Tomahawk serve

April 16, 2013

Tomahawk Serve

Recently someone asked me about why fewer players use the forehand tomahawk serve than before. (If you aren't sure what a forehand tomahawk serve, see video below of Matsudaira.) It was a much more popular serve back in the 1960s and 1970s. These days, however, the forehand pendulum serve (with racket tip down) has taken over in both its forms - regular and reverse. With a regular pendulum serve, the racket moves from right to left (for a righty). A reverse pendulum serves goes the opposite way. Regular pendulum serves dominate table tennis below the world-class level. However, at the world-class level, regular and reverse pendulum serves are about equally common. The latter is harder to learn, but is often more effective since players aren't as used to them - and even more effective if you can do both.

So why is the pendulum serve so popular, as compared to the tomahawk serve? 1) It allows them to serve both types of sidespin with roughly the same motion; 2) it's easier to serve very heavy backspin; 3) and they are just copying other top players. However, pendulum serves are way overused. Anyone developing a good tomahawk or other serve will give players problems as they aren't as used to it. If you are able to get heavy underspin (along with sidespin, side-top, and no-spin), and it's not obvious, then that's key to making the tomahawk serve effective at all levels. The same is true of the reverse pendulum serve - most players can't do it with heavy underspin, and when they do, it's too obvious. If you don't use it already, you should experiment with reverse pendulum serves so you can serve sidespin both ways.

For many below the higher levels, the tomahawk serve is a classic "trick" serve, where players serve it deep to the opponent's forehand so it breaks away from them, forcing numerous mistakes, i.e. free points. Advanced players have no problem looping these serves, but intermediate players struggle as the ball bounces away from them. As they reach for the ball, they tend to lower their racket, and so they end up lifting too much, and so the ball goes off they end. They also have trouble reacting to the sidespin, which pulls the ball to their left (if both players are righties), and so they have to aim to the right. (I seem to be plugging my Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers book these days, but it does have an entire section on returning these types of serves, in the chapter on Receive Tactics.)

Tomahawk serves are still used; I use it as a variation. Here's a segment from my blog on March 5, 2013:

The Amazing Tomahawk Serve of Kenta Matsudaira
Here's the video (1:09). Note how he can break it both ways - and see the side-by-side slow motion of the two versions. The real question for all you serious table tennis players: Why haven't you developed equally good serves? It's just a matter of technique and practice! If you don't have the technique, see a coach or watch videos and learn. (You don't need to match Kenta's serves - there are many other good serving techniques.) If you don't practice . . . well, then you'll never have the serve of Kenta Matsudaira, and you'll never be as good as you could have been. (This type of serve has been around for a long time. Dean Doyle specialized in this serve when he made the U.S. Pan Am Team over 30 years ago.)

Contest at Expert Table Tennis

Last week they ran a contest for a free autographed copy of my book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. The winner would be whoever could best explain why they deserved a free copy. And the winner is . . . Tom Lodziak from England!!! (His autographed copy goes out tomorrow.) To read his winning answer, see Expert Table Tennis. (While there, you can browse all their excellent coaching articles.) Yep, this is plug #2 for my book.

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

What, you haven't bought your copy yet??? Here's the page to order it! Time for some friendly persuasion - not from me, from others. Here are some quotes and all 14 reviews so far at Thirteen of the 14 reviews are 5-star; the other is 4-star. (Yep, this is plug #3 for my book! But there's a bunch of stuff after it, so feel free to browse past these quotes & comments. Or read them all.)

"Larry has done an excellent job in breaking down the skills needed by all players to improve in these areas. This book should be on every table tennis player’s mandatory reading list."
-Richard McAfee, USATT National Coach, ITTF Trainer, and USATT Coaching Chair, 2009-2013 

"Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers is a must read for any player serious about winning. This tactical Bible is right on the mark, and is exactly how I was taught to put together game-winning tactics and strategies."
-Sean O'Neill, 5-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion, 2-time Olympian 

"Larry Hodges' book on table tennis tactics is the best I have ever seen on this subject. This is the first book that explains how to play against the many styles of the game."
-Dan Seemiller, 5-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion and long-time U.S. Men's Team Coach Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars
Maybe the Best Table Tennis Book Ever Written, April 15, 2013
By Eric M Hine
I have read almost every table tennis book that is available in the English language. Many have great suggestions about stroke techniques. Some have good suggestions as to basic tactics and strategy. This book, however, answered all the questions I had wondered about for years regarding strategy and tactics. It's obvious that Larry Hodges knows and loves the sport of table tennis, but even more importantly to a reader it is clear that he wants to pass this knowledge and love for this sport onto others. It's a great book that I will recommend to anyone interested in the great sport of table tennis.

4.0 out of 5 stars 
A MUST for table tennis players who play club and tournaments. April 14, 2013
Very good reference book. A must for table tennis players who play at club or tournaments. Don't forget to get the update since that is a complete kindle version.

5.0 out of 5 stars 
Great Book from a Great Guy, April 5, 2013
By Kimberley Huff
Helped from the first page to the last, Great job Larry another sterling piece of work, Looking forward to your next book

5.0 out of 5 stars 
Playing smart, April 4, 2013
By Paul Wiltse (St. Paul, MN USA)
Mr. Hodges shares a lifetime of professional table tennis knowledge with you from start to finish. This book is well worth reading if you are really serious about becoming a top player. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in this fascinating game.

5.0 out of 5 stars 
For all skill levels, March 30, 2013
By debbieb
I am a low rated player and read this book easily, as it is written very clearly and easy for anyone to understand. I have put some of the information into action already and it has helped. My husband is a much better player than me as well as a USATT & ITTF Coach and he also read this book. He has suggested his students read this book and even carry it with them to a tournament for a quick refresher before their matches. Much of the information is known by the better players already, but Larry puts it all together so it is easy to find and all in one book. It is really a super reference tool. Including a chapter on hard bat and "funny" rubber surfaces adds to the value as most current players really need to better understand the way these surfaces play. I suggest every table tennis player have this book in their library. Bravo Larry. Aloha!

5.0 out of 5 stars 
Finally I can think! March 24, 2013
By Nicholas T Flor
I've been seeking this kind of insight for a long time. When it comes to analyzing my own match play, this is my handbook. I am very pleased with this book and am already changing the ways I approach playing the game.
Thanks Larry!

5.0 out of 5 stars 
mts288, March 22, 2013
By mts288
Best TT book I've ever read. It has all the stuff you don't get from your coach. If you have a problem with a certain style or equipment, Larry gives you the solution. A must read for any player at any level. Thanks Larry

5.0 out of 5 stars 
Very good book on under-covered subject. March 19, 2013
By Britt Salter
Larry covers a whole bunch of things that are barely - if at all - touched on. His writing is clear and concise. There is a good mix of humor, seriousness, technicality, and common sense.
One of the best TT books I've read!

5.0 out of 5 stars 
Great for the developing (or established) player! March 19, 2013
By Scott
Larry does a great job putting his many years of experience as both a high-level coach and player into this insightful and clearly written book. I've made this required reading for players I coach. Even after the first reading, this should be great as a reference to brush up on tactics and keep yourself on the right path to intelligent play.

5.0 out of 5 stars 
A tremendous amount of info! March 18, 2013
By Cubinican
Best money u can spend on information like this! Very clear and easy to read! Now when you train, you will know exactly what to work on!

5.0 out of 5 stars 
Highly recommended! March 15, 2013
By Feangfa Thaicharoen (Nonthaburi, Nonthaburi Thailand)
This book is the missing link between technical expertise and match outcome.

Usually, you perfect all the strokes without knowing why. This book puts those strokes into cohesive pattern. You will learn the distinction between strategic (for long-termed result) and tactical (for immediate result) thinking along the way.

After reading this book, you'll see tabletennis matches in different light. You'll appreciate the nuances of shot selection and the most important thing is you know "why" they use them.

A lot of examples in this book. Larry puts questions in between the narrative to make you "think".

Thanks, Larry, for writing this book. I'm an intermediate player without proper coach. Previously, I blindly practice strokes and drills without clear goal. In matches, I played blindly, instinctively. Most of the time, I didn't know why I won. And more importantly, I didn't know why I lost. So I had no way to improve my game. Your book gives meaning to my training. I'll train with strategic mind and compete with tactical thinking.

Finally, to answer your question, YES, Larry, you made me THINK. Thank you.

5.0 out of 5 stars 
Hard to find sources on tactics other than Mr. Hodges, March 14, 2013
By Seth Redford
I've been playing seriously for about two years so I am still learning the many important aspects of competitive Table Tennis. While searching the internet and other places I found a lot of information on technique but not much on tactics. This book is a fantastic resource that covers a wide variety of topics. I feel like it focused my thinking onto a number of important aspects that apply to each of the different shots and situations that you can face against each opponent. My only small issue is I have been following Mr. Hodges' blog and I have read a number of his articles and tips of the day. Since much of the information in those online sources was also included in the book, I had seen a lot of it before. But having it all in one place was well worth the price of the book.

5.0 out of 5 stars 
Great Resource For Improving Your Table Tennis Results, March 8, 2013
This book may be the best table tennis book currently available for improving your table tennis results. Larry has packed it full information to get you thinking about what is going on in a game or match. Many players lose to players below their own level of play physically by being outplayed mentally. This collection of information is a great resource to short-cut the years of experience usually required to gain this level of strategy and tactics and be the player with the mental edge. Good Stuff!

5.0 out of 5 stars 
It Made Me Think! March 1, 2013
By Kyle Angeles
Very enjoyable read. The whole time I was reading this book, my mind would kind of drift off as I was picturing the aspects of my game in whatever part of the book I was reading.
The topics are laid out in a very logical order and explained in great detail.
The verbiage makes the book very conversational, so it doesn't drag on or feel like a sermon.
Many examples are used making it easy to visualize each subject.
Styles are broken down into various subsets - each containing their own goals and strategies
Excellent tactics are provided against a wide variety of styles - I highly recommend the section on non-inverted surfaces!
A little repetitive at times, but this kind of comes with the territory

World Cadet Challenge Selection Criteria

Here's the selection process for the 2013 Cadet Challenge, with dates and mandatory events.

Bacteria in Beer Pong

Here's a story about Clemson students finding lots of bacteria on ping-pong balls used in beer pong. You'll never play beer pong again.

Berlin Style Ping-Pong

Here's a video of Berlin Style Ping Pong (3:19), brought to you by Table Tennis Nation. (I often had some trouble understanding what the narrator was saying - it seemed a bit muffled.)

Table Tennis Glamour

Here are pictures of some glamorous table tennis outfits. (If Facebook won't let you see it, try this.)

USATT Minutes

(I usually end the blog with something short and fun, but this is rather long, and I'm afraid I'd lose people before they get to the short, fun stuff. So I'll end with this.)

The USATT motions from the March 25 teleconference are now online. (Plus you can browse past meetings and motions.) These were all committee appointments. Since there are so many names mentioned, I'm guessing most readers will know some of the people. Since so much work is done by committees, I'm putting in all the motions for readers to browse over

Approved at the March 25, 2013 telephonic meeting of the USATT Board of Directors

MOVED to continue Roman Tinyszin as Chair of the Officials and Rules Advisory Committee, waiving any implications of his two weeks committee service in 2007.

MOVED that the National Sanctioning Coordinator shall be appointed by the Board and shall not be subject to the term lengths and restrictions for standing committee members.

MOVED to approve Thomas Wintrich, Wendell Dillon, Lee Kondo, and Barney Reed (athlete) as members of the Tournaments Advisory Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Andrew Horn as the committee’s Liaison. (Larry Rose was approved as the Chair on February 4, 2013.)

MOVED to approve Ray Cavicchio, Elena Karshtedt, Lee Kondo, and Pam Fontaine (athlete) as members of the Officials and Rules Advisory Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Teodor Gheorghe as the committee’s Liaison. (Roman Tinyszin was approved as the Chair earlier in the March 25, 2013 meeting.)

MOVED to approve Rich Perez, Suzanne Butler, Gloria Brooks, and Khoa Nguyen (athlete) as members of the Seniors Advisory Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Michael Cavanaugh as the committee’s Liaison. (Gregg Robertshaw was approved as the Chair on February 4, 2013.)

MOVED to approve Lee Kondo, Amir Sadeghy, Larry Kesler, and Tahl Leibovitz (athlete) as members of the Ethics and Grievance Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Michael Cavanaugh as the committee’s Liaison. (Jim Coombe was approved as the Chair on February 4, 2013.)

MOVED to approve Peter Scudner, and Han Xiao (athlete) as members of the Compensation Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Michael Cavanaugh as the committee’s Liaison. (Mike Babuin was approved as the Chair on February 4, 2013.)

MOVED to approve Tom Poston, Ross Brown, Steve Hopkins, and Ty Hoff (athlete) as members of the Editorial Advisory Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Andrew Horn as the committee’s Liaison.6 6 Jim McQueen was approved as the Chair on February 4, 2013.

MOVED to approve Anne Cribbs, Mike Babuin, and Ed Levy (athlete) as members of the Audit Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Deborah Gray as the committee’s Liaison. (Peter Scudner was approved as the Chair on February 4, 2013.)

MOVED to approve Dean Johnson, Jay Tuberville, Jeffery D. Morrison, and Carlos Ko (athlete) as members of the Hardbat Advisory Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Teodor Gheorghe as the committee’s Liaison. (Alberto Prieto was approved as the Chair on February 4, 2013.)

MOVED to approve Peter Scudner, Anne Cribbs, Mike McAllister, and Tahl Leibovitz (athlete) as members of the Marketing and Fund Raising Advisory Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Michael Cavanaugh as the committee’s Liaison. (Jim Kahler was approved as the Chair on February 4, 2013.)

MOVED to approve Lisa Hagel, Ben Bednarz, Bruce Liu, and Barney Reed (athlete) as members of the Clubs Advisory Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Joyce Grooms as the committee’s Liaison. (Attila Malek was approved as the Chair on February 4, 2013.)

MOVED that the Chairs of the Junior Advisory Committee and League Advisory Committee will be decided via email prior to the Board’s April 20, 2013 meeting.

MOVED to appoint Mike Babuin (Chair), Peter Scudner, Dennis Taylor, and Han Xiao (athlete) as members of a Bylaw Review Task Force. Recommendations of the Task Force are due by July 31, 2013.

Respectfully submitted,
Dennis M. Taylor

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May 14, 2012

Tip of the Week

Returning the Tomahawk Serve. (This is an expanded version of my blog about this on May 10.)

Different Generations

At the club last night one of our up-and-coming kids, about ten years old, came up to me and said, "Larry, can I borrow your cell phone? I want to check my rating." For about five seconds I was stumped, wondering who he was going to call to get his rating before I realized that to this generation, "cell phone" is just shorthand for "small hand-held computer connected to the Internet." When I explained my cell phone only made phone calls (and, it is rumored, takes pictures), he was flabbergasted, and left shaking his head, probably muttering about old fuddy-duddies.

This got me to thinking about how the world has changed, in particularly the world of table tennis. Here's a brief rundown of changes since I started in 1976.

1976: Sriver or Mark V?
2012: About ten thousand choices of sponge

1976: Top-of-the-line sponge: $7
2012: Top-of-the-line sponge: $80

1976: Sponge that trampolines the ball out.
2012: Sponge that grabs the ball and explodes it out like a slingshot on steroids.

1976: Sponge came in red, black, green, blue, yellow, orange, purple,...
2012: Red or black

1976: Japan, Hungary, and Sweden battle with the Chinese
2012: Nobody battles with the Chinese (except perhaps the Singapore women)

1976: Teach the forehand loop to kids after they are around 1500, and the backhand loop when they are around 1800, if ever.
2012: Teach the forehand and backhand loop to kids after they've played about a month.

1976: Loop sets up smash
2012: Loop sets up loop

1976: Why would you need to learn a backhand loop?
2012: Why aren't you working on your backhand loop?

1976: Back off the table and loop
2012: Stay at the table and loop

1976: Reverse penhold backhand? Don't be ridiculous.
2012: Conventional penhold backhand? Don't be ridiculous.

1976: Use the backhand to receive serves short to the forehand? Don't be ridiculous.
2012: Banana backhand flips from the forehand side.

1976: Shakehand, Penhold, or Seemiller grip?
2012: What's a Seemiller grip?

1976: Inverted on one side, long pips or anti on the other, and they are the same color, so you have no idea what side was used. Players learned to stomp their foot at contact to cover up the different sound.
2012: Two-color rule since 1983.

1976: Olympic wannabe
2012: Olympic sport

1976: USATT membership: 5000 out of 218 million people in the U.S. (1 out of 43,600)
2012: USATT membership: 8000 out of 312 million people in the U.S. (1 out of 39,000)

1976: Full-time table tennis centers: 1 or 2
2012: Full-time table tennis centers: 50+

Forehand Loop Foot Position

Here's a video from Brian Pace of Dynamic Table Tennis on the foot positioning for forehand looping (9:43). And here's a triplicate picture of Brian working on his next instructional DVD!

Golfer Brian Harmon's Ping-Pong Problem

PGA Rookie Brian Harmon almost lost his chance to play because of ping-pong - and here's the story from Table Tennis Nation.

Japanese Junior Phenom Told to Eat His Vegetables

Japan's Koki Niwa may have upset world #1 Ma Long of China at the Asian Olympic Qualifier last month, but it wasn't because of his diet. "Looking after my diet is not something I'm all that interested in," said the 17-year-old Koki Niwa, who particularly dislikes tomatoes and carrots. His coaches are on him to eat better to prepare for the Olympics. Here's the rest of the story.

Non-Table Tennis: my new SF story

My latest science fiction story just went online at Quantum Muse, "The Sanctimonious Time Traveler Trap." It's a very short humorous story about two not-so-nice guys who go about capturing a very nice time traveler - and the entire story takes place as the three are falling from the sky.


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May 7, 2012

Tip of the Week

How to Play and Practice with Weaker Players.

Returning the tomahawk serve

This is the serve where you serve with the racket tip up, and contact the ball on the right side, so it curves to the left, and the spin makes the ball come to your right off the opponent's paddle. It's awkward for many to take a ball spinning away from them on the forehand side and aim to the right, especially if the ball is short - try it and you'll see why. Until you reach the advanced levels, nearly everyone returns this serve toward the forehand side, and often they miss by going off the side to the left, or they allow the opponent to camp out on the forehand side. (This is for two righties; lefties make the usual adjustments. Sorry.)

Now think about this. Have you ever missed returning this serve by returning off the right side? Probably not. So just take it down the line, to the (righty's) backhand, knowing the sidespin will keep you from going off the side. Contact the back of the ball, perhaps slightly on the left side, so that the ball goes to the right, down the line.

Keep the racket relatively high - don't lower it as you chase after it as it bounces and spins away from you, or you'll end up lifting the ball high or off the end. Better still, don't chase after it - anticipate the ball jumping away from you and be waiting for it, like a hunter ambushing his prey. It's often this last-second reaching for the ball that both loses control and forces the receiver to hit the ball on the right side, thereby making down-the-line returns impossible. (An expanded version of this might become a Tip of the Week.)

Learn to Pong Like a Champ

Here's Part 3  of 3 from 2011 USA National Men's Singles Champion Peter Li, covering 1) Making Your Service Count; 2) Ball Placement; and 3) Staying Low. It's given both in text form and video (2:05). (Here's Part 1 and Part 2.)

ITTF Global Junior Circuit

Here's info on the Global Junior Circuit Events to be held at the 2012 U.S. Open in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30 - July 4.

Ariel Hsing takes on Uncle Warren and Uncle Bill

To find out who won in the Olympian's match-ups against the two richest people in the world (depending on the date - the rankings change regularly but Gates and Buffet usually lead the list), see the article, which includes a video of them playing (1:18). Here are some pictures. And here's an article about it in Chinese!

U.S. Olympian Erica Wu

Here's an article and video (2:28) on new U.S. Olympian Erica Wu from a demonstration at her school. (Here's another article about it, which I posted on Friday.)

Tara Profitt and the Paralympics

Here's a Fox New Video of wheelchair player Tara Profitt (4:33), who will be playing the 2012 Paralympics.

Trek Stemp and baseball

He's not in the big leagues yet, but here's an article about the young phenom, which includes the following quote: "A big thing that helps playing infield — it may sound weird — pingpong," Stemp said. "Me and my friends play a lot of pingpong. A big part of pingpong is hand-eye coordination. That ball comes at you so fast."

The first table tennis political ad

Now they are using table tennis officiating to criticize political opponents! Now they've gone too far....


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