Juggler's World: Vol. 43, No. 4

Juggler's Workshop

In this issue, we'll discuss some basic passing patterns and interesting variations with them. We'll also touch on a helpful but fairly simple idea which appears not to be discovered by most jugglers as quickly as one might expect.

by Martin Frost

© 1991 Martin Frost

Two-Person Passing

Of course the most basic passing pattern has two people facing each other and exchanging passes from the right hand. This pattern is commonly done in a 2-count (in which the right hand passes every club) or in a 4-count (the right hand passes every other club). The 2-ct is a good medium for doing continuous passing tricks, whereas the 4-ct is good for allowing lots of solo tricks between passes.

For learning purposes, the 6-count is quite useful. That's because in a 6-ct, with the right hand passing every third club, the same two clubs keep getting passed back and forth. Have each juggler start with one, say, red club in the left hand and two clubs of any other color in the right. Then do a "slow start" by doing two right hand selves before passing with the third right. If you do a 6-ct with that start, you'll find that you're always passing the red club. This makes it easy for a novice passer to know when to pass without having to count.

The 3-Count

A conceptually simple, but too often ignored, important passing variation is to exchange passes from the left hand instead of, or in addition to, the right. The 3-count is an excellent example of this, with passes coming alternately from the left and right hands and with two selves just before each pass. Start by passing from the right hand and then do two selves count both hands (left, right). Then pass from the left and do two more selves (right, left). That's a cycle, so now you start over with the right hand pass.

In the 3-count, you're always passing the same two objects back and forth, one on each side of the pattern (unless you throw a double or higher site-swap that changes the places of the objects). The 3-count has a nice waltz rhythm which is fairly easy to pick up, even for the novice club passer.

The 1-Count

If you want more challenge than the 3-count provides, try the 1-count. It's like the 3-count without the two selves between passes! You just pass every club out of each hand. To some people that may sound very hard, but it really isn't. Here are few tips for the 1-count. Throw each club from outside your leg (not in front of it) and make sure it ends up just outside your partner's shoulder. That makes it high enough for a return pass to be thrown directly under it without colliding. When learning the pattern, keep the throws slightly lofty with a slow single spin so that you aren't too rushed. You can start by passing just three clubs between your right and your partner's left, then try three clubs on the other side, and finally put them together. Watch where your partner catches your passes so that you can correct for throws that are underspun or overspun, high or low, inside or outside, short or long.

Back to Back

Passing back to back looks much harder than it is. The main difficulty with this pattern is not being able to see incoming passes as early as you can in a face-to-face pattern. But as if to make up for that, the normal back-to-back toss is somewhat slow, spinning approximately 1-1/2 times (it's usually called a double). The throws should go up and straight back, just outside your shoulder, to be caught just above shoulder height.

One important question is where you make that pass from: Should you pass inside or outside of the self that is headed for the passing hand? Probably the easier way to control the pattern is with an outside pass (keeping the self narrow and on the inside). If you're used to passing from inside your self, try both the outside and the inside pass back to back. Be sure, however, that your throw goes straight toward your partner and not away toward the outside.

Start by passing just one club around until both you and your partner are making good throws. Give each other feedback in this practice, because it's hard to see where your passes are going. Keep them fairly high and short - it's easy to throw so far that your partner can't reach the passes. When you're ready to try six clubs, pass a 6-ct (every third) or 4-ct (every other) and work up to a 2-ct (every one) or to a 3-ct. This pattern is actually pretty slow with six clubs because of the 1-1/2 spins of the passes. So you may notice that you actually have to wait a bit for each pass to arrive. Don't throw your left hand self until the incoming pass is really almost there.

The Line

Now we'll venture out into multi-person patterns with the line, a very common pattern for three (or more) jugglers. (The feed is probably the most common three-person pattern, but we covered feeds of all kinds two issues back, in the Spring 1991 Juggler's World.)

In a basic line, there are three people, each with a different role: front, middle and back. The front juggler faces the other two and throws normal passes to the middle. The middle person throws drop-backs to the back person, who throws long singles to the front (see Fig. 1).

The middle person stands a normal passing distance from the front person. The back person catches drop-backs and stands two or three feet behind the middle person and about 12 to 18 inches to the right (to allow the long throws to go around the drop-back thrower).

A good technique for throwing drop-backs is to throw with the right hand brought a little to your left side to throw over your left ear. The club should then go back toward the right to reach the person behind you on the right. Throw from the knob.

Good drop-backs should be caught on the handle at the waist and slightly inside, with the palm up, like an inside chop is caught. In fact, drop-backs are caught pretty much just like chops, because they are spinning the same as chops.

The front person should be sure not to make inside passes, since they would go exactly where the middle person is trying to throw drop-backs from. As usual, practice the line by first practicing each individual's requisite throws. In this case, the special throws to practice are the drop-back and the long throw from the rear. The long throw should be spun slightly slowly to avoid being overspun from its long journey; use a lot of arm and very little wrist to make a good long throw.

You can add a drop-back position to pretty much any pattern by simply adding a person behind someone to catch the new drop-backs and to throw to whomever the new drop-back thrower was formerly passing to. See Figures 2 and 3 for a couple of reasonable possibilities.

It is quite natural to add clubs to a line. For each club you add, add one spin to someone's throw. Ten is usually done with the back person throwing long doubles. For eleven, have the front person throw doubles too. With twelve, the drop backs should have an added spin and maybe the long throw can be a triple to provide more time if you need it. The person(s) throwing doubles or triples should start with the extra club(s).

The Box

The box makes an impressive juggling feat possible without much work. In this formation, two pairs of jugglers are passing independently except for the fact that their passes cross. Figure 4 shows a box in which jugglers A and B are exchanging passes and jugglers C and D are doing the same.

To avoid collisions, we just make sure that the two pairs of passers either (a) pass alternately so that pairs of clubs take turns going through the middle or (b) pass at exactly the same time. These are the alternating box and the simultaneous box. We'll assume that each pair of jugglers is passing six clubs, but similar boxes can also be executed with each pair passing seven or more clubs (at last summer's St. Louis festival, an 18-club box was demonstrated in the club passing workshop by Doubble Troubble and Happenstance).

The Alternating Box

The easiest rhythm for the alternating box has each pair passing a 4-count, but the pairs are out of phase so that when one is passing, the other is doing a right hand self. This is very easy, but still the two pairs have to keep juggling at the same speed or one will eventually catch up with the other. To start this box, simply use the rule above: the second pair should pass when the first pair is doing a right hand self.

A slightly harder alternating box has each pair passing a 2-count, but when one pair is passing, the other is doing a left self. There is less room for error here, but it is still not terribly hard. One way to start is to have the second pair start with two clubs in the left hand and begin with a left self when the first pair is passing.

A very hard "alternating box" is a pattern called entropy, which has three evenly spaced pairs (instead of two) passing through a common midpoint, each pair passing a 2-count (see Fig. 5). Here the pairs are out of phase by 2/3 of a count and the timing has to be very precise. Keep your throws somewhat inside to get through the middle as easily as possible. It takes six experienced passers with very good rhythm to pull this off successfully. One way to start entropy is to have one person in each of the second and third pairs start with four clubs (jugglers B and C in Fig. 5) so that only those two people have to time their starts carefully.

Another possibility with six people is to have each pair passing in a 3-ct, with successive pairs out of phase by one count (as in the four-person 2-count alternating box above). Again, keep the passes inside in these alternating boxes.

The Simultaneous Box

The simultaneous box has everyone in the box pattern passing at once. Can this possibly work? Yes! It does require precise timing. If you try this with four people who have never passed together before, it'll likely take a while before you all agree on a common speed - and it may never happen. Each of you will need to be prepared to adjust your speed. To avoid collisions, keep your passes outside in any simultaneous box. That means not only throwing to a point well outside your partner's shoulder, but throwing from a point about a foot outside your leg.

To keep everybody throwing at the same time on each pass, try the following useful trick. Each of you should watch the person on your right and throw at exactly the same time that person does. It's not hard to see that person while you continue passing with your partner, and it definitely helps keep the group's passes locked together in time.

Make sure that you all start at the same time. You might find that a slow start helps you to do that. Try also to keep the passing speed slow, since it's generally easier to stay together at a slower speed because it allows for correcting slight errors better than a fast passing speed does.

Now, the reason that the simultaneous box works at all is that the clubs don't all go through the same point. In fact, with perfect timing, they simultaneously reach the four corners of a little square, about two to three feet on a side, in the middle of the box (see Fig. 6). Then each club travels along one side of the little square, getting out of the way of the club behind it while the club in front gets out of its way. If all the clubs reach the corners of the square at the same time, and if the square is big enough, then no collisions will occur. Making the throws wide (at the throw and at the catch) makes the little square bigger, and thus allows a bigger margin of error.

If you have the simultaneous box working, try having all four jugglers throw left-to-left doubles at the same time. Throw the left doubles from as far to the right as possible, and throw them a bit outside, again to keep that little square in the middle (now really a rhombus) as big as possible. If the four doubles work, try following four doubles immediately with four triples (from the right hand, and keep them outside as usual). It's very pretty when it works.

Another nice variation is to do a 3-ct, or even a 1-ct, simultaneous box. Here you'll get to practice passing from outside with your left hand as well as your right. In this case, to keep the passes locked together, pass at the same time as the person on your right when you're passing right handed and as the person on the left when passing left handed, at least for the 3-ct. For the 1-ct, it may be all you can do to watch and pass with just the person on the right.

The Y

The Y is another passing formation that can be used to make easy or more challenging patterns. The Y has one person facing two, as if to feed them, but with a fourth person directly behind the first person (see Fig. 7). The basic Y has the rear person (D in the figure) passing to the person on the right, who passes to the person in the middle. The middle person passes to the person on the left, who passes back to the rear person. You can start with a 4-ct and work up to a 2-ct, 3-ct or 1-ct.

There are two long passes in the Y, namely those to and from the rear juggler. Be sure not to over spin them.

The middle person has an interesting position since the incoming and outgoing passes cross. This shouldn't cause any problem, although it might take a minute to get used to.

A general key to making good passes is to glance at the exact spot where you want your pass to go (usually just outside the shoulder of the catcher) just before you make your pass. This applies especially when you're having to look back and forth, as everybody does in the Y.

The 3-ct Y is interesting because only four clubs are passed, one on each segment of the pattern, while the other eight stay home, two with each juggler. This assumes you pass right handed to one person and left handed to another (see Fig. 8).

Restarting a Juggling Pattern

In six-club passing, if you stop juggling to pick up drops and you have four clubs, do you toss a club to your partner so that you each have three before restarting? That special toss of a club wastes time when you could have been juggling! Instead, you can just start passing immediately with the extra club and then slip back into the normal pattern. This four-club, two-club start works with any pattern, a 1-ct, 2-ct, 3-ct, 4-ct, slow-fast or whatever. Not only does this let you make that first toss part of the pattern, but it lets you start the pattern sooner. Many people do an "up/down" start, or at least a "back/pass" start, to start passing. But if one person has four clubs, that person can just start as soon as both people are looking, because the person with two clubs doesn't have to start until one count later. This saves time by eliminating the need for an up/down start.

Restarting a Box

The four-club, two-club start can make other situations easier too. Suppose that four people are doing a box (alternating or simultaneous). If one pair drops a club and wants to jump back into the continuing box pattern, the easiest way to synchronize the restart is for one juggler to have four clubs and just do a fast start at the right time.

The reason that this is tricky at all is that not only do the two stopped jugglers have to synchronize with each other, but they have to resynchronize with the other pair who are still passing. The four-club start lets one juggler resynchronize with the continuing passers without having to agree on a starting moment with the two-club starter. This is an easy restart whether the box involves four simultaneous passes or alternating passes by the two pairs. But the simultaneous box requires more precise timing, so the restart is more critical in that pattern.

Restarting with More Clubs

The idea of the four-club, two-club start can be readily extended to a five-club, one-club start, or even a six-club, zero-club start. In these cases, two or three clubs, respectively, will be passed by one person before the other person starts passing. If you're doing a 4-ct (every others) or 3-ct, however, you'll have to adjust a little because you normally have to do selves from both hands before the second pass, and that won't work in a three-club cascade with four or five clubs. So in that case, just make an extra pass or two to your partner (as in a 2-ct or 1-ct) before dropping into your regular pattern.

If you pass clubs in performance, these unusual starts can be used to your advantage. Many jugglers like to end a pattern with one person catching all the clubs (stacking up). So why not then start up a new pattern from that position, where one person has all the clubs? You just need a way to hold all the clubs such that you can pull them out and pass them one at a time.

Restarting a Feed

When a feed stops because of drops, there's no need to make sure each person has three clubs before you start up again. If the feeder has four, just start passing with the feedee who has two (who just waits). That's easy. If a feedee has four and the feeder has two, that's easy too - the feeder just "starts" with that feedee (by waiting while the feedee passes).

But what if the feeder has three, one feedee four and the other feedee two? Here's our rule. Clearly the feedee with four should start passing to get rid of the extra club, but the feeder already has three. So the feeder passes at that same time to the feedee having only two clubs (who waits, of course). Then the feeder passes next to the other feedee (who had had four) and continues alternating passes as usual in a feed. The trick is that the four-club feedee simply has to throw two passes in a row at the start.

In Conclusion...

We've described some simple passing possibilities that can be made interesting for any level of passing expertise. And the above uneven starts can be done in any pattern. Use them and you'll spend more time juggling and less time getting ready to.

If you have any comments or suggestions for Juggler's Workshop, write to: Juggler's Workshop; 3065 Louis Rd.; Palo Alto, CA 94303; or call Martin Frost at 415/856-1456.

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