Articulating the Hand

Submitted by stephen on Thu, 12/11/2014 - 15:04

An ex-professional table tennis player who used to practice at our club told a story of his meeting with J.O. Waldner many years ago out on the world tour. He had asked the master what the secret to table tennis was and Waldner had answered, “The wrist!”

At the time the conjecture seemed as enlightening as Michael Jordan confiding that the secret to basketball was “the feet”. There was no context.

In recent months as my understanding of developing shot types has evolved, the importance of the hand-wrist axis in shot making has become apparent. Hand participation is a term used to describe the action influence the hand-wrist axis has on the racket effect on the ball during ball contact movement.

Managing the two ball energies – speed and spin – might require more or less hand participation depending upon the energy management option selected and the requirements of racket speed and motion during dwell time. To use and add spin in an oncoming underspin ball we contact the ball below the equator with an open racket, and rotate the racket forward during dwell time to add spin.

Thus an Offensive use and add spin shot type executed against underspin might be described as beginning with high racket speed, a racket angle of 80º at racket placement and ball contact, an active hand participation, with an ending dwell time racket angle of 110º.

This method effectively describes the changes in state of the hand during the ball contact movement. The type of movement of the hand-wrist axis can be extrapolated from the description. To support clarity of expression PATT describes the racket as tip up or tip down to describe potential states of the racket which would reflect an up/down motion of the hand-wrist axis. Curve in or curve out described the lateral motion potentials of the racket and hand-wrist axis.

Each potential activation of the wrist is insinuated by describing the state prior to and after motion.

Communicating those discrete motions of the hand, our club coach, Clyde Young, an engineer by profession, thought about the three axes upon which the hand-wrist axis could create vertical motion, rotational motion and lateral motion. Recognizing the complexity of a technical explanation he adopted terms utilized for camera motion in cinematography – “tilt”, “roll” and “pan.” These terms are used to describe the three modes by which a camera can be moved: the camera can tilt a given angle up or down, roll open (toward the sky) or closed (toward the earth), or pan left to right.

As a coach he utilized these terms to communicate to student the primary type of motion the hand-wrist axis is utilizing in any given ball contact movement. If the racket tip moves from tip down to tip up or from tip up to tip down the motion would be described as “tilt”. If the racket moved from open to closed or closed to open it would be described as “roll”. If the racket tip moved from curve in to curve out or from curve out to curve in, it would be “panning”.

To add high topspin energy against a dropping nospin ball the racket tilts from tip down prior to ball contact to tip up during dwell time.

Over-the-table to execute the “Chinese mini-smash” against a popped up short underspin, the wrist pans from curve out to curve in adding Offensive ball speed.

To use the underspin in a ball off the end of the table we might open the racket for contact and roll the wrist forward to use and add spin.

Many shot types might be described as having combination movement types: In this blended method Offensive Control response to half-long underspin, the hand participation begins with open racket and tip down and concludes with a closed racket and tip up. The racket movement is a blend of roll and tilt.

The mnemonic value of tilt, pan and roll have supported Clyde in his communication of the unique movements of the hand-wrist axis to players developing new shot types.

If, as the great table tennis magician, J.O. Waldner once told our friend, the wrist really is the key to table tennis, then a more lucid grasp of the motion of the hand-wrist axis and its participation in energy management might help us understand how the greatest of all time performed his magic.