FINDING THE GAME!
In my book, Pearls of Juggling, there’s a recurring theme that I find very interesting and which I keep turning to, not just throughout the whole book but also throughout most of my work as a whole. This theme is what I call FINDING THE GAME.
Finding the game is what makes juggling FUN – it’s also the driving force that makes us want to keep playing and training and exploring.
For me, this is what makes juggling more enjoyable to do, and also much more interesting and engaging to watch: it improves the very quality of our juggling.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all playing some kind of game – jugglers more so than most, or at least that’s probably how it should be. Games bring in the fun and there are various levels of FUN, from “interesting” to “deep fun”, and you can find the game by either looking for it or just coming across a zone of playfulness.
Many of the “games” we play as jugglers are well known, although perhaps not so consciously.
Becoming more aware of the process and what it means for us can be very rewarding. We can use this process to our advantage in building enthusiasm, rather than being prey to good days and bad days. When we lose the playfulness, we lose interest, and when we lose interest our juggling suffers – if it isn’t abandoned altogether.
I recently taught at a juggling workshop in North Italy, at Spazio Kabum, and there we dived deeper into this theme in order to expand on the crucial aspect of play. It is possible to have fun doing very simple things, so long as our body is involved. It’s a certain mood we enter, a heightened level of curiosity and interest – more concerned with the quality of our attention than what we are actually doing. In the end, it’s probably one of the main reasons we became so passionate about juggling in the first place.
So: what game are we playing? How do we even start looking for a “game”? And what is it all about?
THE REGULAR “GAME”
The most common game in juggling is probably the “one more prop” challenge, or the “ever more difficult” variation. Challenges create interest, often inducing a sense of play, especially when we are able to break down the larger challenge into smaller parts. Sometimes challenges create a sense of achievement, other times perhaps leaving us more frustrated than before, when things don’t go quite as we’d like them to! We get our adrenaline and excitement from trying near-impossible feats, and we get our gratification by occasionally pulling them off, or even just moving closer to our goals, when the impossible starts to feel possible.
A close sister to these games is collecting tricks. Attempting to learn everything anyone has ever done, or very nearly so.
Whenever we learn something new, or find a new aspect to what we already know, we’re stimulated to try more and more. Riding on a virtuous circle and activating playfulness.
There can be pure pleasure in this game, but be careful: it can easily become a competition with ourselves, which may create more stress than enjoyment.
One of the biggest downsides in seemingly learning a new trick is that, once “conquered”, it frequently loses its fun and often gets discarded.
One way to activate more interest and “find the game” with material we can more or less do is by upping repetitions. Then turn around, walk and move with your tricks. Look for sister variations and create combos. By using different props and trying to make tricks and moves as clean and reliable as possible, even dropless, you can avoid the traps I mentioned above.
I don’t find the following types of games so rewarding: being too chaotic and inconsistent to really “find the game”, trying to be the best, or identifying too strongly with a certain style or image. Training is an important part of juggling and it’s much better if that, too, feels like a game – even if you’re a professional. Let’s face it, the world is much too serious a place already, and with intelligence and playfulness we can spread fun into many people’s lives. After all, that’s sort of the point, isn’t it?
Our way of training is generally either too programmed, with little room for fun, or else too random, and so we just can’t consistently find the play zone. This is why I find it so crucial to learn how to cultivate an interest in anything you so choose. Even incredibly simple activities can become fascinating if you look at them with fresh eyes; new aspects emerge. Cultivate this first with things you find yourself naturally attracted to, and remember that this ability is all about perception.
Setting technical goals (short, medium and long term) also stimulates interest, while giving us a direction and setting a context.
But how do you turn a goal into something fun?
Remember that you define your goals.
One possible goal could be to train just the things that you enjoy. Why not? Other days, train things that you find really hard but look for the fun in them. Find the fun in the challenge by making training intelligent.
Find the balance.
Training in a group nearly always makes things more fun. Trying out tricks with juggling friends and generally connecting with other people and juggling together makes juggling much more fun. I find it important also to be able to have fun alone, get excited and then share with others. This is a fine balance.
A goal could, of course, be the preparation of new material, or creating a sequence or routine or a whole new show. A goal could also be to maximize enjoyment, fun and sense of well-being after every session.
THESE ARE NOT THE ONLY GAMES
It is well worth training in a way where we find ourselves constantly playing and creating new games. Make new rules for old games and use old rules for new ones. If it’s difficult initially, just try doing “weird” things to a song you like. Things that thrill you, that perhaps surprise you.
You could do it at the end of your training, or at a random moment during the day.
We can obtain a sense of play while manipulating even just one object, without doing anything particularly difficult or for any particular reason. HOW?
To find the game and have fun without having to rely on the “ever more difficult” trick, try simple tricks and throws and let yourself just play until you come across something that tickles your fancy. Working with body movements while throwing can also help to free our mind about “what is and what isn’t juggling”.
Think: “Today I feel like exploring slapping balls rather than catching them”.
Or perhaps even much more specific.
“I’m going to dive into all the possibilities of what to do before and after a backcross throw. Or a stall, roll or a kick. Or a slap, squeeze, pinch, fake”.
Then just dive into it and find all the different ways there are of making that one throw and catch. Add throws before, after and during. Don’t forget your body, get it involved. Play with it. Treat your body as an extra prop. Synchronise with the movement of the object being manipulated, or move against it. Try other body positions. Vary your speed and quality. Make it bigger and smaller.
Music, too, can be a great help in stimulating a sense of play, although don’t become dependent upon it. I find that it’s also important to find the same sense of fun with silence.
By choosing, or coming across, one concept or aspect at a time and diving into it with a curious mind. I like to think of this as a state of juggling grace, where every throw just has a feeling of beauty about it.
I find this “juggling grace” comes about more easily the more present we really are in our bodies.
Even without a specific goal of learning more, your juggling will of course improve enormously. I’m not suggesting in the least that you should limit what you are learning.
Combine concepts. Perhaps combine a backcross throw with another prop balanced somewhere. Then perhaps three different things together: “What if I throw high, lift up a leg, and throw under while catching behind my back?”
Or, “how long far away can I throw balls without dropping?” And so on. Try single throw sequences and add other objects, looking for ways that aren’t always the most obvious.
Wes Peden’s way of speed creating, where he applies a list of concepts to each and every trick element, can allow you to find new “games” and a huge amount of new material.
There are many other ways of finding a game. Stefan Sing has a game where, while exploring with juggling and movement, you repeat any move and trick three times, then go onto something else. Always with the body in motion.
This is also a way of giving importance to tricks that we may have undervalued.
The possibilities become endless but to find the game we first need to home in on something and let it grow. In a sense, it’s the opposite of pure exploration.
Explore however you like until you find something identifiable; by expanding on that, you find the game! A game needs some rules, or rather some guidelines. These hone our attention in on “solving the problem” we have posed ourselves. This gets us into our creativity and into play. If the “rules” feel too tight then change them until you’re having fun.
Essentially, when we are open to what is happening and less projected into the future, we can start to play. This doesn’t mean being childish. It means finding lightness, getting excited about small details. Questioning. Letting go of judging what you’re doing while you’re doing it and instead just following where your interest takes you.
You’ll soon find that you are in the play zone and questions, ideas, and new concepts will start popping into your head. The “what if”s.
“What if I try it this way or that way?” “What if I…?” Etc.
Let it develop into something completely different. The game could be relating yourself to a certain space or to other people. It could be trying things in different styles.
The play zone is about focusing your interest on a single thing long enough for it to develop into something else.
Juggling feels great when it feels like a game. And at the start, when we were first learning – that was exactly what it felt like.
The more we develop this sense of playfulness, the more ideas and fun we’ll have. To develop this further, look around and notice moments of real play around us. It is what small children, animals, and even clouds seem to be up to. What they do is very different to playing in order to become the best, or playing to win. Playfulness is an attitude that brings lightness and makes it a pleasure to be around us.
It doesn’t end there, either. We can have even more fun by combining juggling with acting skills.
Juggling in character can be particularly liberating – play around with juggling as a means of expression.
For more information on Fun and Playing, check out also Bernard de Koven’s work on “A Playful Path” and “Deep Fun”. Although not specifically for jugglers, they contain a lot of work on Play Theory and new games, and they can be useful for increasing and bringing fun back into what we love.
Follow up on ideas and, when they’re no longer fun, change your attitude, change your view point or change what you’re doing!
I’d love to know how you personally find your game and any thoughts that this article may have stimulated. Please write in the comment section below, email me or comment on the Pearlsofjuggling Facebook page.
If you haven’t read it, take a look at my previous article on Fluid Juggling.
If you’re interested in a signed copy of my book please write to me at: jugglingisart [at] gmail.com
The next article will be about using Taiji and Yoga philosophy and practice in your training.
Thanks for reading,
Keep having fun,