So I suppose what
is needed is not just a movie and a ball machine but a wise pro. A tennis
Two weeks after
the Esalen weekend I had a chance to try yoga tennis back to back with the best
of the traditional drills, ones given at John Gardiner's Tennis Ranch in
Scottsdale, Ariz. I had been through the Gardiner clinic before. The drills
were fun, the strategy was percentage strategy, the ranch was elegant and my
serve emerged unscathed.
In the mornings I
drilled away at the Gardiner clinic, forehands, backhands, volleys and
overheads. And in the early evening I went to yoga tennis because Rick Champion
or, rather, Baba Rick, was teaching in Scottsdale at the high school courts. I
had also read Zen in the Art of Archery because it occurred to me that yoga
tennis is actually a misnomer. Yoga means union, but to some people it is a guy
in diapers standing on his head or the RCAF exercises without push-ups. But it
isn't a sport, and Zen archery seems more applicable to tennis. The student in
Zen archery went through many of the same agonies as a beginning tennis
student. He tried to tell his right hand to release properly with his sergeant
mind. The Zen Master never coached him. The Master said, "The right shot at
the right moment does not come because you do not let go of yourself...the
right art is purposeless, aimless! What stands in your way is that you have a
much too willful will. You think that what you do not do yourself does not
happen." Breathing exercises were to detach the student from the world, to
increase a concentration that would be comparable to "the jolt that a man
who has stayed up all night gives himself when he knows that his life depends
on all his senses being alert." Nothing more is required of the student
than he copy the teacher: "The teacher does not harass and the pupil does
not overtax himself."
In our small yoga
tennis class it was an hour or more before we got onto the court. First we sat
in a circle and breathed "ahhhhh." Then we breathed with alternate
nostrils. We chanted Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo. A nice, pleasant singsong, Ong
Namo Gu-ru Dev Na-Mo. (The chant is not a sentence and does not really have a
meaning; the words have to do with the Divinity, the Teacher, the Divine Nature
and the Divinity possible in creation.) Then we concentrated on the center of
energy, below the navel, and moving that energy out through the arm.
We took to the
court, paired off and practiced patting balls to each other, watching the
pattern on the ball. It seemed ludicrously simple, standing on the service line
patting balls, but my mind began to rumble around like Molly Bloom's. It would
do anything rather than empty and stay on the patterns of the ball: What's for
dinner? What time is it? How long are we going to do this? How am I going to
start the speech to the Harvard Business School Club of Arizona on Saturday?
What time is it?
who attended both yoga tennis and Gardiner's, said, "That breathing is very
relaxing, but I like to run around the court more."
The next day at
Gardiner's I tried my yoga tennis during the clinic. It wasn't a notable
success. My sergeant mind, ever adaptable, had simply picked up the vocabulary
of yoga tennis. Instead of the usual command, "Follow through, dummy,"
it was now saying. "Extend ki, dummy, you didn't do it that time." I
tried a racket mantra with the ball machine: inhale, racket back, pause, exhale
and hit. But by the time I said, "Inhale, racket back," the ball was
already past me and I was off balance and slicing. I did notice at Gardiner's
the barrage of negativity. My fellow students all brought their sergeant minds,
and they apologized constantly: "I always get my racket back too late. It's
my follow-through, I don't follow through enough," and so on. They had
heard these things before, and the pros reinforced them: "Get your racket
back, you're not following through." So everybody was agreed: the sergeant
Egos and the teaching staff. We were dummkopfs. The atmosphere was cheerful
because the pros had such good humor, but by the end of the session we were
depressed because we had learned 200 different things we did wrong, and perfect
strokes seemed impossible.
The staff took
video tapes of our strokes. One pro said I had a great serving motion. That was
because there was no ball in it. "I serve fantastically as long as there's
no ball," I said. "I should have been in Blow-Up."
isn't going to the same place each time," the pro said.
that," I said. "I tell it to, but it won't."