Martin Johnson – Interview on Full-time TT in Germany

Great piece on the Table Tennis Scotland website with Martin Johnson answering questions from Charlie Ellis on his time in Dusseldorf, Germany. Martin was based at Europe’s top training facility and gives a great insight into life as a full time tt player and his thoughts on various part of his table tennis and the sport in general…

As many will be aware, two of Scotland’s leading young players- Martin Johnson of North Ayrshire TTC and Danny Bajwa of Dumfries TTC- have spent much of the last few months living, training and playing in Germany. Germany has been a leading table tennis nation for decades with a much admired club system. Martin & Danny were based at the Borussia Dusseldorf club.

That the experience has helped their development seems evident from their performances and results in recent Scottish tournaments. Danny Bajwa was particularly impressive at the Jarvis Sports Edinburgh Open in January. There he had fine wins over Stewart Crawford and Dylan Curry on his way to the Band 1 title. Particularly noteworthy was his performance in the Band 1 semi to defeat Scottish number 1 Colin Dalgleish with some sharp attacking play (11-9 in the 5th).  Though Dalgleish got some revenge later in the day (in the Men’s Singles final), Bajwa had a bit of a breakthrough day. Johnson reached both the Band 1 and Men’s Singles semis. His best performance was probably his comprehensive 3-0 win versus Calum Morrison.

At the Scottish Nationals Martin Johnson had an excellent run: narrowly losing to eventual champion Colin Dalgleish in the group stages of the Men’s Singles before defeating Neil Cameron & John Hannah on his way to the semi-finals. There he put up an excellent fight, losing out to Scottish number one Gavin Rumgay in four sets. Meanwhile Bajwa wasn’t able to covert a 2-1 lead in his last-16 match; losing out to Yaser Razouk. Bajwa and Johnson combined in the doubles, where they were impressive in beating Colin Dalgleish & Dylan Curry (9, 11, 6) to take the title. Johnson continued a superb weekend by taking the Junior Boys’ trophy on the Sunday: beating Bajwa in the semi finals and then Dylan Curry in the final. Bajwa & Johnson then added the Junior Boys’ Doubles to their list of successes.

In today’s interview, Martin Johnson reflects on his time in Germany. In part 2 (on the site soon) we will hear fromDanny Bajwa.

Martin Johnson.

  1. Where are you at the moment- back with your family?

    Yes we’re back home with the family. We’ve been home for 3 weeks as the league and training is cancelled in Germany.


  1. How are you keeping active during this time? Are you able to do anything to work on your TT skills?

    Yes we have a table in our garage but very little space, so mostly serve and receive exercises. I’m also going for a run most days and doing some exercise at home.


  1. Where did you stay in Germany- with a family?

    We lived in a flat above a family who is involved with the club.


  1. How did you keep up your education/ school work in Germany?

    I left school after 4th year last June to concentrate on table tennis but I now have the option to go back to education.


  1. How’s your German?

    My German isn’t the best because everyone’s English is very good. We knew enough to understand table tennis, travel across the city and buy food at supermarkets.


  1. What things did you find difficult to adjust to in Germany?- in terms of the lifestyle etc.

    I feel like I adjusted to the lifestyle well. The fact most people spoke English helped me settle in.


  1. What was your typical day like?- What’s the balance between fitness work and on table practice?

    Our schedule was different on different days of the week. We’d mostly train 2 hours in the morning, 3 days a week and train every afternoon for between 2.5 and 4 hours with most days having physical after the session. During certain weeks there were also camps where we could train 3 times per day. When we weren’t training we mostly rested but also the travel time to the hall was 1 hour each way so that took up a lot of time.


  1. Did you find it physically tough?- and mentally?

    It was very physically tough at the beginning as I had never trained so much and so intensely. As time went on it was a lot easier. Mentally it was also very hard because sometimes you would play badly for a whole week or two and you’d feel like it might not be worth it and you wanted to go home. However, the good times massively outweighed the bad and I always understood how much it benefited me being there.


  1. Is the coaching style very different to what you’ve had in Scotland? -in what ways?

    I think the coaching style is a lot more structured and intense than in Scotland. There is also a lot more multiball and movement exercises. The coaches also tailor exercises more to the specific player because not everyone has the same strengths and weaknesses.


  1. What were the main aspects of your game you worked on in Germany?

    I was working on a lot of serve and receive and movement. This helped me read the game a lot better and anticipate better.


  1. What about the matches?- what level have you been playing at? How are your results?

    Personally I don’t feel like I played as well I wanted to in the league games. I’d say the level was not far away from British Championship Division. There were a lot of different styles so some games were easier than others. I finished on 20 wins and 8 losses. Also Danny and me won 17 out of 17 doubles matches.


  1. Were you happy with your performances in recent Scottish tournaments, such as the Scottish Nationals & Jarvis Edinburgh Open.

    Despite some good results at Jarvis Open I was left a little bit disappointed with how I played. This gave me a lot of motivation in the run up to nationals. That  was an excellent weekend for me; winning the U18 singles and reaching the Men’s semi final. It was very pleasing for me to see a lot of hard work paying off in this competition. I still feel there’s a lot of room for improvement although the nationals weekend was great.
  1. Do you think that you will be returning to Germany?I have absolutely no clue what’s happening in the near future but I hope that I can continue training if I can find funding to train and live abroad.
  1. What’s next in your table tennis career? You must be keen to get back on the table asap?The situation going on in the world is definitely not ideal for a lot of sportspeople but even having a little bit of access to a table is a better situation than none. I am for sure looking forward to being back in the hall training again.


  1. Is there one single thing you’ll take way from your time in Germany?I wouldn’t say there’s one single thing, there’s a lot of positives that came from it. Playing table tennis everyday in one of the best clubs in Europe is a dream I’m sure any young player would have. Also meeting new people and living abroad has helped me with confidence in daily life. So I wouldn’t say it was one thing to take away I think there’s so many parts to the experience to take away from it.


  1. Would you recommend moving abroad to other young players in Scotland?I would recommend players from Scotland to do it, but don’t make the decision too quickly. I was thinking hard about moving away for around 2 years and everyone thought I was crazy. I’d say just be sure it’s the right thing for you to do and enjoy your time away if you go because you don’t know how long it’s going to last.


By Charlie Ellis

Many thanks to Martin & Danny for taking the time to answer the questions and to Gordon Muir for his comments on an earlier version of this piece. Also thanks to Danny for the team photo.