Thursday, July 29, 2010

yo-yo #80: OLD filligree mandala

the other day, my good friend (and yo-yo superstar) jensen kimmett, showed me a video of a pair of bearded brothers from new york who run a chocolate business. now, i love chocolate, and it must be understood that they probably could have talked about anything... or even just hooted and grunted... and i still would have enjoyed the piece. however, jensen introduced the vid by suggesting that these guys are 'the CLYW of chocolate makers', so naturally i paid special attention to their approach to chocolate so as to discern his meaning. and i'm glad i did.

to save you from the need to watch the video (which i think you should, because it's neat)... the mast brothers don't just make as much chocolate as they can and get it into every big-box store possible. rather they take pride in making a little delicious and unique chocolate agonizingly slowly with care, they select the best cacao beans and painstakingly wrap the bars they make in thick, artfully decorated butcher paper. they're even planning a sailing trip across the atlantic to scout out new sources of the precious beans. the way they view chocolate is refreshing. they see it as a CRAFT; as a worthy expenditure of their time and energy... as a lifelong challenge.

it got me thinking about the make-up of our yo-yo world. i'm proud to be a yo-yoer for many reasons. however, i think that one of the most clear of these is the dedication to 'the craft'. we live in an age where 'craft' has become an anomaly. just a few generations ago, whatever devices upon which you relied upon, you needed to thoroughly understand so as to keep them working. the lakota on the prairie HAD to understand the crafts associated with turning a living, breathing bison into tools, shelter, and food... or else he had none. the 18th century blacksmith worked long hours over a sweltering furnace, handling rough tools from which most modern hands would shrink... not just to express his artistic spirit, but to provide for himself, his family, and his village. understanding one's craft was, until very recently, essential for any productive member of a society.

i think that, in this world of decadent convenience wherein we find ourselves, yo-yo players and makers feast upon our respective crafts, self-indulgent though they may be. you do not truly need to master a craft today to get along. in fact, devoid of incentive or clear reward, most people don't. you can spend your day in a cubicle selling policies you barely understand, pick up kfc on the drive home, fill your car up with gas that 'magically' pours from the pump, and fall asleep watching television in air-conditioned comfort... and society will tell you that you're 'doing well for yourself'. (consider, i don't intend to berate people who choose to live their lives in such a way - just to intimate that you don't need to 'do' or 'make' much today to be 'a success'.)

in part BECAUSE of this truth, we are entering into an age where one's craft holds a new and invigorating value. in a society where it's not 'necessary', taking something seriously and putting the full measure of one's energy to it reveals a quality of thoughtfulness and patience that can seem alarmingly outmoded. perhaps BECAUSE we have dissociated ourselves from 'where our things com from', well-made, hand-crafted objects are now enjoying a renaissance. selvedge denim, fitted wool caps, artisan beers, 'crafted' chocolate... it feels somehow edgy and rebellious to dedicate one's self to a craft. and in this age of brilliant machinery, it's exciting to handle a thing made with real, human care.

this example of the beloved no jive 3-in-1 is the 'filligree' mandala. though i don't have exact dates, it was made at some point in the 80's, features the standard 'take-apart' construction that was introduced by the model, and is probably the most stunningly engraved yo-yo i've ever seen (the more modern version of the same engraving hardly even looks like the same model). i prefer a yo-yo like this one because you can really see what went into it. this particular model is made of beautiful, aged hard rock maple. although beaten to a pulp by unforgiving years, it still spins beautifully, and the care, depth, and precision of the engraving makes it a true heirloom (to me). the hex nut has been overtightened a bit (something i know how to fix), and it could use some tuning. but then, so could we all. it certainly isn't a perfect throw. any genesis-armed teenager at a contest would probably scoff at this old woody's vibe following 'the fingernail test'. like any take apart wood yo-yo, you have to blend with it, find the sweet spot, accept its flaws (as you do your own). and like any fixed axle, it's not going to allow you the luxury of time in executing your tricks. you've got now - best to use it.

in a world that values function over form, it's an anomaly. but like the mast brothers' chocolate, this kind of yo-yo isn't necessarily meant to be 'a consistent' product. in fact, in some respects, it's meant to be the opposite, since the medium is inherently inconsistent. this, however, brings into relief its authenticity. this toy was turned back when tom ran the old san francisco workshop. he did it not for wealth or glory but for the simple love of the craft, and of yo-yoing. that truth alone makes a yo-yo like this a legitimate joy to play. when you care about a thing enough to inject your own meaning into your craft, you give something great and intangible to it; you soak it with an energy that does not dissipate with dings or chips or rotten days. i won't call it 'soul', which players love to attribute to their favorite throws... but it can make YOUR soul to want to burst from its shell while playing it.

though tom no longer makes new yo-yo's, we're truly blessed to be part of a micro-community that still brims with this attitude. a look at virtually all of the smaller manufacturers right now reveals a set of truly dedicated craftsmen, each ready and willing to put something of themselves into the beautiful toys they make for us. while not all hand-turned, the degree of attention put into planning, machining, and testing these yo-yo's will ensure that they're remembered as the heirlooms of tomorrow. support them and say thanks.