Many well known Jugglers specialize with Indian clubs; and this, in many cases, comprises their entire performance. When this is so, the act will probably include the full range of swinging, sliding and ordinary juggling with 1, 2, 3 and 4 clubs: little additions being probably introduced by way of variety. There are of course many Club-Jugglers of the front rank who are clever in most of the other branches of the Juggler's Art, but it is rare to find one of exceptional ability equally good as an all-round performer. The reason is that this branch of work may be made to include such an infinite diversity of tricks and movements that its practice absorbs all the available time and attention that can be bestowed upon it. And it is worthy of it. I think there ate few prettier "turns" presented on a Variety stage than a good Club act with tastefully decorated clubs.
To those of my readers who prefer going in for this form of juggling, a few remarks on the size and weight of clubs will be apropos. It will be found an excellent plan to use clubs of a certain size for particular classes of work. For instance, it will be found more convenient to use a certain size for one and two club work, and another for three. For those, however, who think of taking up clubs as a change and a variety in their ordinary juggling routine, one size and weight will be found sufficient. For one or two club work I recommend their being about 21 inches in length, 16 to 20 ounces in weight, and four-and-a-half to five inches in width. For working three clubs 19 to 20 inches in length, 18 to 19 ounces in weight and four to four-and-a-half inches in width; while still smaller are advisable for working four than for three. The form and weight of these articles are of the utmost importance for one taking up seriously the Art, and requires very mature deliberation. The aspirant will by this time have found the inconvenience attendant upon changing the size and form of articles used in practice after they have become familiar to his hand. This applies with equal or greater force to the branch we are now dealing with.
Having once become accustomed to a special shape and weight for certain work it must be adhered to, if at all possible, as hours of tedious practice are taken up in "breaking-in" a club of different dimensions. The weight of clubs varies considerably, and is largely a matter of personal preference. Some Jugglers prefer comparatively heavy ones while others fancy lighter ones. Of course a good deal depends on the age and strength of those they are intended for. A boy or girl of ten or twelve could not be expected to wield clubs suitable for a man. For very young people wicker-basket clubs are very appropriate. A few words on the manufacture of clubs may be acceptable.
Regarding their construction, there are several ways of making clubs or having them made. But the simplest method is to go to a good wood-turner with the measurements and get them turned. Impress upon his mind that they must be turned out of the lightest possible timber. After the club has been turned in the solid, instruct him to drill or turn it out from the base. This is, of course, to lighten it as, even after this drilling out, the club will be found sufficiently weighty. But clubs made in this way can only be lightened to a certain extent. A half-inch wooden disc is fitted into the opening of the cavity and your club is ready for practice. Have only one made at first and, if perfect, it will serve as a pattern for any more you may require. If after using it a while you find it too heavy for three club use, it can be utilised for the work for which it is found best adapted (perhaps solo practice) and a set ordered with the measurements reduced. You must not allow Mr. Wood-turner to forget to use the lightest and softest wood, which, by the way, happens to be the cheapest: and, if as much as is practicable is turned out of the inside of the clubs, they should prove sufficiently light. If a jobbing wood- turner is patronized where the work is done on the premises, it might be supervised and any suggestions offered during the progress of turning.
Not much more need be said to aid the beginner in acquiring the Art of club-juggling. Much the same general advice and rules apply to this as to plate, ball and bottle manipulation. Obviously the first thing is to obtain a thorough familiarity with the size and weight of the clubs. Start with the solo practice for an hour or so daily, throwing it from one hand to the other, under and between the legs, over the shoulders and so on, taking care to use the left hand equally with the right. A good form of practice consists of throwing the club into the air first with one hand and then with the other, sometimes catching it with the hand that threw it, sometimes with the other. Endeavour always to catch it by the centre of the handle. At first throw it with only one turn between throw and catch, then try giving it two revolutions; first with one hand and then with the other, and sometimes catching it with the opposite hand. Take care, if the left hand is not the equal of the right in dexterity, to give it the larger share of the work: or even give it an hour or two's practice "on its own," if it is found to require it. When the club can be thrown with certainty three revolutions and properly caught, the pupil may regard himself as improving. These throwing exercises are very excellent practice for hand and eye. It is scarcely necessary to attempt more than three revolutions at present.
I would remind my readers of the wisdom of practising where the club may fall (when miscatching) on soft earth or mats, and so minimise the danger of its breaking. Since it is made of soft wood and is hollow, there is considerable risk of a club breaking if it receives a severe concussion from a high fall.
Our pupil may now take up two clubs to practise with, in all the ways his ingenuity can suggest. After a few days' exercise of an hour or two each day, our Juggler will have become on friendly terms with his clubs and he may now attempt three. As in all juggling tricks where an odd number of articles is brought into play the right hand should lead off. Two are taken in the right hand and one in the left. A good commencement is to throw one of the clubs held in the right hand, and catch it with the left (which, of course, already holds one) making it turn one revolution in its short journey and throwing it to the right again. It is as well to bestow a fair amount of time on this exercise before attempting to toss a second club.
I must again caution the reader against the tendency of throwing plates, balls, clubs, or other articles, too high. As before pointed out, the movements of the article are slower and consequently less effective, and they are less under the control of the operator, and therefore played with less confidence and precision. Throwing clubs too high is most inadvisable. For one thing it calls for great judgment to make the throw with accuracy, and the time occupied in its flight gives it an appearance of slowness - the very opposite to that desired. It is easier to toss a club a yard high giving it one revolution than to throw it three yards high with one revolution. Don't forget to catch the clubs by the centre of the handles with a proper grasp, and do not catch it by the little knob on top with the finger tips.
With the foregoing hints and suggestions carefully noted and acted upon, it will depend upon the time allotted to practising, and the determination put into the work, as to what advancement is made within a stated time. Don't forget the advice given at an early stage in these studies, respecting the intimate relationship between concentration of mind on the work and assured success in any (or every) branch of work or play. I have before referred to the impossibility of learning juggling, or any other science, simply by reading a book. No man can become an expert pianist just by reading a pianoforte tutor, nor can you become an expert Juggler just by reading this book, without practice. One often hears it said, when a man has attained celebrity in any particular branch of Art or Science, that he is specially "gifted." I have generally found the "gift" to consist of love for the work and aptitude to settle down to steady, persevering practice and even hard labour, if necessary, to acquire the coveted skill. No sirs, no man is born a Juggler. It is an acquired Art - requiring similar qualities of mind and character to those necessary to enable a man to excel in any walk of life.
At an early age I had the good fortune to witness an exhibition by Charlene, a really marvellous Juggler, who manipulated a great number of balls: did astonishing tricks with hats, cigars, plates, and bottles: and concluded by dexterously juggling with lighted torches. This last was gone through with exceptional ability. The fiery brands about him and around him mingled and intermingled with each other until nothing could be seen of the performer, who had gradually disappeared from view. A restless mass of fire circled in his place. To me it was a scene of enchantment most delightful to witness. I remember hearing it said that the man must have been specially gifted, or endowed by Providence, to attain to such a height of skill. Young as I was I had the intelligence to feel that such a theory, if acted up to, must have the effect of dwarfing my energies: and that I might as well throw up my beloved studies, unless I was satisfied to rest content as a fourth or fifth rate Juggler. This I was not content to be. I redoubled my efforts, discarding the theory of special gifts, and providential endowments: and found as others have found, that the only road to skill in Juggling, as in anything else worth striving for, is the royal road of PERSEVERANCE.
"If at first you don't succeed - try, try, try again."