SOME NOTES ON JUGGLING

Dr Jonathan Hare, The Creative Science Center, Sussex University.

JUGGLING
Juggling teaches us patience and shows us that if we persevere we can do things we might not have at first believed possible. It also makes us believe that apparently impossible things are sometimes a result of our rather channelled thinking. It is a wonderful life enhancer and a strange mixture of mental and physical exercise. It's a very positive learning experience.

A friend told me the following story:
A little boy and his father walk into a juggling shop and the boy stares at one of the attendants who is juggling five balls. He is transfixed by the wonderful pattern. The dad whispers in his ear "how many balls do you think he's juggling, can you count them?"
The boy takes a few minuets to reply and says "I counted twenty but I think I might have counted the same ball twice."

WHY JUGGLE?
There are various reasons for juggling. One is to impress your friends; another is to improve your concentration. Yet another is to feel the excitement of actually learning something really new. Perhaps another is to relax and let go of tension. They're loads of reasons for juggling. Personally I found that the experience was a very positive one, a great confidence builder. I was never a sporty kid at school and when I was given three balls I doubted very much weather I was ever going to be able to juggle all three. But I did feel confident I might be able to do two. After two days hammering away at three balls, like those mathematical problems that just seem to go from impossibly hard to obvious in an instant, I was suddenly juggling three balls. The experience wonderful. Perhaps its the same sort of feeling when a toddler makes his or hers first real steps!

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
It took me about a week to get three balls going well and reliably. Four balls was just about working after two months, while five balls took me about three years (by doing an hour or so a day). I have been practising six balls for about four years and its not much better than when I started! Someone estimated that with each ball that is added to a pattern the difficulty is increased by perhaps 10 times. It is bit daunting but at the same time one gets instant feedback as to how well we are doing and so it is also marvellously rewarding.

HOW TO JUGGLE
The mind is a wonderful pattern recognition machine. For example it somehow manages to learn language when we are very young, apparently from scratch! To juggle well, especially in the early stages, it is best if you can turn this pattern recognition system off (the one you have spent your whole life, at schools, colleges and universities turning on!). In other words people who are very good at analysing and thinking about problems are usually very bad at the initial stages of juggling if they try and use there mind to 'work it out'.

SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM - EUREKA
The best way of juggling is to try and feel the rhythm in the arms and hands necessary to move the balls in the way they need to. Watch a juggler and try to visualise/feel the rhythm not the pattern of balls. My mind is not fast enough to visualise the pattern of the balls, for say five balls, but I can still juggle five well! That's because I have absorbed or learnt the rhythm. It took me a long time to realise this and when I did it really helped. I once taught someone to juggle who swore that he would never be able to do it. I put on some music got him to bend his knees to the rhythm, this made his arms move in rhythm and he was juggling almost straight away - his face was wonderful to see. It feels like magic when you first get the juggle working. It's almost as if the balls do the work! It's one of those eureka moments.

THREE BALL JUGGLE
Let's take three balls. Place two balls in your dominant hand (the right hand if you are right handed) and the other ball in the other hand. Throw one of the two up in the air and in an arc that might take it a few feet high and heading in roughly the direction, and position, of your other hand. Don't worry about how well it was thrown; just get used to doing it. Next when you are happy about that repeat this throw but now when the first ball is just about to come down (i.e. it is at the top of its throw and about to come down) throw the other ball in the other hand. Throw this ball in a similar arc to the first but obviously heading in the other direction toward the hand that first threw the first ball. Try to resist the temptation to pass the second ball to the other hand (its amazing difficult sometimes)! Next when this is about to come down throw the last ball which was still in the first hand. Don't worry about catching the balls for now, just get used to the pattern, err rhythm....

After all three balls have been thrown you might have been lucky enough to have caught all of them and if so you have just 'flashed' the balls i.e. you did a complete circuit and caught all the balls. If you didn't catch any of the balls then three balls will be on the floor and thats very good - honest. The next thing you have to do is just practice this loads and loads of times (but not probably as many as you might think). When you start to be able to catch the balls don't stop at three throws, immediately go on and continue the pattern as far as you can. You will find that the balls and hands are, by some miracle, in the right place at the right time! but only if you don't think about it (too much) and manage to find 'that rhythm'.

WHERE SHOULD THE EYES BE?
As you progress you will realise that the eyes only really need to see where the balls are when they are at the top of their respective throws (trajectories). It does not matter where the balls are the rest of the time because the brain and hands know that (somehow). If you close your eyes, or blink fast, between the various tops of the balls flights you can still juggle quite OK.

TYPES OF PATTERNS
The pattern the balls make is dependent on ones skill and on the number of balls. Odd number patterns (i.e. 3, 5 and 7 balls) cross over very naturally from one hand to another. Even number juggles (i.e. 2, 4, 6 balls) are usually the same pattern repeated in each hand, with no crossing over. For example, the standard four-ball juggle is actually two balls juggled in each hand. It is possible to juggle four balls so they cross but it is rather like juggling five balls but with one of them missing. I can do this now but it took me ages and ages to a) believe it was possible at all and b) to do it well. Now that I can do it I don't know what all the fuss was about but that's a strange normality in the world of juggling. Obviously because juggling gets harder with more balls there are dozens and dozens of possible 3 and 4 ball patterns and far less for the 5 ball patterns. With 7 and 9 balls its about as much as one can do just to get the most 'simplest' pattern going steadily.

A FEW COMMENTS ABOUT CO-ORDINATION AND LEARNING
It seems common sense that juggling must be good for co-ordination. All through my schooling I had very bad problems reading and writing. I went to an educational psychologist and he said I had 'spelling difficulties' (an amazing observation - not). He ran lots of test and one was very simple. He told me to roll up a piece of paper and to use it to look out of the window. This unconsciously reveals which eye is dominant because you automatically look through the tube through this eye. We all tend to use one eye more than another when we initially look at things. I apparently used the 'wrong' eye for my particular handedness and he told me that this might lead me to having co-ordination problems. He also told me that this might account for my reading and writing difficulties. Once I knew this I understood why I could never get a snooker cue under my eye or why when I was at a fair ground I could never use the gun sights on the pop guns! Strangely though I managed to juggle quite well, once I had educated my self from believing that I couldn't do it. Why was this? I think to answer this we must go back to the 'rhythm theory'. I think that in juggling the important thing is a) believing that you can do it and b) expanding the minds capability to spontaneously find the rhythm to crack the problem. When the mind tries to take over doing this in a very logical analytical way it gets all confused. This may be partly because when we think deeply time apparently goes faster than when we are relaxed. So perhaps this changing of mental time keeping when you try and work out the juggling throws one all out of timing and actually makes juggling harder. In other words, the ball has moved on by the time you work out where it should have been!

THE FUTURE
Our education system is very much based on analytical methods of learning. Perhaps in sports and drama we make use of this 'rhythm' but hardly in science or geography. If we could somehow use this rhythm in academic education who knows what it might achieve. It might be that people who are naturally good at a particular subject are actually using this rhythm deep within them. Perhaps they have tuned in somehow to the subject, it inspires them in such a way that they 'feel' the subject and so do better than those that cant. I think this shows us just one way in which education might change / advance in the future. But then again I might just have dropped my self (or was it a ball) into it.

EXTRACT FROM JUGGLING WORLD- Juggling Courageously
by Barrett L. Dorko


How many times have you heard - "You're a juggler? Wow! You must really be coordinated!"
Despite my skills, I have always felt slightly uneasy about this. I mean, I don't play the piano or the guitar. Athletically I'm average for most parts. I wouldn't put "really coordinated" on my resume or a job application.
Recently I spent a couple of hours teaching juggling at a local festival. Like many of you, I watched the children race toward me, eager to try and thrilled with the least little progression of their skills. Their parents hung back, watchful and happy for the kids, but slightly uneasy. There was noting to indicate that these lessons were not available to them as well. Still, they stood there, using their age and past failures as an excuse for not trying.
It struck me that juggling is not essentially an act of coordination; it is an act of courage.
In a landmark psychological study, Barbara Brown discovered that the vast majority of anxiety we experience arises from "anticipated interpersonal disapproval." The fear of appearing foolish or inadequate can paralize someone who is ordinarily active, outgoing and successful. Think about how learning to juggle creates the appearance of foolishness and inadequacy. No wonder the adults hesitate to try.
At a typical meeting of the Rubber City Jugglers it's easy to tell the new members from the veterans. The new ones are scared while the "jugglers" display the courage necessary to attempt new and potentially unsuccessful acts. Using this criteria, the child who delights in the act of the first throw is at that point every bit the juggler that I am. No one would call the child coordinated. But I know we share a bond. We are amoing those who face failure and the appearance of inadequacy over and over again. In this sense we are couageous and we reap the benefits of that behaviour - higher self-esteem and the admiration of others. Does the audience realise this? Of course! Don't they applaud the loudest when we do somthing that appears dangerous, even though it doesn't require the skill needed for other tricks?
The implications for teaching juggling with this in mind are clear. Carlo and Gelb both advocates that the beginner "freeze" instead of chasing misses. Learning theory may explain the effectiveness of this in one way, but it is also evident that not being forced to chase your props around the room cuts down on the appearance of foolishness. This makes the high percentage of early drops easier to swallow.
The next time you teach another person, or learn something new yourself, think of the courage it takes to try something new and invite failure into your life. Praise your students for bravery before thay actually learn the trick. They'll be more likely to stick with it, and so will you. One day you may even hear, "You're a juggler? Wow! You must be really brave!"

Juggler's World, Winter 1989-90

BOOKS
1) Charlie Dancey's Encyclopaedia of Ball Juggling,
1994, Pub. Butterfingers, ISBN 1 898591 13X

2) Conquering Four and Five balls, P. R. Hackett,
Printed by W.H.P.(labels) Ltd., ISBN 0-9522040-0-2 (also conquering Three balls ISBN 0-9522040-1-0)

3) Want to be a juggler?, Georger DeMott,
3rd Ed. 1983, Montandon Magic, Oklahoma

ARTICLES
1) The Science of Juggling, Scientific American,
November 1995, p.74-79.

2) Juggling, New Scientist,
18th March 1995, p.34-38

3) Incredible throwing precision or what makes the five-ball cascade so difficult, Kaskade,
Vol. 42, p18-21

VIDEOS
1) Airborne!, Highlights of the 1989 International Jugglers Association Convention,
IJA/Maverick Media Production.

2) Inside the Soviet Circus, National Geographic Video Library,
1988 Stylus Video.

THE CREATIVE SCIENCE CENTRE, JPH, 1999


THE CREATIVE SCIENCE CENTRE

Dr Jonathan Hare, The University of Sussex
Brighton, East Sussex. BN1 9QJ

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