How Time Flies – When 5 Clubs & 7 Balls Went From Rare To Commonplace

My first time at an IJA Convention was in 1985, when I spent a full three hours at the Atlanta festival on the opening day. My goal in my brief time there (my family was passing through back from a vacation in Florida) was to see my first five club juggler and first juggle of 7 balls. I did get to see five clubs (not sure who it was – maybe Ed Jackman), but only got to see 7 ball bouncing courtesy of Tim Nolan. My first full week convention was in Akron in 1987. There, I got to see a decent number of 5 club and 7 ball jugglers. Flash forward to 2015 – In preparing for my job as Numbers Championships Co-Director in advance of the Quebec City festival, I happened to glance at the Numbers results for 1987. The winning totals were 5 Clubs for 213 catches and 7 balls for 67 catches, both by Dana Tison. If those totals shock you as low by today’s standards, they did to me too, which set me on a bit of an exploration.

At nearly every recent IJA Festival, the number of objects needed to win Numbers has been 9 balls and 7 clubs, and often all of the finalists in those events accomplish qualifying runs, with the winner being the one who can achieve the most catches. At Quebec City, all 3 of the finalists in the Individual Clubs event qualified 7 clubs, and I saw at least seven people getting a qualifying run of it in the gym during the week. In 2007, we had four entrants qualify nine balls in the Preliminary Round of the Numbers Championships, so one 9 ball juggler didn’t even make the finals. Looking out on the gym floor, you can see many jugglers achieving long runs with either one at most points in the festival.

So, I really wanted to get down to some facts and verify that 5 clubs and 7 balls used to be very rare, and that it is a much more commonplace achievement nowadays. There were at least 5 jugglers at Quebec City that attended conventions back in the late 1970s. One of them, Arthur Lewbel, affirmed that times have certainly changed and that at the 1977 Convention in Newark, Delaware, there were a total of five 5 club jugglers, and no 7 ball jugglers. The others agreed that it was a very rare thing. In thinking back to my first regional convention, one in Cincinnati in 1983, there was one 5 ball juggler, and no 4 club jugglers! My current local club, which only has nine regular attendees, boasts eight 5 ball jugglers (including my 11 year old daughter Elizabeth), three 7 ball jugglers, and five 5 club jugglers.

I wanted to see if I could get more facts about a current day IJA Festival. In advance to Quebec City, I sent out an email to various juggling message boards seeking to find as many under 18 year old jugglers who could accomplish the levels of the Numbers winners from 1987. It read:

Attention: Youth attending the IJA Festival in Quebec City. Please help with a juggling experiment. We are looking for 5 club and 7 ball jugglers under the age of 18 to help with a test. If you are under 18 and can juggle either 5 clubs for at least 213 catches or 7 balls for at least 67 catches, please come demonstrate these to Scott Cain while at the IJA Fest in July. Not only are we looking for as many jugglers of this age who can reach at least these numbers, but we’re especially looking for the youngest person who can achieve each juggle (at these respective levels). Scott Cain

At the festival, In addition to seeing upwards to a hundred solid 5 club jugglers and upwards to fifty 7 ball jugglers who would be in the range of 67, I found the following youth who accomplished the feats for me:

5 clubs – More than 213 catches

  • Delaney Bayles – age 17
  • Max Poff – age 17
  • Max Schleck – age 17
  • Jacob Cowan – age 16
  • Ethan Rosman – age 16
  • Jonah Botvinick-Greenhouse – age 15
  • Kento Tanioka – age 15
  • Chris Haaser – age 14
  • Kaito Tanioka – age 13

7 balls – More than 67 catches

  • Delaney Bayles – age 17
  • Max Poff – age 17
  • Jonah Botvinick-Greenhouse – age 15
  • Kento Tanioka – age 15

    In addition to these, I found close to twenty other youth who could consistently qualify 5 clubs and 7 balls, even if they couldn’t reach Tison’s totals. I didn’t get to witness the 5 club endurance or 7 ball endurance contests at the IJA Games this year, but understand that this “one try” contest had 25+ people still going for 5 clubs, and close to the same for 7 balls, at the respective catch totals from 1987. And, this was done with just one attempt.

    I wanted to look at other physical endeavors and see what I could find in regard to progress in similar time periods. I had a lot more luck finding the best (world records) for these abilities rather than empirical facts about the typical general ability being raised for serious practitioners of the sport, but here is a summary of some of my findings.

    In the past ten years, the fastest serve in tennis has gone from 134 mph to 153 mph. I would have thought that this would be largely attributable to the equipment, but tests showed that current players could achieve similar speeds when using rackets dating back even to wooden ones from the early 1970s. In swimming, the 100 meter freestyle record went from being 48.95 seconds in 1987 to 46.91 seconds now. In running, the 100 meter sprint record went from 9.93 seconds in 1987 to 9.58 seconds now. With ice skating, the triple jump has been replaced by a quad for the top men in the sport. Still, I think those are closer comparisons to the records going from a confirmed 9 ball qualify to Alex Barron’s 11 ball qualifies and Anthony Gatto achieving 8 clubs for the first time rather than the new standards.

    I asked some experts at Quebec City if they thought that either better training methods (which is often attributed to the advances in the above sports) or equipment improvements had a large impact on the escalation of 5 clubs and 7 balls being a new standard for serious practitioners nowadays. I was surprised to hear the consensus being “No.” So, if it isn’t better training or improved equipment that has caused the change, what is it? Well, one cause is just the pure number of how many people take juggling seriously now and how many attend festivals. Siteswaps was mentioned as a strong factor in jugglers learning new tricks and patterns, but neither that nor the increase in number of jugglers are the primary cause. Almost all of the experts agree on the one thing that has fueled the increase in skill – youtube.

    Youtube allows jugglers to repeatedly watch video of higher level patterns, tricks, and other feats and to break them down for faster learning. The juggling can be watched in slow motion, and the same accomplishment can be viewed being done by various jugglers, all of which might bring a different technique or tip which can be learned and repeated by the viewer. Viewers can be exposed to so much more variety than even at a festival with hundreds of jugglers. Back in the days I was learning my core juggling, the opportunities to watch and learn from someone of this skill level was very rare. Now, it is literally at your fingertips immediately. Whether it is a tutorial or just a video showing off the latest tricks and accomplishments, this online source has provided a learning opportunity unlike any other before it for jugglers.

    Not only has Youtube provided a mechanism of learning, but it’s also demonstrated the heights that can be reached, and thus levels lower than that, such as 5 clubs and 7 balls, now appear to be much more attainable. In the 70s and 80s, a young juggler rarely even saw a 7 ball juggler, and that seemed like the best they could hope to achieve given enough practice. Now, one can see Alex Barron getting 25 catches of 11 balls, or 15 catches of 13 balls, and suddenly 7 balls just seems like a step needed to reach toward this higher ceiling which has been established. This motivation to reach higher goals and increased knowledge of the almost limitless possibilities have made these previous thresholds much more achievable from a mental point of view. As a result in the advancement of many jugglers’ abilities, the Numbers Championships starts at 6 clubs and 8 balls (and has for many years now), so that again points to 5 clubs and 7 balls to being more for strong jugglers, but not enough to be considered the cream of the crop. 

    Since we’re talking about youtube, I think it’s appropriate that we show off some of the videos online of some of the young jugglers who accomplished our 5 club and 7 ball feats. Maybe they will serve as learning opportunities for you. Enjoy!

    Christopher Haaser

    Delaney Bayles

    Max Poff

    Jonah Botvinick-Greenhouse

    Kento Tanioka

    Ethan Rosman

Scott Cain is an IJA Life Member, IJA Numbers Championships Co-Director, a former Numbers gold-medalist, Teams medalist as a member of Raising Cain, Musical Theater Critic for Talkin’ Broadway (Cincinnati/Dayton), and assistant curator/researcher for the Historical Juggling Props Museum (www.historicaljugglingprops.com). He and his family live in Cincinnati, Ohio (USA).

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