In the midst of the Vietnam War, a young teenage badminton player, Dick Ng, participated in a big tournament, known as the July 4th Tournament, in Santa Barbara in 1967. He was defeated by Mike Walker, a US National Champion during the 1970s. Using this defeat as motivation, Ng started to train harder and work on his physical fitness. Since not many teaching materials about badminton skills were available at the time, Ng even began to develop his own way to teach techniques.
How was your experience in Santa Barbara?
I was 17 years old. It was a huge two-day tournament in which many national players also participated. My last match was at 2:30 in the morning on Sunday. My opponent was Mike Walker in Men’s Singles. It was a close game, and I believe the final score was 12-15, 11-15. I couldn’t beat him. He was a bit better in many ways. I was just so tired that day. I was even sleeping before the game started, so my uncle had to wake me up.
How is your philosophy in conditioning?
I truly believe that running and jump roping are important. I didn’t realize why it was so important back in those days. When I looked at a sport like boxing, I noted how it had excellent footwork and that the boxers were always bouncing on their feet. I thought that would certainly help a lot in badminton. Players who bounce on their feet play very proactively, a definite advantage to competitive badminton. My philosophy back then was if you jump rope a lot, it would help your footwork and keep you bouncing. Running is also as important as jump roping. You need to have stamina, because if you cannot run on the court, your opponent will exploit this weakness and you are going to lose.
How about badminton technique?
Certainly, as a young player, I didn’t have a good backhand. Backhand is still the weakest shot for everyone, including world class players, while forehand remains the strongest. I overprotected my backhand, so I did many shots from around the head. It was a strong shot, but it had a limitation. If the bird was too far out, I could not hit around the head, so I had to have a backhand. When I started to practice backhand, I thought using my wrist was part of the technique. But I learned that it was not only the wrist, but also the fingers, body and arm rotation. To develop these skills, I used a champagne bottle filled with sand to strengthen my wrist and fingers.
Any crazy or funny training you did back then?
In the 60s, not everyone had a car so most people took public transportation. In SF Chinatown I would play badminton, and after playing we would go out to eat wonton soup or some other dish. From the place where we played to the bus stop, it was six blocks uphill and the last two blocks were really steep. We were teenagers, and there were five or six of us. We would race up to the bus stop. It was just a fun game, but when I recalled the race, it was part of our conditioning. For younger kids, we would give them a 10-yards handicap. The guy who reached the top first had to stop the bus for the rest of us. By the time we were up there, we were dead tired. Another fun method of training was to run on sand. I used to live near the beach, so I would run to the beach and run on the dry sand, sprinting forward and backward. Sand gets pretty hot on sunny days, so I had to run fast and went to the water to refresh and run again. I jumped a lot on the sand too. I believed that if you run in harder conditions to train, you can run easily on the hardwood floor. I did a lot of stretching after the running which is also important. Was there any material you studied? While there was not much available to study back then, I did study training video tapes of Korean players. It was about the finger power and technique to hit explosive shots. The demonstrator in the video pointed out that you need to hold the racket very loosely and snap it on the hit. It was very effective. Today, every international player does that. The video was in English, so it reached the international players.
What was your best moment as a player?
When I was ranked 7th in the country in singles during the national championships in San Diego 1978. I was in my mid-20s. I played the 19-year-old hot shot, who had just won the triple crown in the Junior Nationals. It was in round 16. He was favored to walk all over me. He was supposed to beat me up. We went to third set, and I beat him 15-13. He was so mad and he threw his racket.