Tuesday 1 December 2015

Why Is a Strong Service Game Important?

You will often hear coaches groaning on about service repeatedly. Practice your serve! Service Practice! Well it's true. A good serve can make all the difference in matchplay and can create a huge advantage. Tennis is a prime example of a service dominant sport, a weak server would find themselves in big trouble against many tennis players as the advantage of a strong server is unparalleled in the sport. See more from my Coaching Blog.

The advantage of a strong serve
Why is a strong service game important?

A good service can essentially force one of three things which can initiate a big advantage in matchplay:

  • A forced error
  • A psychological advantage
  • A predictable response
Let's start with the first point forced errors. A strong service game can award a player what you could consider to be 'free or easy points' in a match. If a player struggles to receive serve or read the spin on the serve then you can, at times, win points outright from the service. Good service variation and deception are key in being able to take advantage of this. If the other player can't read the spin or recognise the correct response to the serve then at times they will not be able to return the serve. This is an easy point.

Having a good serve can also create a psychological advantage. If a player is weak on their service return then all of a sudden all of the pressure goes to their serve. Since half the serves are from each player in a match, it is necessary for a player to try and maintain a good scoring advantage on their service game.

If you can execute well in your service game, then the pressure all turns to your opponent to be able to win points from their serve in order to stay in the game. This added pressure can sometimes cause serves to drift half long or be faulted by the opposition. Having a reliable receive can also add a lot of pressure in this situation.

Finally a predictable response can be created by a good server. I wrote about set plays in this blog on table tennis master. If you can manipulate the spin and direction of your serve to make the majority of responses difficult then it adds more risk to making those returns. In the snap moment of decision making this can lead your opponent to take the response with the least associated risk and that can create a higher probability of a certain return. A good example is a side under serve, short towards the side of the table. Two bounces means looping is not a possible response. With enough backspin flicking is a difficult response and if the sidespin is adequate then being able to return short can be hard to control. This means that if the service is executed correctly then the easiest return is a long push.

If the direction and spin of the serve are correct it can also make the ball more difficult to return down the line which means you can expect a return back somewhere in your backhand half. This is an example in a perfect situation where a predictable response can be created using a serve. If you can set your point up this way then you are much more likely to win the point by planning your follow up.

Ma Lin was infamous for his service and often utilised serves which would force a return to his backhand side where his pivot forehand was ready to destroy his opponents. His ability to create a predictable response was perfect for increasing his preparation speed which is vital for a penhold player who is forehand dominant.

With these 3 key reasons, how can you not focus on improving your service? Most coaches would recommend 30 minutes of service practice each day in order to develop a solid and reliable serve. So what are you waiting for?! :)

MHTT World Championships Fundraising Campaign

As most of you know I was fortunate enough to be selected in the New Zealand team for the 2016 World Table Tennis Championships and the Oceania Championships. The majority of costs for these trips must be self funded and so I have setup a fundraising campaign on GOFUNDME with the target of raising $5000 by the end of February 2016.

In order to reward and thank people for their support I have a number of things to offer in return, lessons (for my area), blog advertisements and some international player shirts. If you would like to support me you can do any of the following.

  • Visit my fundraising page HERE 
  • Contribute or simply share my fundraising link
  • Use my TableTennis11 affiliate link on the left side of my blog 'TT11'
  • Contact me at mhtabletennis@gmail.com for sponsorship arrangements
This has been the main goal of my table tennis career from a very young age and I have battled health problems and less ideal training circumstances for the duration of my youth in order to keep working hard towards my goal.

I will be working hard on my blog during the event so hopefully you will all enjoy the content too! :)

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Zhang Jike Will Be Back

The hot topic across the world of table tennis right now and for previous months is all concerned with the form of grand slam champion Zhang Jike. His form dropped at this year's WTTC where he lost to Fang Bo in the semifinal stage and has continued to decline ever since. During this time, Jike has experienced multiple injuries and issues with his body and his form.

Zhang Jike will rise from the ashes

The Super League Drama

Zhang Jike's contract dispute with Shandong Luneng was a big factor on his worsened performance in matches, the Chinese star was absent from competition for many weeks after his club refused to give him a contract until he competed. Jike was less than cooperative and required a contract prior to playing, rightly so. This absence from competitive matchplay seemed to take its toll on him as he began to slump in form on the ITTF World Tour.

Losses from Bad to Worse

The first loss on the World Tour came in Chengdu at the ITTF World Tour China Open where Zhang played a less than inspiring match against Taipei's Chuang Chih-Yuan. The grand slam winner exited the tournament earlier than expected and appeared, much like his match with Fang Bo, much more passive than we have seen in previous engagements.

Later in the year we witnessed a double loss, losing in the teams and individuals of the Asian Championships to Korea's Jang Woojin. This was amid much controversy during and after the match.

Fast Forward a couple of months and Zhang Jike experienced his first major upset at the hands of Austria's Stefan Fegerl. It is not often European players can boast to have stolen a result from the reigning Olympic Champion, alarm bells started to ring. In a post-match interview Zhang Jike admitted that he was not in form and that he certainly wasn't at his worst yet.

It seems he spoke too soon, just a few days ago suffering another upset loss at the hands of Sweden's Jens Lundqvist. These are all shock losses for Jike who, despite focusing on major events, still maintained a reliable record on the ITTF World Tour.

A Case of Ma Lin

In 2011 we saw Ma Lin suffer 3 major losses on the world tour at the hands of European players. First Alexey Liventsov, outside the top 100 in the world at the time, had victory. Weeks later it was France's Quentin Robinot (also outside top 100 at the time) who unseated the 2008 Olympic Champion. To top it all off, Liventsov's teammate came in for the remains, it was Kirill Skachkov who became the 3rd player in months to defeat the Chinese powerhouse.

Questions were raised, was this the end of Ma Lin's career? I'll admit I was one of the skeptics with my article: End of the Road for Ma Lin?

Not the End

As we saw, Ma Lin returned to reasonable form and came back to conquering his rivals from otuside of China.

This is not the end of Zhang Jike, the 2016 Olympics is too important for him to not find a resolution to his current form. Come the beginning of 2016 I believe we will see a refocused and driven athlete before us again as he continues his quest to become the first player to claim 2 Grand Slams.

No matter how he has played in minor events, losing to the likes of Chen Chien-An and Taku Takakiwa among other Asian players, he has still risen to the occasion when it has counted he most. Zhang Jike will need to prove himself to the Chinese National Team soon, or his Olympic dream may face jeopardy.

Watch this space!

Friday 6 November 2015

How Do We Create a New Generation Waldner?

Waldner remains to be one of the most influential names in the sport of table tennis. The Swedish Grand Slam master is the only non-chinese player to achieve the multi-title feat and has achieved a legendary status which has arguably been matched by no other in terms of the fact that he is such a talent at the sport that he is often compared to Mozart as he turned table tennis into a fine art.

J.O Waldner is such a standout that no European player can rise from beneath his shadow, only China have risen to the occasion to start contesting his legacy. So what would it take in this generation to create a modern day Jan-Ove Waldner?

The incredible Jan-Ove Waldner

A Big Enough Resource to Find A Rare Talent

The numbers problem has been a commonly raised debate topic in table tennis, China have a greater number of players and therefore they can source more top level and talented athletes. The population of China currently stands at 1.4 billion people, that is roughly 20% of the global population.

So what really needs to occur? We need to unify. If we really want to find and nurture the talent from a pool to match the population advantage of China, we need to combine resources and scour the globe for talent and support the best potentials to develop opportunities for careers in table tennis.

Find the talent and offer an incentive and a future.

An international training academy for the best prospects from around the world would greatly benefit the cause.

Include the Role of China in Developing the Player

Waldner visited China on a number of occasions to practice and admits it played an instrumental role in developing his strong service game early on in his career. We see players now like Omar Assar and Dimitrij Ovtcharov making China a central location for periods of training time and the positive effects that it is having on their game. Being immersed in the Chinese culture allows the players to see how their opposition are being raised, how they train from a young age and how they continue to develop.

Bringing players in for the Chinese Super League has also presented a big opportunity for players to continue to develop their skills against the best players in the world's best nation. Elements of this can also backfire as these players are under constant analysis by high ranking coaches and competing players.

Get Waldner Directly Involved in Developing a Student

Waldner has an incredible amount of knowledge and is considered a student of the game, along with other highly respected coaches like Richard Prause and players like Jorgen Persson and Werner Schlager.

J.O needs to be given the incentive to produce a true champion, if he were to be able to choose one single student and focus everything on making them the best in the world, would he be able to succeed? In all likelyhood it would probably cost a fortune to get the man himself to invest his time in that kind of project. Now we see Ovtcharov has Persson on board in the build up to the Olympics and has successfully reached a peak world ranking of number 4 this month.

What can the legends of yesterday offer us today? After their playing careers in China, many of the highest level players become involved in the sport as coaches and administrators and this makes a big difference in layering their system to great success.

World Training Squad

The Hopes Team (under 12) have a training camp each year for the top 4-5 geographically diversified member of the team, these players train to compete at the World Cadet Challenge.

Why should we not form a training opportunity and tour event for a world table tennis team each year? Bring the best 5-10 players in the world (and sponsor them) and have them do a tour including exhibition matches with the Chinese Team, the Korean Team, Japanese team etc. They could train in multiple countries at the world's top training centres and as a result the best players to potentially be the next China Destroyers would improve together.

The Ongoing Vendetta, Why Do We Need Another Waldner?

It's simple. We need to end Chinese dominance in table tennis for the future of the sport. It would be exciting to have a player rise up and consistently dominate a team that has been the best for over a decade, the world would rally behind that player. We have changed the scoring system, changed the ball size and material, changed service rules and speed glue rules. We have slowed the game down for entertainment but also on a side project there were moves to end Chinese dominance, moves which have no succeeded and have potentially increased the gap.

With the new ball physicality is a huge advantage, would a new age Waldner be as effective? Possibly not.

All I know is that it has been over a decade since we saw a non-chinese World Champion and the days of Chinese dominance just string on and on! What do you think of this topic?

MHTableTennis Support for World Championships

As you may or may not know I recently travelled home to New Zealand with a one month stopover for training in China on my way (read more here). I had to adjust back to the celluloid ball for the major events I was about to partake in. The training day in and day out continued through phases of average health but I persevered.

Matt Hetherington with Fan Zhendong and Zhu Linfeng (CNT)

I played 4 regional tournaments to warm up and made 2 semifinals and a final. I went on to tie for 2nd place in the national team trial (3 players qualified) and come 4th on countback by one set. I made the top 16 in the New Zealand Open men's singles, only losing to the number 1 player in New Zealand (who has never lost to a NZ player in 4 years) and a member of the Korean Army Team.

Finally after a month of waiting I received the good news that I have been selected in the 4th spot in the national team to play Oceania Championships and World Team Championships in 2016.

In order to finance my goals I have partnered up with tabletennis11 and by using my affiliate link you can help support my continuing efforts to live and breathe table tennis in 2016.

I promise to repeat my efforts from China Open by giving you the best on the ground coverage from the events and I will be meeting up with many great players to hopefully provide great content.

The link on the left sidebar will take you to tabletennis11 through my support link or go through here:

To tabletennis11.com

Thursday 5 November 2015

What to Look for When Buying a New Table Tennis Table

The holidays are upon us, and those of you who are looking for a new table tennis table are eagerly awaiting the sweet discounts that soon follow. But even with the big discounts, tables can still be pretty expensive. Therefore, we’re going to show you the most important characteristics that you should focus on when comparing ping-pong tables.

What’s The Most Important Characteristic?

First and most important: surface thickness. The table’s surface is the most important aspect to consider because it has the greatest affect on the ball, and subsequently the game.

Throughout your shopping for an indoor table, you will notice a surface thickness ranging from around 5/8 inch to 1 inch, and a price range from about $400 to $2000. The thicker the surface, the higher the price.

Don’t let the small add-ons and miscellaneous extras distract you from this most important attribute! Do you really need four-inch locking caster wheels on an indoor table? I doubt it.

Outdoor Table Tennis Tables
While surface thickness is still the most important part of the table, making sure your table can withstand the weather is key when considering an outdoor table. That’s why these tables are manufactured with a material that specifically combats glare and warping, and are designed to be weather resistant.

Keep in mind, however, that this additional surface treatment results in a bit higher cost. 
 You can find outdoor tables of decently quality generally ranging from to $500-$3000.

Second Most Important Characteristic
Second: The second most important characteristic will vary depending upon who is going to be using your table. Do you have small children? If so, if might be a good idea to get a table with locking wheels for extra safety and a large chassis to prevent the frame from bending. (Kids love to sit on ping pong tables.)  Do you have a hard time finding a decent opponent? Then maybe the play-back feature is an important attribute that you need to have. Maybe you don’t want to assemble it and want the table to arrive assembled. The point is, while the surface thickness will undecidedly affect game-play, other characteristics may be more important to a particular player. You must decide what's best for you!  

Last But Important Characteristic
Third: The ball. You might be thinking, I thought this was about tables? But it is. Even with a professional table, if you’re playing with a low-quality ball the game-play will be negatively affected.

I know you have picked up one of those cheap Ping Pong balls at the neighborhood pool or Rec Center, and after a few rallies threw the ball down in disgust. But you don't need to bother with discount balls: a 6-pack of high quality balls is less than $10.

While the surface thickness is undecidedly the most important characteristic for the majority of people, your table choice should take into consideration your lifestyle. Perhaps you have a small child who you fear will lose interest after a short while... it might be smart to reconsider ordering that $1500 Olympic gold-plated table tennis table.
Happy Holidays.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Why Women's Table Tennis Deserves More Coverage

With hundreds of millions of participants worldwide, table tennis is one of the most popular sports on the planet today. Ranging from club members all the way to those who just have a casual game whilst on holiday, its simplicity and ease ensures all abilities are welcome and catered for.

But sadly the women’s professional game doesn’t receive the coverage that its popularity justifies. Whilst the sport in general lacks the figureheads that say, Victoria Pendleton and Jess Ennis provide for British cycling and athletics respectively, the women’s game in particular doesn’t find its way into mainstream media outside of huge events such as the Olympics in 2012. This under-representation in the public eye perpetuates a vicious circle, leading to less young, amateur girls getting involved competitively in a sport that they don’t perhaps realise offers a genuine career.

One clear advantage that the women have in table tennis is that the game takes sheer physicality out of the equation, meaning that technical ability does all of the talking. It follows that just like in tennis, when it comes to entertainment, the difference in quality between the men’s and women’s game is indistinguishable, perhaps even weighted toward the women given the competitiveness at the top of the rankings. Indeed, there’s no better time to get into watching table tennis, as the UK’s best women fight for a place on the Olympic team for Rio 2016, with the most recent qualifying tournament taking place in Brazzaville last month.

Whether you’re new to the women’s game or table tennis in general, things are changing. At the turn of the century several rule changes were enforced in an effort to make table tennis more spectator-friendly. First of all, any competitive women’s games that you do happen to catch on TV now, will be using a slightly larger ball than they did before 2001. This is in order to slow the game down a little, making matches more watchable for viewers at home. A second rule change enforced was that of shortening sets down from the first to 21 points to the first to 11. This has led to a lot more riding on every point, ramping up the in-game suspense and keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. There’s even talk of having boxing style walk on music for players, adding to the sense of occasion for a big match. 

In the past year, broadcasters BT Sport and Sky have included live coverage of international table tennis tournaments on their schedules, with British husband and wife duo Paul and Joanna Drinkall having a high profile interview on BT Sport, so perhaps things are looking bright for the women’s game. There’s no arguing that any extra coverage would be warranted as, one thing’s for sure, few other sports have made such an effort to appeal to spectators.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Ma Long Sets Wheels in Motion to Equal Grand Slam Record

Ma Long claimed victory in Halmstad, Sweden this evening at the 2015 ITTF World Cup. In doing so he acquired the second piece to potentially hold the Grand Slam simultaneously, a feat only achieved once before by his team mate Zhang Jike.

Joining the ranks of the Grand Slam winners would be sweet but to hold all 3 titles together would be an even greater career achievement for Ma Long and tonight he showed us again why he is on track to potential achieve that goal and become and Olympic Gold Medallist.

After the China Open in August I wrote about Ma Long's chances in Rio begging the question, could he be the favourite at the event? Read More.

Ma Long is 2015 World Cup Champion
Ma Long is on a stellar run, having won the World Championships, China Open and World Cup all in 2015. Given his current form he is looking strong for Rio. Fan Zhendong is seemingly under his thumb at major events after his two 4-0 thrashings at WTTC and in the World Cup final tonight. Zhang Jike is having the biggest form slump of his career and Xu Xin is trailing behind a little.

Now more than ever, Ma Long is the standout player of dominance. If he should win in Rio the wait for Ma Long fans would be over for the Grand Slam which we always thought he deserved since his first world champs in 2009. We can only hope his amazing form continues!

2015 China Open Final
Ma Long vs. Xu Xin

So where does your allegiance lie? Can Zhang Jike recover to pose a threat to the Olympic Crown? Can Fan Zhendong recover from his average performances in his early major experiences? Can Xu Xin rise to the occasion and claim the 2nd singles spot given the current situation?

Still many questions remain! What are your thoughts?

Sunday 11 October 2015

Pro Tip Blog: Omar Assar on Keeping a Routine

It's been a while since I managed to complete a Pro Tip Blog post, mainly due to not really getting the information I wanted (in terms of depth) from some of the players in my interviews. Luckily Omar was really helpful in providing good detail and so I can write a post on the importance of a routine in training and tournaments with some help from the African Champion from Egypt, Omar Assar!

ITTF African Champion Omar Assar (Egypt)
Image from ITTF Africa
Routine is one of the often overlooked parts of the game and in many sports. While you may not pay it any particular attention, when you think about it we all have some forms of routine. I took the opportunity to talk more with Omar about his routine and what gets him in the zone for training and for tournaments.

"I try and stay in the hall as much as I can. Not less than 6 hours in training hall whether it is normal training or multiball or just sitting on the sideline watching match videos" Omar Assar. 

So Omar likes to immerse himself in the training and match venue and environment. It is normal for professional players to dedicate at least 6 hours per day to practice. Staying in the venue can help bring your complete focus to your training or matches, for this reason some players arrive at the playing area well ahead of time to mentally prepare for matches.

Physical Training Element

Omar also dedicates a fairly stringent physical training routine as part of his sessions. "Usually at least 3 times a week of mixed physical, running or gym training. Sometimes can be 4 or 5 depending on how much time I spend on the table. I continue to do strength building exercises during tournaments also." Omar.

Getting into a physical training routine requires a lot of discipline, especially when you are tired from training on the table. You need to find the right balance of physical and table training and find the best times to suit your energy level patterns. I for example prefer to train mostly in the morning and go to the gym in the evenings.

"I always run in the morning before my tournament matches, this is something I like to do. I wake up 3 hours before my match and go for a run. This helps to make me as fresh as possible." Omar.

Why Discipline is Important for a Routine

Like any repetitive task, strong self discipline is key. High repetition can get boring and once we lose interest it becomes difficult to maintain momentum. This is also where service practice comes to the foray as part of training. This can be one of the most monotonous areas of training, thankfully I wrote a post earlier on 'How to Make Service Practice More Engaging'

Without discipline and desire to succeed keeping a steady routine becomes a mammoth task, so this is really the first task in completing a routine and schedule plan, being able to keep it going.

Sometimes you will have a coach to motivate you, Omar was very quick to credit his coaches in aiding his routine and results. His coaches Ulf Carlsson and Fredrik Hakkanson in Sweden, Erik in France his coach in the Egyptian National Team and also in China. Having external forces to keep you on track is never a bad thing.

Is Diet Also a Part of Routine?

Yes, diet plays a strong part in the life of any athlete. What you eat and when you eat can be imperative to you performance.

Omar likes to keep a strict diet especially in tournaments. "I don't like to eat too much sweet food, I like to eat things which help me keep a balanced energy level like salads and olive oils. It's important to keep my energy as stable as possible during a tournament."

The Key Tip Omar Gives

Omar's biggest tip is simple. Create your own routine. "I recommend to any player to make a routine that works for them and keep it. Something that is special to them."

Omar likes to pray before his matches and read some lines from his special book. Some players like to read lines from sporting books or inspirational quotes. Some players like to listen to soft music, fast music, energetic music, all different kinds. Some players like to stretch for half an hour.

A few years ago I asked some international players what their pre-match preparations involved and if they had any superstitions. Here is the article: Pre-Match Preparations: For Luck's Sake!

Omar also likes to keep his shirts on if he is winning important matches, this is something I like to do also. If I am not playing well sometimes I change my shirt to try and reset and start fresh.

What do you do in your routine which is unique? :) Thanks Omar for the great information! :D

Saturday 10 October 2015

What I Learnt from 'Winning Ugly'

Winning Ugly is the masterpiece book written by Brad Gilbert, a great tennis player and well known as Andre Agassi's coach during his career explosion. Now I'm no tennis player, but the ideas fit really well with table tennis across about 90% of the book. I had the National Team Trial coming up and someone suggested to me that I should read the book as it may help me with my table tennis and sporting mentality.

Winning Ugly by Brad Gilbert
The book itself contains a lot of tennis related ideas and techniques but its main focus is on the mentality and psychological elements of competing in any sport. I read the book twice before my build-up to the National Trial and it made a huge number of differences to my mental game. The player that stepped out to the table on that day was a different player to the one I had been in the past.

I think the great thing about Brad's book is that there are such relatable stories from his playing career and he describes the mental way some players approach the game and you can really picture players you compete with in table tennis who are similar.

Reading the book really made me reflect on my match mentality in previous years and at that point I knew I needed to start making changes if I wanted to see better results. One of his best metaphors in the book is to play like a boa constrictor. A boa constrictor is a snake which wraps around it's prey and tightens it's hold each time it's prey exhales, eventually the prey suffocates. He uses the constrictor to demonstrate pressure in sports. Apply pressure to your opponents weak areas continuously and eventually they will make enough errors for you to win the match. The real moral is not to squeeze your opponent to death, but to apply just enough pressure so they can no longer do anything.

I learnt more about not overplaying shots and I definitely became more tactically aware of what I was doing in matches, I took more time to cement my gameplan and just worked away at hammering my opponents weak areas and locking down their strengths as best I could.

This book is a must read for anyone who wants to improve their mental game in any sport. After reading it I was able to achieve good results at my warmup tournaments, the team trial and the national championships. Arguably I had my best run ever and I definitely give credit to 'Winning Ugly' for its part in the process!

Key Ideas in the Book

  • Types of players and how to combat their mental tactics
  • How to control the pace of the game
  • Knowing which points are most crucial in a match
  • Preparation for matches and tournaments
  • Learning how to analyse your opponent and take advantage
Be sure to check it out!

Wednesday 7 October 2015

The Comeback King: Interview with Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler is the comeback king and possibly the greatest comeback story in the sport of table tennis. A former top 100 international player shows us that determination goes a long way, coming back after 8 and a half years to become US National Champion 21 years after his last title. One of my favourite success stories in table tennis, thanks so much Jimmy! :)

Full Name: Jimmy Butler
Date Of Birth: 2-15-71
Nation represented: USA
Highest World Ranking: 70
Victory at the 2015 North American Cup for Comeback King, Jimmy Butler of the USA

 Your Career

When did you start playing table tennis? What was your influence to begin playing?

Started playing at age 5. My father started me in the basement of our home.

What were some of your best career wins in your earlier career? You had a number of top level wins with the US Team at the 1995 World Cup in particular. Which wins stand out as being the ones you are most proud of?

Top win-  Jan-Ove Waldner when he was world champion

Most memorable win-  Defeating Damien Eloi in 5th and deciding match of World Team Cup quarter-finals in 1995 in my home state(at the time) of Atlanta, Georgia.  The energy of the American crowd was amazing and they inspired all three of us on the team to play over our heads.

What were your major goals in that stage of your career before you were forced into retirement?

Goals at that stage of career was to become a world top 20 player.

How did it feel to be forced into retirement so early in your promising career?

My forced early retirement was heart breaking only because it happened so suddenly as I was beginning to attain my best results.

How did the big comeback begin after 8 and a half years out of the sport? What was it that kickstarted the momentum?

Comeback began at the beginning of 2012.  I was watching the U.S. Championships final live online and that gave me an itch to pick up a racket.  I didn't intend on returning at that moment...just wanted to play once as I had not touched a racket in 8.5 years.  Once I picked up a racket for the first time it was like a drug...I wanted more.

Jimmy Butler in his early career
When you first returned did you see yourself as having a chance of making a big comeback again?

My first return to Nationals was 2012.  I knew I couldn't win there, I just wanted to see how far I could go.

I had a desire to see how good I could get again within the first two weeks of playing at my club in 2012.

 Your major breakthrough was winning the 2014 US National Championships, 21 years since your last victory at that event. Did the possibility of that happening ever cross your mind during the event? How did you feel level-wise in comparison with the rest of the field at that event?

At the 2014 Nationals I felt I had a punchers chance.  I wasn't the favorite, but I knew I was one of the best 4 players there, even though my US Rating claimed otherwise.  I was very disappointed in my previous (2013) Nationals result losing in the round of 16 to Yu Shao.  That fueled me to see if I could perform better...I was humble but hungry.  I had a good draw due to top seeds losing early...I took advantage of it.

You won a bronze medal at the North American Cup in 2014, did you feel that was a significant factor in your comeback. Returning to the North American Cup in 2015 where you won the gold medal, did you believe you could achieve that result?

I'll tell you a story of the 2014 North American Cup that I believe helped me win in 2015...at the 2014 NA Cup the Canada organizers made a very bad and unfair schedule.  Initially everything was fine, but they decided sunlight was affecting play through some high windows, so they changed the schedule and made me play 4 matches in a row with zero rest(in order to finish all matches while sun low in sky).

 The sunlight problem was fixed before the tourney started (they put shades over windows)but the organizers decided to not change the schedule back to normal because they didn't want to put in the effort to correct things back to the original times.

 In my group I lost 1-3, then I won 3-2 and advanced to round of 16.  Immediately I played a 4-3 match, then immediately they made me play the quarters where I won 4-3.  That's 23 games in a row.  I was 43 at the time, and that is too much for me, and unfair to make any athlete do that.  It caused me to cramp badly and the organizers then made me play the first semi final (instead of the 2nd)  in the evening against my teammate Kanak Jha.  I pleaded to let me play 2nd, as I was cramping so bad I could barely move and any extra time would be helpful.  The organizers agreed, but said I must ask a Canadian in the other semi if it's ok( I wont name his name).  The Canadian knew I was hurting and said no.  I was forced to play the semis first, and I could barely move and was humiliated losing easily 4-0 to Kanak Jha.  I asked to default before the match due to cramping but I was told I'd get no prize money.

I sucked it all up after losing in the semis, but I was mad inside, and I felt like I was treated unfairly and was disrespected as an athlete.  I never forgot that, and in 2015 I had a chip on my shoulder.  I did not feel I played well up until the final, but I had great fight and played with all the energy I could muster.  Things went my way in 2015.

In the modern era of the game and with the introduction of the plastic ball how do you feel your style fits in, mainly in terms of effectiveness? Have you made any major adaptations to the way your play since coming out of retirement?

The new ball has had no effect on me personally.  The game is more advanced with the bh banana flip, inside out service and the powerful bh looping game of so many athletes.  I have adapted by learning how to do these things, although I don't do them well enough yet.  In terms of effectiveness with my game, I'm old school on my bh side off topspin as I like to flat hit everything.  Although looping is better, I naturally hit better and have no choice but to do that...if I'm doing it well it is effective.

The Story of Jimmy Butler on USA Today

Your return to the US Team and successful run straight from the word go on your comeback mission has really spurred a lot of attention to your story. How would you sum up the journey back from injury so far?

My journey back from injury has been very fun and inspiring for me.  I was at a big disadvantage early on because all aspects of my game were so bad and rusty.  I did nothing well, and it was going to take a lot of effort to regain a decent base to start with.  However, I have a big advantage in that I am very good at not only fixing injury, but at reversing muscular tightness...a form of de-aging of the body from a muscular point of view.  Although it takes time to do this, it gives me the ability to play on into my 40's, and 50's if I choose.  I will not get slower as I play, rather I continue to get healthier and a little faster each year.   This can be done to anyone...eventually more athletes will discover this, and the future of all sports will see guys playing into their 40's and 50's with a great degree of health. 

Where to from here? There are endless possibilities given your current platform and results so far. What are you aiming for? You have to World Cup soon, what are you hoping for there?

From here I will continue to make my body healthier, and I will continue to put in time in the practice hall.  I want to keep getting better.  If I work hard and stick with it, I know the results will come.  I always try and follow my Coach Stellan Bengtsson's advice..."If you do everything you can to improve in the practice hall, then no matter what happens in competition, you can hold your head high afterwards knowing you did all you can do."

I have no high expectations at the World Cup.  I am the last seed, and my goal is to put up a fight and not get embarrassed.

Off the Topic Questions

Who’s your favourite sportsperson of all time?
Michael Jordan when I was a kid.

Favourite food?

Dream Car
One with a pretty girl inside it ;)

Ideal holiday destination?
I love Las Vegas

Thanks Jimmy! :)

Tuesday 6 October 2015

The World's Best Modern Defence: Interview with Joo Sae Hyuk

I had the pleasure of meeting the world's best modern defender on a bus in Chengdu on the way back to the player hotel. I had a nice talk with him and organised an interview, it's great for him to get back to me and here it is below! :)

Name: Joo Sae Hyuk
Date of Birth: 1980 01 20
Country Represented: Korea
Highest World Ranking: 5

Joo Sae Hyuk, The World's leading Modern Defender
Equipment Used:
FH Rubber: tenergy05
BH Rubber: curl-p1R
Blade:   joosaehyuk

When and how did you start playing table tennis? Who was the biggest influence on you to begin playing?
I started ping pong when I was in 2nd grade because my parents told me to do so. I also did not like to study.
What was it that made you want to learn the defensive style and become a chopper?
I was a penholder at first for the first 6 months, but my coach told me to change to a chopper.  He believed that I would play better as a chopper due to my calmness.

What kind of things make it difficult to compete at international level as a defensive player? Do you feel like it is a more difficult style to win with?
 Since I was young, I tried to become an aggressive chopper, and practiced a lot how to make points as a chopper. It would be hard to win a tournament, but Yes, I definitely believe that it is still possible to win if you can put pressure on your opponent, and lead the game.

In 2003 you had an outstanding World Championships and made the final against Werner Schlager. What did that mean for you? Do you think this was your best playing level at this time?
The final round at 2003 WTTC was the best tournament for me. I became pretty popular after the tournament and I developed a lot since then.

Do you think choosing the right equipment is very important for a player who learns to chop?
Of course it is important everybody needs different feelings and characteristics.

If you could go back and change things in your career, what could you have done to break higher into the top 5 players in the world?
I don't know. It isn't that easy. If I really need something? Maybe youth again.

Many players now begin to favour short pimple rubber for disguising spin variation, what is your opinion on long and short pimples and which do you feel is better?
In my opinion, since the ball has been changed, short pips are better because you may put more variation with it. Of course controlling with short pips is difficult.

Your forehand is as formidable as any attacking player among the best in the world, how hard is it to balance defence and finding the right time to attack?
First of all, you need to be quick. You also need to analyze your opponent well.  Then you can get a chance to attack

Who would you say has been your biggest rival over the span of your career?   
Ryu Seung Min, Oh Sang Eun.  We have been growing up together and competing each other since young.

What is the biggest thing which Korea can improve in order to become more competitive with China?  
Money and motivation.

Joo Sae Hyuk in the Chinese Super League

Now, like me, you also have some autoimmune problems. What impact has that had on your ability to train and play matches?      
My personality, such as patience, passion, and a strong desire for winning, made me to overcome all those hard trainings and difficult times

What are some specialist tips you can offer on making heavy spin chop for defensive players out there?
You need to have your own stroke/swings.

What other goals do you have for the rest of your career now?
I want to get a medal at Rio 2016 Olympics. I still want to play my best, and show great performance to audience until I retire my career.

Fun Questions

What is your favourite:
Sport Other than Table Tennis: Soccer

Sportsperson: Ronaldo, because he performs good deeds all his life

Movie: As one (a move named "Korea" in Korean)

Food: I am not a picky eater. I basically eat anything

Car: Bentley, Maserati

Holiday Destination: family trip (either domestic or international travel)

If you could restart your table tennis career what style would you choose? Penhold/Shakehand, Left/Right hand, Attacker/Defender, Pips etc.  
shakehand, aggressive attacker

If you won $1million tomorrow what would you do?    
Investment in stocks

Thank you! :)

Want to read more great interviews with other former World Champions, Cup Winners and Number 1's? Click for MORE INTERVIEWS.

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Travelling with the North Koreans

4am on my last day in Chengdu and I had the unique pleasure of sharing a bus with the team from North Korea. They were full of smiles and very pleasant.

The bus ride was about 50 minutes and I parted with the team at the terminal and tried to find my checkin desk. It wasn't there, I was at the wrong terminal. An 800 metre walk ensued with all my luggage, down the road to the next terminal. I figured the bus driver must have dropped us all at the terminal that the DPRK team needed for their flight.

I checked in and made my way down to the gate lounge. 10 minutes later as I am sitting listening to music the North Korean team start walking in and a few of them see me again and point and smile and wave. Quite a surprise to see them. I did my best to ask them which gate they are leaving from, it was the one opposite mine according to one of the female players. So my flight was called and I got in line to get the bus out to the plane. As I was standing in line a couple of the players waved goodbye to me, they really seemed like very nice people.

Matt Hetherington (me) with the North Korean Team

I got on the bus and they were still in the terminal, I thought I guess I won't see them again for quite some time. So I made my way to my seat on the plane and I'm sitting there relaxing and watching people squeeze by. 5 minutes pass and I see one of the DPRK players. Again the whole team starts making their way past me, smiling and waving again. The whole thing has become kind of comical.

So we fly to Beijing and once we arrive I can be assured we will be parting ways for sure. At the baggage claim I ask them how long it will be to fly to Pyongyang for them. They tell me it is just over 2 hours. They ask how long my flight will be, I tell them 17 hours and facepalm. They laugh a little and then we part ways, this time for certain.

It was a unique experience to be closer to one of the most unique teams in the world, from a country that is really behind closed doors. They were an incredibly pleasant team and I hope I can meet them again in the near future.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Could Ma Long Be The Favourite in Rio?

Ma Long is the current World Champion and recently cemented his position as the best player in the world at present by winning the 2015 ITTF World Tour China Open. He has also been ranked World Number 1 since the beginning of March and it's not hard to see why. Last year I wrote an article questioning whether Ma Long could achieve a Grand Slam in his career. Read More. Now I believe his career path is really set on track and I firmly believe he will be the champion in Rio De Janeiro.

Ma Long is 2015 World Champion
Overcoming the WTTC Barrier

Ma Long had the weight of the world on his shoulders, tipped as the dominant force on the World Tour and yet when it came to the World Championships he couldn't prevail, not once but on 3 occasions. At all 3 opportunities he was defeated by Wang Hao. Coincidentally once Wang Hao retired, Ma Long became the 2015 World Champion.

The big mental barrier we suggested was plaguing Ma Long was that he couldn't perform in major events. Now he has made a breakthrough and he is looking more dominant than ever. This poses the question, how good are his chances to win Rio?

Making the Cut

I would say Ma Long is probably leading the race to represent China at the Olympics at the moment. You could say Zhang Jike is top contender but with his recent slumps in form and lack of strong results, injuries and absence from the Super League it's possible that Ma Long is a little more set in place in the meantime. I think if Ma Long can continue the dominance he is showing now then he will most definitely be playing singles at the Olympic Games in 2016.

Do I see Xu Xin as a contender? Yes. But he is going to have to really put in the work if he wants to get there. ZJK has the advantage of being defending champion, Ma Long of being WR 1 and World Champion. Xu Xin doesn't have much to go on to obtain a top 2 spot and so it's going to be an uphill battle for him. I can see him being the third member in the team competition.

The Rio Lineup

Ma Long has a fairly solid record against foreign players and so given the chance I can see him making the final if he holds his current form (peaks at Rio) or improves on it. The question will really come down to which Chinese player he could end up facing for a gold medal, should that be the scenario. In an Olympic Final I think Ma Long would have the upper hand on all other national team players with the exception of Zhang Jike.

Seeing how badly Ma Long disposed of Fan Zhendong at the World Champs really reinforced in my mind that he has learnt how to rise to the occasion and step up that extra gear against his peers.

Of course with Zhang Jike you never know, their World Cup encounter proved quite a spectacle, including Zhang Jike's antics and absurd fine for his behaviour. The good news is we have never really seen Zhang Jike whitewash Ma Long in a match, but we have seen some pretty dominant displays from Ma Long in his wins. That means Zhang Jike knows in order to have a chance at winning he really has to put it all on the line, I think Ma Long is still very much the dominant player in a head to head.

Wait and See

So first Ma Long will have to make the cut and achieve one of the two places for China in the Olympic Singles event, then he will have to win all of his matches. If he can take the confidence he has and hit peak form then I think it's definitely a very real possibility that we could see Ma Long win the Olympic Games and achieve a career Grand Slam.

Tuesday 25 August 2015

How I Lost 35lbs from Playing Ping Pong

During 2015 I hit a very unstable part of my life in table tennis. I wasn't sure whether I should continue competing and aiming for my goals, or whether I should transition into coaching. I was in the process of applying for a green card in the USA and coaching seemed to be my long term future. My training habits slipped and a period of sickness also ensued.

Diet habits in America and a lack of physical exercise as I helped kids improve their games caused me to reach the highest weight I had ever become in my 25 years. I was right on the edge of hitting 200lbs. For a previously aspiring athlete this was unacceptable to me, I had let myself slide.

Me and my teammates in the gym in Zhengding, China
Benefits of Table Tennis

Thankfully Table Tennis came to save the day. What many people don't realise is that table tennis at both social and competitive levels is a very aerobic sport. I have seen many success stories of people coming to table tennis for fun and to help their fitness levels and a healthy body and mind. What are the benefits of table tennis and how can it help you get in shape?

  • Helps build strong hand-eye coordination and reflexes.
  • Involves fast reactive footwork.
  • Strokes are quick and repetitive, helping burn fat and tone.
  • Speed and intensity can cause heavy sweating, good for flushing toxins and burning fat.
  • Involves aerobic and anaerobic fitness elements
  • Sharpens the mind as well as physical aspects

Over the following months my focus back on table tennis caused me to lose 35lbs in extra weight. With the help of a good gym schedule, some multiball training, a month of training in China and a switch from my terrible American diet, I was back in shape again. You can also see Aerobic Table Tennis  which uses table tennis basics to help promote healthy body and fitness.

The earlier stages of training, carrying extra weight

Now not everyone can just jet off to China for practice but there are many health benefits to just playing table tennis socially, even a few times a week. 

The best thing about table tennis is people of all ages can play it, so even older players can benefit from the many advantages of participating in this great sport. Table Tennis has helped me get back in a shape I'm satisfied with and I know many other people who play to keep their fitness levels up. 

What Body Parts Can Table Tennis Tone?

  • Wrists and Forearms which generate fast movements for driving the ball and creating spin.
  • Legs for generating power and footwork (quads, hams and calves)
  • Core strength for weight transfer and balance (central and lateral)
  • General fat and calorie burning (back, upper body, legs etc.)

Table Tennis is a great way to have fun, make friends and keep in shape all at the same time. I utilised games to help along the way, playing friends and kids for 50 situp punishments etc, every small contribution helped me achieve my result.

Getting in better shape, multiball in China

Of course, treating table tennis in a competitive nature can help shed the pounds faster and taking more serious practice regularly can get you in great shape, it depends how far you want to take it. The best part is you can improve so many aspects of your health, mind and body while enjoying an amazing sport!

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Check out the Final of the 17-18th Aug 2015 Challenger Series!

The Challenger Series is an event often overlooked which has live streaming and a reasonable standard of competition! The event takes place in Ochsenhausen, Germany and this week it was Filip Zeljko from Croatia who stole the crown against Poland's Jakub Dyjas.

You can find more information about the Challenger Series HERE.

Friday 14 August 2015

Why We Need Real Fan Superstars in Table Tennis

Going to China Open, one thing stood out more than anything else. The fans for table tennis in China are simply amazing. Dedicated to their players and crazy about anything ping pong. When I was in Chengdu I realised that this 'relationship' between fans and players (at least for the Chinese players) was pretty one sided.

Not a flicker of emotion from Zhang Jike
Why we need Real Fan Superstars in Table Tennis
Here are the things I noticed:

  • The players rarely smile in pictures with fans, or show any emotion at all. In fact you can see on their face that they want to get away as soon as possible.
  • They don't engage the fans in the stadium during or after matches. At best they might wave over the back of their head as they exit the playing area.
  • Sometimes they don't sign any autographs they just push past fans and leave.
  • They don't take any time to deal with their fans, they always rush between the venue and the hotel trying to avoid people.
After Ma Long beat Oshima 4-3 there were easily 100 people waiting for autographs and pictures outside the player entrance. He pushed past all of them and jumped in a private car and left. Of course being behind him I got swamped. But I stayed. I signed anything for anyone who wanted anything signing. 

I spoke to Timo Boll about it and he said that in the German league they have 1 hour sessions after their matches and they make sure they sign something for anyone who wants it. Timo Boll is a superstar and I feel he is really loved for this humbleness all around the world.

Timo, humble and always happy to be around fans
Why We Need Real Fan Superstars in Table Tennis

The Chinese team were very much a closed network. The Europeans were beyond welcoming. They asked if I wanted to join them for dinner, we talked so much. They are much more social.

Is part of the reason the sport is dying that we have no one to cheer for? Are fans of Ma Long and Zhang Jike really satisfied when they go to watch? It felt so one sided. The amount of energy the fans gave and received so little in return.

Look at someone like Federer, Nadal, even Waldner. Hussein Bolt. So much charisma on and off the field/court/table. They offer so much to their fans, they make us satisfied watching them. They engage with the fans, they entertain, show so much emotion. 

I think this is another aspect of Chinese dominance which is hurting the sport a little bit. Seeing how disappointed those fans were when Ma Long drove off after they had waited for him for so long was a little sad. I think there could be a huge improvement with how entertaining table tennis is if the players we idolise can learn to engage the crowd more.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm sure Ma Long and Zhang Jike have signed more than enough things before but it just looked like they were tired of having fans when I saw them. Perhaps that's understandable, but from the outside it didn't look too great. This is not a vendetta against the Chinese team at all, watching them play is great and I'm sure they are all very nice, but they are very shut off from everyone else, even the other players.

Be sure to subscribe to my newsletter (top left sidebar link), give feedback, and follow me on instagram @mhtabletennis!

Thursday 13 August 2015

What I Learnt from Playing Table Tennis in China

A trip to China is really a significant experience for any table tennis player and I was no different. Much to the surprise of many players who asked in the past, I had never trained in China at any point during my playing career. I finally had the opportunity which expanded into one of the biggest journey's I have ever undertaken.

Zhengding National Table Tennis Base at Night

I left the USA and headed for Zhengding National Training Base, 3 hours drive from Beijing. I went with a team from LYTTC which included Judy Hugh and Thomas Benson, both coaches from my club and a group of training kids. I spent 2 weeks training in Zhengding. You can see my blog posts here:

Blog #1    Blog #2    Blog #3    Blog #4

So what did I learn in Zhengding? Every half day was multiball. Multiball was something I had never been overly committed to, but doing it so frequently in Zhengding made me realise a lot.

It's physically demanding. I was on my way into better shape when I left the USA but China took me a step further. I realised how important multiball is if you really want to be a serious player, because it is really serious training. You wake up in the morning exhausted, can you handle multiball for another half a day? That's the real mental test.

The Chinese players are tough, they do this day in day out. Repetition, monotony. During my time there, summer, it was hot and humid, there was no escape from the heat. It was torture for my first few days there. I adjusted to it, torture eventually became something normal. That's really why China excel at this sport, the incredibly high levels of training which may seem like hell to many of us are so incredibly normal for them.

I sat and watched players and saw how easy their mechanics looked and imagined how many hours of multiball they had endured during their lifetime. As I continued through the 2 weeks the multiball became easier and I could feel my mechanics were improving. In my first 2 multiball sessions I needed breaks but after that I was fine soldiering through a bucket without a break. I learnt what I called 'cruise mode' where mechanics overrule the need to be frantic. This breakthrough allowed me to perform some hellishly consistent boxes of multiball like the one below.

I also learnt to value opportunities to rest more than I ever did before. The schedule was more than I had endured before and so sleeping in the afternoons became commonplace.

On one of my final days in Zhengding, Andrew Baggaley from Great Britain arrived to start 16 days of training. I had dinner with him and his brother Stephen and had the chance to hit with him a little and have some fun. I have organised an interview with him once he is back in England too :)

I travelled to Beijing for a week after this experience and trained in Guo Yan's training camp and my last day with the Beijing women's team (one of the best in China).

Blog #1    Blog #2

I had parted ways with my team and I was now in a foreign country by myself where I could understand small bits of the language but not enough to communicate. So what did I learn in Beijing?

No matter how good you think you are playing, there is always a player who can decimate you not far away. China can be whatever you want it to be, your perspective needs to be positive or you can walk away with so many doubts. Whatever you do, don't compare yourself to them, it's simply not comparable. Many of these players have been through incredibly rigorous training from a very young age and sacrificed education for this sport. The kids at Yan's training camp were fairly new players and they were really nice kids. I didn't have too much trouble beating them even with a 4 point handicap against me. Training with Zhou Fang Fang former national team player was an amazing opportunity.

She was a wicked training partner, very consistent and very accurate. Likewise the Beijing team were much better than me in the matches. So what went through my head? Why am I here, this will make no difference. Look at how many amazing players are in China!

No. Look at how much I can gain here, look at how much I can observe, how much I can learn. What can I take away from this. I made a specific point of not comparing myself with them, my story is completely different. It was important for me to take away motivation from the trip and not doubts.

I learnt how small the world of table tennis really is. I met with Guo Yan for lunch, she was incredibly nice to me and very welcoming. It showed that I have achieved what I set out to achieve with my blog, I took the big step closer to the highest level international players and brought the experience to you guys. It took me 4 years to create this network, which I continue to build. Now I have further expanded my links and my next stop on the journey was key in that.

The ITTF World Tour China Open 2015 in Chengdu, Sichuan is the hardest event on the tour, as such qualification is cut-throat. Single elimination from the word go. So why would I go? Well I was in China, it's an experience beyond all else and I wanted to take a shot. Players I had interviewed were going and I wanted to meet up with them also.

Joo Sae Hyuk with Me mhtabletennis.com
I spent an incredible amount of time with Vladimir Samsonov (one of my blog's biggest supporters) and Timo Boll. I dined with them, watched them warmup and play matches, met their families. I ate with Persson, Gardos and Lundqvist a few times. Let me tell you, these guys are unbelievably welcoming. It was an honour to get to know them a little better and to spend time with them, they are very friendly and real legends on and off the table.

I also spent time speaking to Joo Sae Hyuk (we both have the same auto-immune problem) and Korean legends Kim Taek Soo and Yoo Nam Kyu. I have noticed that most Korean players have a good handle of english which is really cool.

I played with Britt Eerland and had some fun matches. I shared a bus and a flight to Beijing with the North Korean team, they were really friendly. They were a little reserved but you can see they are very nice people.

So what did I achieve and learn? Well a lot of interviews organised (you wait! ;) ). I played Yang Heng Wei from Chinese Taipei (160wr) and lost 4-0. I saw what I needed to really step my level up. I saw how insane Chinese fans were (especially after signing well over 100 autographs in one day >.<). I learnt the habits of some of the best international players and heard stories from the greatest players of my generation and before.

I saw live what I had watched on a screen for so long. I enjoyed the audience involvement and the vibe, the venue was amazing too.

I may have lost 4-0 but I got a taste of the ITTF World Tour and I loved it and I hope there will be more to come in the future. There will be more blogs on the way too! :)

My trip to China may only have been for 1 month but I took so much away from it. It really is an experience that I will never forget and it has given me the motivation to continue along my path in all my table tennis goals.

Please subscribe to my email newsletter at the top of my blog and also be sure to catch my instagram (lots of content from China) @mhtabletennis

Sunday 2 August 2015

Training in China: Beijing Blog

So as it turns out the place I was training was actually an outer location for Guo Yan's summer training camp. After a week there Guo Yan invited me to train with the Beijing team for my last day here. I packed all my stuff in a hurry after training and took the train to Beijing West to see my old coach, Sun Yang. I hadn't seen her for 3 years so it was really nice to catch up and have Korean BBQ. The next day I took a taxi and tried to find a hotel.

It took 4 hotels and a lot of walking. The first had the Chinese National Team staying and so foreigners were not permitted to stay. The next was booked out, third again no foreigners and the 4th was more expensive. The result? I managed to book a great room (expensive in China, relatively cheap in USD).

I was invited to lunch by Guo Yan and had some amazing Beijing duck and tried some new things (duck heart and wasabi duck feet). It was a really pleasant experience. Yan told me she may come to Chengdu also which would be cool.

So I checked out the actual center at Longtan Lake which is where I will train tomorrow. It's been really hot here and the thunderstorms at night have made it humid as hell so all the walking around has drained me completely.

Guo Yan's Young Shine Table Tennis Club

Despite the heat I took some time to check out the Temple of Heaven which I am going to do a separate post on soon!

All in all a day of great experiences and no doubt more to come in the next week!