Advanced Insights

How Motion Science™ Cured My Forehand Blues

An Application of Martial Arts Principles to Tennis

by Stephen G. Pellegrini

My Forehand Blues

Recently I resumed playing tennis with my family after a layoff of eighteen months. I have played tennis competitively in high school and college, and even taught professionally, but most of my play since college has been purely recreational. On and off over the years I have been plagued with a hitch in my forehand ground stroke: my wrist will intermittently break or turn up (palm facing up) as I make contact with the ball. (Generally, a firm wrist is desired. This ensures control of the racquet head and correct placement of the forehand shot.) The wrist break usually results in the ball going into the net or sailing long out of bounds. I have had numerous coaches and pros help me correct this problem, and have read many books and articles in hopes of correcting it. Quite honestly, nothing has really helped. With the recent recurrence of the problem I decided to see if my martial arts training, and Mr. Nackord’s Motion Science, could help me arrive at a solution. I am happy to report that the experiment was a success, and I have developed a cure for my forehand problem thanks to Motion Science.

DSC01233.jpg This article illustrates how Motion Science can help athletes in other sports. However, we can apply to our martial arts training the same introspection and process as laid out here. DSC01200.jpg

What is Motion Science?

Before detailing the steps of my experiment with Motion Science and tennis, let’s review what Motion Science is, from my perspective as an athlete of any sport, not just the martial arts. Motion Science categorizes the analysis and learning sequence of athletic motion into the following stages:

Required Tools

For the purpose of correcting my forehand problem, I applied Level I and Level II principles to the problem. I was only concerned with hitting a forehand consistently and correctly, not tactically handling an opponent.

Two tools were needed and instrumental: a video camera mounted on a tripod and a ball machine. The ball machine was indispensable. This was a recent acquisition that has proved to be well worth the investment. It’s portable and uses a rechargeable battery for easy setup. It delivered hundreds of balls to the same location, allowing me to repeat the motion consistently.

The Forehand Ground Stroke: Motion Science Level I–Paths, Lines and Positions

This was the first stage of reviewing my forehand. Was my footwork correct? Was my body alignment sound? What about the movement of my arm and the path of the racquet–were they correct? Since I am right-handed, my descriptions will be based on movement from this side.

DSC01245.jpg DSC01246.jpg
The footwork and body positioning are similar when throwing a counterpunch (above) and when hitting a tennis ball (below). The physics of the human body and power generation are consistent regardless of the sport.
DSC01249.jpg DSC01250.jpg

Motion Science Level II – Physics of Motion: Power, Speed, and Conditioning

One of the good things about Motion Science is that it gives you a checklist for monitoring your fundamentals or basics, and a way to look at elements of your fundamentals individually without trying to run everything together. The Motion Science Level I review of my forehand did not reveal any glaring weaknesses, except a small problem with my racquet path that seemed to occur intermittently. Generally, my forehand was sound. However, I was surprised to see how much my racquet deviated from the “correct” path, and how much it improved in a single drill with consistent repetition. Motion Science Level II, the physics of motion deals with power, speed, and conditioning. Checking each of these elements of physical motion was my next task.

Motion Science Level II – Psychology of Motion: Timing, Accuracy, and Attitude

Motion Science Checklist Review

A quick review of my Motion Science Checklist review of my forehand summarizes my problem areas.

Motion Science Category Principle Problem
Level I: Geometry of Motion Footwork No
Body Positions No
Hands and Arms Needs improvement
- meet ball forward of body
Level II: Physics of Motion Conditioning Needs improvement
- cardio vascular
Speed No
Power Needs improvement
- bend my knees
- keep my back straight
- follow through
Attitude No
Accuracy No
Timing Yes

The Solution

As I review my Motion Science checklist above it is easy for me to summarize how to improve my forehand.

Most good tennis coaches might have come to the same conclusions as I did in my personal analysis. The advantage to having this Motion Science checklist is that an individual unskilled in assessing movement can get a huge head start on identifying performance problems.

Back to Advanced Insights