Thursday, July 29, 2010
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.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
here's a yo-yo - a good & evil 2: poison. i've always liked this yo-yo.
ok, now that we've got THAT out of the way... i'm always intrigued by others' motivations for playing yo-yo. i'm big on the idea of awareness, and performing a sort of ongoing, live mental-autopsy on myself has become an ingrained habit. i've got a lot of 'extrinsic' reasons to yo-yo:
• i get a lot of attention (way more than i feel i deserve, actually).
• it's kind of offbeat and interesting; people like asking about it in line for coffee or what-have-you.
• kids love it.
• i can do it 'better' than other people.
• i can acquire lots of shiny things.
by and large... all of those reasons stink for me. momentarily comforting though they may be, i see gaping holes in all of them. if, on the path of yo, you use some combination of those as your 'compass', i think you'll get lost and get really, really tired of it. now, you may not see it that way, and i actually do appreciate that. i recognize that i don't speak for anyone else and i don't mean to preach... but i mean... you know me; i am anyway. (and i'll probably use too many semi-colons in the process.)
as awful and incomplete as i find those 'most apparent' reasons to play, i actually do see a number of reasons that ARE valid, and i aim to concentrate on those for a minute. being a yo-yoer IS awesome and worthwhile, and when i try to break it down (which is itself, a difficult and possibly counter-productive task), i come up with the following reasons to supplant those previously mentioned.
• the players: yo-yoers represent a really interesting cross-section of world culture. and while you get people from all kinds of backgrounds and with all sorts of differences, their passion for this ultra-specific mode of expression is a common thread (so to speak). over time, i've developed friendships with a lot of the perceived 'elite' yo-yo players (no, that is not meant to signify 'elitist'), and by and large, it's just fascinating how fully their talents permeate their personalities. most awesome yo-yoers aren't just awesome yo-yoers; they're multi-faceted people - artists, musicians, incredible dads, athletes, aesthetes, philosophers, designers... yo-yoing is something they happen to share, but expression just seems to leak (or blast) out of their every creative outlet. when yo-yoing is just one aspect of a person's makeup, it's so much easier to prevent burnout. i think the 'creative drive' is what i tend to find so compelling about 'yo-yo people' (more so than the yo-yoing). understand, i don't view yo-yoers as a reason to yo-yo in terms of some facebookian attitude of 'friend collecting'; rather the people can help you to view YOURSELF as the multi-faceted individual you are, and as a creative force. when you decide to place yourself not OVER other yo-yoers, but rather AMONG them, they possess the capacity to make you better, as a player and as a person.
• the tricks: i can absolutely lose my self in the tricks. note the "_" between my and self. when i'm throwing yo-yo, and really putting my energy into it, all of the interlocking preferences that i build my self into on any given day just tumble to the ground like misplayed jenga blocks. i don't care how my hair looks. i don't worry about being able to afford the new kicks i think i want. i don't t fuss about that co-worker who grates on me like a medieval hairshirt. i. just. throw. everyone needs something like that. it's available in virtually every pursuit - i just find it in yo-yo tricks. you need to find solace from your self ('a vacation from your problems', to quote 'what about bob'). it's no wonder at all that people who play yo-yo 'compulsively' and worry about 'the quality' of their play get really tired of it. they're allowing their selves (needs, wants, and haves) to keep bashing away at them as they play. maybe those folks should try knitting (i mean that seriously, with absolutely no offense intended).
• it's hard: it's supposed to be. while i wouldn't advocate for yo-yoing as a manifestation of roosevelt's ideal of 'the strenuous life' (hi, artofmanilness.com)... it's good to do things that you find difficult. yo-yoing revolves around the concept of overcoming difficulty. i CAN understand this hold. i WILL hit this trick. i AM going to learn two-handed loops. embracing yo-yoing means embracing that which you cannot yet do, which causes you to recognize your own weakness and inferiority. that realization only punishes those who would otherwise believe that they are great and strong. for a mature person, the recognition of our travails and ineptitude becomes fuel for growth. you don't just do it to collect and acquire tricks and paint them like little bombs onto the fuselage of your life. you do it to discover what you're made out of.
• it happens everywhere: sometimes i refer to my yo-yo as 'a temple in my pocket'. by that i mean you have access to the best part of yourself... always. a professional baseball player only gets to really, truly manifest his art and science on game day (and he needs a ball and bat, 9 friends and a big open field to do it). a great surfer needs a decent wave and a board (the former being frustratingly few and far between). you need virtually nothing to access your self while yo-yoing. a finger. a string. a yo-yo... maybe a pocket would be a nice. people gripe a lot about how much yo-yo x or y cost, but in comparison with essentially ANY OTHER HOBBY, yo-yoing remains delightfully accessible (particularly in the modern era where a cheap yo-yo can still do essentially everything). you don't even have to give anything else up; in fact you shouldn't! one of the best aspects of yo-yoing is its capacity for 'cross-pollination'. i imagine that the fact that the most incredible exponents of the art are also great at other endeavors is no coincidence. being a great painter HELPS you to be a more complete yo-yoer. understanding the rhythm of music HELPS you to understand the rhythm of a trick. it's not required that go off and live in monklike isolation working on yo-yoing all day long. not only will you burn out; you will suffer a worse artistic death - your yo-yoing will stagnate like some hidden, uninhabitable sulfuric pool.
• there is no finish line: you will never know everything. you will never be able to do every trick. you will die ignorant. embrace this. CELEBRATE IT, because it represents your most basic essence; the pulp of your humanity. not only is there always something new to try (some trick, some style, some variation)... it's always as evident and close-by as the next minor mistake. my wife says that 'boring people get bored', and it applies well to yo-yoing. if you can't see where to take your yo-yoing next, then you need to step back. our lives amount to picking a direction and walking in it. we have to choose, and our choice dictates the conditions of the next set of choices. make a choice and get walking.
we're people, and every person is out to 'get something'. if you've spent years forging yourself into a dominant yo-yo player (or a dominant forum entity), some part of you expects to 'get something' for your efforts (yes it does, liar, don't deny it). but whatever you think it will get you... pales in comparison with what you get if you find a way THROUGH that acquisitive spirit. to re-phrase: in letting go of trying to 'get something', you actually get something more valuable. your yo-yoing is suddenly 'on your side', and you don't need to fight with it. you don't need to slog your way through tricks so you can finally pass 'expert' and work on 'master'. you don't need to grope at people and convince them to subscribe to your youtube or mention you in the 5-daily 'favorite player' threads that constantly illuminate the boards. you don't need to worry about what you've got (respect, toys, attention, skills) - cause you've got all you need.
the [near-impossibly idealized] trade-off is... you have to recognize that in truth, you are a very small thing; at most a particle of yo-yoing (and of the world). you have to let go of the attention and praise (or lack thereof). you have to perceive that while your yo-yoing can reflect all that you perceive, it's not the only mode of expression available to you, and that obsessive overuse can lead to artistic ruin. you have to relinquish your grasp on all of the accoutrements and trappings that we HANG on yo-yoing, and become secure in the faith that just playing as you do and progressing as you can... is substantial and meaningful. (yeah, good luck with all that - to me as well.)
in the words of the immortal bard (by which i mean anthony kiedis), 'give it away, give it away, give it away, give it away now... i can't tell if i'm a kingpin or a pauper.'
Thursday, July 1, 2010
i intended to write about something that i've since forgotten about. that's the kind of thing that happens when you strike yourself about the head with blunt objects.
not a yo-yo this time, actually. i AM getting used to my new loop 900's, but so far i haven't slammed myself with those. i've punched myself in the nog with pretty much every manner of yo-yo. probably the worst 'kablam' i've taken came at the hands of a galactic goose while filming some lame trick to show to drew and seth. that noise still haunts my dreams. i actually don't hit myself with loopers too much, and when i do - well, it's not like they've got a lot of mass. alas, no, tonight's round of self-inflicted trauma was performed with a sword... fortunately (for me) it was a wooden one.
when everybody goes to sleep around here (especially in the summer), i like to go outside to my 'dojo' under the oaks and work out a bit. back when stacy was in residency, she worked regular 30-hour shifts, so every other day, i didn't see her, and when i did she was too exhausted to do much more than ingest a few bites of rice krispies before passing out. in those days, with a three year-old daughter, i rarely made it out to my dojo, so the backyard became one. though our quality of life is exponentially improved now, training out back is a tradition that is too ingrained to neglect.
when i was little, i was afraid of the dark. i remember being terrified, not of grotesque monsters or nightmares... but of the dark itself, and its capacity to produce any sort of terror. i now understand that i was also afraid of the quiet, and of the fact that when enclosed within the night's silent blanket, you are utterly alone... with yourself. over the years, i have conscientiously flooded those fears by learning to sleep outdoors, by sitting outside in total, unforgiving blackness, and to some extent, by these rounds of 'night training'. if you're going to root out the splinter of your selfishness, you're going to have to spend a lot of energy exploring your fears. i'm working on it.
there is something almost narcotic about training alone at night, especially with a weapon like a sword, which is such an anachronism with regard to modern life. alone with myself (not unlike a child in bed) i find myself confronted with ideas with which i'm not always comfortable. like yo-yoing, it's become a way for me to communicate with myself, and once you've had some measure of that, the pull to continue is irresistible. i'm sure it's the same with runners, or people who paint those little metal soldiers, or what-have-you.
so tonight, i was performing a few basic sword katas from aikido, and probably pretty badly. my mind was jumping all over the place. i think i was vaguely imagining some romantic visage of some of the old aikido masters whom i hold in highest regard, performing these same kata on their own, refining their respective spirits (just like me, right?). and finally, in a moment of precient, merciful serendipity, i imagined that i shared a secret with those great masters: that out here, cutting through the night with a sword, there is clearly more to life than the mundane...
it was at that precise moment that my left hand slipped from the hilt of my bokken, the released pressure causing the back of the blade to swing around and nail me right above the left eye. it didn't hurt. i wasn't cut or anything... but the blow to my pride felt momentarily significant. there i was, acting like i had something in common with these 'great masters', when i obviously can't even handle the damn sword properly. what a doofus!
but in the next moment, it occurred to me that the blunder had nothing to do with my left hand, but with my state of mind. what sets the 'masters' apart, in every discipline, is focus. we say 'kime' in aikido (though i have no idea what that actually translates to); the concentration of the mind on the task at hand. sometimes it's wielding a sword. sometimes it's slicing zucchini. sometimes it's playing with a silly little spinning toy. my problem was that my mind was on other people, doing other things, outside of my control or influence... and i got whacked on the head for it. i'm thankful, because if i hadn't, i might have kept training with that mindset, which would have been a waste of a beautiful summer night...
i was swinging this oak sword around, with the implied idea that the night was somehow something MORE than what it was; MORE than life itself. but there is nothing more than life itself... or at least, nothing that i get to understand here and now. 'the fire cannot see the ashes,' as they say. the fleeting idea that there should be something 'beyond' the mundane betrays what an absolute beginner i am at life. in truth, the only thing that sets any 'master' apart as 'great' is his or her utter devotion TO the mundane. when you're holding a sword, don't ponder the mysteries of the universe... JUST HOLD THE FRICKIN' SWORD!
it's the exact same thing with yo-yo. how many thousands of times have i been 'idly' playing, my mind bouncing between faraway thoughts like a hyperactive cricket, only to pull into a glorious snag, yanking the yo-yo back prematurely into my knuckles? it happens especially often with a yo-yo like this: the team losi cherry bomb.
the brainchild of yo-yo renaissance guy, steve brown, the cherry bomb was the 2nd ball bearing yo-yo i ever played (after the raider). my girlfriend's little brother (now my brother-in-law) bought one at toys r us and showed it off. i immediately hated it, but only out of envy. it was way cooler looking than the raider. by that point though, i hadn't caught on to the whole 'butterfly shape' thing, as it would interfere with my mediocre loops. the losi line were among the first to feature an adjustable gap (albeit, it was only adjustable due to a pair of o-rings in the guts (a la the fast 201). still, it worked pretty well, and the cherry bomb allowed a level of string play for which i was not-yet ready.
the thing about c-bombs is that they break in pretty quick (way more so than the renegades which supplanted them as the dominant tool for y2k string-trickery). until they do, however, they will punish your knuckles like ruler-swinging nuns on a pack of truant, angus-young-clad schoolboys. for the first few days (or forever if you keep the gap small), EVERY TRICK requires your immediate attention, and the yo-yo is totally prepared to chastize you should you not comply. after awhile, the c-bomb feels kinda like a pet doberman. sure it could snap at you, but you've kind of learned that for the pair of you to get along... you just need to present and attentive. most yo-yo's out there today are nothing like that. for the most part, there is no break-in period. there is no punishment. we've grown to like our yo-yo's soft and cuddly and forgiving. i'm not saying it's a bad thing - but the lessons of the cherry bomb are lost on many.
is that a bad thing? are those lessons still relevant? i think they are. learning to play yo-yo with focus and care changes the way you approach all yo-yo's. when i'm throwing my shiny new, massive-gapped pro, it's easy to hit obscure, experimental, multi-layered tricks... but it's also easy to 'look away'; to go through the motions and play with a perfunctory, half-absent attitude. i know i'll hit the trick. there are no consequences, or even much in the way of communication between the thrower and 'the thrown'. throwing the same tricks on a cherry bomb is different. even if i'm absolutely present, the wind might blow funny and everything might snag into delicious oblivion. the trick is fragile; in perpetual jeopardy... not unlike life (though we trick ourselves into believing otherwise).
if you're going to play, play utterly. completely. totally. as though the string is the only thing separating heaven and earth. withhold absolutely no measure of yourself and your joy... and maybe in equal part, your pain. don't fuss about what it means or symbolizes. it means you playing with a yo-yo, and that's all. the nearly impossible task; the challenge for a lifetime... is recognizing that that right there is PLENTY. that the mundane IS the mystery of the universe.
people talk about how yo-yoing is meditative, and i guess it can be. but i think you have to be careful with the words you choose. personally, i never want yo-yoing to be transcendental. i never want yo-yoing to represent an 'escape'. for me, it's just about playing with 'the truth of the moment', which is at once a very light-hearted and yet absolutely serious thing. the universe is transient. i know i only have so many breaths and i may be one poorly-considered left-turn away from the last of them... if i'm going to use one of those moments yo-yoing? best believe i want to put everything i have behind it, and that includes not only my high-powered equipment and muscle memory (hi k-strass)... but also, most critically, my focus.
in today's world, you can buy the app, and then... you have it. you can refer to it whenever you need to make that perfect carbonara or check the map of reykjavik (i spelled that right first try!). but there is no app for real understanding. there is no app for kime. people are so used to the rhythm of 'buying and having', they want to say 'i understood once, so i understand now,' but it doesn't work like that. you have to keep trying to understand; keep bringing the world into focus; keep feeling the simple magnitude of the simple, the trivial, the everyday. it's not just in the great and romantic moments where we design our character... it happens as we brush our teeth or take out the garbage. the power and meaning of yo-yoing are not only available in the moment when we finally hit that elusive trick or win worlds... but also in all of the misses and tangles and string-burnt snap-starts that tie our tiny glories together. you have to keep inventing your understanding in every throw. the beauty is... you'll never run out.