Marty Reisman is one of the last—and definitely the most colorful —of the old ping pong champions still around. At 82, he continues to play aggressively, says he is always learning and improving, and is a helluva character. He is the only American to ever win the British Open, and you can see him doing it in the video above, when he was 19. Notice how different the rally is—using the classic hard paddle of those days—compared to modern, sponge-racket play with more spins, slams and shorter rallies.
On the web site for the company he co-founded, Table Tennis Nation, which sells paddles, tables and is affiliated with ping pong parlors, here is how he modestly describes himself:
“…a legend, a 23-time international and domestic champion, author, world-class hustler, performer, unmistakable colorful character and unarguably the most charismatic player to ever step onto the court.
Marty became mesmerized with the game at the age of 12— the kerplock of the ball across the table, the buzzing vibration of each shot up the wrist, the adrenaline, the drama—and has since devoted his life to the game. He has played (and won) against presidents and princes, CEOs and celebrities, sports stars and socialites, musicians and maharajas. He’s toured as the opening act for the Harlem Globetrotters and played in front of crowds of 75,000. His trademark forehand can clock a staggering 115 mph. He holds the title as the oldest person to ever win a national open title in a racket sport, an achievement he has held since 1997 where at the age of 67 he won the US Hardbat National Championship.”
He also played a lot of games for money and is still hustling kids when he can, according to a recent New York Times article .
Hardbat refers to classic dimpled and sandpaper rackets that were more popular until sponge took over in the 1950’s. Here are excerpts from an article by Scott Gordon of why he prefers hardbat:
“The sponge game uses an explosive, reactive instrument capable of applying such spin as to fly off the opponent’s bat many feet sideways with just a touch. One result is dominance by attacking styles. HardBat, by contrast, is a game in which defense is possible, and therefore used and necessary. It is more balanced in terms of offense and defense, the two essential elements in any sport. This yin/yang is missing in the sponge game. ”
(In this next video, you can really see how much longer and simpler the hardbat rallies can be, especially the 30-second rally beginning at 2:09.)
“With a hardbat, the player feels the shock of the ball hitting the wood, the energy transmitted directly to the hand. When a player cracks a solid slam, it is through the force of his/her swing, and nothing else. The power is unaided by any catapulting effect; all action by the player produces an equal/opposite reaction on the ball and a commensurate “whack” sound from the wood.
“Although it is more difficult to apply spin in hardbat, it is easier to “read” the spin applied by the opponent. One can generally tell what spin has been placed on the ball because the opponent would have had to use a full stroke to apply the spin. By contrast, in the modern (sponge) game, spin can be applied by very slight movements, or may be affected by differences in the rubber surfaces…sometimes even two different surfaces on the same bat. Since it is easier to read the hardbat spin, it is easier to keep the ball in play and rallies are usually longer. Mystery and deception are reduced.
“In the sponge game, you are always one loop-kill away from losing the point. There is little room for too much variety, too much personal style, too much relaxation. Death is always at hand. In the HardBat game, there are many ways to play successfully, and with greater chances to return the ball. Styles that would face instant death in the sponge world can survive in the hardbat world.”
Here Marty gives some tips on playing ping pong and demonstrates behind the back returns: