Monday, July 4, 2022

i forgot to blog.

sorry... i mean... if you've been anxiously awaiting a written account of how my 2nd year throwing a single wooden fixed axle yo-yo is progressing.

if not, then, i guess... bonus!

like the lego movie, everything is awesome. as i mentioned a few months back, it's surprising how little i have missed my other throws. they sit patiently, locked within their strange little airlock/museum of a display case, and i can count the number of times i've missed throwing them on a couple of fingers. (mostly i'd just like to toss a no jive.)

i am beginning to think it's reflective of a change in my attitude toward throwing more than anything else. i really haven't thrown as hard this year. maybe that's not the right way to say it. more like: i haven't been as consumed with the idea of progression. i took some time to look back at some of my tricks from the last few years, and had a pavlovian response which was a combination of stress and fatigue. i chased some really hard (for me) trick ideas for awhile - years! it was worth it to me then, and it is still, but i'm in a different place as a thrower lately. this year has definitely been more about playing DEEP than going hard. i'm filming sessions way less, but i'm probably throwing as much as ever. but the emphasis has been on digging into a session with more intention (and possibly delight) as opposed to with a mindset of "seeking".

it's weird because, while i've always preached an attitude of contentment as a yo-yo player, for 15+ years or so i've mainly been about trying to break ground or push outward into areas i haven't seen. not that those things are mutually exclusive, but there's always been an undercurrent of compulsion driving my playing. it feels strange to have largely shed that this year. strange, but great - i'm spending a lot more time shooting moons, spinning varials, and stopping go's than trying to push anywhere.

i was at the beach last week, and one morning i was out in a lineup which was almost entirely older guys (and yes, i realized i AM one). everyone out there was so chill. the waves were all waist-high or smaller. there was plenty of room, so no one was worried about space. pretty much every good turn or long ride had the lineup hooting and cheering each other on. those sessions are always so much more restorative than the ones where you catch a legitimately "impressive" wave or strive valiantly to push yourself forward. not so different.

the deHcade is holding up great. i've barely had to change the axle and while i'm not tossing it against brick walls, i'm definitely not babying it. i hope colin is doing well. i know he was pretty burned out in terms of making wooden yo-yo's and it was time for him to focus on other stuff. still really appreciative of how he and andre supported me for 10 years of eH yo-yo's.

much love everybody.

Monday, March 7, 2022

all is well (... TOO well?)

i kinda thought i'd be feeling it by now.

like honestly, maybe i was really "caught up" in the whole thing last time, or else i was somehow unintentionally aggrandizing the act of using a single fixed axle yo-yo for a year. but like... big deal? it's now mid-march, and this has been positively EASY.

my cabinet full of unused yo-yo's is nice to look at, replete with shiny aluminum or painted wooden throws, but it hasn't been remotely tempting. i feel like that's a good thing in general, right? surely, it's preferable to feel content with throwing the same woodie every day, as opposed to desperately wishing i could grab one of my precision metals? but part of me is also aware that this could easily be the end of that part of my yo-yo life and it would be totally alright. in that regard, it almost feels like it SHOULD sting more.

part of it is undoubtedly due to the support of other players. when i did this in 2012, there was almost no one else primarily working on responsive throwing, let alone fixed axle. it was a much more lonely road. this year (even having given up instagram), i feel really connected - particularly through the fixed axle discord server. even if those folks aren't throwing fixies every day, there's always a running trick dialog, people asking for help on this or that, people musing over the "state of yo" which is such a big part of throwing fixed... it's a lot easier to go through this process with some group therapy lol. 

fixed axle february came and went, and i was able to throw a fun little contest on the yoyoexpert forum. i set 7 tricks to serve as "gates" and players had to hit them on video in order to enter a random drawing for a deHcade yo-yo. the tricks weren't impossible, but they definitely weren't easy either, so it was rad that 16 people entered. brian datz from canada won the random drawing, and andre will send him pretty much the last deHcade he's got. when the month ended, i was asked if i'd be doing another one for march. i hadn't planned on it, but said "sure", so you've got another chance to try if you're up for it! i can't offer any more deHcades, but i'll find something rad to give as the prize. 

which brings me to a bit of a bummer. 

i got an email from colin a few weeks back. he was in the process of turning the latest run of deHcade, and he realized upon preliminary testing that essentially all of his pieces were bad. apparently the tooling he had made to produce the yo-yo's (and specifically the axle threading) has deteriorated or otherwise failed. fixing that requires re-making the tooling which would be costly, in terms of time, work, material and expense. whether colin is up for that at some point in the future remains to be seen, but in the short term it means that there's probably not another run of deHcade coming. from my perspective, colin/tmbr has done more for fixed axle yo-yoing (and especially manufacture) than anyone since tom kuhn. he most definitely does not owe the world another wooden yo-yo, and i'm 100% only grateful that i got to work with him on the stuff we (he) did. but i also know how much people love tmbr and that the deHcade demand outstripped the supply, so i wanted to be transparent about it.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

where you come from & where you go

it's so gratifying to watch something you've cared about grow. 

definitely true of children, and I suppose also cats, guinea pigs, or house plants... and (incredibly) also of yo-yo styles.

i'm running a little giveaway thing this month (it being Fixed Axle February). basically i developed a somewhat arbitrary trick-list and said i'd randomly draw a winner from those who filmed themselves hitting it. people like yo-yo's, so i guess i did assume a few people would try it, but i wasn't actually prepared for the feeling of seeing other players stoked about hitting stuff like varial and bird. in fact, even just people asking for advice about them has been cool.

it's interesting that with the 0a scene having collectively enjoyed a bit of a hiatus from focusing energy on fixed 1a tricks (being hard at work in establishing whatever it is that the 0a style is becoming), stuff like split the atom represents a fairly significant challenge, even for some experienced fixed axle throwers. i remember visiting steve brown one year when he was doing street performances in virginia beach and i was just getting into fixed axle. he made the point that after yomega changed the game with the influx of transaxles, it was hard to find a player who could hit split the atom on an old woodie like the demonstrators of old.

that conversation (along with several with jack ringca about exploring the limits of fixed axle throws) was definitely a catalyst for me. ~17 years later i don't think about it in quite the same way, but at the time it was important to me to somehow retain the stoicism of the players who toiled to master tricks before bearings (or the internet) provided solace. i couldn't fully retain that, of course, but i DID put in  work, and wonderfully pointless though it may be, the canonical skill set i developed in those years feels like something worth maintaining.

in jazz, you need to know the rules in order to break them. in the last decade, 1a has represented "the rules" and 0a has developed as a counterpoint by focusing on trick elements which are better suited to responsive and fixed axle yo-yo's... but i confess the idea of developing skill in 0a WITHOUT jumping through string-trick hoops on fixies is something i never really thought about. like if we were effective in developing a style of yo-yo that people wanted to play, a benchmark of success would be that they start to learn it independent of the context and references it came out of. charlie parker understood the style of lester young, and consciously threw it out to make his own style. ornette coleman did the same with charlie parker. a generation later, you had saxophonists seeking to sound like ornette without having gone through the same process with regard to his stylistic predecessors.

and that's ok - it's inevitable, and it's how style evolves. it's really interesting to think about what i have ignored, as opposed to what's influenced me. watching players hit the tricks for this contest, it's even more interesting to consider where the players watching THEM will take the style next.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

it's supposed to be hard

merry fixed axle february, everybody! 

it's funny to realize that "faf" has been a thing for so long now. i remember it's first upstart incarnation and the contests which sprang from it, as well as the original "fixed friday" tags used by nathan martsolf. (while we're on the subject i remember the first time i saw a "trickcircle" on insta... when the term transitioned from an informal contest hangout to ray g and sonny using it to post awesome 15s content. it's weird to have watched elements of our microculture evolve from curious anomalies into foundational pillars of our communication.

2/1 also marks the end of my first month of this little journey. it's almost eerie how little i've missed throwing bearings (or even a diversity of other wood throws), especially given that i walk past my locked display case every day - a strange yo-yo time-capsule in my dining room. 

i make it a point to throw a little every day. i'm not sure if it brings me back to myself or gets me AWAY from myself. maybe either, depending on the day. but it's nice to know which yo-yo is in my pocket and to feel more accustomed to its shape and texture each day, along with the way it spins and responds.

one of my kids at school asked why i always have the same yo-yo lately and i tried to explain it. their response was "right but why, when you have 100's of yo-yos would you only play that one?" the idea of self-imposed restriction in such a frivolous context just doesn't compute. why make it harder on yourself? if you have every kind of surfboard, why would you restrict yourself to just one - and one of the hardest to ride at that? (maybe to make it more about the wave and who you are in relation with it? maybe to settle more deeply into your understanding of what it MEANS to ride a wave?)

i've frequently made the point that fixed axle yo-yos are naturally a bit unpredictable. a bit fickle... sometimes downright difficult. you have to put a lot of attention into them just to execute the simplest string tricks while keeping them from snapping back at you. and i see those aspects of it as a tremendous benefit because they force me to be more PRESENT and they force me to grow. but i'm often guilty of neglecting the fact that some players (most players) play yo-yo to ESCAPE things like difficulty, frustration, and chaos. they have enough of that in their day-to-day lives. if your outlook is that yo-yoing is supposed to be for fun, then the idea of intentionally making it more difficult or intentionally restricting your access to a single difficult yo-yo - at least at first - can seem downright dumb.

meanwhile if your yo-yo is a more of a meditation tool... if tricks are places you go to be honest with yourself... if you're trying to get closer to the forces which govern reality and brush up against failure and frustration, where to hit the trick you have to kind of disappear into it... then a fixie is where it's at and the idea of focusing on a single one might not feel so strange. electric guitars don’t need to pull the strings hard across the instrument’s top to produce an audible sound. so you can set them up to play with almost effortless ease… but if your goal is to HEAR the air inside an instrument explode as the tones are created, then you have to embrace all the mercurial difficulties of an acoustic instrument. nature of the beast.

and the thing is, you CAN start to feel peace in the midst of difficulty, just like (as i mentioned in the last post) you can find space in the limitation. you CAN interpret the signs of progress through the frustration. the failure starts to feel less like something to be afraid of and more an integral part of the process - a teacher. i would never claim it’s more meaningful - it’s just the journey i’m on.

wishing one and all a lovely fixed axle february. 

throw hard and love each other.

and hey if you haven't already seen it, i'm running a little contest all month long on the if you can hit the 7 tricks i've listed on video and post them in the thread, you'll be entered into a random drawing to win a DeHcade yo-yo! the tricks aren't super easy, but you've got time. 

(and a little difficulty is ok.)

Friday, January 14, 2022

space to feel free

merry fixed friday, everybody.

every day is fixed friday now, but it still feels special. It's also pizza night at my house, so that helps.

two weeks into the adventure. that's 1/26 of the way for the math folks who like to simplify. so far the idea of "missing" my other yo-yo's feels absurd. i've gone two weeks playing just one woody by accident before. plus this one plays killer. i'm definitely enjoying the break-in process. it's funny because you only take a few weeks to prototype a yo-yo you're going to be using all year. and unlike metal, you know wood is going to CHANGE throughout. So the best you can do is 1) guess using your prior experience, and 2) DECIDE to be ok with however the yo-yo matures.

feels like we guessed right so far. i walked home from dropping Silas off at the bus stop today and decided to shoot the moon. made it the quarter-mile home without even needing to correct - the moon basically shoots itself with this thing.

i was stoked to get to do a little podcast conversation with my good buddy Doctor Popular last week. we chatted about the history of the eH, the point of the year-long commitment, and general reflection on what fixed axle & 0a yo-yoing have become. we agreed that it's incredibly awesome and strange that while it once felt that almost all worthwhile yo-yo tricks were on the verge of having been conceived, NOW it feels as though even with the most "primitive" of yo-yo's, there's an untold universe of creative space out there. what a time to be alive!

the last two weeks have also been interesting because i kinda gave up instagram, which had previously felt like my most significant window of connection with other yo-yo's, and certainly the primary means by which i shared yo-yo tricks. i ditched it (at least for now) for 2 reasons. first, as a medium, i think it's inherently kind of garbage. you look at things, you like things, and it pays close attention to you and feeds you more and more of what you want. sounds innocent, but it amounts to information gluttony designed to prevent you from setting it down and encouraging you to reach for it as often as possible. add to that the fact that we humans find little more addictive than looking at each other and feeling as though we're not "enough".

secondly, i just despised my own reaction to it. i'd post a yo-yo trick, ostensibly because i enjoyed it and thought it was cool, but even if i TRIED to ignore it, i'd catch myself being interested in how it was received by other players. creative DIALOG is important. but me getting a dopamine hit from someone i hardly know commenting "🔥" is not creative dialog. even worse, i'd feel compelled to post a trick every few days, even if i hadn't been working on anything in particular. maybe ANY excuse to play yo-yo is a good excuse, but whatever feeling drives that compulsion to share feels gross and inauthentic.

it's kind of funny to listen to the insecure voice in my head saying stuff like "but almost 5000 people care about what you share" or "this is your only way to stay 'relevant'" or (most nefariously) "the way your style developed and has been received owes a lot to this medium". in truth i anticipated some kind of epic struggle with ditching it, but it was less a bang than a whimper. and i'm not trying to evangelize anybody about it - i just always advocate questioning your own processes and behaviors. only resolve to make changes if the answers you come to are STUPID.

it's been a nice few weeks. and anyway, it's not about being "better" so much as being present. being cognizant of (if not in control of) my own thoughts, actions, tendencies, etc. it's funny because so much of this year could feel like it's about exerting more control, when actually it's meant to tweak the conditions to grant me space to feel free.

anyway, happy weekend. it's supposed to snow sunday, and i just CAN'T resist walking the dog on new snow, so the hydrophobic properties of Colin's all-natural wood finish MAY be tested. :)

Thursday, December 30, 2021

here we go again...

a little more than 24 hours out from the start of the new year and a new journey.

i feel like i should have more trepidation or mixed feelings than i do. (i remember this from last time as well.) probably, i've just spent so much of the past few months anticipating the whole thing and discussing the design and release of the deHcade that the advent of 2022 is (almost) an anticlimax.

but that's also kind of ideal. i'd really prefer the march toward the mundane to be accelerated, because the point is to experience one fixie as my everyday. getting past the newness and excitement of it being "a thing" is part of the goal.

in terms of "newness" though, it's definitely interesting to compare the original eH from 2012 with the deHcade and see the ways in which it's circled back (pun intended).

most obviously, the guts have changed. when steve buffel and i discussed the initial eH, being able to do challenging string tricks was paramount. although i was doing plenty of stall-based stuff, a lot of it was used to weave together typical 1a elements. as a result, the og eH had a pretty wide gap (3mm) and low response for a woodie. as it broke in, the dimpled response didn't provide a ton of grip, and i usually had a totally dead duncan sticker in there to add some traction. when we produced the 1st tmbr eH, the gap got 0.5mm narrower and those holes got deeper and sharper, eliminating any need for stickers.

like the past few eH's, the deHcade's gap is 2mm at the axle. i asked colin to incorporate a version of the deep negative recess on his most recent fremont because i liked how it played. it's aggressive and can take awhile to break in, but i love the effect on response and control.

although the deHcade has an added 1mm of diameter, it's lost that twice that in width compared with the original. this drops the mass from 57g to 52g. again, that reflects a sea change in the type of tricks the 0a style really focuses on. the deHcade handles stalls, regens, flips, spins, and stop-n-go's with considerably greater ease than the original, which prioritized spinning play.

the defining feature of the eH has always been the profile of the "shoulder". from a sharp corner at the outer hub, there's a flat section which has varied by 1-2mm through the various releases before the inner hub curves toward the response. this facet has a specific tactile "flavor", and to me is what has kept the eH feeling like the eH. you really feel it on varials, balances, and fly-away somersaults.

anyway... the new year looms.

i'm not thinking of this as a resolution. i don't believe throwing fixed axle is actually "ideal" or that the 1-yo-yo-for-a-year thing reflects some lasting change i crave for myself. it's just the start of a journey - one i've walked before, but the trail grows in over a decade. it's the yo-yo equivalent of a long retreat into the mountains. when i come back out i'll have changed, but every year changes us - on some level every throw does, too. a lot of this is about HOW being intentional with what i throw affects my outlook and experience.

one thing I know going into it this time around is that come new years eve 2022, I won’t be able to encapsulate that in a pretty post.

see you on the other side.

Monday, December 27, 2021



it's weird to be back on this blog.

honestly i had no idea how to access it, but of course google makes it all too easy. just the idea of "blogging" feels about a decade old (or more), which is appropriate given the subject matter here.

10 years back, i was gearing up for my first real fixed-axle endurance experiment. one wooden yo-yo for one year. it was a thing. i'll invite you to scroll back to the entries from 2012 at your leisure.

i'm not big on numerology or the importance of anniversaries or anything like that. anytime someone asked me about repeating the 1-fixie-1-year thing, i kind of responded that it was a great experience, but i'd already done it. however, as we approached this year, and as andre, colin and i talked about a possible eH, it became more and more clear that i really did want to go back to the well and throw myself back into a single wooden yo-yo for 2022.

there's lots of "why's".

by nature, i'm someone who is most at home stripping away complexity. i have 300 or so yo-yo's, but deep down, i'd like to be someone with just a handful. (i'm also nostalgic and i attach memories of people, places, and experiences to my yo-yo's, which is why i HAVEN'T gotten rid of them en masse.) fixed axle throwing (and what i've come to think of as 0a) is also the most authentic approach to yo-yoing for me. there's no technology or moving parts to hide behind, you get feedback on clean or sloppy technique IMMEDIATELY, everyone from serious throwers, purists, luddites, cats, and kids understand and appreciate it. and even more - hidden within its limitations is an entire universe of creative space.

i also want to reflect on and remember the first journey and feel the contrast. even before 2012 i was into throwing fixed hardcore. but a lot of it was about the challenge. i'd hit gyro flops or kamikaze, or else invent new 1a tricks on wood and feel accomplished. but playing with fixed axle's strengths (stalls, regens, stop n go's, flips, balances, early grabs...) all felt really nascent and the implications were just starting to hit me as 2013 approached. this year it will be impossible to ignore the context of the past 10 years - to see the arc (as well as the future) of the weird style my friends and i have tried to establish.

there's also an elephant in the room which it would be easy and less awkward to ignore: spirituality.

fixed axle has become almost a religion for me. (i find it obscene to talk about that stuff because it generally distills to our personal life experience, but it's also really tied to why i've stuck with this). the "state of yo" may have started as a punchline on the smothers brothers, but the experience of being utterly present in play - caught in the space between wanting desperately to hit the trick and being blissfully unaware of it - has changed me over the years. i've spent so much time in that quiet space that i can go there immediately, yo-yo or not. when i'm really playing, i fall away and drop a lot of the bullshit to which i often cling. i want to know more about that state and that dichotomy, and i access it easiest with a wood yo-yo in my hand.

i promise i'm not trying to evangelize anyone. if i felt the universe unlock while i was baking artisanal bread or stacking rocks on the edge of a river, then that's what i'd be doing for 2022. so i guess partly i'm doing this to realize (or remember) just WHY i'm a yo-yo player.

the deHcade turned out great. it imbues and synthesizes SO many qualities of the various releases we've done these past 10 years, and yet it's also a brand new thing. new width, new diameter, new crazy response groove... and yet the same old wonderful feeling. All the eH's have had a certain curve on the shoulder which has just felt perfect. i don't know what kinda voodoo colin's got, but i'm pretty sure he could whittle that inner rim to hub from memory by now. it's s a strange and sacred line.

so yeah. 1 year with this yo-yo. starting in like a week.

my dad asked if i was going to try to throw all my other yo-yo's in advance. not really. i'll toss a few. kind of a goodbye. kind of a high five. and then i'll put all of em into my IKEA display rack, lock it, and hand my 13 year-old the key to hide until 12/31/22. it's one day at a time until then. one throw at a time. but newsflash: it's only ever one throw at a time. each throw its own strange eternity.

thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 20, 2019


ups & downs, throws & catches, stops & go’s, sleepers & stalls...
a responsive yo-yo player lives in the state between stillness & motion. in the space between wood & cotton. in a paradox; a contradiction. 

our tricks transcend clicks - adding up to zero, and yet invaluable. occupying ephemeral moments, which we give our complete attention... then immediately forget. 

we become the tricks, the infinite instants - perpetually born, dying, regenerating... we sit within the turning wheel; at the serene center of a spinning universe.

in learning how to make the perfect yo-yo, we forget why. in learning to win, we forget to play. our throws become prayers for return… to low fi & no jive. 

butterfly & imperial, retro & modern, simple & technical, a tribe & individuals... 

our lives are shoved around, buffeted by dualities. we throw, losing track of where down ends 
& up begins.

*i wrote the original version of the somewhat self-serious, overly-poetic, manifesto-esque text above for doc pop's "stringburn" zine. i still like it.

0a was once casually used to describe "1-handed looping tricks" - the province of yo-yo novices before being initiated into the arts of 1a (string tricks), 2a (2-handed looping), or the a's beyond. over the last few years, the fixed axle and light responsive yo-yo's which once lent themselves to basic, foundational tricks have become the vehicles for a modern responsive renaissance. stalls, regens, stop n' go's, kickflips, and shoot-the-moons are being synthesized into an updated trick lexicon - a new take on old hardware. individual craftspeople and established companies are contributing new yo-yo designs optimized for tricks which have no hope of winning formal contests. in light of these developments, the combined modern responsive and fixed-axle style is taking back 0a - not as a contest designation, but as a counterpoint or counterbalance. throwing yo-yo with the only goal being goallessness. discovering weird trick ideas just because they're there, with zero to gain from them but enjoyment.

don't get me wrong, i love watching my friends crush routines on stage and get rewarded with trophies and medals. i love 1a. i love all the a's. i've just got no a's to give. 

i'm lucky to have been made to feel successful in yo-yoing without ever being any good at what's... uh… good. the best content i've come up with has either been done on antiquated, vibey, concrete-chewed wooden throws or else on modern 1a ones i've obstinately treated as the same. players like me need a style built upon a joke - one which can handle being simultaneously cosmic and comical. one built on the tradition of kids messing around with silly tricks on schoolyards, which resists being judged (unless by friends, and with shoes). a style which works as a way of play AND a way of life - seeking the State of Yo in the same way old skaters searched for Chin. i don't know whether 0a can feel this way forever, but i'm grateful for what's it's been and what it’s become; for the players whose shoulders it stands on, and the ones who keep it alive.

plus, bryan figueroa made a sweet spaceshippy 0a icon, so now we have to have a style...

Monday, April 28, 2014

yo-yo #100(!) - Play Simply No Jive

100 yo-yo's! yay!
i'll grant you it's really a totally arbitrary milestone AND several of these posts have embedded two or even three yo-yo's at a time, but whatever... clearly, i'll accept any opportunity to feel psyched up about myself.

actually though, this IS a significant one for me. i began this blog with my first tom kuhn 3-in-1 no jive yo-yo, and though i've gone through so many other amazing pieces which have inhabited my collection, that really still is the most important one. it doesn't do anything special, it's a little beat and honestly, it's kind of hard to make it do "cool stuff". regardless, it happened to be the yo-yo i was throwing when i began to fall into my own style (whatever that is).

i really fell in love with the unembellished simplicity and modesty of the no jive from the first throw. and since then i've worked on and off to put my own stamp on it (both metaphorically and now, physically). i've tried to hit some hard stuff on it. i've tried to come up with some new moves that work BECAUSE of its limitations, rather than in spite of them. and i've accumulated a pretty staggering collection of no jive variations (my wife would probably call it pathological). this one makes 75.

for anyone who gets excited about yo-yoing, there will have been that one model which you just see as "classic". typically, it'll be one of the first models of which you were aware - maybe the imperial you first saw at toys r us or the dark magic you saw in the video which first got you hooked. regardless of its specifics, it becomes the central icon around which you build an understanding of what yo-yo's are and what they are for. that's how i feel about the no jive. though it wasn't the first i owned, i think of it as the penultimate "simple" yo-yo; the best thing we collectively came up with before yo-yo's (and yo-yoing) got complicated. mind you, i have no problem with complicated - some of my tricks are pretty complicated. but i've always had this need to stay tethered (so to speak) to the idea that yo-yo's are basically toys - meant for fun. rancid milk is genius in its obfuscating angular geometry, but so is shoot the moon in its carefree simplicity.

when i learned that i could go ahead with the idea to make a small run of personalized no jives, i really wanted it to be something that would fit with what i loved about the yo-yo from the start. in 2012 i did a video i called "play simply" to commemorate the end of my year of playing only the spyy "eh", the title of which was adapted from the patagonia slogan "live simply" (patagonia was cool with it and even threw the video up on their website). i used to have an aikido instructor who insisted that "simple doesn't mean easy". at the time, the distinction was lost on me, but now that i'm older i come back to it often.

alot of the hardest things i've ever done (with yo-yo's or without) have been fundamentally simple and clear. there isn't really too much technique involved in dropping into a bowl or overhead wave, playing through a lead sheet, or blasting through an attack with irimi-nage. with each of those, the key is to commit and be present. 360 flips are great, but i've met a lot of guys who have have them dialed and won't drop in on 8ft. similarly, would anyone argue that charlie parker's "ornithology" more meaningful than miles' "flamenco sketches" because it's got more notes? with love to bird (who could also play slow, i know), sometimes i wonder whether the function of complex technicality is to distract from the fact that we're conditioned not to see the value in the simple stuff. it shouldn't be surprising. our culture is imbued with the olympian mentality of "faster, higher, stronger" (by which we've really just come to mean "more"). and though that attitude has taken us to the moon and bought us many wonderful appliances, we've paid for it with, among other things, sunsets devoid of contrails and the time necessary to appreciate them.

this past xmas, my dad gave me a cool little gift - a wooden yo-yo from yosemite featuring an engraved image of the park icon "half-dome". yosemite has got to be my folks' favorite place under the sun, and the yo-yo was given to suggest it as a destination for an upcoming family trip. personally, i just really liked the natural scene on a wooden yo-yo, and a week or two later i had a vague idea of what i wanted on the no jive. i sketched out an embarrassingly bad concept on what was basically a napkin, and it was immediately clear that i did not have the skill-set necessary to bring this to life. so i did what anyone needing some sweet art for a yo-yo would do - i hit up my pal jason week!

after some back and forth, jason took my shoddily-conceived idea and made it legitimately special. he included nuances i would never have thought of, like taking an actual profile of me playing from my instagram and incorporating a palm tree as a nod to the traditional carvings of yo-yoing's past. he kept the semi-circle motif that calls to mind the original no jive logo and made the suns rays look less like a citrus cross-section and more like the old starburst mandalas. he took my crappy attempt at a breaking wave and made it look at once like a little a-frame i'd like to surf AND a tiny version of the hokusai wave on my arm. even the no jive lettering on the sand evokes the original classic font. tl;dr: jason week is amazing, and he took this from being a pipe dream of mine to being one of the raddest looking yo-yo's i've ever seen.

despite all i say on here, i do tend to overcomplicated things - thoughts, processes, motivations - to the end that i become very inefficient, confused, and forgetful. i get caught in cycles worrying about the silliest minutia while neglecting the fact that it's a beautiful day or forgetting to put on pants. i spent a lot of my early life trying really hard to be good at specific things, and placed virtuosity above what is fundamental. as i get older, i'm starting to feel at home with the basics, and their importance is more apparent. after playing mostly fixed axle for almost a decade, i think i'm starting to get a pretty decent throw. i'm starting to get a sense for what the yo-yo will and won't allow me to get away with. most importantly, i'm starting to understand my own thought processes while i'm playing.

since i first met it, throwing the no jive has helped keep me grounded. i can't hit anything on it without giving my full attention to the moment. i love that it comes from maple trees like i've got in my yard, and that it has exactly one moving part - it. it's nice and quiet, and i can throw at night without bothering anyone. yeah wood has its inconsistencies and that can give you a little vibe, but tuning it up like i do one of my ukes is part of my routine and part of the fun. plus, you know what else has some inconsistencies? me. you know what else has a little vibe? the frickin universe (see post below). embracing those qualities is way more fun than seeking desperately to escape them.

when i throw wood, i really try to kind of come back to myself - by which i guess i mean that i try to play for the same reasons as before i "learned to play". i try to go outside or on my porch and feel the yo-yo on the string and take joy from it. i try to let go of the distinction between me and the yo-yo. or the breeze. or the rain. maybe i do hard stuff or maybe i do easy stuff, but i try to keep my mindset clear, and though there's no fear of a concussion like there is at the top of a skate ramp, i try to commit and give myself to a moment in the same way. when you've been playing awhile and made connections with other players, it's hard not to tack something onto your playing; experiences you've had, tricks that have given you trouble, people you miss, times when you've felt profoundly successful or unsuccessful. i cherish yo-yoing, and the feelings and memories i associate with it, and though i don't seek to forget that stuff when i'm playing... i do try NOT to hang on to it, which, for me, is what the phrase "no jive" has come to mean.

thanks again for reading any of these blog entries over the last few years, and i hope you dig this particular yo-yo. if so, i have a few of them, and you can get one here:

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 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.