ZEN AND THE ART OF POOL

Pool Is usually seen as a from of recreation or sport, But the higher levels of play Involve more then pocketing balls or winning games or matches. Every game reflects the player's personality. The shooter's mastery of his or her body, emotion's and mind can be seen in their composer and ability to concentrate! In the movie the "Hustler" Bert could see that Fast Eddie was a loser who folded when it came to the "Crunch" Although Eddie had enough talent to beat Minnesota Fats, He lost their first epic shoot out.

Much of modern sports psychology focuses on the correlation between the ability to relax, concentrate, and play one's best game under the pressures of competition. This often involves "quieting the mind and increasing awareness, so that the body is free to do the things that It does so well when we act let It act spontaneously. These are the central themes in a book by Timothy Gallwey's "the Inner game of tennis" These are not new or radical Ideas; They were explored centuries ago on the battlefield's of long ago. Where the ability to do one's best against an armed opponent was a matter of life or death.

The search for a way to calm their minds in battle led the warriors of the ancient East to a radical form of bhuddIsm called "ZEN". Which holds that enlightenment can be achieved by direct, intuitive insights into the nature of reality. Under It's Influence, the martial arts became more than a means of defeating an opponent. They evolved into ways of realizing one's fullest potential. This aspect of the martial arts is reflected in their names. As an example: Karate is known as "The way of the hand" Each form of martial arts teaches that to master any art you must master yourself.

Another example is Japanese Archery called (Kyudo) is similar to pool in many ways. Both disciplines demand a solid and still stance, and place a premium on relaxation and concentration. Although accuracy Is Important, Archery makes a distinction between shooting that Is technically correct and shooting that has "spirit" An ancient maxim maintains that "shooting with technique Improves the shooting, But shooting with spirit Improves the man." The mysteries of archery were introduced to the west in another book called "Zen In the art of Archery" by Eugen Herrigel.

It Is a book about which recounts a Western scholar's efforts to learn the way of the "Bow". The author tells of his frustration at the odd, often Inscrutable, hints his teacher doled out. When he was about to quit, his master told him that he (Herrigel) often missed shots because; "You do not wait for fulfillment, but brace yourself for failure." So long as that is so, you have no choice but to call forth something in yourself that ought to happen Independently of you. Like pool schools, different Archery schools emphasize different things. For example: Some schools place a great deal of emphasis on breathing in at the beginning of an action and breathing out at its conclusion. While other do not! However, they all agree on the fundamental requirements of the shooting stance and the necessity of quieting the mind so that action will be spontaneous and fluid. The most Important difference between pool and archery may be that pool demands an exceptionally wide range of "mental skills". You must make all your decisions about what shot to play and how to play. It before you step up to the table to begin the sequence of actions that will roll the objectball into the pocket. Every shot requires you to: OBSERVE: Approach the table and examine the pattern of the balls to determine what opportunities and problems the layout offers you.

PLAN: decide if an offensive or defensive strategy is called for. Then, plan ahead to pocket the ball, playing a safety any shot where you are not sure that you will pocket a ball or obtain position on a subsequent ball. Work backwards from your final ball in your sequence to determine your first shot. In formulating your plan, be aware of opportunities to maximize your changes of winning or minimize your opponent's changes.

CONFIRM: After selecting your shot, confirm that it is possible and that you can make it.

RESOLVE: Resolve to play the shot to the best of your ability. Keep In mind "One shot, One kill" It reminds us that every shot Is a precious moment and we must not squander It, for It will not give you a second change.

CALCULATE: 1. The required point of contact on the objectball. 2. Your point of aim, 3. The natural path and destination of the cueball. 4. Exactly where, at what angle and how hard the tip of your cue must contact the cueball to create the shot you want.

VISUALIZE: Picture yourself making the shot successfully. This bolsters your confidence and gives your body a clear, vivid Image to follow. It also allows you to shoot every shot twice, which doubles your changes of success. It Is now time to shift gears from thinking to a combination of thinking and doing. Once the "mental work" has been done, Pool and archery follow similar paths. The moment when the archer releases an arrow or the tip of the cue touches the cueball are cut from the same cloth.

The shooting stance can be divided into eight stages for the purpose of instruction. Both pool and using a bow emphasize the Importance of a solid, stable stance and relaxed posture. However, they approach the third stage of the shooting process in radical all of the martial arts emphasize the Importance of calming the mind before the warrior ventures into battle. Therefore, while the pool player concentrates on the mechanics of aiming. The martial arts are devoted to such things as awareness and appreciation.

The archer overcomes any negative emotions be may have and eliminates any "extra" difficulties he may be projecting on the task before him. Once he is aware of exactly what the shot requires, he is ready to begin aiming. The "true aiming" occurs in the next stage. The archer Increases his concentration until he becomes one with his target when this happens, his mind will be "empty" In pool your practice strokes verify that your stroke Is straight, smooth and rhythmic. When you "Know" that your cue will contact the cueball exactly where you intend to hit it. You have achieved a form of unity in which your body, emotions and mind are in harmony with your goal. When this happens, allow the tip of your cue to come to rest next to the cueball. The Importance of a slow smooth backstroke is addressed in the fifth and sixth stages of the shooting stance.

It is said the success or failure of a shot is determined in the sixth stage. In western archery the person holds his position for several seconds. During this time, his energy builds in intensity until it reaches a point where the final release is inevitable. Fast release does not allow enough time for the "Inner" and "outer" components to blend together, while a slow release loses it "freshness" snooker player have long been aware that the "pause" creates accuracy. Control and finesse, pool players are only beginning to appreciate the Importance of this break in the middle of the action.

The Inner and outer games come together in the seventh stage. Their union is reflected in the pool player's final stroke or the release of an arrow. If you performed all of the previous stages correctly, your final, decisive movement requires the least possible amount of effort. Professional pool players agree If there Is a "Secret" or "essence" to great pool, It resides In the pool player's final stroke.

To be straight, a shot must be technically sound. To be smooth, It must be delivered In a relaxed, calm and confident manner In both pool and archery, the final part of the action Is done as softly as possible, but the shot Is charged with power. Steve MIzerack once said about the stroke "The pool stroke is so simple, In fact, hardly anybody can do it"! Just as the archer's shot does not end with the release of his arrow, In pool your head must stay down and your body remain still until the ball is in the pocket.

It is important to maintain your position for a moment so that you can absorb the information your shot has presented to you. Therefore, If you miss, do not allow yourself to become upset. Instead, make every "failure" an opportunity to learn from the feedback your "Mistakes" provide to you. Picture yourself shooting the shot again, correctly and successfully. In this way, your game will continue to Improve.

In addition to having fun and pocketing balls, pool can be a way of overcoming negative thoughts and feelings. Two of our most formidable enemies are fear and anger. Fear, which Includes all forms of hesitation or doubt, Is focused on the future and what may (or may not) happen. Anger is anchored in the past it usually reflects our interpretation of what has happened "to us". If we allow fear or anger to effect us unduly, our game is bound to suffer. Professional pool players know that their reactions to changes of fortune may decide the outcome of the match.

Therefore, they shrug of such things as "good luck and bad luck" so that they can focus all of their attention on their current shot. In the final analysis, we can never be certain that we will make a shot, win a game or be victorious in a match. The only thing we can control is the "effort" we put into every shot. Instead of worrying about the results of our actions, we need only be concerned with doing our best. The martial arts see the past and the future as "illusions" this does not mean they are not real, but they are less Important than what is happening here and now. In order to play our best game, we must overcome inappropriate or non-productive behavior and surrender to the joys and sorrows of playing in the present.

The player who can do this wins the game before the balls have been broken. When rational thinking gives way to intuition, our actions become instinctive and spontaneous. In this state, there is no distinction between the shooter and the target and the universe. Everything is in harmony. In both pool and archery, your most Important target may be your "self".

"Keep your eye on the ball, and your mind in the game.... Until later, Ken Tewksbury...