In England, bowling was always something of a rarity, the kind of thing that you would do on a yearly school trip or with your family once in a blue moon. The fact that most centres in England are relatively poorly maintained, and charge as much as a fiver for a single game, are a couple of reasons why it hasn't seen the same kind of popularity as in other countries.
When I went to Beijing in the summer of 2000, I found that bowling was a major pasttime. There were centres all over the place, predominantly in the basements of hotels. Due to the low living costs in China, games were considerably cheaper than in England (I recall that in one hotel-basement games could be had for about 30pence each if you played between midnight and 8am). Despite going bowling quite a lot during my five weeks in China, it was always just for fun. We used house balls, we paid no attention to the lane markings, or considered our footwork. By sheer luck, I managed to get my highest ever score in one of those hotel basements - 199, which stood for 4 and a half years.
Having been bowling on and off for a year and a half in Japan, I've since made a little bit of headway. Witnessing by chance a 300 game at my local alley, I started chatting to the man of the moment (who later became known as Sausage Fingers, due to his thick, wrestling-esque digits) and he disappeared and came back with a professional ball for me. We then used to meet most weekends, and he'd show me how to bowl properly. At first it was really frustrating... my new ball weighed 15lb, and I was used to using an 11 at most. Then there was the fact that the ball would hook to the left, something I wasn't used to. For the first month, we played around 10 games a week, and I was lurking in the low hundreds, and sometimes much lower.
Then things started to make sense. My arm swing became more comfortable, and I started to think about my standing position and target boards. We'd still practice every week, and my scores would still be lower than I would have hoped, but in January of this year, I found myself able to put the ball pretty much where I wanted it to go. Having played my ten games, I happened to see a friend of Sausage Fingers on an nearby lane and so I went over to watch him play. After he played 7 games, he told me that he was tired, and would I like to bowl the last 3 for him. I was really tired but I accepted, and decided to bowl with very little time between shots and to try and clear my mind of everything.
The result was a 205 game, breaking my 4 and a half year record and finally overcoming the psychological hurdle of 200. Since then, I've been over 200 ten more times, although my average is still 155-60. Spares is the area of my game that needs the most work, as well as consistency.
Anyway, my realisation... Sausage Fingers once told me that I should hold the ball in such a way that the weight rests on the right hand side of my palm (where the index finger meets the thumb). I never really consciously tried to do this, as it felt a bit awkward at first, but on Saturday morning I tried to do it, and it worked wonderfully. Despite the constant feeling that the ball would drop from my hand, the positioning of my hand enabled the ball to roll sufficiently before hooking at the right point on the lane, resulting in a number of 'perfect strikes' (when the ball hits pins 1, 3, 5 and 9 only and pins 1,2,4 and 7 fall in alignment). My score of 212 wasn' my highest ever, but it was technically the best. Once again, consistency was a problem.. I badly need to work on my approach and form at the line, as every shot is slightly different from the last. Next time Sausage Fingers says "Ruku-san... I am idea, I am idea" in his sailor's voice, I'll be sure to listen closely...