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My Journey with TOI (or What a Brief, Strange Trip it's Been)

Posted 06-11-2020 at 02:07 AM by zcrash
Updated 06-26-2020 at 12:02 PM by zcrash

The Lead-In

A few months ago, I was browsing Dr. Dave's FAQ page on Inside English, and the very first question was, "Why do some people like to use inside english, even on shots where it is not required for position?", which struck me as very strange. Shooting that way didn't make any sense to me--if anything, I've always favored outside english to reduce the throw--so I dismissed it as a silly idea/question and didn't consider that it might actually be "a thing".

A short time after that I got onto a YouTube video where CJ Wiley ran a rack of 15-ball rotation--nice clean shooting. But before every shot, he would utter the phrase, "touch of inside", like a mantra, just before stroking. It got kind of old quickly, and I ascribed no meaning to it (didn't really see anything special that he was doing, and didn't make the connection to the Dr. Dave FAQ), so I tuned it out and just watched him run the rack in admiration.

Then I started noticing all of the threads on AZB about TOI, including posts (and follow-on responses) from CJ himself, as well as commentary from both adherents and detractors of the method. I was still highly skeptical, but the assuredness and ardor of the devotees intrigued me, so I decided to give it a shot (so to speak).

The Journey

I got on my home table and started to apply what I thought of as a "touch of inside" to every cut shot. And I started to drop balls like I never had up till then. Not just dropping them, but DNCP (dead nuts center pocket), with a "ka-chunk" against the back of the pocket. I was loving it.

I did this for like a week solid, shooting at least an hour a day, continuing to drop balls like crazy, even though I wasn't sure exactly how or why. I knew in the back of my mind that I was giving up various cue ball position plays, but I didn't care, since I told myself I was just working on shotmaking, and it was going so well. I was addicted to the stream of "ka-chunk"s, and went through exercises and played games (with myself) where getting out of line didn't really matter.

Then toward the end of the week I noticed, for straight-in shots, that I was inventing an angle in my head, just so I could use TOI. I would pick one side or the other to be the "inside", hit the cue ball on that side, and adjust my aim accordingly. I was dropping those balls, but the cue ball would be left spinning in place, or rolling/drawing with some strange looking side spin. After a while, I knew this just wasn't right.

So I decided to try, just as an experiment, "what if I don't use TOI on every shot?". Now, after shooting every single shot for week with inside english (as I interpreted the technique to prescribe, and could hear CJ's mantra in my head exhorting)--and getting results!--, I found it hard at first to even think about shooting with outside english or center-ball when it was actually called for. But I forced myself to do it. And, to my surprise, I was dropping just as many balls as before (that is, with TOI), but able to do more with the cue ball, and having to go through fewer contrivances to do so. After 15 or 20 minutes, I found a renewed comfort in having some of my old shots back--ones I had rejected and disowned for a full week. The journey was over.

The Post-Mortem

So what happened? It took me another week to try and figure out why it had been working so great for me for a week, and then why it didn't make sense for me anymore going forward.

My first conclusion was that I was probably not even practicing TOI as CJ conceives of it and teaches it. I went back and re-read some of the threads on AZB on the topic, and I realized that I was certainly using more than a "touch" of inside on most shots. I also realized that I never understood (at all, to be honest) the concept of the "three part pocket", which seems to be integral to the technique. Instead, I was just insisting to myself that I use inside english for every shot (the same "silly" idea, as I construed it, on Dr. Dave's Inside English FAQ), and was able to make the right aiming and stroking adjustments to compensate for squerve and throw.

My second conclusion was that the reason I was dropping balls so well (at the expense of cue ball control options) was because I had taken a bunch of variables out of my shotmaking. I was using a pretty consistent amount of side spin for my shots----all of it to the inside--, and shooting with a narrower range of speeds (generally, medium to medium-firm). I was probably also using mostly stun (or close to stun) in terms of follow/draw action. These all simplified things and helped me be more consistent.

A few months prior to all of this, after installing my table and getting back into the game after not shooting much for a number of years, I spent a decent amount of time shooting only center-ball--that is, vertical plane, no side spin--in a similar attempt to take some variables off the table (haha) and work on consistency. So why didn't that effort yield the same immediate and recognizable results as my excursion into TOI? I think the answer is that I actually had a lot of rust to shake off initially, which was affecting my shotmaking in other ways. Since then, aided by mostly sheltering-in-place, I had been able to spend a lot of time working on, and re-establishing, my vision/sighting and stroke, among other things needed for decent play. So just before TOI, the conditions were ripe for me to take a strong step up by removing some cruft from my game, and simplifying.

So as of now, I am continuing to try and keep my game generally simple overall (as is often advised). I am currently favoring the use of little-to-no side spin when possible, so I can factor out many of the variables that come along with it as I work on other aspects of my game. One thing that I am doing right now to keep myself honest in this regard is switching between standard-deflection and low-deflection shafts, to make sure I am not falling into the subconscious habit of using english by default. Later on, when I'm working on skills that are specifically based on exploiting english (e.g. certain throw and leave situations), I will keep my cue selection consistent (I'm thinking it will be the LD shaft).

It can be argued that I didn't really give TOI a proper chance, since I didn't actually practice it correctly. It is probably true that with the right instruction and exercise, I could develop a pretty good game using TOI as it was intended. But I think that is true with other approaches as well, and I would rather go with ones that make more sense to me, either intuitively or with a bit of analysis/reflection--TOI fails for me on both of those accounts. As redemption, though, I do have to say that my experience with TOI (at least my version of it) was like a productive extended drill for honing my skills with inside english, I just didn't recognize it as such at the time. But there are many other skills that also need extended drilling for me, so I have now moved on to working on those.
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