first played an older gentlemen, who I had never lost to. I started out duel inverted penhold. I got up 2-0 and he came back to win 3-2. Highly disappointing but it made sense. He doesn't hit with much spin so you have to create it all your own when attacking. I simply couldn't maintain the consistency I had early on to finish it off. Admittedly, my inverted FH loop game is sub-par.

Then played another defender that night as a modern defender myself. This player is much better than the older gentlemen above. We played two matches and he beat me 3-0 then 3-2. The second game I started to get the hang of it much more and had some nice stuff going. Good loops.

Where did it go wrong?

My goodness my knees & legs were shot after 3 hours of play. Coming from the penhold (think He Zhi Wen's game) close to the table attack to playing 5 feet off the table getting low & chopping, moving in to loop etc. They were just not ready for that. I can get over the muscle soreness. That's fine. But the achy joints was killing me. This modern defender I've also beat several times before with my penhold twiddle game.

I enlisted some help from knowledgeable posters on the TableTennisDaily forum. Filmed myself with various shots and was just underwhelmed by my lack of looping.

A few days later I had a go over lunch with my co-worker over lunch. Kinda the same thing. Feeling defeated I twiddled and started playing him almost entirely with my long pips on the FH & inverted on the BH.

My old self returned. He could do nothing from that point forward. Everything to my FH (serves & otherwise) I could place the ball exactly where I wanted. It simply did not matter what spin was on the ball. Then on the BH I could change up what I hit with. TPB LP? Or RPB inverted.

It led me to a discovery last night that I had been thinking about. This is getting ridiculously long so see that post in Part 2.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Update on the Switch

So last Sunday I went to club and played soley shakehand.

Honestly my results were about what I expected. I played just okay with a few flashes of great. If I'm being completely honest, I would say I'm a solid 200 points less right now with shakehand compared to penhold.

The biggest adjustment is getting that forehand to feel comfortable off the table. I can counter drive close to the table all day. That's not a problem. It's the off the table more body, more arm loop that feels awkward.

My partner Ben & I have a tournament coming up in just over two weeks from now. It really is a pretty horrible time to be switching styles. We lost to a team that night we would never lose to in our normal setup. That being said, I think it's wise to table the switch until after the tournament. My rating as it stands now isn't that high and I will absolutely kill it if I going into that tournament playing shakehand. I really wanted to play in some singles events this year so i could start to raise that.

So I think for this tournament, I will play with my clipper penhold with inverted on the forehand to give me that extra bit of pace with my long pips on the backhand. Keep in mind I twiddle a lot. It's this change of pace & tactics that a lot of my setup points have been built around.

That was one adjustment I didn't expect last Sunday. Outside of learning a new technique, I need to learn new setups & learn how to win points. It's completely different.

For example. One easy setup point I like in singles is to serve backspin and show I'm serving heavy backspin. They push. I twiddle and long pip swipe. It's basically a 3rd ball attack every time that's easy to execute & gives opponents a weird ball if they're not use to it. That is gone with duel inverted. I would either be forced to push back with inverted or hope it goes off the table and loop. Pretty much standard play.

For as much as I spoke about the advantages of shakehand over penhold in my last post, I want to point out this one element that seems obvious to me know after a lot of testing.

Say you get a short backspin serve and you want to backhand flip that ball. If you watch pros execute this shot, their ready position always looks like this...

(Fan Zhendong... #2 in the world and probably the best in the business at this shot)

For the life of me I cannot figure out how to generate enough upward motion to get this ball over the net. Sometimes, I like this technique where you come to the side & slightly under the ball on  your flick. Think of the motion in the flick forward but doing it with a side/open face paddle. It defaults to return side/backspin. Think of it as an aggressive push. With practice, you can roll this shot to turn into topspin. This shot is flat out easier for me to execute with penhold given the nature of the angle.

Lastly, the hook forehand loop is 10x easier with penhold as it's easier to drop the head of the blade down and come around the side of the ball. I'm convinced this is why Xu Xin is known most famously for his around the net shots. It's simply easier.

So what's to take away from this? Nothing much. Just like rubbers, there's no one perfect thing. Every grip & technique has its advantages & disadvantages.

I hope to be able to get some good content of video in the tournament coming up soon.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Club Update from 2/19/17

I was back at club for the first time after a little break. For starters, Ben & I assembled our new Joola Tour 2500 table the club purchased. Man is it nice. I really couldn't be more excited with the direction club is heading with our new payment structure.

As for my play, I would say it was okay. I hadn't played in a week and a half and I did fine. I've been having this dilemma with wanting to add more power back into my game. Sure the short pip placement control game is nice but you have to pick your shots. If the ball is low over the table, you cannot just smash it any time you like. With inverted, you can loop that ball. I've contemplated going back to inverted but honestly I've been playing short pips on my penhold forehand for so long, it always goes bad.

At the end of the night I took an old duel inverted penhold blade of mine and played an another member at club shakehand. He won the first two games but after that I settled in & came back to win the final 3.

I've been down this road before as I originally started out playing shakehand. For many years actually. And my findings that night were still about the same as before.

What comes easier to me playing shakehand.
(note: this is just for me. I believe these vary from player to player)

  • Feel
    • Honestly I probably should end the list here because this is probably the most important factor of all but the feel of the ball is simply greater for me. Forehand flips, looping backspin, etc. Because i'm grabbing a handle, as what's natural, the feeling is greater.
    • Perhaps if I would have originally started out penhold this would be different but none the less, that's where I'm at.
  • Looping backspin
    • It is a treat not taking a second thought about what to do if the ball is off the table and to your forehand. Loop that every time and to do it with confidence.
  • Backhand block
    • So truth be told, when I would play RPB with inverted, my backhand drive & loop I always felt very comfortable with. It was very fast & spiny. The problem was simply blocking. Being a natural TBH guy, I never fully adapted. TBH block or RPB? With shakehand, I can do that same drive & loop just as well but with the added advantage that blocking feels easier and more natural. There is no indecision on which type of block to go with since you always have just one option.
  • Serving
    • This might come as a surprise but with penhold, the bat is naturally angled down. If you're doing a pendulum side/top or side/bottom serve, great. But pure bottom, it's easier for me to generate more spin on that serve with shakehand. Furthermore, the Par Garell serve (probably the best server in the world) just comes naturally to me with shakehand. This serve I could never do with penhold.
    • I will admit that the reverse pendulum serve at first seems more difficult now but I will work on it. Or simply continue the punch serve as a replacement. That's all what Par's serve is honestly.
In fairness, I probably should say what came easier to me with penhold.

  • Big forehand
    • I started out inverted and I liked the speed & spin it gave me. But now that I've fully acclimated to short pips, I feel that aspect is kinda gone. Go figure.

So there it is. I'm giving this a real go. Yes the forehand will probably be the hardest part but one thing I learned from my match with Jarry the other night, if I can just develop good control with my forehand, something I think I have a good jump start on based on the feel, I can work on power later. I've already got the power down from the backhand. So I might start off a little more backhand oriented but we will see if we can change that over time.

Funny enough, the gentlemen who I beat, who runs club, said back in the day he played penhold as well. But as he aged possibly, he switched to shakehand and he told me when he did that, his game immediately improved a couple hundred points. Lets hope I can find the same results.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Effect of Sponge Hardness

I have two older rubbers needing replaced on my Clipper. Before you say "whoa, whoa, whoa. What about no more EJing?" I'll have you know I've been doing great with that. Purely short pip/Long pip combo for some time now. But the truth of the matter is that my long-time used long pips has several pips broken and my custom short pips topsheet is separating from the sponge where my index finger rests. So I did some testing last night preparing for options.

729/Friendship 802-40 on an Air super soft 30 degree sponge (2.0 thickness). 
Blade: Stiga Clipper Classic Cpen
729/Friendship 802-40 on the stock 35 degree sponge (2.0 thickness). 
Blade: Nittaku Airuline 8.8 Jpen

I should note that I have always felt for some reason I hit with more spin with Cpens & more speed with Jpen. There must be something about my natural angle with Jpen that hits more flat. That being said, I did my best to be sure I had the same blade angle & swing pattern with each vs topspin against the robot.

The difference wasn't huge but I did notice that the arc of the ball curved & dropped more on the 30 degree sponge. Additionally, the ball trajectory was flatter and ever so slightly faster with the Jpen.

These findings are not surprising when you think about it. The softer sponge is wrapping around the ball more, thus grabbing it, allowing the spin capability to be slightly greater. But because there is more give & cushion so the speed is reduced.

Conversely, the harder sponge wraps less around the ball and there is less cushion. The ball flies off the surface quicker with more speed.

So there you have it. As far as I'm concerned...
  • Softer sponge - more spin, less speed. Most likely safest and more consistent. Probably the better answer for most recreational players where usually tthe more consistent player wins.

  • Harder sponge - less spin, more speed. Not as safe but more potential for devastating shots.

    If nothing else, watch the ball jump off Vladimir Samsonov's racket this last Olympics. I was watching and kept wondering at his age how he was getting so much power. I realize he's a professional and one of the very best but he was noticeably hitting with even more power than his younger competitors as far as I could see. I later found out that he apparently had something in the 50+ degree range. 😮
Going back to my original point about needing to replace my rubbers, I'm excited to try out what should be my highest quality rubber yet. TSP Spectol Red.

This takes the classic Spectol topsheet and puts it on a new sponge for the plastic ball. pre-tuned and 40 degrees. Without a doubt it should be faster.

I will have to accommodate for the speed and slightly less arc. This is not a bad thing. I never wanted my short pips to curve too much and behave like regular inverted. I think that defeats the purpose, or certainly one of the advantages, of playing with short pips in the first place.

I will have a full review of TSP Spectol Red soon along with a well known hitting long pip Dawei 388-D1 on a 1.5 sponge.