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 rotation". 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".

Backhand Control

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

Terminology: 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 "Korean".)

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