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The Karasel of Progress
Mon, Aug 11 2008
The Hug Catch
Mood:  sharp

If you haven’t bought and downloaded Wes and Jay’s latest video, please do so.  20 minutes of brand new 3b material can only do you good.  You can buy it from wespeden.com

 

Anyway, the entire video is great but there are three ideas in particular which I really like.  Today I’m going to talk about the first of three – the hug catch.

 

Since I am a veteran of the ‘old’ internet, I will explain the move using text.  Give it a try!

 

Basically, a “hug” catch (as I’m calling it) is a crossed arm reverse backcross.  What???  Yeah.

 

If that doesn’t do it for you, let’s take it step by step.  Put a ball in your right hand.  Throw it over your left shoulder so that it lands behind your right hip.  Cross your left arm around your waist and catch the ball blind.

 

Here are the time stamps of the 3b video in which Wes and Jay can be seen doing hug catches.

 

Wes: 8:27, 9:28, 12:01, 15:26-15:36

 

The best montage of hug tricks is with Jay and Wes, and it falls between 14:34 – 15:00. 

 

I really like this idea of taking body throws and finding the crossed arm equivalent of it.

 

Hug catches can be accomplished somewhat easier if you roll the ball across the back, but it’s even more impressive if you don’t. 

 

Since it is a crossing throw, it is possible in theory to do a cascade of hug catches.  This trick isn’t featured on the video.  Wes and Jay – if you’re reading this, I’d love to see one of you try it.  It would essentially be the reverse of what Jay flashes between 14:21 – 14:31.  Good luck!

 

UPDATE:  I actually spoke to Wesley at the EJC and he informed me that the trick I describe in the paragraph above was one of the few tricks that he and Jay tried and tried and yet never were able to flash.  Look for it in the future.


Posted by Michael at 6:38 PM EDT
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Thu, Jul 31 2008
I'm not as good as a 13 year old...thank goodness.
Mood:  accident prone

                   I’m not going to apologize for the length between this post and my last because if you value good writing about juggling and you know me personally, you know that I’m in it for the long haul (barring any unforeseen accident) and the Karasel will always be around for your perusal.  Visit the blog with patience and you never know when something new will have popped up. 

 

                Speaking of the “long haul” (I’m a sucker for segues), I just recently finished watching a documentary entitled “My Kid Could Paint That”, an expose of young artist Marla Olmstead who took the world by storm when her abstract paintings began selling for thousands of dollars at the age of four.  Apparently she just began painting on her own one day with very little coaching by either parent and before she knew it, was receiving worldwide attention and money for her work.  The documentary is very revealing and is worth watching.  Whether she’s actually the artist behind most of her work still remains very much in doubt, since the only two paintings she’s done from start to finish on camera look extremely different from her other, more ‘mature’ work.  The obvious suspect is the father but, as with all good documentaries, it leaves you with the evidence and lets you decide for yourself.

 

                Prodigies, the film suggests, are an interesting product of our society.  The film likens them to some sort of ‘magic trick’ – it’s funny and heart-warming to see little miniature versions of ourselves compete or even surpass adults in any field.  Often these prodigies are forced to grow up long before their time; grown-up talent is expected to mix with grown-up maturity, an often deadly assumption.  If there’s anything better than a celebrity, it’s a celebrity scandal.  If there’s anything better than a celebrity scandal, it’s a young celebrity scandal.  Just watch the South Park episode where they realize that for the good of the world, Britney Spears must die.  Once dead, they turn to their next target – Miley Cyrus. 

 

                The juggling world, which I have inhabited and studied for the past seven years, has prodigies of its own.  I can’t speak for all eras, but certainly the most successful prodigy of the generation before mine is none other than Anthony Gatto.  From the very beginning of his career, you had to be a fool not to realize that he was destined to be one of the best.

 

                One of the reasons for Anthony’s success is that he had such an amazing coach – his dad.  Juggling history is rife with examples of young jugglers coached into greatness by their fathers.  Even Wes Peden, the most popular juggler of my generation, had a dad with whom he juggled from a very young age.  I doubt Jeff trained Wes with the same fervor as Nick Gatto, but the results of the father-son juggling relationship are clear – it worked then and it’ll work again.

 

                Say what you will about Bob Nickerson, but the guy has a knack (read: obsession) for IJA history.  So, among other dates and drop counts, he remembers when Anthony was a regular attendee of IJA festivals.  He speaks very highly of the wunderkind, as most people do, and equally marveled over the years at how the young whipper-snapper showed up his older colleagues.   One thing Bob told me though was a bit disheartening.  He told me of a time he overheard the young Anthony speaking to another young juggler.  It could’ve been Vladik but I don’t remember correctly.  It was basically another young prodigious juggler.  Anthony, in a genuine tone, asked, “Do you like juggling?”  The tone implied by Anthony (at least according to Bob) was one of concern over the fact that he didn’t necessarily in that moment.

 

                This is just one example, but it underlines a philosophy that is very important to me, and that luckily I have had the ability to experience.  I make no assumptions about Anthony or any other young juggler, but I find it easy to believe that somewhere in the world, young men and/or women have been pushed and pressured by their parents to train in juggling.  Maybe even sometimes despite the fact the kid wanted nothing to do with juggling.

 

                The term ‘Benji-bot’ has often been applied to young male jugglers trained by Benji Hill.  The ‘bot’ refers to the fact that, like robots, they are trained by Benji to construct an act that involves similar costuming and similar stage-filling movement.  Benji’s boys are very predictable, and often (in my experience) seem to have a monopoly on 2nd place.  Do all these boys have the same love of juggling after they’ve been trained to compete, or do some of them begin to question their love of throwing stuff?  I don’t know because Jason Garfield’s prevalent anti-Benji mentality has convinced me to stay as far away from the Benji operation as possible.  I’ve never been approached by the Benji machine, which means that I suck.  And I’m okay with that.

 

                Yes, it is true to some factor.  I spent the recent 61st IJA lamenting and rejoicing in the fact that I suck.  5 club singles, 5 club 3-ups, and 7 balls are all performed with ease now by most up and coming 13 and 14 year old jugglers.  Cate Emily made the joke at Renegade one night that, having trained extremely hard in Quebec City, she was finally as good as a 12 year old.  Funny as hell because it’s true. 

 

                I often tell people at these events how I always wish that I had started earlier.  I started at 16 and am now 23.  However, because of the internet generation, young teenagers can now be as technically proficient as I am in a matter of months instead of years.  And my prediction is that it will only get more ridiculous.  If the 13 year olds now feel at 23 what I do now, I can’t even imagine what yet the next generation will be pulling off. 

 

                However, the thing I am most proud of every day is that I juggle because I want to.  I am essentially a hobbyist turned professional because of personal love and personal dedication.  My parents could care less if I juggled or not.  I don’t have a coach or a sponsor.  Every day I juggle and work on things related to juggling because the act of juggling speaks to and resonates within me.  In many ways, it is a form of expression, because it supplies me with confidence that I lack in any other medium.

 

                Perhaps that’s why I’m not as good as I could be.  No one ever pushed me.  I pushed myself – hard some days, easy others.  For me, it was never about training for a competition.  It was about achieving that wonderful feeling I got when a new pattern, understood only on an intellectual level, all of a sudden unfolded in my hands, real and vibrant and magical all at the same time.

 

                Watching “My Kid Could Paint That” made me realize the delicacy of childhood and innocence.  If we were to believe that Marla didn’t in fact paint half of her paintings, what does that say about the parenting she received?  She was manipulated to accomplish what the parents never could.  Very Glass Menagerie.  Most juggling sons of juggling fathers surpass their teachers.  No surprise there.  They take a lifetime of knowledge and cram it into their brains in a fraction of the time it took to accumulate in the father.  Then what?  Greatness?  Sure.  A prodigy?  We love prodigies.  But then what?  It will be interesting to see what happens to the Benji-bots and prodigies of our generation, the young dream team of IJA 2008.  Are they in it for the long haul?  I sincerely hope so, but I have my doubts. 

 

                It’s like the secret of life.  As a human and an intellectual, I like to think of the secret to life as a grandiose answer, requiring an eternity to digest.  I don’t want life to be a mistake, to be random, although it may be.  With juggling, a lot of what I see in young American jugglers is an endless diversion of siteswaps, spinning, and standing still.  If that is really what juggling is all about, I couldn’t do it anymore.  For me, juggling is not an end in itself.  It can’t be, or I’d stop doing it.  For me, juggling has to be a medium in which I can express other things.  Not necessarily emotion – people think artistic jugglers are concerned with expressing their emotions.  I think people couldn’t care less about my emotions.  Half the time, I’m barely even concerned.  When I say juggling is a vehicle for expression, I’m suggesting that I’m using juggling to create unique artistic experiences that couldn’t exist with any other medium, or through any other juggler.

 

             I always thought that if I had a child, I’d teach him to juggle at a very young age.  Now I’m not so sure - sometimes the natural course of discovery is a lot healthier.


Posted by Michael at 5:22 PM EDT
Updated: Thu, Jul 31 2008 5:33 PM EDT
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Fri, Jul 11 2008
Shane Miclon
Mood:  surprised

So sometimes you're surfing YouTube and you click on a video that you're pretty sure is going to suck...and then it doesn't.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liKqo1eVnm4

 An amateurish juggling video with some surprising creativity.  I like what I see so far.  Kudos to that guy.

Watch it and encourage him.  It's something other than the same old drivel.


Posted by Michael at 11:06 PM EDT
Updated: Sat, Jul 12 2008 1:12 AM EDT
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Thu, Jul 10 2008
Shoebox Tour Update
Mood:  a-ok

Just to let you guys know, the Shoebox Tour America juggling show with Tempei Arakawa and me is really shaping up.  We're continuing to book dates and for those of you who are interested in attending, I've put up a new page on my website that lists all the venue, time, and ticket details.

www.michaelkaras.net/shoebox.html

Keep watching for more updates!  This is not a show you East Coasters are going to want to miss!


Posted by Michael at 11:22 AM EDT
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Fri, Jul 4 2008
Wind Rings Update

Thanks to Paulie for reminding me - the wind rings being marketed by Mr. Babache are nothing new.  They've been around for ages.  A juggling friend of mine, Kathy Doutt, showed me an old set of wind rings back when rings used to be made using a heavier, less bendable plastic.  These were the types of rings that could shatter.

So these wind rings aren't new, but they don't apparently hold up to their name.  Strong winds can still easily affect them apparently.  Thanks to Paulie for the reminder. 

I like being corrected because it means you care and I'm learning.


Posted by Michael at 11:58 PM EDT
Updated: Sat, Jul 5 2008 12:09 AM EDT
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Tue, Jul 1 2008
There's Nothing New...
Mood:  down
Now Playing: Damp Rabbit Productions

There's really nothing new.  I am currently working on a ring routine where I have a section devoted to grinds.  I'm no expert, but at one point I did something that I had never seen done before - doing two grinds in one hand.  Basically, the left hand is holding the ring parallel to the ground and it is accommodating two grinds, one at a time.

 I thought this was mildly original.  Nope - Bob Nickerson lent me the 1981 IJA DVD by Damp Rabbit tonight and some juggler on there - no credit was given - was doing the exact trick.  We're talking 1981 folks.  Twenty seven years ago, people were doing a trick I thought was original.  Three years before I was born, a juggler was doing two grinds in one hand.

What the duck!??  I thought I had something new there for a second.  Juggling sucks. 


Posted by Michael at 10:51 PM EDT
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Sun, Jun 29 2008
Chaotic Potential or "Why Rings Suck"
Mood:  d'oh

"I hate rings."

"I don't do rings."

"I don't even own any."

"They hurt my hands too much."

"(uproarious laughter)"

      These are five of the most common responses I get when I ask various jugglers if they juggle rings.  Not knowing any better when I was learning, I figured it was important to learn the trifecta - balls, clubs, and rings.  Only later was I surprised to learn how few jugglers care to adventure into rings.  Outside of the Gandinis, it's often hard to find another juggler at a convention who is gung-ho to pass rings. 

       But now I think I have a theory why rings "suck".  I put suck in quotes to illustrate the point that I in fact love rings.  I am merely acknowledging the fact that on the ladder of 'prop-ularity', rings definitely rank beneath balls and clubs.  I have no official data on this, but I think you jugglers out there will take my word for it. 

       For a while, I believed and preached the whole "dimensional" theory.  A ball is like one dimension.  A ring is like two.  A club is like three dimensional.  Until I realized that that theory is like stupid because it ignores the most important part of what makes an object easy or difficult to juggle - chaotic potential.

       Many jugglers I know are interested in Rubik's Cubes so I'm going to use a cube to demonstrate what I mean by chaotic potential.  Let's take a cube and place it right next to a juggling ball.  Now I forgot to mention that this cube has magical powers - it can hypnotize other inanimate objects.  So the cube is going to hypnotize the ball so that it does whatever the cubes does.

       Now let's start testing what I call the NFF or "noticeable flip factor".  No matter how I twist the cube (forwards, sideways, or horizontally), the ball (assuming it is a clean no-seams ball) shows no visual movement.  Its silhouette remains unchanged.  Sure, the ball can rotate any way the cube can (in fact, it can rotate an unlimited amount of ways) but its silhouette will always remain the same. 

       Let's look at a club under the cube's hypnosis.  When I twist the cube forward, the club does a reverse flip - very noticeable.  When I twist the cube horizontally, it does a "helicopter", a trick done often by Cecile Poncet.  However, when I twist the cube sideways, the club spins along its longest axis and no change in its silhouette is noticeable.  Though three-dimensional, the club only has 2 out of 3 flip bases covered.

       Finally, the ring under the cube's hypnosis.  Flip the cube forward - nothing (the typical way to throw a ring).  Sideways - a pancake facing sideways.  Horizontal - the ring spins as if spun on the floor.  At this point, it seems like the club and ring are tied for difficulty.  Both show noticeable silhouette change under 2 of the 3 cube spins.

       So then why do I think rings have more chaotic potential?  Well the only way to truly find out is to start throwing them.  Here's where the hidden danger of the ring shows up:

       Throw a club in as many ways as possible, but keep its flight path straight up and down.  Forgetting flats for the moment, you can do regular flips, reverse, helicopters in both directions as well as all sorts of diagonal flips in between.  Every time you release the club,  ALL points on the club (except for its exact midpoint) will spin in the same circle, somewhat like concentric rings or ripples from a rock.

       Now take a ring.  Position somewhere between a regular throw and a perfect pancake so that it is being held diagonal.  Now throw it straight up like you're trying to do a normal pancake and experience why rings have the most chaotic potential:

THE WOBBLE EFFECT!!!!!

       That's right - rings are the hardest prop to juggle because they have the potential to experience the most chaotic flight path.  Wobbles are almost never attempted by ring jugglers on purpose but if they occur, a ring will be the most chaotic of all three props to catch with any sort of logical calculation.  In a well-executed wobble, many points on the circle are going back and forth as well as rotating.  Forget about concentric circles here - the points are doing a sort of mish-mash of intersecting ellipses.

        Now of course I still maintain that rings are easier to juggle than clubs from a cascade perspective.  Assuming you throw the rings "normally", you don't have to worry about spin whereas the easiest way to throw clubs is WITH spin.  So under normal cascade circumstances, we could say that rings are easier.

        But from a nerdy scientific geometrical standpoint, rings are much harder because they have the potential to be far less predictable in their flight path than clubs. 

        So next time someone asks you why you don't juggle rings, just tell them that "rings have too much chaotic potential."  I take no responsibility for the response you get.


Posted by Michael at 5:13 PM EDT
Updated: Sun, Jun 29 2008 6:35 PM EDT
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Sun, Jun 22 2008
Caught Clean: A Retro Review
Mood:  happy

I’ve spent the past two weeks working at a circus camp in my area. It’s my first year working with this group so I spent some time before the camp started going through their inventory or props and whatnot. I also went through their collection of dusty old VHS tapes. For the most part, I didn’t find anything that I didn’t already have on DVD. But I did find a treasure - an old forgotten copy of Caught Clean, a mini legend in the world of juggling films and I’m sure skateboard films. Filmed in 1996 by Invisible Films and directed by Laban Pheidias, it is a video that I have longed to stumble upon for at least five years. Not only does it feature some of yesterday’s and today’s most well-known jugglers - it also features killer skateboarding demos by stars like Andy MacDonald and Willy Santos. It’s been twelve years since it was released and as far as I know is only available in VHS form or in short clips online. Here is my retro review - decide for yourself if it’s worth your time to hunt down a copy…

Since this is a juggling blog, I’m going to spend most of my time talking about the juggling in the film. The skating is fantastic but as I’m really just a layman in that area, it’s hard to form educated sentences about most of the tricks contained therein.

First of all, the video starts with an editing trick that I can’t even do now, twelve years later. We see a well-dressed juggler showering the eleven letters of “caught clean” in a shower pattern before showering them into their positions for the video’s opening title. Anyone care to suggest what editing programs were available in 1996 for VHS films?

Right from the start, we have the man, the myth, Sean McKinney, a juggler who pretty much is the missing link between juggling and skateboarding. Pretty much the birth of extreme juggling. He busts out some crazy three ball tricks while a skateboarder hops over and around him. A few clips later, we see an amazing five ball trick that I have only seen Sean do. He does his famous triangle-shaped triplex out of five, catches the top of the triangle on his neck and then reverse neck flips it back into the five ball pattern - sweet! Next, we see a shot of Penn Jillette passing clubs - a celebrity appearance always impresses non-jugglers. I imagine I’d be equally excited if Tony Hawk had been in Caught Clean.

Next we see some juggler doing five tennis racquets solid while doing gorgeous Toby Walker style over-the-top flats which just look brilliant. I think if I ever learn another five club trick besides the cascade it will be a half shower with flats. Gilligan only makes a short appearance on CC - he lands his signature one-up somersault into three club overheads.

The video also has various skits. The first is called “Radio” and involves two jugglers getting mad at their props and going from torch juggling to flaming boombox juggling. Although I am rarely impressed by so-called “dangerous juggling”, the final two torches and one flaming boombox between two jugglers was ridiculously tense, especially because we know that they probably only have one boombox to burn and there are so many miffed throws and catches.

After some nice basketball juggling, we see some staples of the IJA that are now all middle-aged. Dan Menendez does a trick that I’ve only ever seen Erik Aberg do - while juggling three balls, he does headrolls with the fourth. Dan Holzman does some juggling while balancing a golf club. Steve Mills surprisingly pulls out some really burly tricks - “new school” for 1996. Among them include a 441 MM, some non-cheating BBB, and a cool trick where he juggles two balls and a dove. The dove hops from hand to hand - my friend wondered if he has to make it dizzy for the trick to work.

Okay, so has anyone ever heard of Mark Wyndham? No, me neither, but he had a really impressive three ball section of CC that reminded me of the 3 ball juggling that I used to do - very pattern-based, flowy, and fun. If anyone knows anything about what he’s done in the past decade, I’d be curious to hear. I really liked his juggling.

Another skit, “The Race”, is another perfect combination of juggling and skateboarding - it involves a race where both competitors will stop at nothing to prevent the other from getting across the finish line on a skateboard while juggling three clubs. It’s pretty funny…and bloody. Willy Santos is one of the few skateboarding sections that bears mentioning, even to jugglers. His skill with manuals (the “wheelie” of skateboarding) is just incredible and I really enjoyed his long trick sequences. Just like in juggling, it’s even more impressive to see a long “run” of tricks without dropping AKA falling off/bailing.

McKinney’s section is like a jolt of electricity. He starts off with can-and-ball (thanks Rhys Thomas) juggling as well as tricks where he slams bouncy balls at the ceiling. He does two four club 2-up somersaults in a row (what!!?) and then busts out 5 torch backcrosses. Everything is clean and controlled but his frantic body language keeps you on the edge of your seat. Of course he blends the two disciplines of skateboarding and juggling better than anybody in his final reel where he freestyle walks all over the neighborhood, treating a suburban sidewalk like a skate park.

Keep watching until after the credits! You get a glimpse of the Passing Zone’s chainsaw ballet as well as a cool but potentially gross three club trick involving an often unused body part of a juggler - the mouth. Reminds me of technique I saw back in April in Rochester - except more germy. Sean McKinney ends it all with an amazing 7 ball routine, including the rarely seen 4-up, 3-up multiplex.

Whether you’re a hardcore juggler or skateboarder, or just looking for a piece of juggling video history, I think every serious artistic/extreme juggler owes it to themselves to see Caught Clean. Many jugglers list it as a huge inspiration and now I see why. It’s one of those videos that leaves you unable to do anything but go outside and juggle until you’re dehydrated.

I really enjoyed doing this retro review. With so many instant jugglers posting practice sessions on YouTube these days, it’s nice to go back a decade and see a video containing so many passionate jugglers’ blood, sweat, and tears.

Now I just need to get my hands on Caught Clean II.


Posted by Michael at 5:49 PM EDT
Updated: Sun, Jun 22 2008 5:55 PM EDT
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Wed, Jun 11 2008
Selebrity Sircus
Mood:  quizzical
Topic: Trends

So for those of you who didn't catch it, tonight in America we saw the world premiere of "Celebrity Circus", a new show on NBC with ringmaster Joey Fatone and a host of B and C list celebrities doing circus stunts with help from professionals.

First of all, let me remind all jugglers that none of the celebrities learned to be an amazing juggler in 8 weeks.  's just not possible, haha, and we proved it again, albeit in abcence only.

That being said, there was really no juggling on the show besides a short little three torch cascade and these aquarmarine twins doing ring ultimates with each other while leaning towards each other.  Is non-dangerous juggling only interesting if it's fast?  Man, I guess that's a topic for another time...

Anyway, I definitely have some reservations about the show and will be curious to see if it ever gets to a second season.  Honestly, I could live a happy life without tuning in to see who gets kicked off next week.  I'm rooting for Peter Brady, Wee Man, and/or the Clueless actress because they seemed to be the most genuine of everyone.  But at the end of the day, it's just another American Idol, but less exciting because these semi-celebrities have nothing to lose.  So what if they get "kicked off"?  They're still richer than all of us combined.

Anyway, the last thing I want to point out is a music issue.  As dull as the show was at points, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that three of the music choices for circus acts were off the top 40 pop list.  Maybe not the current one, but definitely within the last year - most notable were Britney Spears (Gimme More), Rihanna (Shut up and Drive), and Timbaland with One Republic (Apologize.)  This excited me because I've always wanted to see circus acts set to modern hip-hop music.  I've done it but honestly, most jugglers stay away from what's current on the charts.  This made me excited for what someday may catch on - the hip-hop circus generation if you will.  What better way to get young people excited in circus arts than by using the music they already know and love?  

Well, it's always been a pipe dream of mine to have or see a circus which choreographs kick-ass acts to pop music.  I'm sure most circus afficionados would frown upon this but I think it's an experiment worth trying, and I'm glad NBC gave it a whirl instead of trying to stick to what they think people might expect to hear in a "circus" setting.

Any thoughts about the show? 


Posted by Michael at 11:41 PM EDT
Updated: Wed, Jun 11 2008 11:54 PM EDT
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Sun, Jun 8 2008
Sh
Mood:  lazy
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euF8EB5qx9A

Posted by Michael at 2:47 PM EDT
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