Getting Started

Jack Boyce

For those who juggle balls and are thinking about learning rings, rings are good in the following ways:

  1. They are lighter and they don't tire you out as much (important for numbers)
  2. They have a smaller cross-section, hence relatively fewer collisions
  3. They look better (IMHO), at least from the side
  4. There are a bunch of neat tricks unique to rings
  5. They're cheap, and they never wear out
but rings are worse than balls in same ways as well:

  1. You generally throw almost twice as high as with balls, so it's difficult to keep the throws within comfortable catching reach.
  2. You have another 2 degrees of freedom to control on each throw, defining the plane in which a ring is spinning. Ideally this should be the same for each throw from a given hand; if this isn't the case, collisions become more likely.
  3. The pain factor is definitely higher at the beginning. As with clubs, though, it goes away with practice.
  4. Wind, wind, wind...
All in all I think these factors more or less balance out, at least in the 5-6-7 ring range. Most people are better with balls though, since most people practice balls much more (The first law of juggling: You get good at what you practice..)

The main tip with rings is that you must REACH UP to make the catches/ throws. Your forearm should be essentially vertical when you catch and release (but not necessarily in between, of course). The net result is that your arms move up and down more, and you have to throw high to keep things slow enough. Also the catch should land in the soft part of your palm at the base of your thumb -- people who are learning often don't bring their hands up high enough to make a catch, and it lands on the flap of skin between the thumb and forefinger (a spot which quickly becomes very raw, believe me). Some people use gloves in response to this, but the lack of feel tends to screw me up. Concentrate on correct form and the catches don't hurt at all.

Wind is a big reason more people don't practice rings. When you get up to 6 or 7 it becomes really difficult to practice outside (and of course inside it's hard to find a ceiling high enough). If you have access to a gym, take advantage of it. Anthony told me that even the air currents in a large gym can be a problem with 9 or 10, but I'll have to take his word for it on that one...

Duane Starcher

I too have been interested in rings for quite a while but find that few people share my interest, and none locally. While there are many rings in the air at IJA Festivals, there have been few workshops on the subject, especially workshops beyond the entry level. Steve Ragatz had some early advice on the net, but I don't recall much else except for the recent posting.

Are there any competent ring jugglers on the net who would consider offering a numbers workshop in Fargo this summer? How about Ed Carstens? Missouri is not that far from Fargo (by my standards).

In the meantime, I would like to read more on rings on the net. I occasionally get good runs of five, particularly after I have worked on six for fifteen minutes or so. I am at the stage where I can get a round or two of six pairs but can only flash six alternately about 40% of the time. It feels like this would come with concentrated practice in about a week. I want to get up to a seven-ring flash this summer but don't want to practice bad habits. I have trouble controlling the releases from the four in the right hand, but I can't say I have worked on it enough to get discouraged.

Some basic questions have to do with arm position. I recall Ignatov explaining that the arms go up and down with all props, as distinct from describing circles to achieve separation, but not where the arms are best held. Do people juggle rings more from the center than clubs, that is, narrow patterns? I have seen some very wide five-ring patterns at conventions, but most videos are from the side and it is hard to tell if they are coming down narrow or near the shoulders. How do you start six rings -- hands near the centre in front of the chest or out about the distance of the outside of the thighs? Are there any tricks or hints about holding the rings for controlled releases? I have seen some seven-ring jugglers get the first three rings out very low and quickly and get slower and higher as they continue. This seems counterproductive when I try it, but it is hard to argue with techniques that work for others...

...Steven Ragatz suggested that the rings should not be quite | |, but slightly angled. It is hard to show in ascii, but, assuming your arms are in throwing position, the rings would be pointed a bit / \ , in line with your arms as you hold them. [Note that this view is from overhead, not parallel to the floor.] This gets the rings off and puts them in a \ / orientation as they come down. If you have a strong light coming from one side as you juggle, the side of one ring (in the air) will be lit, the other side will be in shadow.

In practice, the rings come down nearly perpendicular to the floor. The angles shown above must be thought of as being seen from above. I also hold my wrist a bit turned over as well, which gives a nice orientation as the ring comes down. Practice with one ring back and forth until you get the ring coming down where you want it in a catchable orientation. This is not so difficult. The problem is doing it cleanly every throw when you have five to worry about. Another problem is doing everything somewhat differently when doing six rings and they aren't crossing. Ah well, if it were easy everyone would do it...

  Otherwise, practice three rings a lot and concentrate on catching the
  top of the ring instead of the bottom as it comes down.  Then move to
  four and to five to make it automatic.  You won't catch the top, but
  you will get away from the high catch where they seem to slice through
  the crotch of your thumb.
...but it is important not to waste too much energy clawing the rings. As it was explained to me by Jay Gilligan (and later reinforced by Ignatov's workshop in St. Louis) you want the forearm to be vertical at the catch and release. The hand can tilt backward to avoid the problem you describe, so that the ring lands more on the pad of the palm, and less on the skin between thumb and second finger. If this doesn't work, try one ring fewer!

Some good points raised. Part of the problem was in my statement of the process. I watched myself rather carefully this morning in the gym and note with some satisfaction that I do indeed catch the rings with my forearms nearly vertical. What I am trying to do now is what I noticed Owen Morse doing on the long five-ring sequence in the Montreal videotape. He clearly catches the rings between the middle and the top third of the ring, rather than the way I was doing it before, near the bottom.

The description of the catch as a "claw" was not particularly apt, although it feels a bit like that when making the change to catching them higher up. I wait a bit longer, catch the rings a bit later, grabbing them about the time the hole would go past the hand. The catch is then almost on the top of the ring as it comes down and slips over the hand. By that time I am ready to start the arm down to prepare the next throw so it seems smoother than what I was doing before.

It seems like I have more time, although the other arm movements haven't changed much. It also has nearly eliminated the ripped thumb-crotch that I experienced before. I feel more relaxed and am getting longer runs (on five -- six is still Tension City).

Steven Ragatz

[On positioning and angles of attack] I would suggest not thinking about it too much. I worked on "wrist position" so much that the resulting tension caused injury. Obviously what you are doing now is causing troubles with the trick so you should try to change things somewhat, but don't become obsessed with a "correct technique." <-- whatever doesn't cause pain with rings is a correct technique in my book...

The instructions that I was given by my little Russian "stop-talk-practice" coach was that the arm throws the ring straight in the air (1983). The arm swings in a plane perpendicular to the floor. If it were a ball, the ball would go straight up and straight down. Since it is a ring, the crossing pattern is done by tilting the ring slightly towards the inside. This is a slight wrist rotation. The ring catches the air on the way up and on the way down. With this cascade, the pattern is wider at the top than at the bottom. Gregory, the little Russian so-n-so, said that he had studied at the Moscow Circus at the same time as Ignatov. Although he did not specialize in juggling, these were the techniques that he passed on to me.

In retrospect, I think I see my problems with ring juggling. As some net-folk have suggested, the arm swing/throw can be done in different ways. Knowing what I now know, I suggest the following technique:

I guess I had trouble with the first four. I tended to juggle low, using too much wrist and forearm. Hence, I have had no shoulder trouble but my wrist is shot. I never had trouble with catching rings on the wrong part of my hand but then I usually developed callouses quickly and quit noticing the dried blood.

I found an old video of my 5/6 ring routine last week (eight years). I haven't seen that much hair is a LONG time! All in all, I was pleasantly surprised at the routine. I don't remember it being that relaxed and I had forgotten that I could do all those tricks. I can now see what my weak wrist was doing that was causing troubles. Unfortunately I didn't know what to look for at the time... hindsight is always better... Good tricks with five rings though. That has to be my all time favorite toss juggling prop/number.


the thing about passing rings is that they really fill the space between the passers. did you see fritz and jay passing 12 rings at last year's eiu fest, or at d.c.? it was spectacular. you will not see that with fat rings. will anthony ever flash that many fat rings? no, he would have to wear holsters the size of peach baskets to manage that, AND grow a pair of michael jordan hands. fat rings just don't slip through the fingers and past one another the same, because they are big and fat. nor are they the elegant circles which rings are.

but. they are nice for passing and feeds, because you can add fun bounce tricks. and they do not hurt the hand as much as the wafer-thin rings do. for the creative juggler, who likes to play with their toys, instead of simply lifting michael menes' ring routine, they are an interesting additional prop. fritz and steve were doing some really neat things with them, before steve went off to the drudgery of michael moschen and the cirque du soleil. i hope they don't quash his creativity.

i should add that fat rings come in two sizes, which are fat and fatter. i have only juggled with the chubbier of the two. i suspect they are easier to bounce. perhaps the thinner size would be better for usual ring juggling applications, like numbers juggling,if you were silly enough to want to try that. they might be the nice numbers compromise,allowing you to get 5, 6 and 7, without maiming yourself.

Karl Guth

I agree that rings are largely forgotten, which is probably one of reasons I find myself drawn to them. Your conclusion about what looks good with rings are generally correct, but don't use them as limitation, use them as insights.

First the ring on ring spin. There are two varieties. the first is relatively easy by most standards. The catch ring is held parallel to the ground (horizontal) and the spinning ring spins in a vertical plane. I usually spin hard with my right hand and catch with my left. How long you can make this spin last is directly related to the material your rings are made out of. Generally, the harder the ring, the longer it will spin. The second variety is the opposite. the catch ring is held vertically and the spinning ring is spinning parallel to the ground. Much more difficult! I have found the first variation to be sufficient to impress most audiences.

Three ring stuff: The low three ring cascade is absolutely boring because it goes against the nature of the rings. Rings were (pardon me as I wax poetic) meant to fly high and free. They have a slow graceful nature that resists quick snappy gestures. With this in mind we look for things that compliment the nature of rings. Flashes and pirouettes(sp?) come to mind first. I do an over-the-head flash with a half pirouettes that is fairly easy, but choreographs into routines very well.

Visibility: Rings are huge compared to balls and this should be taken advantage of. I do almost my whole routine standing sideways to the audience or facing the audience while throwing flat to them (not pancakes). Something as simple as columns can have an almost magical effect as rings seem to "bounce" off of each other. While standing side ways, a basic shower stretches your throws higher and again, compliments the nature of the rings.

Misc.: Color changes are a must! They can be very impressive and are very easy. If you are working on carpet, you can do some interesting bounce tricks. Neck catches and neck pops are always a crowd pleaser. I do some kick-ups from my feet to head and then a neck pop off the back with a between the legs catch.


let me tell you a little story about a certain prop: once upon a time, shortly after montreal (as we oldtimers refer to the ija festivals -- this would have been the 1992 fest in montreal), lo these many years ago, i wrote up (in my highly imitable fashion) a review of montreal (did you want parentheses with that?), and all of the wonders which there i saw, and posted it to the net (i think it was called "shop til you drop"). i talked about what the vendors were showing that year, and renegade rings, the (then) new big fat passing ones, were amongst them. i believe i mocked them lots, comparing them to candy-colored life-preservers, and intimated that the folks in california, along with all of their beachtoys, had taken a bit too much sun, amongst other things.

renegade, with their big squishy kinder and gentler soft plastic and pastel colored clubs, had decided to make all of their props big soft and silly. the misbegotten booby, the fat-head club, was the last of this line, and it is nearly extinct (brendan generously accepted a few and i wonder how he likes them. they are always the high point of raffles in the midwest). but the passing ring, as it has been named, has been making appearances in a few gymnasiums around the world.

including my own backyard. yeah, we got some in bloomington, purdue got some, and hey, we kinda started to like them. the publicity material talks about how they are soft and easy on your hands. they are big, and so more visible. and they bounce. yup, those things are true. (about now is when phil san miguel rushed over to the archives, started browsing through the dusty older postings, and pulled out the original post, and stood up on a chair waving it around and shouting hey guys look at this! new headline: thomasl eats words. i always try to make my words tasty, either sweet or tangy, in case i need to eat 'em, later).

...i almost broke a collarbone throwing lots of rings,when one of those spinning circles of death drilled me dead on, accelerating at the astounding rate of 32 feet per second PER SECOND!!! the sliver edge of razor-sharp plastic met my brave and fragile collarbone, nominally protected by little more than a few tissue-thin layers of epidermal tissue, with lots of force. i had thrown that ring real high, too, so it was a long time coming down, and it had lots to say when it got there. as did i. i am only thankful that i am alive to tell the tale.

Mark Tillotson

thomasl wrote:

  almost broke a collarbone throwing lots of rings,when
  one of those spinning circles of death drilled me dead on,
Good point, a lot of people don't realise that (thin) rings are pretty dangerous props when thrown high---even if you do catch them in the hand, they can bruise very painfully or strip a nail off a finger---I've seen advice which says long nails and using rings are incompatible...

My 20 milli-Ecu to the discussion is that when starting with rings, don't be tempted to catch more than one ring in each hand---it is all too easy to get a finger scissored between a ring already in the hand and one coming down, and that _hurts_! Also try and catch from the side, rather than having your hand underneath the ring (which tends to go slicing into the gap between finger and thumb). Keep the edges of your rings smooth, lest they do an impression of an irate circular-saw blade... (scraping with a penknife, angled at 90% seems to remove rough edges OK -- you can emery-paper them down as well if you like)...

Duane Starcher

  I've seen advice which says long nails and using rings are
Even short nails and rings are incompatible. One of the memorable moments in juggling is the catch of a ring between the nail and the finger. I have never had good nails, but can't imagine that any serious ring juggler will have long ones. Classical guitar and ring juggling are mutually exclusive.

Light gloves such as the Ektalon or some of the cheap golf gloves really help when learning five and above. They are well worth the investment. After you learn, you won't need them quite so much, but the beginnings can be really dangerous to fingers, nails, thumb crotches and -- yes -- even collarbones!

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