Have you ever watched the exciting table tennis matches in the Olympic Games? How about any games in the ITTF World Table Tennis Championship organized by the ITTF? If so, you’ll know that China regularly dominates the sport and the Chinese men’s team holds a record number of 20 world team championship titles.
The superb Ma Long became the men’s singles World Champion in 2019 and by so doing, he joined the legendary group of professional players like Hungary’s Victor Barna and his Chinese compatriot, Zhuang Zedong, who also won three world titles in a row.
As you watch some of these legendary players, it might become pretty clear that they have specific ways of holding their paddles or rackets that are very different from the way you might find an amateur holding them. As you get started in this game, it is vitally important to pay attention to the way you are holding the ping pong paddle or table tennis racket.
Your grip can be a vitally important factor when it comes to the amount of control and accuracy that you are getting with your shots, and also, how much fun you are ultimately having. If you spend any amount of time watching some of the professional players at work, you’ll soon discover that there are plenty of different types of grips that can be used. Each type of grip can be used against different opponents if you are trying to vary your playing style between games.
Choosing the Right Ping Pong Grip
Very much like in the game of golf, there is no single perfect grip for every player and style of game. If you experiment with a few different styles, you’ll soon discover the type of grip that allows you the most possible control and accuracy when attacking and defending, as well as offers you the kind of split-second responsiveness you need to play at your best.
It is important to choose and train with the grip that you prefer right from the beginning. When you are first starting out, or if you are changing your grip or learning a new one, you might expect your game to get a little worse at the outset. This may be a little discouraging, but stick with the new grip and you are bound to see better results after using it for a little while longer.
A Few Different Types of Ping Pong Grips
The International Table Tennis Federation, or ITTF, recommends several types of grips that are permissible in international competitions and that are also used in local tournaments. These include several variations of the shakehand grip and the penhold grip. We’ll take a look at some of these variations below.
Commonly Used: the Shakehand Grip
This a very common grip for western players like Dan Seemiller, but it has recently gained popularity among Asian players as well. The shakehand grip gets its name from the actual hand position of the grip, which closely resembles the pose that somebody uses when shaking hands. While it is not an identical resemblance, it is close enough to warrant the name.
In the basic shakehand grip, the player has three fingers wrapped around the front of the handle, with their index finger touching the edge of the rubber, and the edge of the blade tucked into the crease between their thumb and index finger. The placement of the edge of the blade within the natural V of the hand is a crucial factor when it comes to improved control and better wrist flexibility.
There are two types of shakehand grip that are often used: the shallow shakehand and the deep shakehand. In the shallow shakehand, the hand is positioned as described above, where the thumb rests lightly curled on the blade. The shallow shakehand is a natural, relaxed way to hold the ping pong paddle, and it is fairly easy for beginners to learn.
Some main advantages of this grip include good wrist flexibility and a comfortable, natural feeling. The grip can be used for forehand or backhand topspin shots. Some disadvantages of this grip are that it offers less power for offensive shots, and it has a weak crossover point (the “crossover point” is the moment of decision when a player has to decide whether to use a forehand or backhand stroke).
In the deep shakehand grip, the hand can be placed as described above, but the thumb is slightly raised and it is mostly relaxed on the rubber part of the bat. The deep shakehand grip is another one that is often recommended as a starting grip for beginners.
Some of the biggest advantages of this grip include power and precision as well as a comfortable, natural feeling. The grip can also be used on the forehand side or for backhand shots. Some disadvantages of this grip include less wrist flexibility, as well as quite a weak crossover point.
Another Useful Option: the Penhold Grip
This grip is referred to as the penhold grip because the paddle is held with the blade pointing upward and the paddle surface pointing downward, in the same way that you would hold a pen. This is one of the most popular grips among Asian table tennis players, although it has also recently gained popularity in the West.
When using the basic penhold grip, the edge of the blade can be tucked into the V of the hand, between the thumb and fingers, and the index fingers and thumb can be curled around the blade, resting on the rubber. There are three types of penhold grip that can be identified. We will look at each type and discuss some of the most important aspects below.
Type 1: the Chinese Penhold
In the Chinese penhold grip, the blade is held downward, with the index finger and thumb wrapped around as we have described above. The three fingers of the hand are curled gently along the rubber on the opposite side. Some advantages of this grip include good wrist flexibility and rotation.
It is a versatile grip for forehand as well as backhand shots. Some disadvantages of this backhand grip are that it is difficult to deliver backhand topspin shots. Also, if you play with the elbow raised and rotate your wrist for a long time, it can be physically tiring, which can decrease your stamina over the course of the game.
Type 2: the Japanese Penhold
In the Japanese penhold, the thumb and index finger are held in the penhold style. The three remaining fingers are extended along the back of the paddle, with the middle finger lying on the rubber in line with the blade, and the remaining two fingers tucked against the middle finger.
Some advantages of this grip include more power for forehand strokes because your fingers can provide more strength and stability. This increase in power allows players who use the grip to stand further away from the table. Some disadvantages of this grip are that it reduces blade movement, which can make it more difficult to return the ball. This makes the grip more difficult to master in general.
Type 3: the Korean Grip
If you see someone using the Korean grip, you’ll notice that there is a straightening of the fingers behind the bat. This style might also be used to add extra power to some of the forehand strokes. Players can attack the ball even when they are standing far from the table.
However, the straight fingers can also lead to a restriction of movement of the blade. This can make it challenging to adjust the racket at various angles and therefore, a little harder to reach the ball. This makes the Korean grip difficult for beginners and other players with less experience.
Type 4: the Reverse Penhold
In this style, the player uses the Chinese penhold grip, but instead of using the front paddle surface, where the thumb and index finger rest, they use the back paddle surface where the fingers are. The grip may look a little uncomfortable at first, but it has a lot of intriguing aspects.
Some advantages of this grip include a greater range of arm movement, which can be really good for games that are played close to the table (with short balls that bounce close to the net). This grip can also strengthen your backhand shots a lot. However, because this grip is used low and close to the table, it can be difficult to get the ball over the net.
This makes the grip more difficult to master in general. The reverse penhold can help to eliminate the weaknesses of some of the other grip by strengthening the backhand stroke and helping players attack short balls. This is mainly due to the free arm movements of this grip.
Many professionals switch over to this grip for a little more variety. While there are quite a few other ping pong grip styles that have been used by both amateurs and professionals alike, such as the pistol grip, the V grip, and the Dan Seemiller grip, it is clear that the shakehand and penhold grips are the most dominant styles in use right now, so you might want to start with one of those and we are sure that you’ll soon feel comfortable enough to get a few good games going.
Case Study: Rong Guotuan
In 1959, a 21-year-old called Rong Guotuan played in the World Table Tennis Championship in Dortmund, Germany. Like most of his teammates on the Chinese national team, he played with a penhold grip. Rong was tall and skinny and he had a very accurate forehand and a spectacular backhand block.
Most importantly, Rong had a grip that was common, but he had made a few tweaks to give himself a slight advantage around the table. Before Dortmund, Rong had never even played in an international tournament. This one was held in a huge warehouse-like hall that was full of tables. The sounds of pounding footsteps on the wooden floor and bouncing ping-pong balls on the tables filled the room.
As the field narrowed, tables were slowly removed from the hall until finally, in the championship match, there was only one table left. On one side of that table stood Rong Guotuan. The 1959 tournament in Dortmund saw Rong dominate one opponent after another until he finally faced the Hungarian Ferenc Sido in the final.
Although Hungary had dominated the sport in the early part of the twentieth century, that would soon change. Rong played in a casual style and stood almost flat-footed as he dominated the table against Sido. He returned to China as a hero after winning the Dortmund tournament.
By defeating Sido, he became the first Chinese world champion in any sport. China’s first table tennis supply company actually opened after his victory and they were called Double Happiness. The first Happiness referred to Rong’s victory in Dortmund, which coincided with the second Happiness: the tenth anniversary of Mao’s 1949 establishment of the People’s Republic of China.
Of course, this sport has evolved a lot in the decades since Rong played, but he was very much ahead of his time. Many of the evolutions of the game are because of Rong’s distinctive style, especially with his serve. He had a way of hiding his spin very well while delivering a serve that used a deceptive backhand grip.
Getting a Grip On It All
So those are a few ideas about some of the most popular grips used in ping pong and table tennis. If you would like even more advice on grips and how to play certain shots with them, take a look at this video called “Get a Grip” by Alois Rosario of PingSkills. It is really helpful to watch videos like this to see the main types of grip in action and to learn from some of the greatest players in the world.
Most of these great players will probably recommend that if you are a beginner, you should start with the deep shakehand as your table tennis grip. This is because it is a versatile and powerful grip and it can be much easier for beginners to learn, especially when they are focusing mostly on the forehand side style of play.
Try to keep a soft and loose grip on the handle of the bat so that your movements are flexible and fluid. This will give you a bit more control on your forehand. After getting more accustomed to the shakehand style, it will be easier to experiment with a wider range of different grips to suit specific styles and weaknesses among players.
Like most things in life, you’ll find that each grip has certain advantages and disadvantages, so it is certainly worth spending some time experimenting quite a lot until you find the best grip for your game. Try to avoid changing grip during rallies. Remember, everyone has a slightly different hand and a slightly different grip. Don’t be too concerned about whether your grip is ‘perfect’ or not. Just make sure it’s not affecting your game too much. You should always feel as comfortable and confident about your grip as possible.