Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Juggling, Epiphanies, Processes

The enjoyment I take from juggling stems from the cocktail of emotions you can feel during a good session. From the intense frustration and anger I feel when I'm constantly failing to learn a pattern or, worse still; cocking up a pattern that I know I've mastered long ago. To the unbridled joy gained from successfully completing a new pattern for the first time. Combined with the long tail of the juggling learning curve it means that its a hobby where I can continuously challenge myself to learn new things.

I find that there are two key moments when I'm learning a new pattern or trick. An initial moment of epiphany when I'm first able to complete it successfully and then the moment when I realise that I'm now able to repeat it without any conscious thought. The 1st time you complete something it often feels awkward, rushed or just plain messy, but it is still a very satisfying moment. I then repeat and practice the trick, focusing on being smooth, controlled, precise and flowing. I'm building up muscle memory and finally will be able to hand the trick off to my subconcsious. At that point I take great enjoyment from the sense that I now have that knowledge contained somewhere in my grey matter, able to seemingly automatically recall it at any time.

I've found that my process for learning new patterns or tricks comes in two very different types;

1) concentrated, focused effort to learn a particular pattern
2) from random experimentation during a session when in the zone

The 1st situation really requires me to be in the correct frame of mind before even starting to juggle. Its the process required when I'm learning something from someone face to face, via youtube videos or from a juggling pattern animation program. Usually I've picked up my balls with the specific plan of learning something new. I'll break down the pattern into sections and work out what each hand needs to be doing. While practicing each throw individually, I'll be extremely focused on visualising where each ball will be travelling and try to work out a rhythm. Then its just time, patience, practice and dedication. This process can become very frustrating and I often finish sessions without "getting it", feeling disapointed and unco-ordinated. However, the enjoyment gained when I finally nail something that I've really struggled with is extremely satisfying. Most of my favourite tricks were ones which "put up a fight" when I was learning.

The 2nd situation is far more wonderous and hard to explain. The goal of most juggling sessions is to "get into the zone". That special situation where I feel totally at ease, perfectly confident that between my hands, the balls and gravity, everything is in balance. Patterns flow into each other and the momentum of the balls lead me to string certain patterns together. During these moments of flow, with my brain working so fast that time dilates and gravity seems to fade slightly, occassionally my hands will find a pattern which I had no forethought of.

Early on in my career the chaotic imperfections of my throws lead to this happening quite often. Since youtube wasn't around back then and I didn't have a juggling mentor, it was how I stumbled onto a lot of basic patterns. These days I really enjoy juggling with background music is because I'm able to use changes in the music to trigger changes in my patterns. Its incredible how your body/brain can react to make an unusual catch or throw to stay in time with the beat or to react to a break. The times when those strange chaos throws feel good, I'll try repeating it and attempt to lock it into my subsconcsious.

Anything that is around 110 to 160 bpm works a treat. I match the music to my mood and then the type of balls to the tempo of music. Heavy balls for meaty hip hop, with lots of over hand grabs slapping the catches in time with the backbeat. Lighter balls for dancey tracks (Daft Punk and Kraftwork are amongst the best music of this), the faster tempo leads me towards tight site swaps and Mill's mess style arm crossing.

I've lost access to the video camera, so no footage! D'oh.