The young, evolving art of Cardistry

A few months back I was casually watching Now You See Me 2 at home, a movie about justice, the greater good, and magic. The crew was preparing to steal a high-tech chip. The plan was to skilfully hide it in a playing card and leave with it. “But first, we’ve got to brush up on our cardistry.” says Jack Wilder, as he prepares the team for the heist, teaching them how to throw/catch, palm, and perform tricks with cards. Then came the scene, a marvellous combination of real card manipulation and CGI covering the more difficult moves and to assure transitions. The flow of the moves, ephemeral nature of some moments, pure bliss of the sounds and card dynamics, everything about the motion of the card was fascinating to me; I had just discovered a new source of satisfaction.

Right after that scene I paused the movie and went online to perform my own investigations of what cardistry truly is. Jerry Cestkowski, S. W. Erdnase, Chris Kenner, Lee Asher, Andrei Jikh, Dan and Dave Buck, Brian Tudor, Tobias Levin, Oliver Sogard, Huron Low, Dmitri Arleri, Jaspas Deck, etc., these names have immediately become carved in my spirit as I was becoming continuously amazed by how such a simple act of manipulating cards could feel so cathartic and mesmerising. I almost immediately decided to buy some playing cards and start developing the digital dexterity required for those moves. Kalush, Charlier, Sybil, Brenda, Zoey, Kryptonite, Waterfall, Vesper, Mockingbird, Mocking God, Rev 2, Pandora, Rolling Thunder, The Icarus Sequence… playful, fun, colourful names for specific card and hand movement choreographies.

During months of practice the improvements were continuously visible. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it took discipline, passion, and dedication; traits which are important to develop and use in everything we do in life. With time I became confident enough to reach out to other passionate people.

One immediate observation was that the community is thin and spread out. Singapore, USA, and some countries in Europe seem to be the poles of cardistry, with name such as The Virts, New Deck Order, Dan&Dave, Dealer’s Grip, and Cardistry Touch making playing cards, tutorials, social gatherings, and apparel. However, thanks to the efforts of Dan and Dave plus the generous contributions of the community and several brands, Cardistry Cons have been taking place since 2014, bringing people together from all over the world. This contact, however, doesn’t end there. Platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, Facebook help with maintaining the developed relationships. Even the gaming communication service Discord was used as a medium for an international cardistry contest, the Cardistry Discord Championship, in which prizes were generously provided by the Las Vegas Cardistry Company. Lastly, cards and cardistry focused blogs such as Kardify, WhoShufflesLikeThat, and the upcoming cardistry platform cardistry.io are other great examples of community outreach and participation.

In my region, Montreal, Canada, there is only a handful of people active in the cardistry community, although I suspect others keep to themselves. Being typically shy and introverted, reaching out was most likely one of the crucial steps I took during my ever evolving exploration of this art. My thumb cut improved dramatically after some tips from a more experienced cardist, I managed to teach a few people my variations of some one-handed cuts, opinions and moves were continuously shared, absorbed, improved among each other; everything felt organic, normal, we (well, at least myself) were in a state of flow. Regardless of what you think of your own skills, there are always people who you can teach and from whom you can learn at the same time. There is no judgement (except maybe the continuous battle between which Tally-ho back looks better), there is no hierarchy (unless we consider Leon Tai the speed god), and we all share each other’s success and learning experiences (a.k.a. “failures”). Cardistry is a community-driven, young, evolving art form with similarities to juggling, dancing, and puppetry, although, the core of this art has a different meaning for everyone.

As much as I would like to speculate what that is for others, I can more accurately present my case. I like to fidget; more specifically, fidgeting helps me manage my ADD. It felt natural for me to remain focused on playing with cards. I can become immediately aware of what my fingers are doing, of my limitations (plus how to overcome them) when practising a new move, and these degree of observation and method of studying allowed me to reinforce my learning methods. The process has shown me how discipline feels again, has allowed me to develop new relationships, not only with others, but with my own body as well. More importantly, it has given me a sense of self. I discovered my attraction towards one-handed cuts, card throwing, and towards developing efficient and natural movements; my goal with this art form is to delve into its deepest mechanical phenomena, and make the sequences of movements look organic. This is made possible by a strong mind-body relationship which, if you don’t have, can easily be developed by cardistry. It’s also another method of expressing your creative self, albeit in short moments of movements, making this art form highly ephemeral.

It isn’t simply about the connection between hands and cards; posture, appearance, energy, facial expressions, and other body language cues make a cardistry performance whole. One of the best examples is the challenging behind-the-back flicker shot which takes a considerable amount of time to master, and which is expertly taught by Huron Low from The Virts. But remember, one of the desires which is spread the most in artists’ tutorials is for you to come up with moves inspired by what they are teaching.

Exploration and innovation are what will keep cardistry fresh and evolving. Take Shivraj Morzaria’s Cardestroy concept around which he built a whole movement. His article on WhoShufflesLikeThat explains his attitude and approach to cardistry better than I can. He studied the mechanics to their core, and came up with new dynamic concepts, even calling for community engagement through his Integrate challenge; joining cardistry and everyday items, movements, actions, other elements besides hands.

I started this by exploring my fascination with cards being thrown around, and discovered a young, barely explored art form with a tightly knit community, in which everyone keeps evolving. All it took was a 3$ deck of playing cards and some curiosity. It’s an accessible, fun, rewarding activity, and may teach you lessons applicable in other areas of life. Share your creations with the world, participate in jams, compete, teach people how to learn the craft; you might find that the engagement will leave you with a new source of satisfaction.

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