by Duane Starcher
This may catch a few flames, but.... I think that the older you get, the harder it is to learn numbers. I've watched a number of 40+ people try to juggle 5. Some have worked.... once you're well past your physical prime, if you dream of doing high and elegant numbers, you're destined to disappointment.
The only flames this should catch are the self-imposed ones out of frustration at learning numbers in the "declining years." I am one of those who did not even learn to juggle until I was fifty. I am a very competent club passer and enjoy this perhaps most of all the possible ways of throwing objects into the sky. Nevertheless, I am fascinated by numbers and work at them constantly. This is partly because there are few jugglers around to play with and I must therefore spend much time alone in the gym.
I learned three balls in about 15 minutes, as most people do. I worked on tricks for a while and soon attacked four balls, which came more slowly, but I got the basics under some control and had great dreams of five. At this point I was confronted with two problems. The first was that I had no one locally to help me and I could only study videotapes and learn what I could at occasional IJA Conventions (now Festivals). The second was obviously that my body did not seem to respond as quickly as younger learners. The kids in our club got five a couple of months after four and I didn't. I was obviously a better teacher than a learner.
My experience with five is as follows. Once I overcame the errors I had introduced in learning in the first place (throwing too quickly, rushing all subsequent catches and re-throws), I was able to do five balls, getting as many as a hundred catches, maybe more. The frustration became that I could not do it every time I tried, nor even every day. Sometimes I would get a long run, at others I would feel as if I hadn't even learned it. I tried most of the advice given by younger numbers jugglers and probably over-analyzed my every move. For instance, I often got a long run at the beginning of a practice session and shorter ones as the session progressed. Only by changing props for a time or through a act of will could I return to the relaxed state I had been in to get the longer runs. However, I was not in control; I either got good runs or I did not, seemingly no matter what strategies I applied.
I am a glutton for punishment and I know a lot more about my body and my mind than I did ten years ago. I am working on four clubs, with long runs at times and shorter ones most of the time. I am working on five rings, with long runs sometimes and shorter ones most of the time. I am working on six rings, with two or three rounds some of the time and one or two most of the time.
I have learned (usually) to stop thinking about catches and concentrate only on throws and timing of throws. I stop watching the objects in the air and stare and focus beyond the whole pattern because eye movement gets in the way of arm movement. I no longer tense up by body in anticipation of that first throw, but get as relaxed as possible and try to retain that relaxation at least until all the objects are released once. I also try not to throw any object up, but instead try to think of "placing" it where it has to go. This gets my larger muscles into the movements and lets the small ones handle the final adjustments of the releases. This seems very important with four clubs where weight is a consideration (I am learning with big, fat American clubs).
At any rate, I will turn 61 this month and can claim to have some control over four clubs, five rings and, perhaps by Fargo, have a few more rounds of six rings. A few years back I would have been content to have chiseled in my tombstone "Here lies a five-ball juggler." Now I think my unreachable goal is more likely "Here lies a five-club juggler." Even though I face total and utter confusion when I on occasion get the urge to throw five clubs up in the air, I can still wonder if the right teacher and sufficient time might make it possible for me. Maybe after I retire ...