by liberal japonicus
I started playing table tennis slightly more seriously than usual about 2 years ago. A good friend of mine who did Chinese as an undergrad and played a lot both while living in Guangdong and when he came back, was looking for a partner to take lessons with him and asked me. I said sure, why not.
More below the fold, but just jump into the comments if you have something else to talk about.
I was looking forward to a sport that wasn't too equipment oriented. I used to play tennis in high school and had a T-2000 racquet. Fast forward to 1994, and a colleague asked if I wanted to play tennis, and I said sure, but I didn't have a racquet so he loaned me one he had. The difference from back in the day was astonishing. I felt like I wasn't even swinging and these tennis balls seemed like they were going into orbit. The racquet didn't flex (remember racquet presses?), and had a sweet spot that seemed to encompass the entire head of the racquet. Old dog, new tricks, so that was the last time I tried to play tennis. However, I thought, how much hi tech could be folded into a ping pong paddle?
Quite a lot, I found out. When I was playing in the rec room, I used a regular paddle (or blade to the cognescenti), but played with a Oriental penhold grip. There are actually two penholds, a Japanese one, which uses only one side of the paddle, so your rubber is only on one side and the other side is just wood.
Here is a Japanese penhold, note the raised cork on the handle.
I, on the other hand, play something similar to a Chinese penhold, which has a shorter grip, but has rubbers on both sides, though I was using a regular shake hands blade. This is because I started playing ping pong as a kid during Ping Pong diplomacy, and I think (though I'm a bit fuzzy on this) I imitated the Chinese players I saw on TV.
There are a dizzying array of blades, but it is with the rubbers that the real hi-tech smoke and mirrors begin. In the early 80's, it was found that rubber freshly glued with what is called speed glue would cause the ball to bounce more and take more spin. Another fun thing about speed glue, it is apparently toxic. As a result, the International Table Tennis Federation has had to adjust rules a number of times, not only regarding glues, but racquets, service styles, etc, etc. In fact, one Chinese world champion retired when rule changes made the way he served illegal.
If you watch world class ping pong on youtube, one thing that may strike you is that there is not a lot of smiling. I asked my teacher about that, and he said, well, it's like a war, not just at that level, but at even lower levels.
Fortunately, at the level I'm at, I don't need to poison myself or tell my doubles partner to come back with his blade or on it. In fact, I'm kind of an anti-equipment guy, and what I have settled on is a Japanese-ish penhold blade with anti-spin rubber on the main face and a middle of the road spin rubber on the back. The anti-spin rubber is one that cancels out the spin. I asked the person who is training us once a week if any pros have this combination and he said 'I think there might be a North Korean using it'. Very low maintenance and it's an odd enough combination that very few people ever encounter it.
I can't remember where I read it, but someone pointed out that tennis and golf have diametrically opposite views of how to deal with technology. In tennis, if the racquet length and head width are within specs, pretty much anything goes, which is why my T-2000 racquet is a museum piece and the equipment gap made it so Bjorn Borg could barely take a set from pros when he attempted a comeback in the early 90's. On the other hand, golf employs more functional measures, such that you can make a club out of anything and use it as long as it doesn't hit the ball further in a mechanical testing machine.
Anyway, an open thread for whatever equipment you like, you hate, you spent money on, you don't understand why other people would spend money on. Or anything else. Cho!