Global Times: Where’s the Catch

Today there was an article about Fede and the juggling shop in the Global Times. It is a very nice article. Here is a copy:

Where’s the catch?

Source: Global Times April 27 2010

fire poi on the street in Beijing

Goodness gracious… fire poi on the street in Beijing. Photos: Matthew Jukes

It looks good, works as a form of meditation, and can push your body beyond its natural boundaries. Although China may have been one of the first places it started, it has now been all but forgotten. But, there’s always room for change. „My idea is that juggling will have the same evolution as break dancing in Japan and Korea,“ said Federico Moro, the man with the balls to keep the Beijing jugglers running.

Already a well loved hobby, and in some circles a professional sport in the West, juggling can be anything from the simple act of tossing a couple of lemons around to passing six sharp objects at speed across a stage. Quite simply put, it’s moving around a number of objects that exceeds the number of limbs you’re using to do it.

Here in Beijing it’s limited to a group of people who meet up on a Monday night. Strange fortune perhaps, as China was possibly one of the modern ancestors of juggling, albeit with swords.

Zen like

In the depths of Yugong Yishan, normally renown more for its music than strolling players, Moro, shouts out. „Anyone can do it!“ and „It’s just like riding a bike!“ This encouraging shout normally means a lot of sheepish grins as most of the novices in the crowd look down at the sea of dropped juggling balls around their feet.

„Everyone can do three balls. Everyone is able to do five balls; everyone can do six or seven balls,“ explained Moro. „The whole point is the amount of time you are willing to put in.“

He insisted that all you need to learn how to juggle is two minutes of lesson, and then 10 to 20 hours of practice on your own. The more you’re spending scrabbling around on the floor to pick up dropped objects, the better. The idea is to keep swapping which hand you start throwing with, and to enter into the rhythmic zen like state which keeps three balls in motion just in front.

At any given meet up, the group can include newcomers, hardened pros and even the odd visitor just stopping by to keep in practice.

„I’ve been juggling for eight years,“ said Koert Van Eijk who had come over to visit a member of his family in their place of work. „It’s my first time in Beijing, I thought I’d give it a shot and I found this group very close to the hotel,“ he added. As an avid jongleur, he’d even brought his own balls. Van Eijk is used to the juggling clubs in Amsterdam, where visiting enthusiasts pop in for a quick practice.

Mind and body

Making it sound casual and easy is all very well after several years of practice, but it’s also good for the brain, as much so as meditation, and good for the body, in the same fashion as martial arts.

„Juggling is my meditation,“ said Moro, who studies and connects mind and body movements as part of his project the Body Foundation. He’s now been juggling, and practicing the diabolo for around 10 years. „What I’m doing gives me the tools to do things in a different way. These tools are a good way to read yourself.“

The skill set may be similar to martial arts, with reflexes, dexterity and con-trolled movements which develop with practice. But there are fundamental differences, most importantly for Moro, the lack of „martial“ in the arts.

„You don’t have to think about attack and defense,“ said Moro, „and there’s no hierarchy involved.“ He believes that both things detract from the body’s ability to learn, for jugglers you pick up the tool you want to practice with and work from there – no belts and sashes needed (unless you really want to).

The group in Beijing practice on the whole for fun and despite the obvious novelty as a party trick, and the fact circus skills help attract the opposite sex during festival season, China hasn’t branched into the pro circuit just yet.

Beijing Jugglers Monday Workshop

Just like riding a bike. Photos: Matthew Jukes


„At the first workshop I really loved it, but I never expected my legs would be so sore,“ said Michelle Yu, a newcomer to the group who had been dashing about madly to pick up the balls. Like many hanging around the hall, she’d been brought by word of mouth to the workshop. „I really like it and want to practice and improve my skills; it’ll be a lot of fun when I don’t have to keep picking up the balls!“

Standing off to one side, so as not to injure anyone, the poi spinners also wander down to the Beijing jugglers, long term residents and visitors alike. For those who’ve never seen it, poi are a pair of wires with small weights on the end.

„It’s China! I just had to come and see this place!“ exclaimed Ruben Valas, who’d been entertaining people, and more dangerously distracting motorists outside with some lit fire poi. He’d been traveling, but had met Dave Cooper, a member of the group in a bar and had come down. Cooper’s chosen tool is the devil stick, another Satanic sounding form of juggling done using balanced sticks.

„I picked up devil spinning at Glastonbury in 2004. Everyone can do three balls but no further. I just messed around a bit today devil sticking the festival away…“ He was only too happy to put on an impromptu performance for a local travel channel that turned up to film the group last week.

The different forms of object manipulation practiced by the Beijing group all have their own unique style, and aesthetics, but the processes are essentially the same. You’ve got to be on your toes (hands) and stay focused to keep everything airborne.

„Of all the sports of we can imagine juggling is the one which improves the most connection of synapses in brain,“ said Moro. „Switching between left and right, left and right, the two sides [of the brain] keep working at the same time.“

As a general rule the jugglers meet every Monday night in Yugong Yishan, travelers and passersby always seem to gravitate and share their experience and it’s normally an opportunity to see several different types of the art at the same time. If nothing else it gives the uncoordinated man on the street the opportunity to learn what they’re capable of and not get laughed at when their balls drop.

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