A bottom-side backhand attack stroke for the V grip
I have developed a second V grip backhand stroke which I'd like to
describe. It enables a well-controlled and extremely powerful, yet
effortless and simple attack game, as well as blocking, from the mid-
and wide-backhand. It uses the underside (ring finger side) of the
paddle held in the V grip. It is the natural stroke for away from the
table looping with the V grip backhand. And it is more powerful than
any other backhand, bar none. Please read about it if you are
interested, and please let me know (e.g., by email) if you have any reason to
amplify or correct what I say here.
Body rotation for backhand strokes
In forehand strokes, the axis of the body rotates paddle-side-forward,
in support of the forward stroke of the arm. Call this "forehand-forward
In some backhand strokes, the body rotates opposite-side-forward, in
support of the swinging backhand stroke forward from the opposite
side. Call this "backhand-forward rotation". The Korean penhold
backhand smash stroke uses this backhand-forward rotation. I can see
Kim Taek Soo doing backhand smash kills with this in my minds eye; the
arm is whipped forward by the body rotation.
However, in the Chinese penhold backhand stroke (usually a topspin
block or chop-block) stroke, the body rotates paddle-side-forward as
in the forehand stroke. Call this "backhand counter-rotation".
The BBBH stroke described here uses
backhand counter-rotation. It is an excellent block against loops,
and has excellent control, particularly when the backhand
counter-rotation of the body is emphasized, but it has weak power.
Backhand Control with Power
I have developed a new bottom-side hitting- and looping- backhand
stroke for the V grip with backhand-forward rotation.
Problem: Loss of Control
The problem I faced earlier was how to attain control with this
stroke. There is a huge amount of potential power in this stroke,
super-strong flat-hits and BH loops, but without control that power
doesn't mean anything.
During an entire year of exploration (am I a dimwit, or what?!), I
tried and tried many many ways of rotating my elbow, forearm, and
wrist joints through a backhand stroke, and was very frustrated: With
the wrist straight or bent down and relaxed or swinging open, I could
easily rotate the forearm and suddenly have a distinct perception of
lost control, as though my arm had somehow melted. It is a very very
strange feeling to be stroking at a ball and suddenly feel like your
body awareness disappeared. I think it was due to forearm-axis
rotation at a point when the wrist is straight, which doesn't have the
usual sensory feedback because the weight of the paddle is in line
with the rotating axis of the forearm and so there's no load from the
counterweight of the paddle on the muscles that rotate the axis of the
forearm. The problem is clear: instability of the axis of the forearm and
instability of the wrist.
Solution: Stabilize Wrist and Forearm
The solution to this problem is what I have now discovered and
produces a stroke that is quite stable and well-controlled.
Stiffen the wrist, or at least reduce its range of motion, holding it
either straight or bent down slightly (as much as 30 degrees, say),
and also to not allow the forearm to rotate about its axis (except to
set its initial orientation in response to the topspin or underspin of
the incoming ball).
With a stiffer, fixed-orientation wrist, a backhand-forward rotation
stroke becomes possible with good control and with superior power and
spin compared with all other backhand strokes.
How to do it
- Rotate the paddle-side shoulder down; elbow also down. You might
think you get more power with the shoulder high, but you can get
just as much power with the shoulder down if you practice and
develop the feeling of whippiness by figuring out the timing of the
different parts of the stroke so they support each other like the
segments of a whip. And by keeping the shoulder
and elbow down you gain a lot more control. So: shoulder down!
- Do a tai-chi-like backhand-forward rotation of the body. By
"tai-chi-like" I mean to say: Remain aware of your center of
gravity, and connect the forward movement of your arm and hand to
the backhand-forward rotating movement of your body as an
integrated whole movement. You might think of holding a 15"
beach ball against your belly as you move your body, that's how
your hand and arm move together with your body.
- The paddle-side foot can be more or less in front of the opposite foot,
allowing the backhand-forward rotation of the body to support
and enhance the arm and hand movement, like a whip.
- As the forearm pulls the hand forward the paddle travels in an
ellipse, with the power stroke forming the outgoing arc
and the recovery forming the incoming arc.
- "Short stroke, accelerate" says Fan Yi Yong.
- A fairly small stroke is efficient, powerful, and
controlled. That is, I don't need to make a big stroke from a
windup with the paddle-hand near the opposite knee stroking out
to full extension but merely from a smaller windup with
paddle-hand in front of the opposite hip (or even smaller) and
stroking out only until the forearm is parallel to the direction
of the ball (or less).
- Practice the stroke with particular concentration on feeling the
whipping effect. That is, with the backhand-forward body
rotation supporting the stroke you gain tremendous power, and
that whipping effect should be part of every stroke, even small
easy strokes. The opposite hip moves forward maybe 3 inches; the
paddle-side hip rotates in place.
I need some names for these strokes to be able to talk about them
easily. This stroke could be called the Straight Wrist Back Hand or
SWBH stroke, in contrast with the Bent-Back (wrist) Back Hand or BBBH
stroke. Or we could call this the Korean backhand, and the other the
Chinese backhand, since the traditional Korean penhold backhand uses
backhand-forward body rotation, while the traditional Chinese penhold
backhand stroke uses the backhand counter-rotation. (Naturally
players from China and Korea both use both types of penhold strokes;
perhaps it's just Kim Taek Soo that has perfected the one I'm calling
Vulnerability at the elbow
The limitation of this stroke, the "Korean backhand", a.k.a. the SWBH
stroke, is that it leaves a large vulnerable space at your elbow.
With the elbow down and close to your side, with the forearm
perpendicular to the ball's flight path, and with the extended lever
arm intrinsic to the V grip, shots toward the elbow cannot be reached
except by moving your body: footwork!
So if the opponent hits the ball toward the middle of your body, you
must be very aware of this vulnerability and quickly move your weight
laterally to be able to put the paddle on the ball; otherwise you will
contort your stroke badly out of the form of the beautiful, powerful,
small, simple stroke that is described here.
Some might consider this weakness to be devastating to the prospects
for top-level success with the V grip. Fan Yi Yong has said exactly
that to me, for example. However, observe that top-level penhold
players have a weak area not in the elbow but on their entire backhand
side, which they are able to cover through excellent footwork. If a
toplevel penholder can successfully run around their vulnerable
backhand to use their forehand to cover 80% of the table, then a V
grip player can run both directions around their vulnerable middle to
cover that the 10% of the table at their elbow.
In training I try to concentrate on doing recovery footwork after the
previous stroke, so that I can be ready to move to cover the middle if
the next ball comes there.
Another elbow-defending option is to drop your body a few inches and
use the BBBH stroke to cover the middle. If the ball is not too far
to the elbow, the BBBH stroke can often reach it, when the SWBH stroke
cannot. Also the BBBH is an excellent blocking stroke, so that any speed
of smash or loop can be stopped with it.
A final elbow-defending option (other than !footwork!) is to do a
windshield-wiper stroke. If you drop your body low enough, that can
bring the windshield-wiper stroke into play; however, spin variation
(e.g., underspin or a dead ball) can easily create problems for you; a
better approach is to lean the body toward the forehand side, bringing
your elbow almost to your belly button. As if you were lying on your
side, now you can do a windshield-wiper stroke from the forehand to
the backhand side, responding flexibly to topspin/underspin
variability and often putting surprising sidespin on the ball.
Copyright © 2001 Tom Veatch
All rights reserved.
Last Modified: December 14, 2001