Of course, some people can make hand and eye act together naturally with far greater rapidity and accuracy than others. I gave a few lessons some time ago to a young lady who knew absolutely nothing about juggling, and yet at the very first lesson she learned to juggle five balls in the air. I have never seen this done before by any one at the first attempt, and it greatly astonished me.
A juggler must never feel the least doubt as to his ability to perform any of his feats. If he does, it simply means that he has not properly mastered it. For example, when I throw a 60-lb. cannon ball in the air and catch it on the back of my neck as it comes down, I should be instantly killed if I did not catch it in the right place. If I were an eighth of an inch out in my reckoning I should be a dead man; but I feel just as certain of catching the ball properly as I am that I can walk downstairs without falling.
It took me a good deal of practice to learn how to do this feat with the cannon ball, but once learned it was never forgotten. The first time I tried it I did it with a wooden ball weighing only 1 lb. I caught the ball in the wrong place and was knocked senseless. After months of practice I learned how to catch it in the right place; then I tried a ball weighing 17lb., and a little later I used a 60-lb. ball.
The first thing a juggler must do is to learn to work his limbs, especially his hands and arms, with immense rapidity. To acquire such rapidity of movement, it is necessary to go through various exercises every day, and above all to see that each day one does the exercises a little more rapidly than the day before.
Then one must train the eye to act very rapidly. Try such a simple exercise as juggling a couple of tennis balls, and you will probably find that occasionally, easy as such an exercise is, you will drop a ball.
Why? simply because the eye does not act always with sufficient quickness to enable you to catch the ball. The ball never waits, it will fall always precisely at the same rate and in the same way. When your eye has become trained to act with unvarying rapidity you will never miss catching the ball.
From juggling two balls the learner can pass gradually to juggling with five. When he can juggle with absolute certainty with five balls he will have acquired a very fair facility with hand and eye, and he may proceed to learn more difficult feats.
Perhaps the hardest thing a juggler must learn to do is to see things without looking at them. This may seem a paradoxical statement, but it is, nevertheless, true. For example, when I am balancing a glass on straw on my forehead, and juggling five hats at the same time I never look at the hats; if I did so for even the hundredth part of a second the glass and straws would collpase, but I know instinctively the position of the hats, and can catch them and juggle with them just as easily as if I were actually looking at them.
But it takes years of practice to acquire what I can only call this sort of double sight.
Continual practice is essential even for the most accomplished juggler. If I were to take a month's holiday, and not to go through some feats during that period, I should probably have to practise for a year before I could perform in public again. As a matter of fact, I practise every day for three hours at least.
There is one point the modern juggler must recognise and understand, and that is that he must amuse his audience as well as interest them. of recent years I have always introduced an element of humour into my performances by doing things in a funny way, but it makes them much more difficult to do.