Thursday, March 12, 2009

yo-yo #34: san fran-era no jive

as it happens, this is the oldest yo-yo in my collection (i don't really collect old yo-yo's).

dr. tom kuhn began making his no jive 3-in-1 yo-yo's in 1976. while this one isn't quite that old (early 80's), it does represent the fascinating era during which tom's bay area workshop/store was open. i received it from a good friend, chris hicks, at nc states last year. it's a little beat (not bad for 25+ years), but played great after a bit of tinkering.

i've been rereading "jurassic park" by michael crichton, which was my favorite book in 10th grade. i've always been really into dinosaurs and i wanted to be a paleontologist for the longest time. that said, the character i was always most "taken" with was the mathematician, ian malcolm. when i was in high school, his expansive soliloquies kind of introduced me to the concept of "responsible" science. most of his prolific monologues serve to highlight the failure of technology to control nature, and humanity's incessant compulsion to improve upon the world, not for the sake of "truth" or legitimate gain, but for "accomplishment". discovery for the sake of discovery.

reading one of his later, morphine-induced ramblings, i thought of yo-yo's and the idea of what's really "improved". it's lengthy, but i'm going to type it up anyway:

"You know what's wrong with scientific power?" Malcolm said. "It's a form of inherited wealth. And you know what assholes congenitally rich people are, It never fails."
Hammond said, "What is he talking about?"
Harding made a sign, indicating delirium. Malcolm cocked his eye.
"I'll tell you what I am talking about," he said. "Most kinds of power require a substantial sacrifice by whoever wants the power. There is an apprenticeship, a discipline lasting many years. Whatever kind of power you want. President of the company. Black belt in karate. Spiritual guru. Whatever it is that you seek, you have to put in the time, the practice, the effort. You must give up a lot to get it. It has to be important to you. And once you have attained it, it is your power. It can't be given away: it resides in you. It is literally the result of your discipline.
"Now what is interesting about this process is that, by the time someone has acquired the ability to kill with his bare hands, he has also matured to the point where he won't use it unwisely. So that kind of power has a built-in control. The discipline of getting the power changes you so that you won't abuse it.
"But scientific power is like inherited wealth: attained without discipline. You read what others have done, and you take the next step. You can do it very young. You can make progress very fast. There is no discipline lasting many decades. There is no mastery: old scientists are ignored. There is no humility before nature. There is only the get-rich-quick, make-a-name-for-yourself-fast philosophy. Cheat, lie, falsify - it doesn't matter. Not to you, or to your colleagues. No one will criticize you. No one has any standards. They are all trying to do the same thing: to do something big, and do it fast.
"And because you can stand on the shoulders of giants, you can accomplish something quickly. You don't even know exactly what you have done, but already you have reported it, patented it, and sold it. And the buyer will have even less discipline than you. The buyer simply purchases the power. The buyer doesn't even conceive that any discipline might be necessary."
Hammond said, "Do you know what he is talking about?"
Ellie nodded.
"I haven't a clue," Hammond said.
"I'll make it simple," Malcolm said. "A karate master does not kill people with his bare hands. He does not lose his temper and kill his wife. The person who kills is the person who has no discipline, no restraint, and who purchased his power in the form of a Saturday night special. Ad that is the kind of power that science fosters, and permits. And that is why you think that to build a place like this was simple."
"It was simple," Hammond insisted.
"Then why did it go wrong?"

not "high literature", i'll grant you. but reading that book was probably more important to the development of my world-view than any number of "classics". it's funny to me, because this passage applies to everything (certainly not just "scientific power").

how often do new yo-yoers pop up on the boards asking "which yo-yo should i get?" and from these innocent questions, how often does the debate arise as to whether a "n00b" ought to buy an unresponsive metal? there's always the side saying "get an 888! best yo-yo out there!" and then there's the side that says "get a freehand and a bunch of stickers. response will teach you good habits." neither statement is really "wrong", but the reasoning resonates with the passage above.

i've said any number of times that in the past, if you wanted to be a good yo-yoer (here meaning "if you wanted to do cool tricks well"), you had to pay for it; and not with money, but with time. you had to put in hours, months, years to be able to do anything with a yo-yo that would stop sidewalk traffic. those years naturally weed out the individuals who are of weak discipline, who aren't willing to put in the time, to whom yo-yoing really isn't all that important. it's like the monks who were required to sit outside the temple for a week before gaining entrance. if you can't take it, it's not for you.

now, anyone can learn to bind in a day and throw minute-long combos in a month. they won't "look good", but it remains that at least technically, that which was once the realm of ludicrously-impossible fantasy can now effectively be purchased. like the malcolm passage states, the danger is that the purchaser will be conned into believing that he/she has arrived at true skill without having to work for it at all. you could put a yo-yoer who's been at it 3 months on the street, tell them to do some tricks, and they could get some positive feedback, maybe even draw a crowd if they have any ability to perform. i'm not saying that's "unfair", because when i was young it was "so hard" or something. i'm saying you have to be careful not to be deceived into believing that purchased skill reflects something special about you. it does not.

you still have to put in the time, just as much as you would have if you came up throwing this archaic 3-in-1. the tricks have changed. the style has changed. the degree of skill necessary to "be perceived as good" may even have changed. but the degree of work required to "actually be legitimately good", most assuredly has not.

1932 world champion, harvey lowe just passed away. played yo-yo for around 80 years. do you believe, for a second, that because you can do "rancid milk" and he couldn't that you're a better yo-yoer than he was?

i was surprised to see how few people i've talked to even knew who he was before his death, but then, the yo-yoing community has a brief memory. 2001 is "old school". no one talks much about the old masters who traveled the country literally building the foundations of yo-yoing upon which we [ignorantly] stand today. how much do you know about where yo-yoing comes from? it's not just history. yo-yoing's place in the fabric of american culture (and so our introduction to it) didn't develop of its own accord. it sprung from the WORK of the old demonstrators. from their miles on the road, their cutting kids' strings, their monumental dedication. it's a gift, and though part of our passage has been paid for, it becomes our responsibility to appreciate the "roots" of this art.

when you've dedicated yourself to playing yo-yo for years, even when it's hard (ESPECIALLY when it's hard), your skill starts to become more valuable to you. not that you become an egomaniac, believing you're more skilled than others (in fact probably LESS so). but the discipline you developed in those years truly begins to improve your character, if you'll pardon the cliché. it makes you a better person in a way that simply being able to perform a long trick after a short while will never do. all arts are this way. NOTHING of value is easily obtained. ever.

let's look at another, shorter malcolm quote from the same book:
"What advances? Malcolm said irritably. "The number of hours women devote to housework has not changed since the 1930s, despite all the advances. All the vacuum cleaners, washer-dryers, trash compactors, garbage-disposals, wash-and-wear fabrics... Why does it still take as long to clean the house as it did in 1930?"
Ellie said nothing.
"Because there haven't been any advances," Malcolm said. "Not really. Thirty thousand years ago, when men were doing cave paintings at Lascaux, they worked twenty hours a week to provide themselves with food and shelter and clothing. The rest of the time, they could play, or sleep, or do whatever they wanted. And they lived in a natural world, with clean air, clean water, beautiful trees and sunsets. Think about it. Twenty hours a week. Thirty thousand years ago."
Ellie said, "You want to turn back the clock?"
"No," Malcolm said. "I want people to wake up."

what have the advances been in yo-yoing? sure, we have ball bearings that can spin for minutes by accident. we have recessed silicone response that enables wraps and mutations that once would have just represented effective snag recipes. our tricks are longer and more complicated. but do we really play yo-yo "better" than people did when this yo-yo was still new on the shelf of tom's workshop? has the quality of our play, our approach, or our character truly improved? are we more satisfied than we were 30 years ago? are we happier when we play? there have been advances... but do they matter?

i'm not trying to say that innovation is a bad thing. remember that the no jive 3-in-1 was, itself, tremendously innovative. but innovation has to be responsible, as do we consumers, in remembering that no matter what we are able to do now, or in 20 years, it's only the effort we put into our play that yields anything of value.

i'm also not one of those curmudgeons or jealous-types who gets irritable when they see a ten year-old with a catch-22. it doesn't matter to me what kind of yo-yo you throw at all. but it should matter to YOU. would i be happy starting off with an expensive, unresponsive metal yo-yo? no, i don't think so. i like things to be kind of hard, especially at first. it doesn't make me better than anyone else to feel that way. some people really like to have the "best stuff" out there. if buying a gold skyline as a first yo-yo will compel you to PLAY IT, then that was a better choice than a 2-sticker freehand that you'll put down in a week from frustration and knuckle-bruises. i'll never recommend an unresponsive metal to someone starting out, but if that's what they gravitate to, awesome. i'll keep playing my wood yo-yo's and be happy with that. it truly takes all kinds.

regardless of what you play, i think it's important that you recognize that you're no more of a yo-yoer than whichever kids have handed this old no-jive through the past 3 decades. all of us collectively make up the tapestry of yo-yoing, and no matter what yo-yo you want to buy, whether it's the newest, super-hyped, painted-titanium, ceramic kk'd, tour de force or a relic from a bygone era like we see here, it's still just going to be you throwing it. without you, it's a nice paperweight.

it's you that matters.

1 comment:

plebeian said...

nice one ed.

thank you