In this website I will attempt to describe various artistic club passing techniques so you can learn them, and I’ll provide hints to make these techniques easier. I’ve covered everything from the very basics of club passing to super-advanced stuff that you may think is theoretical only, although everything here has actually been performed by your author or others. Putting some of this stuff into English is not easy, especially if you are from Santa Cruz. Therefore, you may have difficulty understanding some of what I have written. But that’s OK, because if you screw a trick up, you have probably invented something else anyway.
In fact, many of these tricks are born out of accidents. When you maintain a playful attitude while juggling, you might see something that doesn’t work, but it will give you ideas. You may catch a club backwards, it may bounce off another club weirdly, or you may struggle to fix a messed up pattern in a unique way. These strange occurrences can be duplicated and made more visual.
If you do want to learn a trick precisely as described, refer to the terminology section often. I have tried to list the standard taxonomy of club juggling, or I have tried to standardize it, where necessary. You and I may not be using the same understandings of certain words, unless you look them up.
This website is aimad at advanced passers, although anyone who can pass will find easy and fun stuff mixed into these pages. In case you’re interested in artistic club passing, even though you’ve never tried it, you’ll find that the first section does teach the basics.
Initially, I thought I might sort this stuff into various counts, and complexities. But, I didn’t. I don’t think it would have helped. Instead, this material is presented in haphazard arrangement because I think you’ll find it more interesting, and because you can pick and choose without having to limit your choices by first deciding on a category.
I would like to suggest a different approach to artistic passing than you may use to learn your solo and show juggling. Instead of working on the same stuff over and over again to get specific improvements, enjoy yourself. Play! Be free! It’s not important to “get tricks down.” It is much more important to laugh and have fun. Do a trick once or do it a hundred times, but do it only when you feel like it. This allows creative freedom. It also teaches you and your partner flexibility regarding weird catches. Eventually you will perfect tricks by association. Learning one trick teaches another. I have seen people practicing shoulder throws very hard every day until they finally give up in frustration. Others, when adding a shoulder throw now and then as a suffix to a series of tricks, learn the same shoulder throw in about the same amount of time. It’s painless the second way.
About clubs: I suggest soft clubs of the European style because you are less likely to get hurt with a wrong catch, and you can more easily do knob balancing and bash tricks. For those who don’t know, European style is a type of club made from several pieces – a plastic club shell, an internal wooden dowel or plastic tube, rubber knobs and bottoms, and usually some tape to hold things together, for a better grip, and as decoration.
The other common variety is the American club. It is made from a single, hollow piece of plastic. American clubs are generally larger in diameter than European clubs. Because the American clubs don’t have rubber ends, they are more difficult to do tricks that require friction, such as balances. Keep in mind too, that most other passers will be used to European clubs and would have trouble with different
Most jugglers and especially club passers in America, and perhaps elsewhere, seem to gravitate toward Renegade clubs, available at renegadejuggling.com. Renegade makes normal and also very strange clubs. In order to match what other jugglers are most used to, you’ll probably want to go with ordinary design and dimensions.
The second most common clubs are Play PX3s – oddly also available at Renegadejuggling.com. These have a big advantage, and a big disadvantage over Renegades. The advantage is durability. A serious passer will wear out a set of Renegades in six months. (Later in this website, you’ll see some photographs of my current clubs, which are nearing the end of their lifespan.) The PX3s under the same circumstances will last for years. About the only failure I have seen, which I have seen unfortunately often, is that the screw that secures the knob will break, and the knob will fall off. The disadvantage is that the PX3s flex a bit, making accuracy, especially in any sort of bashing tricks, difficult.
Avoid the temptation to get clubs with dark handles. You’ll appreciate this advice after sunset when the passers using light-handled clubs can go fifteen minutes longer into the darkness. Should jugglers go into darkness? I don’t know.
I have not yet made a final decision for my own use, as to long or short handle size. Short handle clubs are easier to juggle for longer periods of time because there is less energy needed to accelerate them. They also hurt less if something goes wrong. Some people worry that short-handle clubs will not do body throws as well because you don’t have the same reach. This is not true because the reach is actually the same. (The question is: From where are you releasing the knob?)
I think I feel more control with long handle clubs, however. They go where you throw them more accurately than shorts. Long handle clubs are more standard. If you carry just three clubs to the park, and meet another juggler there, chances are the other juggler will have long handles. One thing I am sure of: head spins and regular kick-ups are less failure prone with longs.
Since this is artistic passing we are talking about, I would like to mention that you should strive to express every trick fully. A big arm circle is really a BIG arm circle, for instance. Try to remember your feet are not glued to the floor. Arsene and Mark Neisser are great examples of how much you can add to juggling with dance.
There have been some unwritten (until now) rules established to insure a good time and help prevent injuries. These are they:
* Better never than late. This means if you miss a pick-up or if you seem to stop juggling, don’t restart or throw a club late. Your partner’s attention may have already wandered, resulting in an trick called a face bounce.
* Try to throw a little bit outside when you are working on something that has limited accuracy.
* Never expect the juggling to stop. Nothing is more embarrassing than to stop juggling (such as to turn and pick up a club) and then perform a face bounce. It’s entertaining, but it hurts!
* Never throw a club until you know by eye contact that your partner is ready for it. Beginners often ask what you are watching exactly when passing. I watch my partner’s eyes more than anything else.
* Try to stay in the expected timing. Do not throw an extra club that your partner doesn’t expect.
* This is important: Keep your catching hand fully open. If you have your hand half open, you can get a direct hit on the end of a finger that will hurt. I’m sure you know this. Still, practice always keeping your fingers open, they will merely flex when hit by a bad club, and not get jabbed.
It seems to take about one year between learning to pass and getting so good that you almost never hurt your hands. Have patience, in time, hurt hands rarely happen.
* Learn to pick up clubs quickly. Partners get bored waiting for you to pick up.
* Some jugglers will just let a club drop rather than making an effort to get it. These are called Ken Catches, named after a fellow who figured it was the thrower’s own fault if a club was not placed properly in the ZOC, and that was that! Ken Catches are poor etiquette. Work on moving and extending your reach. In time you will be capable of fantastic saves. Try to learn early to catch upside down clubs and fix them, usually done with a 1-1/2 spin (1-1/2 spin in metric) self throw.
* When starting a new pattern, expect your partner to use the wrong timing, and you will soon be able to learn to fix it. If you are thinking four-count and your partner is thinking two count, you should be able to multiplex catch your way out of trouble. In the opposite situation, you can watch eyes, and throw late.
* Follow a pass that is especially short, long or outside with another similar throw to give your partner time to reach the bad throw and return to the regular position.
* Lots of beginners love the right-to-right double, called the “California Twist,” or more colorfully, the “California Dirt-bag Throw.” Avoid this because it is a pattern crasher. This will make it hard for your partner to complete big arm circles, flourishes, swings and other right hand tricks.
* There is a phenomenon that you may already be aware of, called Karlos Throws. Most beginners and some experienced passers have this idiosyncrasy. Karlos Throws are thrown from in front of your body instead of from the side. The clubs come to the catcher spinning fast, and sort of nervous. If the thrower brings the arm down near the side of the body there is more wind-up of the throwing arm which allows for greater accuracy and smoothness. This is because you get more time to accelerate into the throwing plane.
* When a club has fallen where your partner will have to move to pick it up, you should follow the partner with your passes, or perhaps with your entire body, so that the passer doesn’t have to move super-fast to get the club, and instantly return to the former position. So, if your partner has to back up ten feet (three meters), you can advance ten feet, keeping the distance between passers the same. If the club fell to the passer’s left, you can pass outside to the passer’s left, making life easier all around. If the passer has to squat down to get a club, and doesn’t seem able to get back up in time, you can pass low, so the catcher doesn’t have to make an extraordinary reach to maintain the pattern.
Taking it to the next level, if a club has fallen behind your partner, you can guide the partner by passing to where the club is. Experienced passers don’t even have to look around for a missing club. Their partners tell them where it is by passing to the right place.
The exception to following or guiding your partner to a fallen club is when you need to do inside throws to move a beginning passer to his right. He may surprise you and do a face bounce.
* If your partner is getting too near a wall, a pile of props on the floor, or any other troublesome situation, you can move the partner over by slowly throwing passes farther and farther to the right or left, or short, or long – whatever way you want the partner to move. The partner will move in the desired direction automatically in order to maintain the proper orientation to the passing pattern. (Beginners, however, will face bounce on inside passes.)
* You can work on tricks as your partner catches, the opposite, or you can both throw stuff at the same time. Ideally, you are both good enough to throw and catch anything, anytime. All this is good etiquette, but it is best to discuss your plan first.
* Remember that club passing is a social intercourse, just like chess, but more so. I still remember from my early days, passing with the ‘big guys,’ how easily I could be crushed by off-hand remarks about my throwing and catching, my stance, or my sense of humor (actually, lack thereof). The worst was the ultimate “no” when I asked to pass with a ‘big guy.’
I have passed with people who are so intent on showing me everything they’ve got, that I can’t get an artistic pass in edgewise. (In fact, I probably do that to others, but am too thick to realize it.) I have seen jugglers talking and acting crass when passing with or entertaining children. I have seen jugglers insist on two-count when their partner wants to do something else. I have seen jugglers break lights and mirrors, because they just didn’t have consideration for the space they were in. I have seen passers ignore members of the public who have questions or would like to learn something about juggling. We all know jugglers who exhibit some of these behaviors. We have all done some ‘wrong’ things ourselves from time to time. This stuff is not doing our sport any favors. So dudes, do your best to act right!
An “Albert,” named after Albert Lucas who has it down to perfection, is a throw that goes between the legs, but without lifting a foot off the floor. For this to work, you need to throw the club by the very end holding just the knob between thumb and first finger. Alberts can be thrown from behind the legs to the front or from front to back.
To do an Attack Catch, bring your catching
hand forward and meet the incoming club fast, before it has
rotated fully. You will have therefore caught it upside
down. This can also be done with solo throws. Attack catches are commonly followed with flourishes.
Many passing techniques involve bashes – hitting one club with another. Keep in mind that super-hard bashes to the middle of a club can break the dowel, and hard hits to the body, especially on a cold day, can fracture the plastic shell.
The “bashee” refers not to the catcher, but to the club that gets hit. The “basher” is the club that does the hitting.
Hold a club by the knob and swing it
around in the biggest hacksaw plane circle you can. This is usually done with the right hand during a left-to-left double-spin pass in two-count, or during four-count with a multiplex or demultiplex.
There are times when the best way to deal with an incoming club is to “body catch” it. This means you catch it in your elbow, or between an arm and the side or front of your body. Body catches are most often used to deal with simultaneous arrivals, but can also be an artistic move in themselves. To recover from a body catch, pass the clubs you are holding in your hands normally first, then let the body catch fall to a place where you can catch it in a hand. The most important thing in learning body catches is to stay calm.
The “knob” is obviously, well, the knob, the skinny end. The “bottom” is the fat end of the club.
Chops is the former name for Tomahawks. The name was changed due to ambiguity with an entirely different solo trick, also called “chops,” in which the juggler makes under-arm throws with rapid exaggerated movement as each throw is set up, resulting in what might look somewhat like martial arts ‘chops.’ So, for club passing, as computer programming manuals like to say, “chops” has been deprecated.
The most common passing pattern in the world, and perhaps the most artistic is often called “four-count.” It is also known as “every-others,” or just “others” since every other right hand throw goes to your partner. If you think about every throw from both hands, there are three throws between each pass, plus the pass itself, for four throws per cycle.
“Two-count,” in which every right-hand throw goes to your partner, also allows for considerable art, and it all seems faster to the audience. Two-count is also known as “showers” and “express.”
“Three-count” is a pattern in which every third throw, counting both hands, goes to your partner. This results in alternating passes from the right and and left hand. That 11.11 percent of the population who are left-handed (yup, that’s really the percentage) particularly like three-count because it levels the playing field.
“One-count,” also known as “ultimates,” or “onesies,” is a somewhat difficult pattern to learn. In this, every throw goes to your partner. To make it much easier, every pass can be thrown from low and inside, to be caught high and outside. By concentrating on low-inside to high-outside for every throw, you’ll find that throwing is not only more consistent, but collisions, which are otherwise common in this pattern, are avoided. You may notice that the three clubs on your right side never mix with the three clubs on your left. This is like two independent three-club passing patterns.
“Six-count” is rare. Every sixth throw, counting both hands, is a pass. This used to be taught to beginners as their first passing count, but as teachers, we have learned that two-count or four-count are easier for beginners. Six count will sometimes be used for patterns involving more than two jugglers, and it is the beginning of Three-Three-Ten.
Far more rare than six-count, we have “five-count.” This pattern is fun to play with, for a minute or two. There are four self-throws between each pass, resulting in alternating passes from both hands.
There is no limit to the number of counts you can have per cycle. In some large group feeds, you may run into eight-count or even twelve-count. Seventeen-count is possible, although I can’t think of a reason why anyone would want that.
To ditch a club means to take it out of circulation. Several techniques exist for ditching a club. You can place it between your legs in preparation for a crotch bash. You can set it or drop it to the floor, or onto your foot for a later kick-up. A nice way to ditch a club for a kick-up is to bring it behind your back, slip it between your legs, and let it drop or slide down on top of your foot, all in one smooth move. Or, you can drop it to the floor horizontally in front of your body, and as it lands, step on it, so it is trapped (lightly) under your foot.
The first throw when beginning is a pass – not a self-throw.
A flat is a throw with no spin. The club can remain vertical or horizontal in any plane. The throw can be of any height. Flats equivalent of single and triple-spins are common.
A pass, or way of passing in which the club goes higher, and spins more slowly than normal.
A flourish is any twisty-wrist-type maneuver
of a club that is done without letting go of the club. A
common flourish is started with an Attack Catch and then you turn your wrist in a small figure eight while holding the
club loosely. Inertia makes the club appear to rotate two
turns in your hand. You grip changes to a regular grasp as
the flourish is completed.
If you can imagine using a hacksaw, you can picture the front-to-back movement as it cuts down through material. This motion is occurring on the “hacksaw” plane, so any club spinning or moving in the front-to-back orientation is said to be in the hacksaw plane.
Multiplex refers to holding two or more clubs in one hand. Multiplex catches generally mean to hold one club while catching a second club in the same hand. A multiplex throw means releasing two or more clubs simultaneously from one hand.
The typical multiplex grip for a pass
When you study a face, it is most often right in front of you. You see it from top to bottom and left to right. A club spinning or moving in this orientation is said to be in the face plane. Transverse throws spin in the face plane.
In solo juggling, manipulating more than three objects is called “numbers juggling,” or just “numbers.” In passing, any more than six objects is “numbers passing,” or just “numbers.”
“Pairs” is just like one-count, except both hands work in unison, throwing a pair of clubs at a time.
The movement of a club happens on three planes. In order to discuss club manipulation intelligently, it is often necessary to refer to these planes. They have names, the face, hacksaw, and water planes.
In a typical feed, where you have two four-count passers facing a two-count passer, the two-count passer is called the “point.”
To set a club is to hold it in position. Often this means hold it exactly horizontally, but it can also mean hold it vertically, or in whatever way is required for whatever comes next. The main idea of a set is that it is specific and pre-meditated, generally getting all your focus for at least a split-second.
This is when the thrower has done something in which the catcher has to deal with two incoming clubs at the same time. The worst case is when there is a high throw and a low throw coming together. The catcher has to look up for the high throw, but has to look straight across for the other throw, which pretty much defeats human design. Pre-meditated high and low simultaneous arrivals are considered bad etiquette, unless discussed beforehand. Simultaneous arrivals at the same height are just fine, if the catcher is experienced.
The normal way to catch simultaneous arrivals is to catch whichever one is more inside in the normal way, and use an elbow or body catch to get a hold of the other one. Pass from your other hand as needed while you sort things out into a manageable situation, then resume passing as normal.
Another approach is to multiplex catch in one hand, while catching normally in the free hand. You can even multiplex catch in both hands at the same time, if you let go of a self throw before you understood the situation.
A slow start is usually the third right hand throw. In other words, everyone starts together with a right hand throw. Everyone throws that first right hand club to themselves, then the next right-hand club also goes to themselves, and finally, the next right hand club is a pass. You might think of this as a five-count start, with the first four throws – counting both hands, being self-throws.
Throwers and Catchers
Most passers become fairly good at both catching and throwing, but most also tend to specialize. Holly Greeley is one of the great catchers. She has a way of ever so calmly standing in one place, yet catching things that are seemingly well out of her ZOC. Whereas she can throw elegant tomahawks and shoulder throws all day long, she seldom does. It seems she really enjoys the challenge of catching. It kind of reminds me of a bass player in a band. This is an individual that doesn’t need to stand out with intricate solos, instead enjoying being the “rock” in rock ‘n roll. Other passers can’t catch clubs even with a butterfly net, but they are willing to try all sorts of throws, and often invent wonderful new tricks. This kind of thrower needs a good catcher. When two throwers get together it can be a little maddening, because neither wants to slow down and let the other one learn or dial in something new. Furthermore, with two throwers, you see a lot of things falling to the ground. When two catchers get together, nothing falls, but nothing happens either. Some catchers would be happy to throw no tricks whatsoever, all day long. But what makes most real catchers happiest is when they have a thrower to challenge their catching skill. A good catcher just loves a thrower who is inaccurately trying one new thing after another. Good catchers seem to be in their element when the thrower who’s just thrown a turkey doesn’t give the catcher a chance to stabilize, and instead throws more out-of-control tricks immediately.
This is a throw that originates above the shoulder, and is thrown like a hammer or an axe in the hacksaw plane. Tomahawks used to be called “chops.”
Transverse means clubs that spin in the face plane.
When you pour water on a flat surface, it runs out equally in all directions. A cup of coffee or a lake’s surface are in the water plane. A club spinning or moving from left to right and front to back is said to be in the “water” plane.
ZOC (rhymes with sock) is the acronym for Zone Of Catchability, the four
dimensional area (three dimensions plus time) in which a club can be caught. ZOC extension is a goal of good catchers.
Teaching is part of club passing for most jugglers. We’re generally a bit evangelical in our zeal. And, for good reason. Teaching club passing, or juggling, or any unique skill, imparts a ‘can-do’ attitude in those who learn. Once you have learned club passing, you feel like you can master other things. You have learned how valuable patience is. And you feel more energetic toward new situations. This is especially important for children. Once they build their self-esteem by learning club passing, everything becomes easier, even their academic pursuits. It’s as if their subconscious programming gets modified to include, “Hey, if I can learn club passing, then algebra ought to be easy.”
But why club passing, rather than basketball, figure skating or piano? These too, build a can-do attitude, but have less power. What’s the difference? If someone practices guitar for a couple of years, or gets really serious about soccer, that person may find that even though they’ve become good, they’re lost in the crowd. There are a million other people who have learned the same thing. The chances of standing out in your field are not good if you studied piano or ice skating.
In any competition there can be only one winner. What does that make everyone else? Right. Losers! But, if you take up unicycling, saxophone, or juggling, your chances of becoming a recognized specialist are much greater, and that’s just wonderful for building self-esteem.
Some of these pursuits don’t require competition, although competing in club passing right up through the international level is available if you want it. The point is, the accomplished pianist only gets to enjoy playing piano for its own sake – not a bad thing. But the accomplished club passer is somebody special. Other people, even if only other club passers, will take note. This builds self-esteem in a big way, and self-esteem is like money in the bank. It’s transferrable to other pursuits.
That kind of reminds me of parents who are delighted when their child takes up guitar, but then they’re horrified when the kid announces that he wants to become a rock ‘n roll star.
What they’re not understanding is that he may grow into an adult who never plays the guitar again, but the attitude of patient growth he learned while he was studying guitar will help him tremendously in medical school. Do you suppose that’s one reason such a high percentage of club passers are PhDs, programmers, and medical professionals?
Your author has taught scores of people to pass clubs who couldn’t juggle three balls. Juggling is not a prerequisite. So, let me tell you how I do it. Of course there are other ways. But, you may find this way works pretty well. Furthermore, if you are a reader who has not yet passed clubs, you can use this information to learn it by yourself or actually, along with a friend, since it takes two to pass.
1. Have the student throw a single club from hand to hand with a single spin. Let the student see and practice low, wide throws, showing how the club describes an infinity sign in its movement.
2. Show the student how to hold out the left hand, with the thumb pointing toward the face, and the fingers away. This way, if a club hits the hand, it won’t hurt as it would if the club hits an extended finger or thumb.
3. Throw a pass to the student. If the student has trouble catching the club after multiple attempts, tell the student not to move her hand. Tell the student to just close her hand around the club once it arrives.
4. Have the student toss the club from left hand to right.
5. Have the student pass a club from right hand to your left.
5a. Perhaps you can gauge the student’s involvement and style at this point. Some will want to practice these one-club steps over and over and over and over. These are the meditative types of people. They enjoy perfecting things (or at least throwing a club), and don’t get bored easily. Others, will get bored and never take the next steps, unless you move the learning along quickly. For them, perfection is not important. They want to know ‘how it’s done’ right away.
6. So, when your student is ready, have him hold a club in his left hand while you throw a pass to his left hand. Work with the student to throw the held club at the last possible moment as the pass is arriving, until the student is somewhat proficient in catching your club, then a moment later, catching the club that he threw to his own right hand. It is important at this step to understand the timing.
7. Have the student hold one club in each hand. When you throw a pass, the student should throw a club to his own right hand, and then a pass from his right hand to your left. Once again, timing may have to be emphasized, so the student understands and actually feels in his body that everything doesn’t happen at once. Each step is a distinct point in time. Accuracy of the pass is not important at this time. As the teacher, you may have to skip around quite a bit to catch the passes, but it’s worth the effort, isn’t it? The accuracy of passes will straighten out automatically in time.
8. Once the student can adequately catch your pass, catch her own self-throw, and pass a club to you, your can delight her by actually passing clubs. Give your student two clubs, one in each hand, and you start with three. You juggle for a moment, then pass a club to your student. Your student does the thing she’s just learned: She catches your club, does a self-throw, and passes you a club. You wait until her pass comes to you, then juggle several self-throws, and pass another club. Your student is now passing clubs!
9. Repeat step eight, gradually bringing up the speed until your student is juggling at two-count speed. Expect a lot of laughter during Step Nine as you keep accelerating the pace. At first, you might be doing six-count or even eight-count. Soon, you can do four-count, eventually a sort of modified, slowed-down two-count, and finally, since you only have five clubs, but you want your student to master two-count speed, you are just handing off clubs as passes in two-count time.
10. Show your student how to do a quick-start pass while holding three clubs.
11. Pass in two-count with your student.
12. Depending on the nature of your student, start showing other counts such as four-count, and tricks, to your heart’s content. Early on, you’ll want to focus on various pickups, so you and your student won’t have to deal with a lot of starting and stopping.