Monday, January 27, 2014
yo-yo #99: anti-yo fluchs
if you could reach deep into your brain, among all of the thousands of words you've collected during your life as a verbal, literate (i'm assuming here) human being, which one word would you most WISH described your playing.
you don't have to answer that. it's the same for almost everybody. and due to its universal application to both awesome yo-yoers and awesome yo-yo's, it is probably in the top 10 most frequently-bandied words used on any given yo-yo forum. the word, of course, is smooth.
some people want to play fast like mickey. some people want to play slow and stylish like jon rob. but everybody wants to be smooth. and everybody wants a smooth yo-yo, which is made complicated by the fact that almost nobody agrees on what that really means. i've said before that i want my playing to reflect the universe in which it happens. well, matter (and maybe existence, itself) is pretty much composed of vibration. even an inert yo-yo sitting on a table is crackling with vitality; the atoms, electrons, quarks, muons and gluons which compose it chasing each other around in a frenetic, chaotic, and somehow symmetric dance. the tiny world inside a yo-yo may really be just as random, weird and UN-smooth as our own macroscopic lives, but it's all relative i guess (yuk yuk).
just a few years ago, the community saw even expensive luxury metals released which would earn that ultimate death-knell moniker in forum reviews: wobble. this yo-yo, the anti-yo fluchs, was cursed with such a label (at least by some), which went on to haunt its creators, sonny patrick and kiya babzani for years. the fluchs was released on christmas, 2004, right around the time i fell back in love with yo-yoing for my 4th (and present) obsessive wave. by the time i was aware of it though, it was sold out, and i didn't actually get to play one for almost a year, when i traded tricks in a durham parking lot with a local player with the user name "creek". even he said the fluchs wobbled, a sentiment echoed throughout the dave's skill toys review page and at extremespin.com. regardless, i was still a month away from receiving my bare bones and g&e2, and this was by far the coolest yo-yo i'd ever played.
on the anti-yo website, there was a brilliant anecdote describing a western cowboy's conversation with a barkeep about the fluchs's "charles & ray eames influence" and it's unique slip-matte finish. anti-yo was about the coolest yo-yo company that ever was, and the fluchs has maintained a well-deserved cult following, due equally to its story, its aesthetic, and its play.
i got this particular all-pink one a few years later from nick correa, the modder known as feralparrot, who incidentally invented the "schmoove" mod which was applied to doc pop's version of another anti-yo in yes, absolutely's "the end". (if that sentence makes sense to you, congrats - you're a yo-yoer.) i have it set up with some old red baz pads and a clean half-spec bearing. as you can see, the fluchs featured a super-thick dif-style axle with the bearing coasting right over it. anti-yo applied some white plumbers' tape (basically, sticky caulk) to dampen vibrations since the threaded taps are just a hair too thick for the axle. i've played a few shaky fluchs, but most of them were just great, and this one plays downright awesome. it's quite smooth indeed, but what does that even mean, right?
obviously, most players discern the smoothness of a yo-yo by the amount of disruption they feel. since around 2008 though, when yo-yo bearings and (more importantly) bearing seat design became nearly standardized, we've seen a precipitous drop-off in the number of un-smooth yo-yo's out there. it's almost to the point where new metal yo-yo's hardly need a review; they all mostly play the same. of course there are little variables which still matter (profile, wall, gap, weight distribution), but the quality of play and consistency is in a whole new ballpark compared with when this was released a decade ago.
these days, it's expected for your yo-yo to be the smoothest thing out there, and if you nail it against the cobbled sidewalk, eliciting some untunable vibration... it might be time to shelve that sucker in the case-row reserved as your "yo-yo cemetery".
i kid. as evidenced by the fact that this is the 99th yo-yo i've mused over, i've played a lot of shaky, wobbly throws. i've come to the conclusion that, unless you are completely inept or incapable of focusing on anything BUT your yo-yo's vibration... it really doesn't matter that much. most PEOPLE are a lot more shaky than the toys they complain about. if you're a good pianist, for example, you can still play a crummy old upright piano. certainly, you won't sound as "good" as you do on your beloved steinway, but what does that mean? maybe it's out of tune... so play it like thelonious monk, seeking out the notes BETWEEN the keys. maybe the bass doesn't carry at all... so play songs which allow you to HAMMER with the left hand. someone who understands how to play, and just as importantly WHAT to play, can direct their tools toward the use for which they are most suited.
we've all got our preferences, but if you require a "dead-smooth" yo-yo to make your play seem alive... you're doing it wrong.
what will always matter more than how a yo-yo plays is how YOU play it. your yo-yo can stagger and shake like it's undergoing electro-shock therapy, but a good player can make it LOOK as smooth as nickel-plated butter. and playing smooth is easy. you don't even have to agree on what it means. just WATCH the players who you think are smooth and do what they do. talk to them and dig into their understanding, which inevitably informs their playing.
i always get hyped up after watching sid seed (rodrigo pires), one of the most impossibly smooth throwers alive. he just seems like he was organically grown in some free-range alien farm to be the ultimate yo-yoer. one time i asked him about one of my tricks, and his response was "in a trick like that, don't stop the yo-yo when you want to change its direction". that, to me, sums up sid's playing perfectly. he makes it seem like the yo-yo just WANTS to go where its going. just on its way, holding its little bindle (that folky satchel-on-a-stick thing), a rolling stone blowing in the wind of sid's fancy. similarly, doc pop's "alpha style" was pretty much the beta version for what would become modern "smooth 1a". and the philosophical underpinning of that style was simply to minimize stops and starts; to keep the yo-yo moving.
after you've tried desperately to emulate the players you find smooth, what should you do? clearly, you should watch the players you would not call smooth and re-evaluate your diagnosis.
two good examples are john bot and drew tetz, admittedly two more of my favorite players (and dudes). in my opinion, neither of them are particularly smooth in the way most people use the term (at least most of the time). both of them CAN play very smoothly and have certain tricks that highlight that, but they also bounce around a lot. they'll make quick, angular, erratic movements or snatch the yo-yo out of the air. some of their tricks can have a downright sketchy (even spazzy) feel to them, but there's more than one way to be smooth. one thing that always kills me about those two players is how fluidly they move between ideas. look at john's picture trick story-sequences or drew's movements from stall to stall in "crisis". and i'm not talking about the physical movements, but the mental ones. to do those tricks, your brain has to ooze dynamically from mount to mount and hold to hold in a way that is the quintessence of smooth. any interruption and you will overturn that dumptruck, miss that kickflip or drop one of the 8 string segments you're using to build starfox, and the whole idea will collapse. we assume that being smooth means looking smooth, but it means BEING smooth, and those guys are smooth as hell.
you can be smooth outside and smooth inside. you can be smooth in the way you throw a sleeper. in the way you iterate through mechanical repeaters. in the way you catch the yo-yo. you can be smooth in the way you build a trick... or a routine... or an event... or a relationship... or a lifetime.
to me, being smooth is about continuing on with intention, and APPEARING to be smooth is about communicating that feeling to an audience. our tricks are composed of ideas, and presenting those ideas (to others or just ourselves) so that they flow seamlessly and make sense is the basis for aesthetic yo-yoing in general. sometimes maybe those ideas are meant to be janky and abrupt. other times they will be light and fluid. smoothness is about CARING that the trick will go well and investing in it, but not so much that your mind gets attached and entangled, sacrificing the next integral motion. it's about practicing such that your physical being has learned and forgotten the specifics on where and when to act, and your mental being is always willing to embrace change.
when you get down to it, smoothness is mostly just yo-yoing in the way you want to yo-yo; which is seated in being comfortable with the good and the bad of who you are, what you are throwing, and why you are playing.