Advice for beginners in cardistry

This year is the 10th year that I have been doing cardistry. I don’t think of myself as very knowledgeable about the art itself but I do think I’ve learned a thing or two that might benefit newcomers. In this post I would like share some of those things.

Don’t focus on creating your own moves, in the beginning

In the beginning cardistry is extremely frustrating. You are able to see and understand how others move their fingers, yet for some reason it requires tremendous concentration getting your fingers to move in the same way. I don’t know the scientific reason behind this. I guess there are some connections between your brain and the muscles in your fingers that aren’t naturally tuned for cardistry. So I would advice you to not focus on creating your own moves but instead focus on learning other peoples moves, at least in the beginning. You will have plenty of time for creativity but it will be more fun if you aren’t dropping cards all the time.

I also think it is important to establish a baseline and get an idea of what makes a great move. I would say the chance of creating something great, if you have no experience, is relatively low. The same way painters study the paintings of others you need to study the moves of others.

Don’t learn everything

Searching for “cardistry tutorial” on YouTube gives you way too many results. There is no way you can learn everything, and my advice is to not even try. Be critical and look for moves you like and once you have around ten, focus on getting those down instead of expanding your repertoire.

You might be thinking learning more moves in the beginning will help you gather the necessary coordination faster. However, I have found it just spreads your efforts too thin and requires more time until you are good at a few moves.

Don’t waste your money on expensive cards

Bicycles are fine. Using an expensive deck will not make you better faster. It is okay to buy a few nice cards, but focus on learning cardistry not collecting cards.

Focused practice

I fiddle with cards all the time. As a matter of fact there is a deck of Aladdins next to my laptop right now. So in a way I am always practicing. Some might say this the best way for beginners to practice but I would disagree. I believe it is more effective to have sessions where you focus just on cardistry and don’t do anything else.

I recommend making a list of three moves that you are going to practice and repeat those over and over again until you’re satisfied.

I have found this kind of focused practice to be the most effective way of learning new moves. If you find it boring I recommend listening to podcasts or audio books while practicing.

Focus on the details

I believe the difference between mediocre cardists and really great cardists is their attention to detail. You should never be satisfied with your performance of a move. Always look for tiny adjustments that will make your moves look and feel better.

Things you will want to look out for are:

Making sure the packets are nice and square throughout every move. This is something I know Tobias and Oliver has made a conscious effort of and it really shows.

Eliminate excessive finger movement. You should be on the lookout for movements that aren’t actually necessary and find ways to remove them. Aim for maximum packet movement with minimum finger movement. You should always be asking yourself “Why do I have to move my finger like this. Can I make it simpler?”.

A concrete example is realizing that you don’t need to use your ring finger in the last part of Judo Flip. You can complete the spin using only your thumb and index finger. Removing this unnecessary maneuver will make it easier to execute Judo Flip smoothly and make the move more effortless and automatic.

I recommend downloading videos from cardists you like and watching them frame by frame over and over again. Pay attention to how their packets look and exactly where they place their fingers.

Smoothness gives the illusion of speed

In the beginning it will be tempting to focus on speed. Speed is very tangible. You can measure it with a stop watch and easily compare yourself to others. But I think that is approaching cardistry from the wrong angle. You shouldn’t be focusing on speed but on aesthetics. How good does your performance actually look? While speed does play a part in the overall look of your performances, I have found smoothness to be more important. And the best of becoming smooth is to slow down.

Your first thought might be that you will never be as fast as Daren Yeow or Eliot Slevin by going slow. But if you pay close attention you will notice that besides being crazy fast, they’re also crazy smooth. Every movement is perfectly connected to the next and they don’t pause to re-grip packets. If you watch Daren’s old video Coma White you will see that his focus has always been on smoothness and speed only become a priority more recently.

Be in it for the long run

Cardistry is a marathon, not a sprint. You shouldn’t be surprised if you’re still dropping cards two years from now. I still drop cards all the time. Everyone does. If this bothers you maybe cardistry isn’t for you.

I believe your motivation has to be internal. If you want to learn cardistry because you want to perform on stage, you will quickly be frustrated by your lack of progress.

So put on a pair of headphones, slow down, and get to work.

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