Hit, Repeat

I bought the book “Unstoppable: My Life So Far” by Maria Sharapova when it came out in 2017.

It has been sitting on my bookshelf since. Last night I finally got around to reading it after finishing Cultish and pondering whether to read these series of books on Koryo or perhaps the biography of Dyson.

Anyway, I managed to clear 100 pages by this afternoon. It is a fun read, a book that I would want to read non-stop.

In Chapter 8 Sharapova wrote about her training with Robert Lansdorp.

The following would resonate with anyone who is training or has trained with Tuhon Apolo in iKali :-

Robert’s practices were pretty much the same every time. That was the point of them. He believed in repetition. Doing the same thing again and again and again. Do it till it’s second nature.

Lansdorp was not a sadist. There was a point to all that torture. Everything was done in the service of a philosophy; every drill had a reason, was taking the player somewhere. When I asked him to explain that philosophy, he laughed. “Well, you know me, Maria, ” he said, smiling. “I just hate spin on a tennis ball. That’s what most modern players use. They hit the ball hard, then put a lot of spin on it to keep it in court. It drops, like a sinker ball. I hate it. What I want is a good, hard, flat stroke. That’s what all repetition is teaching. A flat stroke doesn’t have a lot of top-spin. Flat strokes were big in the 1970s and 1980s, into the early 1990s, then a new, terrible style came in. I think it had to do with the new rackets and new grips. It changed everything. With the new grips, it’s easy to put a lot of spin on a ball. Too easy. The spin gets on there even when you don’t want it to. The kids who thrive on that can be hard to beat, but when they get to be fifteen or sixteen they hit a wall, because now they have to hit the ball harder and suddenly they can’t control the spin. You have to learn to hit flat when you’re young because you need to be fearless to do it, and the older you get, the more fear gets into your game. That’s why we did it again and again. You were learning to hit that hard, flat stroke.

Once I’d acquired what Robert considered a suitably hard, flat stroke – it was all about getting into a nirvana-like hitting groove – we began to work on my accuracy, my court placement. There was nothing high-tech or modern about his method. There were no video cameras, or lasers, or algorithms. Robert simply taped empty tennis-ball cans a few inches above the net on either side of the court and told us to hit those “target” as many times as we could. It was like trying to drive a tennis ball through a keyhole.

From Day 1 Tuhon Apolo kept urging us to go for at least 10,000 repetitions. As in the game of tennis, so it is in iKali.

The most basic technique we learn, the Broken Strike, looks simple but to do it naturally, accurately, being able to whisk it out threateningly to feint or to actually strike takes a lot of practice.

The companion technique is the Fluid Strike, the big stroke that slices the opponent from one side to the other. The big stroke that should drop the opponent if you connect. Hence, the repetitions required to make you hit accurately, consistently, with speed and power.

Broken and Fluid Strikes are found in the set of 8 drills that beginners learn. In techniques such as Entry 4 we initially do the first strike as a Broken Strike. As we go on we change this to a Fluid Strike.

However, depending on how we apply Entry 4 there is no black and white guidelines in so far as the use of Broken Strike or Fluid Strike is concerned. For example, the first thing we learn is to do a feint with the Broken Strike and follow up with a hit to the knee with the second strike.

Alternatively, we could be delivering a Fluid Strike, missing the opponent because he stepped back and quickly follow up with a strike to his leading knee.

This could also morph into a third scenario of going out first with a Broken Strike to get the opponent to return fire and making him miss. Then we deliver the Fluid Strike when he gives the opening. If we miss then we can quickly do a follow up with a strike to his knee (or even arm).

Doing the most basic technique such as Entry 4 many times, over a period of time can give a new appreciation, deeper insight into how such a simple looking technique can be versatile. And we haven’t even add in the footwork yet.

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