© 2010 Douglas Tong, all rights reserved
and I are avid tennis players. It’s a great game. One thing
that bothered us, and I imagine it does all players, was the fact
that you can be very skilled in a technical sense and still lose a
game to a lesser skilled opponent. This irritated us to no end. We
should be able to win handily, our superior technical skill
overwhelming our adversaries. However, some players have a knack for
defeating us and it is not due to their having superior skill.
separated us? Why did we lose against some of these lesser opponents?
looking through a used book store one day, not really looking for
anything in particular, when I saw an old book on the shelf that
intrigued me. The title was The Inner Game of Tennis
W. Timothy Gallwey. I looked through it and it looked worth reading
so I paid the $1.00 for the book and took it home. I gave it to my
wife and she shrugged, saying, “OK, I’ll give it a read.”
didn’t see the book for almost 2 weeks. I asked her about it
and she said it was really interesting. Indeed?!
finally got the book back, I decided to read it to find out why it
was so interesting. To give a brief synopsis, the book is about the
mind. How to play without fear, without self-doubt. To be fully
focused. In short, to be in a Zen mind.
Like Takuan applied to tennis.
am not writing this article to talk about Zen and tennis. I am here
to talk about motivation. Motivation to play tennis? No. Motivation
to do Zen? No.
unique book, the author in one chapter talked about the different
motivations of tennis players. I read it and I thought, hey this
applies to sword arts training.
talked about the games people play within the game and outlined three
basic categories of games (which essentially are what motivates
people to play tennis but really it can be applied to any sport or
art). Each category has 2 or 3 sub-types. Let’s look at them
and see if you recognize any of them in your dojo.
Motivation #1: To Become “Good”
Aim: To achieve excellence
Motive: To prove oneself “good” (can read as “skilled”)
Sub-type 1A: For Perfection
How good can I get? In this circumstance, “good” is
measured against a standard of performance. In golf, it is measured
against par; in any art, against self-conceived expectations or those
of teacher or friends.
Perfection; to reach the highest standard possible.
The desire to prove oneself competent and worthy of the respect of
self and others.
The never-closing gap between one’s idea of perfection and
one’s apparent ability.
Self-criticism for not being as close to perfection as one would
like, leading to discouragement, compulsively trying too hard, and a
sense of inferiority; fear of not measuring up.
Sub-type 1B: For Competition
I’m better than you. Here, “good” is measured
against the performance of other players rather than against a set
standard. Maxim: It’s not how well I play, but whether I win or
lose that counts.
Aim: To be
the best; to win; to defeat all comers.
The desire to be at the top of the heap. Stems from need for
admiration and control.
There is always someone around who can beat you; the rising ability
of the young.
The mind’s pre-occupation with comparing oneself with others;
thoughts of inferiority alternating with superiority, depending on
the competition; fear of defeat.
Sub-type 1C: For Image
Look at me! “Good” is measured by appearance. Neither
winning nor true competence is as important as style.
look good, flashy, strong, brilliant, smooth, graceful.
The desire for attention and praise.
One can never look good enough. What looks good to one person does
not look so good to another.
Confusion about who one really is. Fear of not pleasing everyone and
of imagined loneliness.
Motivation #2: For Friends
Aim: To make or keep friends
Motive: Desire for friendship
Sub-type 2A: For Status
play at THE country club. It’s not so important how good you
are as where you play and who plays with you.
maintain or improve social status.
The desire for the friendship of the prominent.
The cost of keeping up with the Joneses.
Fear of losing one’s social position.
Sub-type 2B: For Togetherness
All my good friends play tennis. You play to be with your friends. To
play too well would be a mistake.
meet or keep friends.
The desire for acceptance and friendship.
Finding the time, the place and the friends.
Fear of ostracism.
Motivation #3: For Health and/or Fun
Aim: Mental or physical health or pleasure
Motive: Health and/or fun
Sub-type 3A: For Health
Played on doctor’s advice or as part of self-initiated physical
improvement or beautification program.
Exercise, work up a sweat, relax the mind.
Health, vitality, desire for prolongation of youth.
Finding someone of like motive to play with.
Doubts that tennis is really helping. The temptation to be drawn into
the Perfect or Good motivation.
Sub-type 3B: For Fun
Played neither for winning nor to become “good”, but for
fun alone. The game is rarely played in its pure form.
have as much fun as possible.
The desire for enjoyment.
Finding someone of like motivation to play with.
Learning to appreciate fully the subtleties of the game. The
temptation to be drawn into the Good or the Friends motivation.
Sub-type 3C: For the “High”
Played to raise one’s awareness. The game is very rarely played
in its pure form.
The desire to transcend ordinary consciousness.
The attachments and fluctuations of the ego-mind.
Source: Gallwey, W. Timothy (1974). The
Inner Game of Tennis. New York: Random House.
read this, I was astounded. Yes. I see many of these types of
motivations exhibited in my students and in students in general in
any dojo in any martial art.
I see the
high achievers, whether they are striving for excellence because they
are perfectionists, because they want to compete and be the best of
the best, or because they want to look good.
I also see
the social seekers: the country club status seekers and the
socializers who are there to be with other people.
And I see
the health, fitness and fun types too. Although in sword circles, I
tend to notice more of the “high” types than the
hard-core fitness types. The “high” types want the Zen
mind that Takuan talks about.
traditional martial arts like koryu, I would hasten to add a 4th
sub-type to the 3rd
category: that of “For the
”. There are some students who come to classical
kenjutsu or iaido classes to live out their samurai fantasies, to
dress in the traditional garb, learn some fancy moves, and wear a
sword. It’s the one day a week that they are transported back
to the time of “The Last Samurai” or “Shogun”.
It’s a fun break from the mundane and satisfies their need to
be someone different, someone mysterious (an alter-ego like Batman or
the Highlander), to know something secretive that no one else knows.
right. There are these types all around. Go to any kendo dojo, judo
dojo, karate dojo, tae kwon do dojang, any martial arts hall in fact
and you will see the same thing.
to bring this to the attention of our new teachers in sword arts or
any martial art since you will find many of these motives in your
students. You need to accurately assess what type of student you are
facing to know how to motivate him (or her) and to know what you can
expect of him.
If you are
facing a country club status seeker, you cannot realistically expect
them to strive for perfection in technique like the perfectionists.
The old expression “you can’t get blood from a
” applies here. That’s not their motivation.
They don’t value that. By having false expectations, you will
only get frustrated yourself and your high expectations for this
student will likewise frustrate them when they realize that they
cannot achieve what you want them to achieve. If you’re
expecting the image guys to be your top competitors, it won’t
happen either. They could care less. They’re only interested in
”. The author says it best:
“Not only can the full
spectrum of emotional response be viewed on the court, but also a
wide range of motivations in its players. Some care only about
winning. Some are amazingly tenacious about warding off defeat, but
can’t win a match point if it’s offered to them. Many
don’t care how they play, as long as they look good, and some
simply don’t care at all. Some cheat their opponents; others
cheat themselves. Some are always bragging about how good they are;
others constantly tell you how poorly they are playing. There are
even a small handful who are out on the court simply for fun and
Inner Game of Tennis
to yourself. What is motivating you? Apply it to your students. Who
are the country club types? Who are the perfectionists? Knowing who
your students are will help you to manage and teach them in a more
informed and “understanding” manner.
being “understanding” important? Because you cannot
change them. They are who they are. As a teacher, you need to see who
they really are. Then you can realistically know what they can
achieve. And you know what they are after. That’s what
motivates them to come to class and to keep coming to class week
after week. Once that motivation ceases to be met (e.g., the
competitors are not allowed to compete or you force the fantasy types
to work really hard like the perfectionists), they will leave. Of
course, there are standards of performance that need to be upheld but
we have to be realistic about what they can achieve, given the
ability of the student.
has skeletons in the closet that they need to exorcise or fantasies
they need to live out. We just need to be understanding and
compassionate in knowing that this is what drives them to train.
has been such a success that it has been revised and updated. See
author has branched out to write books on the inner game in golf,
skiing, and work, managing stress, and others. For more information
about W. Timothy Gallwey, see:
Mr. Tong has a Master’s
in Education in Curriculum Studies.