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Ben Larcombe

Ben\'s Table Tennis Blog


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Ibrahim Hamato: The Armless Table Tennis Player

Friday May 16, 2014
Ibrahim Hamato

Ibrahim Hamato will very likely soon become the most well-known Paralympic table tennis player, since his YouTube video went viral this week. And good for him! Ibrahim has clearly spent hours and hours practicing his skill and developing an incredible amount of "feeling" for the spin and speed of the game.

Developing this level of "feeling" isn't easy with your playing hand, it's even harder with your non-playing hand, but with your mouth... using your teeth to grip the bat... that's unbelievable!

I first came across Ibrahim Hamato in January 2013 when the ITTF uploaded the following video of him playing in Cairo.


It was only a 23 second clip of one point and it wasn't easy to see exactly how we was hitting the ball. It was very impressive but I wasn't sure if he was more or less just playing "ping-pong" and donking the ball back and forth over the net against opponents that were going easy on him.

Then the ITTF invited him to the 2014 World Team Championships in Japan and let him rally against some of the best players in the world. Only then did it become clear that he was playing proper strokes and using spin in a way that seems impossible!


Ibrahim can block. He can lob. He can drive. He can apply sidespin to the ball. He can serve (using his foot). And most impressively, he can tilt his head to the side and actually play an aggressive attacking shot, adding a considerable amount of speed and spin to the ball!

Ibrahim played table tennis as a child before having a serious accident at the age of ten. After a few years he decided he wanted to try and play the sport again. He first tried to put the bat under his arm but it didn't work. After trying a few different options he settled on using his mouth to grip the bat!

The best part of Ibrahim's story is that it inspires you to never accept "No" as the final answer. To never let somebody tell you you "can't" do something. If you want to achieve something in this brilliant sport of table tennis you should give it your all, like Ibrahim, and be thankful for all the gifts and opportunities you have. Ibrahim could have easily let his circumstances dictate his life and hobbies but instead he took the proactive response and found a way around it.

Part of the reason that I love table tennis as a sport is how inclusive it is. A five year old can beat a 25 year old if they have practiced more. A teenager can play competitively with their grandparent. A wheelchair user can play against able-bodied opponents. A man with no arms can have a knock with Ma Long!

If we are going to take two lessons from the story of Ibrahim Hamato, the armless table tennis player, how about these...

1. Don't listen to the people that say you "can't" do something.

If you are 15 years old and want to become a professional table tennis player don't let people tell you you are too old to ever make it, or that you should have started earlier. Don't be reactive and worry about the things you cannot change. Instead focus on the present and find a way to create the future you desire.

2. Lets encourage more people to take up table tennis.

As far as I can tell, table tennis is the perfect Paralympic sport. Ibrahim has proven it can be played by absolutely anyone. It is great for your strength and fitness, your coordination and timing, and also for your brain and mental functioning. We should be offering table tennis to as many different groups of people as possible!

Hello! I'm Ben.

Saturday May 10, 2014
ben larcombe

I'm the new table tennis expert here at About.com!

I'm still trying to get my head around how the back-end of this site works, so please bear with me, but I'm hoping to put a lot of effort into this site and really build it up again.

If there is anything in particular you would like me to write about please let me know and I'm excited to see how we can take this site forward.

Thank you.

Doing Things Differently in Table Tennis

Thursday August 30, 2012
Was my previous grip change an innovation or idiocy? The jury is still out on that one...
Photo © 2010 Greg Letts, licensed to About.com, Inc.
"Dare to be different" is a saying that gets thrown around a lot in conversations these days, as well as "Think outside the box". But is it really a good idea to try to do things differently in table tennis? How can you be sure whether you are an innovator or an idiot? Is it confidence or arrogance to think that you know better than professional ping-pong players? Or a bit of both?

Should Children Play with Combination Rackets?

Wednesday August 29, 2012
Who is going to teach the next generation of combination bat users?
Photo © 2007 Greg Letts, licensed to About.com, Inc.
One of the common questions which pops up from time to time in table tennis circles is the debate on whether juniors should use combination rackets, and if so, what is the appropriate time to start?

I take a look at both sides of the debate before offering my own opinion on the matter.

Advice for Table Tennis Advisors and Coaches

Tuesday August 28, 2012
Piers Carter knows it's all about the player (William Henzell), not him.
Photo © 2007 Greg Letts, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Most table tennis players will be called on to give coaching advice to a fellow player (be it a friend or a team mate) during their career. With the breaks between games and during time-outs limited to a maxium of one minute only, it can be tough to know exactly what to focus on when attempting to send your player back out onto the court optimally prepared to resume battle.

Fortunately, I've got a bit more than a minute to work with, so here's some of my advice for coaching players during table tennis matches.

Newgy Pong-Pal - Review

Friday August 24, 2012
Feeling like a pick me up?
Photo © 2012 Greg Letts, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Newgy was kind enough to include a Pong-Pal ball pickup tool when they sent me a number of robots to review. I'd kind of forgotten about it, but I found it buried underneath a heap of packing boxes when I started to repack the Newgy robots in preparation for donating them to worthy local causes (which was very classy of Newgy, in my opinion - I know they'll be put to good use!)

Anyway, now that I've finished patting Newgy on the back, I'll take a look at one last piece of Newgy equipment - here's my review of the Pong-Pal.

Learn from Weaker Ping-Pong Players

Thursday August 23, 2012
Even ping-pong beginners have something to teach others!
Photo by Stockbyte / Getty Images
"Copy the pros" is a fairly common saying in table tennis circles, but what about the flip side - can you improve your ping-pong game by watching weaker players?

Defenders - Deceive or Die - Two Minute Table Tennis Tip

Friday August 17, 2012
Matthew Syed - one of the truly deceptive defensive players.
Photo by courtesy of www.ittf.com
Adapt or die is a common saying that has more than a grain of truth in it. But for all you fellow defenders out there, I have a similar saying to keep in mind - Deceive or Die!

Answer to Table Tennis Quiz Question - Wheelchair Play

Thursday August 16, 2012
Poland's Natalia Partyka - who competes at both the Olympics and Paralympics!
Photo: An Sung Ho, by courtesy www.ittf.com
While just over half of the respondents to this quiz question picked the right answer, I have to admit that I would have been likely to choose one of the wrong ones until just recently, when I discovered that the ITTF had included a number of rules regarding wheelchair play directly into the main ITTF Laws of Table Tennis. You can find my explanation of the correct answer regarding serving to wheelchair table tennis players here.

While I think the ITTF might have publicized the changes a little more, the addition of these new rules is a good thing overall, I think. Not only do they make it clear that wheelchair players are welcome in open tournaments, they lay down some fairly simple and easy to follow rules regarding how the service must be conducted, which has often been a bone of contention in the past when able bodied players competed against wheelchair players at clubs and local tournaments.

2012 London Olympics - China all the way

Thursday August 9, 2012
Liu Guoliang celebrating yet another Chinese win
Photo: An Sung Ho, by courtesy www.ittf.com
In what was one of the least surprising results of the 2012 London Olympics, China took the gold medals in the Men's and Women's Team events, giving up only 2 games in both finals, against the South Korean team (Men's) and the Japanese team (Women's).

And while the usual arguments about whether Chinese dominance is hurting the sport are going on, I will just make the one comment - in what other sport can it be said that having a country take the sport to new levels is a bad thing?

China have been on top of the world scene for much of the last 20 years, apart from a blip or two here and there. Is in really China's fault that the rest of the world haven't been able to produce a team that can compete with the Chinese machine?

After all, a country only needs three players that can beat the Chinese players - just three! (Actually, just two if the two players can win all their matches.) It doesn't matter that China have another thousand players that are all of a similar standard to their national team - if one country can come up with just three players that are better, they'll beat China with all the Chinese hordes of high level players. Yet after all this time, there doesn't seem to be one country that can produce even one player that can beat the Chinese consistently.

Does the fault lie with China, or with the rest of us?

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