I mentioned in a comment that ‘Juggling probably isn't what you think it is’ and was encouraged to expand on that in the community section. Here is me doing exactly that.
There is an intersection between technicality and beauty in juggling that most people aren’t exposed to it.
Generally I encounter people who consider juggling to be the domain of clowns and street performers and the type of juggling they associate with these people is usually just simple tricks dressed up. I’ve always said that a juggler who makes money is comedian who just happens to know how to juggle. There is nothing wrong with that. I’ve met tons of people who do it for a living and they are genuinely funny talented people.
It isn’t an accurate representation of what juggling is though, and on a personal level I’d like the public awareness about juggling to be raised. There is a certain dishonestly about juggling knives or fire and selling it as dangerous and skillful. Or tricking the audience into thinking you are about to perform your ‘most difficult trick.’
There is a lot of amazing stuff out there and I’d like to think it doesn't always need to be dumbed down. People know when they are witnessing something skillful even if they don’t entirely understand it. Unlike say an olympic sprinter, or world class dancer, juggling isn't as easy to relate to. Most people wrongly assume they can’t juggle so there is no reference point. This leaves juggling shrouded in smoke and mirrors and it bugs me that a lot of what is performed and presented exploits this.
A semi famous example of this is a video by Chriss Bliss juggling to a Beatle’s song.
This went viral and it is honestly quite a terrible routine. The juggling is exceedingly simple, executed poorly and Chris can’t dance. The last point might seem harsh but if you are going to choreograph a routine to music and it isn’t a skill showcase you really need some dance or movement chops.
Stefan Sing, for example, does have dance and movement chops.
I used the Chris Bliss video as an example because a famous juggler came out and made the same routine with 5 balls instead of 3.
The juggler in the clip is Jason Garfield and it is worth mentioning that he runs the World Juggling Federation. His goal is to get juggling to be recognized as an Olympic sport.
Jason Garfield and the sports jugglers like him are doing great things to raise the awareness of sports juggling. However the philosophy behind it is pretty hard-line. Garfield doesn’t think juggling is an art form. Regardless of the merits of that stance there are lots of other styles and aspects that exist. When I said ‘juggling probably isn’t what you think’ I didn’t just mean ‘hey check out these sports jugglers.’ It was just a good example to illustrate my point.
I’ll do my best to broadly cover some of the other areas below.
Siteswap is a mathematical notation for juggling. It is a relatively new discovery/invention and prior to its inception there wasn’t really a good framework to record or theorize about juggling. Siteswap at its most basic level is based around assigning numbers to throws based on the amount of beats that occur before the same object is thrown again.
Here is a favourite juggler of mine ripping some siteswaps.
If you are like me and that excites you then watch this lecture about siteswap given by Allen Knutson at Cornell.
Siteswap isn’t very common in the performance world. It can be useful but the system doesn’t account for anything other than throws. Body position and movement are deliberately left out to reduce complexity. It is usually the more geeky inclined folks who get into siteswap juggling and it is much more common in the social scene.
There are also notations for passing juggling which is juggling between two or more people. I haven’t done a lot of passing but here’s an example. I’m fairly certain that on a technical level that clip is considered to be impressive, and here is the Gandini brothers with a hyper active edit of a show they performed with glowing props.
Conventions and Clubs
There is a large social scene around juggling. University juggling clubs are very common and there are conventions all around the world. The largest, the European Juggling Convention, has had attendance numbers exceed 5000. If you google your city and juggling convention there will probably be one nearby.
Numbers juggling is one area where it is probably exactly what you think it is. Trying to juggle more objects. Most of what I have shown uses quite high numbers but the patterns and tricks that are juggled are the focus. When you are trying to bump up the numbers it is amount of objects in the air that matter, not what the pattern is.
There are two terms that come in handy when discussing numbers juggling. The first is ‘Qualify.’ To qualify a pattern you need to execute twice the amount of throws as there are balls. For example. If I was to qualify three balls I would need to execute six throws. The logic is that each object is thrown, caught with enough control to execute another controlled throw and caught a final time.
Here are some notable world records where the juggler has qualified the pattern.
8 clubs - Anthony Gatto
11 balls - Alex Barron. This is longer than a qualify.
The second term is a flash. This is where you only need to release and catch every object.
A three ball flash is just releasing all three balls and catching them. Here is Alex Barron again flashing 13. There is no video evidence but I have personally seen a 9 club flash.
I've left out quite a bit and have unfairly not mentioned jugglers such as Wes Peden, Tony Pezzo and Patrik Elmnert. They do some amazing things, I'm just not the best person to comment on them. I highly recommend watching them in action though.
Hopefully that was new to some people reading this. If that is you then I recommend trying to pick up the basic three ball pattern. It wont take much time and is very rewarding. For all of you who already knew a bit about juggling the title of this post doesn't really apply. It would be great if you could share your thoughts in the comments though and help fill the gaps in my post.
You list a bunch of facts about juggling. You didn't really said much about the personal benefits of taking up juggling.
Why should I try to pick up the basic three ball pattern?
A few reasons. Firstly because it is a lot easier than the difficulty generally attributed to it. It is usually considered to be something that "clever talented" folks do. This might not seem like a reason to do something but juggling is a great condensed way to prove to yourself that you are just as capable as anyone else who you might be currently holding in high esteem. I say condensed because with the right instruction it can take less than 10 minutes, and even just fumbling around on the internet and teaching yourself will only take a few sessions of throwing things around.
As for progressing beyond the basic three ball pattern I have found that juggling has an exceptionally explicit learning process. The feedback from practise to results is very easy to see and this allows you to progress quickly - which is both addictive and satisfying. Perhaps the biggest benefit I have found is that juggling is highly conducive to flow states. You are constantly practising at a point where it is very clear where the next step is. This means you are always practising at or near the peak of your skill level and not dealing with frustration and other barriers that can inhibit learning.
This all transfers over to other areas and I have made the biggest improvements in music, fitness, programming and other life endeavours after putting some serious time into juggling. Learning how to learn is an apt summary.
There are a lot of lessons to be learnt from sinking some serious hours into a any particular skill (body awareness, relaxation, discipline etc) but what I have listed above are things that I have found juggling to be particularly good at. More so than other things I have done such as running a marathon, or maintaining a professional level at an instrument, that have required sustained practise over long time periods.
Just for fun, here are all of my political views. I'm not super into politics at all - in fact before Bush started screwing everything up, I had zero interest in them. I definitely haven't done enough research to have definitive stances on most of these things, so take them with a grain of salt.
This is the one I care about the most. Our tax system is extremely screwed up. Did you know that we're one of only TWO countries in the world who tax their citizens if they don't live in the country or make money in the country? If I spend a year traveling the world, making money online, I STILL have to pay taxes in the US (there's a partial exemption that it's possible to qualify for).
It’s funny. We watch commercials on TV. We see the team holding the trophy, we see the man with the completely jacked physique, we see the rapper killing it on the mic. But for some reason, we rarely see the processes that go into producing these results.
We’re never shown the team doing repetitive menial drills during practice, we never see the man eating salad while the rest of his friends eat pizza, we never see the endless hours the rapper scribbles rhymes in his basement, but does that make those moments any less relevant?
As a culture we’ve become addicted to setting goals, and producing results. Nothing wrong with that. The problem is we don’t understand goals are only a means to an end.
Pick up artists think it’s the girl that’s going to make them happy. Businessmen think it’s the money. Jugglers think it’s going to be landing a certain trick. They’re all wrong. I was wrong. We’ve all been wrong.