July 9, 2008 > Ping Pong Dojo
Ping Pong Dojo
By Ethan Chou
For over a century, people have been entertained by the game of ping pong, though more often than not, it is viewed merely as a trite recreational activity. Few people realize, however, just how much the game has grown in popularity and official standing over the past two decades. Starting in 1988, table tennis was recognized as an Olympic sport, and ever since then, numerous athletes have dedicated themselves to mastering the sport. In countries such as China, professional teams competing in international competitions have even been formed, a testament to how serious people are becoming about the sport. Clearly, however, the United States has not been touched by the same enthusiasm.
The founders and coaches of the Ping Pong Dojo in Milpitas have tried to change that. Established earlier this year, the Dojo provides state-of-the-art facilities specially designed to foster improvement in the game of ping pong. No detail has been neglected - floors engineered to reduce shock and sliding, walls colored to increase ball visibility, and brand new standardized tables are only a few of the amenities offered.
According to business manager Hung Jen Hung, "We wanted to have our own facility... the best. Very few people in the nation use the floor, lighting, and tables that we do. Most use generic gyms not for table tennis."
No expense has been spared when it comes to having only the best for training members of the community, especially children. All of the coaches are national top level table tennis players. Head Coach Jia Qi Zheng, co-founder of the Dojo along with Hung, is currently ranked #7 among official US Women competitors; another coach, Chao San, was a professional player in China before coming to America. In the United States' Table Tennis ranking system, many of the instructors score above 2500, while the average rank is closer to 1600. "Jia Qi's reverse backhand penhold is probably the best in the U.S., among both men and women," says Hung. The instructors also occasionally practice, and often win, against Olympic table tennis team members, and several of them are former Olympians.
Even though the Dojo is equipped for Olympic level play, most individuals who come to play, do so for recreation. Visitors of all ages, from kids to seniors, arrive from all over the area, mostly from Milpitas, but also from Fremont, Pleasanton, and Concord. For $6 on weekdays, people can drop in and play all day ($5 on weekends). Year-round membership is also available for those who plan on playing more often. The Dojo is also recruiting companies to participate in an inter-company league, as a way to cultivate camaraderie as well as reach out to the community. Currently, companies such as Intel, Yahoo, Google, and Ebay have already expressed interest in attending.
Hung personally wants to see more children and youth participate in table tennis related activities. "In the U.S., ping pong is popular but people don't take it as a serious sport, they take it as family entertainment. In China, there is serious training," he stated. Thus, in addition to instruction by expert coaches, tournaments are also routinely held at the Dojo. While giving ordinary players a chance to engage in some friendly competition, it is also a good experience for those who might want to pursue the sport to a more intense degree. Summer camps are available from June to August, one-on-one instruction, and group lessons are being offered taught by the professionals.
The Ping Pong Dojo was designed as a place "where ping pong can be fun and serious," and it certainly lives up to its motto, providing a variety of services for everyone ranging from the casual visitor to the determined competitor. Through all of its activities, however, the Dojo first and foremost seeks to spread knowledge of the game of table tennis so that others will come to enjoy and love it as much as the employees do.
"I like ping pong and seeing people playing... if people come and play, it's just joyful to watch," said Hung when asked why he and Zheng founded the organization in the first place. "A lot of people come in, the sport is getting popular, kids ask for coaching... it's a good sign for the country."
Ping Pong Dojo head coach Jiaqi Zheng won first place at "Under 21 Women Open" Singles at the US Open in Las Vegas. In the Women Open she beat former US Olympian Jasna Reed and a Chinese National team player before her victory streak ended, according to a Ping Pong Dojo spokesperson. Read about Zheng at the US Open at http://www.usatt.org/magazine/08jul-aug/OpenCoverage.shtml.
For more information on programs, fees, and times concerning the Ping Pong Dojo, visit www.pingpongdojo.com.
Ping Pong Dojo
1364 Minnis Cir., Milpitas