Juggling In Historical Life and Death Situations

Juggling is considered by many to be a difficult skill to learn. Juggling on a stage in front of a paying audience puts even more pressure on a juggler. But there have been examples throughout time of individuals who chose to juggle under dangerous circumstances in the hopes of that doing so would be advantageous. Let’s look at some of these examples.

Xiong Yiliao

Xiong Yiliao of Shinan was a famed warrior who fought under the Chinese King Zhuang of Chu, who ruled from 613 to 591 BC. In addition to being a fierce warrior, Xiong Yiliao was described as a talented juggler. During a battle in about 603 BC between the states of Chu and Song, Xiong Yiliao stepped out between the two armies and juggled nine balls, distracting the Song troops long enough for the Chu army to launch a surprise attack and routed the Song army. Other accounts say that the Song troops simply fled at the sight of such unbelievable skill.

Xiong Yiliao


Taillefer, the minstrel of William the Conqueror, is said to have performed a juggling trick with a sword at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, tossing and catching it in amazing ways to taunt the opposing English army and then using it to kill an English soldier who rushed at him. Other accounts say that it was a lance rather than a sword and that the English soldier was merely watching the display and was only injured. Taillefer, in most accounts, was killed in the battle.

Taillefer juggling his sword

H. V. Kaltenborn

Hans Von Kaltenborn was a famous American radio commentator whose career lasted over thirty years, starting in 1928. As a youth, he taught himself to juggle balls and wine bottles and perform simple balancing tricks. These skills would later get him out of some serious trouble, as the following clipping from the January 1945 Jugglers’ Bulletin described.

H.V. Kaltenborn

Billy Hayes

Billy Hayes was an American arrested in Turkey in 1970 while attempting to smuggle hashish out of the country. The story of his incarceration and eventual escape from prison was the subject of his autobiographical book Midnight Express and the Academy Award-winning movie by the same name. The book recounts that Hayes would sometimes juggle to entertain his guards and fellow inmates in order to avoid beatings and harsh treatment.



David Cain is a professional juggler, juggling historian, and the owner of the world's only juggling museum, the Museum of Juggling History. He is a Guinness world record holder and 16 time IJA gold medalist. In addition to his juggling pursuits, David is a successful composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and singer as well as the author of twenty-six books. He and his children live in Middletown, OH (USA).

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