At my alter ego, day-job, the company has recently put a ping pong table in the break room. Now there’s a daily gathering, sometimes more frequently, to determine the “championship belt.” Over the last few months, as players got better, I’ve seen a chance for better sparring as a result of playing ping pong.
No, our games don’t become so violent we resort to throwing the paddles . . . . usually.
In dojo or tournament sparring, you’re usually going at a fast pace over short bursts in a two or three minute timeframe. Against newer opponents, you’re trying to figure out what they’re doing at the same time as trying to connect with your techniques. While fun, it certainly isn’t always easy. It can be hard to read your opponent in order to anticipate what’s coming next or how to deal with what’s already being thrown at you. This same conundrum occurs when sparring against a familiar partner who’s trying new techniques as well.
There is a similar situation in ping pong too. (If you’ve never played table tennis before, it’s a series of ball volleys on a table with a net. Points are scored on each sequence of volleys, and the first to score 21 points wins. In a good game, there could be 40 or more volley exchanges.) Each player is trying to place the ball at different angles, changing up the velocity, and putting spin on the ball. (Spin causes the ball to bounce in different directions upon contact with the table or paddle.) The other player must perceive the spin, angle, and velocity to counter-act and return accordingly.
While attacks in sparring are night and day different from volleys in ping pong, how you look for them is the same. Defending yourself in martial arts isn’t exclusively about what moves you know, but also how you can read the situation. We learn how to read our opponent mostly through sparring and contact drills. What angles does the attacker like to use, how do they set up their combinations, what openings are exposed, etc. But the learning doesn’t have only be on the mat. Ping pong, because it has so many volley exchanges, is a much slower game than sparring. As such you have more time and more opportunities to learn how to read what the opponent is doing. It’s a chance to learn how-to-learn, such as what to look for in your opponent’s actions. Practicing how to read what your opponent is doing is easier on a slow game like ping pong. You can then apply how you’ve learned-to-learn in a faster situation like sparring.
I’m not advocating everyone rush out and buy a ping pong table to improve their sparring. But if you do, let me know. I’ve got a paddle and need to practice.