Zen Thinking

"I am not going to "show" you my art in pocket billiards, I'm going to share it with you. If I show it to you then it becomes an exhibition, and in time it will be pushed so far into the back of your mind that it will be lost, but by sharing it with you, you will not only retain it forever, but I too will improve"

A pool school is where you make contact with yourself, your fears, anxieties, and reactions along with habits. It is an area of conflict where we confront an opponent who's not really an opponent but a partner engaged in helping you understand yourself more fully. It is a place where you can learn a great deal in a short time about who you are and how we react on the pool table.

The conflicts that take place inside the pool school helps you handle conflict on the pool table. The total concentration and discipline required studying pocket billiards could be very intense. That is why I have a sign stating this is a "Place of Enlightenment" The actively in the school calls for the student to consistently attempt new techniques. Which becomes a source of learning in Zen terminology it is called source of self-enlightenment.

The pocket billiard master is very much like a "Zen Master" the school has not sought out the student the student seeks out the master. If the student wants guidance in climbing to a higher level of expertise in pocket billiards the instructor is willing to act as the guide. The instructor's function is to develop drills for the student that he feels the student is capable of mastering.

The master first teaches techniques without discussing its significance. The master simply waits for the students to discover this for themselves. If the student has the necessary dedication and the instructor provides the proper inspiration, then the meaning and essence of pocket billiards will finally reveal itself to the student. Although you can read about pocket billiards instruction true knowledge if it is experimental. Example: Question: "How do you explain the taste of sugar"? As a verbal description will not give you the sensation to know the taste, one must experience it!

The philosophy of pocket billiards is not meant to be mused over and intellectualized, it is meant to be experienced! As I do not go after students per-se I only give private lessons, I always ask anyone who contacts me why do you want study with me? As the answers vary but amount to the same thing "I want to get better"!

I generally ask the student to demonstrate some of the techniques they know or learned from someone. I have them draw the cueball four diamonds, follow the cueball four diamonds, and stop the cueball dead five times.

To see if they have the basic stroke and knowledge of the three important tip placements on the cueball. Then I will set up a specific drill for them to execute playing for position and see how they think and execute the drill sequence.

After watching most of them I tell them "you realize that you are going to have to unlearn all you have learned"! And start over again! Let me give you an example: this is a short story about a Zen master and a want to be student.

The Zen master who decided to receive a university professor that came to inquire about Zen. It was obvious to the master from the start of the conversation that the professor was not so much interested in learning about Zen as he was about impressing the master with his own opinions and knowledge. The Zen master listened patiently and finally suggested that they have tea. As the master poured the tea into the cup it began to overflow but still the master kept pouring the tea. When the professor could stand it no longer and said the cup is full stop pouring the tea no more will go in! Like the cup, the master said you are full of your own opinions and speculation. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup? This brings up a great point. Student's come to me and the first thing they want to do is show me how much they know (Or think they know)!

As they learn I practice what I teach, as I have studied many parts of this under other masters, but I was always looking for a better way so I have taken many techniques from many other instructors and found a much easier way to teach real life experiences at the table I used what I felt was useful and discarded the rest. I'm considered by many to be an outstanding instructor because I keep things simple. As the constant process of change and improvement I truly have kept my cup empty.


Some of my older students have a problem with back pain that keeps them off balance and makes some shots hard for them. Plus the fact there learning can be complicated by the pressure of the younger players who are able to easily do that, which requires tremendous effort and concentration for an older player. In fact, I had one who wanted to quit! I recognized this in his playing and ask him about what he was thinking about and ask him to come have coffee with me.

After we had coffee, I began, you will never learn to do any endeavor properly unless you are willing to try, and give yourself time. I think you are accustomed to having everything come easily to you. But this is not the way in pocket billiards. If course, I know that and I'm patient! Was his answer to me?

I told him we were not talking about being patient; to be patient is to have the capacity of calm endurance. To give yourself time is to actively work towards a goal without setting a limit on how long you will work at it. Then it came out! My student told me I had touched on t he core of his problem he said he had given himself a set amount of time to become reasonably proficient in playing pocket billiards. And because of that he was frustrating himself because he didn't seem to be achieving his goal quick enough.

Once I eliminated the deadline from his mind it was like removing a weight from his body, and within a few months he was able to perform with the rest of the class. I have student who come in to practice and one day I noticed one of my students going through the motions mechanically, doing things poorly that I knew he could and has completed much better. I stopped him and told him "you mind is some place else"! The student admitted that he had watching the clock and that his mind was elsewhere.

We talked for a few and I told him, you must learn to be in the present moment, not the past or future, if you are in the present you are in full contact with yourself and the game you energy is not dissipated. In the present there are no regrets as they are in the past. By thinking of the future you dilute the present. As long as what you are doing at that moment you are doing it is exactly what you want are doing and nothing else. You are one with yourself and the shot at hand. That is "Zen" while doing something you are doing at its fullest!

Players look at practice as boring, but pocket billiards demands total concentration for the amount of time you spend on practice each week you need to block out all other distractions and focus on what you are practicing at that moment. The one big point most players miss about practice is this once it becomes boring that is when you begin to learn how to stay focused and concentrate! Which is very important in games where you need to focus if you have not learned how to focus then you have not practiced hard enough!

"Those who are patient in the trivial things in life and control themselves will one day have some mastery in great and important things" Conquer Haste~

Know your limits, you will never learn anything new unless you are ready to accept yourself with your limitations. You must accept the fact that you are capable in some directions and limited in others, this is where you must develop your capabilities.

Instead of trying to do everything well, do those things perfectly, of which you are capable. Although most expert players have spent years learning and mastering hundreds of techniques and movements on the pool table, a champion may actually use only four or five techniques over and over again. These are the techniques, which they have perfected, and the one he knows he can depend on! Make your capabilities exceed your limitations!

In your learning experiences in pocket billiards you will find it like a staircase with countless landing. Each step upward the goal seems nearer, but there are always more landings or as we call it plateaus at which learning seems to stop and yet the staircase winds infinitely upwards. At times you may often feel frustrated and discouraged. As you reach these plateaus you will find the experiences is common to every pool player.

Despite my many years of playing and study of this game, I recognize how little I know compared to the true masters of the game. Only by constantly playing with stronger players have I been able to improve. (Play in a lot of tournaments) it is good experiences for you.

One time when I lost a match to a higher-level player I was upset, when a master instructor asked me why I was so upset? I told him because I lost! He took a piece of chalk and made a line on the white board, and then asked me this question. How can I make this line longer? After giving him several answers he shook his head NO! And then drew a second line longer then the first line, now does this line look longer? Of course I said!

Keep this in mind, "It always better to improve and strengthen your line knowledge then to try and cut your opponents lines. Think about this for a moment!

When on the pool table and a problem arises, don't fight with it or try to deny it. Accept and acknowledge it, be patient in seeking a solution to the problem. Then when fully committed to resolutions that you think is advisable step up and take care of the problem.

How many times have I told my students to concentrate all their energy on one specific target or goal at a time? The secret is to exclude all extraneous thoughts, thoughts that are not concerned with achieving your immediate goal, which is pocket the shot. A good pool player will put his/her mind on one thing at a time. You take each thing as it comes, finish with it and move onto the next shot.

Be like a Zen master, he is not concerned with the past or the future, only with what he is doing at that moment. You waste an enormous amount of energy because you did not localize and focus your mind. Keep in mind that when at the table an unfocused or loose mind waste energy. You will notice in those days when you practice with concentration, you will accomplish more and end each session less tired then on the days where you are easily distracted.

Only through practice and more practice until you can do something without conscious effort is when your reaction going to become automatic. If your mind is fixed on victory or defeating your opponent you will be unable to function automatically. You must allow your mind to float freely, the instance you become conscious of trying and make an effort to achieve it that very thought interrupts the flow and the mind will block.

Zen saying: When you seek it, you cannot find it!"

Technical knowledge is not enough you must transcend technique so that it become effortless. It is the caring or desire that stands in the way of effortless affect. You must stop caring about doing it and just do it. After you have practiced something for a long time, it becomes second nature. Don't become consumed with the shot, just shoot it without conscious effort, let it happen.

Relaxation and concentration go hand in hand, but too much concentration defeats itself. If you are truly relaxed and allow the body and its unconscious mind to do there share instead of working the conscious mind overtime, Concentration can become effortless!

Most of the time we generate our own fears, this is especially true when we are confronted with an unfamiliar situation that shatters confidence. Lack of confidence (self-confidence) causes us to miss when shooting certain shots. One of the first lessons you need to learn in playing advanced level pocket billiards is the mind is a powerful factor in everything we do on the table.

Negative thoughts will enter your mind and strangle confidence, by visualizing success rather then failure, by believing "you can do it!" rather then you can't. Negative thoughts are overpowering only if you encourage them and allow yourself to be overpowered by them. Make a conscious effort to relax and gather all your thoughts until the moment you make contact with the cueball. Concentrating only on the stroking mechanics properly. Keeping your mind on the area of the table where you wanted the cueball to land for position.

You should never be nervous about your performance, as you should always be functioning within an area you have fully explored in practice. I believe one can learn much about Zen from any activity you are engaged in by remaining aware ones inter reactions. The key is a constant exercise of awareness. Vigilance of the mind applying the principles of Zen frees you from concern, tension, and anxiety about winning or losing. You can now lose more graciously accepting defeat as part of the learning process.