Sensei Tennis-Martial Arts (and More!) in the Mastery of Tennis


(from the book SENSEI TENNIS: Martial Arts (and More!) in the Mastery of Tennis by Mark A. Beede and John Nelson)

         Tradition and history place martial arts as one of the oldest forms of competition and sport, spanning a course of thousands of years.  Tennis, thought of by many as a sport rich in tradition, compared to martial arts is a baby in swaddling clothes. While martial arts has over 2,000 years experience, Wimbledon the world’s most tradition based and revered tennis championship, is less than 150 years old!  Tennis and other sports have much to learn from evolved and established martial arts principles including biomechanics, psychology, and ethics.

             Revered, respected, and honored, the principles of martial arts are time tested, true and biomechanically correct. With thousands of years of tradition and experience, the test of time has culled the weak and the wrong. Like wheat from the chaff, the test of time has winnowed the right from the wrong. Developed through self-defense and war, the incorrect sensei’s wrong martial arts methods and techniques died, often in battle, with him and his followers, leaving to survive the right and the true.

             Developing and emanating from the east, Asia, martial arts carries a mystical almost magical allure, an exotic sense, particularly for those from the west brought up on the so-called “traditional” sports of baseball, basketball, tennis, golf and football.  For the uninitiated, the ability of masters to perform seemingly magical acts of breaking concrete blocks and slabs of wood with bare hands and feet are unbelievable, even when directly observed. Many think that there is some magical, transcendental trick to performing these acts, when in fact it is all about the right attitude, concentration, and the natural laws of physics.

  Marrying martial arts and Eastern philosophy, one looks to Asian principles of natural law, the force that rules everyone’s body and mind.  When referring to the body and physical forces, this Asian natural law is physics, pure and simple.

  We all as reasonably intelligent people trust physics throughout our normal lives. For instance, when flying in an airplane, we trust our lives to the physics of aerodynamics. When in a tall building, we naturally trust our lives to the physics of structural engineering. So what happens when we as reasonably intelligent people play tennis, a mere game? We ignore physics!Let’s instead use the common sense and trust we use in our lives throughout each day to play a mere game. Trust in physics to improve and perform better.

   While one, remembering one’s first Westernized physics class, will picture Newton under the apple tree and a vague memory of formulas quantifying the forces of nature and physics, the traditional Asian martial arts perspective provides a different view of the same forces.   From the traditional Asian martial arts view, rather than talking about angular or linear momentum, one refers to Yin, Yan, and Ki.

    No matter which martial art you study, the same fundamentals exist. Whether you are in Japan studying judo, aikido, karate, or jujitsu; in China practicing tai chi, kung fu, or wing chun; in Korea learning taekwondo, or in the Philippines taking on arnis and kali, the same fundamentals apply. We call these the lowest common denominators. In fact, these are the lowest common denominators for almost all sports, for almost all physical activity, and for almost all performance. Whether this is open to argument as applying to all sports, the lowest common denominator fundamentals common to all martial arts definitely apply to tennis.

    So what are these fundamentals? The typical and traditional western athlete and coach first looks to the physical, with secondary regard and sometimes willful ignorance of the non-physical “intangibles”. Not so with martial arts. Martial arts fundamentals include and involve all aspects of being; the spiritual, mental, emotional, and of course the physical.

     Your mind is your best weapon. Most athletes and coaches start by emphasizing and accentuating the physical, and then, perhaps on a rainy day, if at all, supplement physical training with psychological, mental, and emotional readiness. Particularly in the west, many see the spiritual, mental, and emotional foci and emphases as relatively irrelevant concerns to day-to-day training. Whether they admit it or not, many mistakenly consider these aspects as inherently fixed in the person, not subject to development or change. Consequently, they miss out on vital areas of development and performance. Martial arts dramatically bear out the mind’s importance. Thousands of years of development show that the spirit, mind, and emotions are as essential to develop as the body and physical techniques.

    Therefore, the following fundamentals differ from what some may expect. Many of the western old school coaches in other purported mainstream sports minimize the so-called “intangibles”, suggesting that much is meaningless soft psychobabble. They do so at their peril and to their players’ detriment. The fundamentals of martial arts and, for that matter, athletic achievement involve much, much more than mere physical mastery.  In fact, the “intangibles” are fundamental to mastery, just as fundamental as the physical. Without mastering eachfundamental, whether intangible or physical, the athlete will fail to master his craft, whether in martial arts or otherwise.


  1. Growth and Learning Mindset;
  2. Discipline and Purposeful Practice;
  3. Attitude, Confidence and Fearlessness;
  4. Concentration and Staying in the Present;
  5. Calmness and Relaxation;
  6. Yin and Yan: Flow and Force:
  7. Breathing:
  8. Connectedness: The Mind and Body as One;
  9. Simplicity;
  10. Anticipation, Perception, and Reaction- Readiness for the Greatest Threat
  11. Footwork, Balance and Set up;
  12. Ground Force/Earth Power and the Kinetic Chain;
  13. Rotation and Striking;
  14. Strategy and Tactics 

   These fundamentals or lowest common denominators include the mental and emotional as well as the physical. Frankly, once you condition and tune your body to master techniques and tactics, it is the mental and emotional which make the difference.  The challenges with westernized style training are that techniques and tactics are developed often to the exclusion of the mental and emotional. To perform optimally, the athlete needs to develop everything. Furthermore it is never too early to work on anything.

   The lowest common denominators demonstrate the integral components to sport. By focusing on these basic athletic principles, you become a true athlete. Transcending individual sport, these principles show how the athlete and his body can perform efficiently and effectively throughout the realm of sport, work, and physical activity.

   So what are we talking about when we look at martial arts and then apply those principles to tennis and other sports? We’re talking about many things, including attitude, physical fitness, mental fitness, and biomechanics. The first portion of any training program must deal with the individual’s attitude and awareness, what his goals are, and what he wants to achieve from any program or sport. Of course physical fitness, including strength, endurance and flexibility are also important. The combination of physical and mental fitness are essential to achieve maximum potential.

   In studying the basic principles of sports and athletics, it is interesting to note that many of the basic fundamentals, physical and mental, overlap from one fundamental and one sport to another. For example, let’s consider baseball. While martial arts evolved as systems of self-defense and survival, baseball evolved as America’s pastime. Like tennis, baseball is a game, and it is a game of big business in America, attracting many of North, Central, and South Americas’ finest athletes.

    Tim Robson’s baseball book The Hitting Edge-How to Excel at the Plateis remarkable in the knowledge and expertise laid out. While focusing on how to hit a baseball, it is amazing how many of the principles Robson examines apply directly to tennis and other sports. Robson, a professional coach who has spent his life studying, playing and practicing his craft as a player and coach, clearly knows what he is talking about.  The marriage of theory, the need for practice, mental and emotional clarity, balance and the kinetic chain all apply to baseball, and tennis, just as with martial arts. We believe that almost all sports require mastery of similar principles for excellence and success.

   Body position biomechanics remain the same throughout sport whether one is into martial arts, baseball, basketball, golf, tennis, or dancing for that matter. Keep your balance. Keep your elbows in front. Keep your head still. Be ready to move forward.

    In martial arts, tennis, and other sports the most important factors are balance and movement. To achieve greatness one must also master attitude and technique.

   The Western style of focusing on specific techniques with results carries some advantages, but all too often those advantages are constrained by a failure to utilize what the East has to offer. Combine the East with the West. Study and practice to merge the West’s benefits with the East’s advantages. Accept the East; study the East; practice the East; and you can unleash amazing energy, flow, strength, and power in whatever you do, including tennis. However, acceptance involves more than just an open mind and intellectual belief; you must practice, and then you must practice more.

Sensei Tennis: Martial Arts (and More!) in the Mastery of Tennis

By Mark A. Beede and John Nelson

Hardcover | 6 x 9in | 236 pages | ISBN 9781984541918

Softcover | 6 x 9in | 236 pages | ISBN 9781984541901

E-Book | 236 pages | ISBN 9781984541895

Books are available through the author at Also available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

About the Authors

John Nelson has coached the University of Hawaii men’s tennis team since 2003, having previously coached at San Diego State, UC Davis and Cal State Hayward. He has coached multiple national individual collegiate champions and has won a national NCAA team championship. He earned undergraduate degrees from Canada College and Cal State Hayward, where he was an NCAA tennis All-American and a master’s degree in education from Stanford University. He is a USPTA member and former Intercollegiate Tennis Association board member. Nelson has a third degree black belt in jiu-jitsu and studied judo, aikido, kali, Shotokan karate and taekwondo. He uses martial arts skills in tennis. An avid low handicap golfer, Nelson resides in Honolulu, Hawaii with his wife, Carol.

Mark Beede is a USPTA, PTR and ATPCA certified tennis coach, manager and educator. Born and raised in Maine, he received his undergraduate degree from Brandeis University and law degree from the University of Maine School of Law. After practicing law, he changed careers to tennis, moving to Hawaii to work with the USTA–Hawaii Pacific section and the Hawaii Pacific Tennis Foundation. Beede then moved to Istanbul, Turkey, to serve as director of coaching education and special projects at an international tennis academy for professional players and elite juniors. He is married, and has a grown daughter and two grandchildren. Now based back in Hawaii once again as the Hawaii Pacific Tennis Foundation’s executive director, he loves to help aspiring tennis players work to maximize their potential.