I had an experience last week.
I went to the European Juggling Convention for the third year running. This is a massive annual convention held in a different European country each year. Thousands of jugglers and acrobats pretty much descend on a town for the duration, transforming a large amount of space into a temporary village. The action is centred around several big tops, a massive campsite that does get progressively scruffier as the week progresses, various indoor gym areas, a food stall area and whatever big outdoor spaces we can turn into juggling spots.
This year, we had a university campus in Bruneck, Italy. We were surrounded by towering alpine mountains from which we could see hang gliders spiralling around under absolutely blazing sunshine.
The convention is too big for anyone to experience everything. My week centred around a juggling gym, a dedicated acrobatics space and the grassy areas outside, a coffee/bar tent and a giant AstroTurf pitch which was surprisingly nice on bare feet. I also ignored almost all the workshops offered in favour of free training, unlike last year when I almost killed myself trying to learn partner acrobatics, aerial hoop and other physical stuff every day.
So I was mainly just doing my own thing, apart from some flexibility workshops and acrobatic and skating help from Emmet, the ever-bearded Irishman who regularly persuades me to take up insane-sounding activities and can touch his head to his toe. And yet somehow I made progress, in some cases quite dramatic, in several different things. Here is my Official List of EJC Gainz:
This is a thing I do, but have neglected horribly for the past couple of years. Despite this, I found that I was suddenly able to walk around with a ball on my head after years of slow progress and overwhelming failure. Not just walking, either. Lunges, crouching, turning, sit ups and push-hands games with people. I have no idea where this came from.
I also made mega gains on rolling the ball to the outside of my elbow and stopping it there, and figured out that I could do a cartwheel while passing the ball from hand to hand. It’s not a great cartwheel, but that’s a damn good trick, so I’ll take it.
I finally managed to learn backwards rolls, and also cartwheels with much straighter legs. Emmet gets credit for that. I also got to try out an airtrack and do somersaults onto a massive crashmat, both from the track and from a giant foam block. Shockingly, I didn’t die.
I touched my elbow to my toe (same side). Again, Emmet gets credit for this, largely because of a weekend workshop I’ll post about another time.
Parkour gains? At a juggling convention? Madness.
After years of failure, depression and fear, it turns out I can actually kong just fine. Who knew? And given a big foam block, I can do a double kong. Okay, I go inches, but I’ll take it. It’s gains.
I can officially stand on peoples’ shoulders and walk to other peoples’ shoulders. If anyone needs someone to stand on their shoulders let me know. Seriously – I’d like to do more partner acrobatics, but am somewhat lacking in the partner department, which is holding me back somewhat.
It turns out loosened trucks are a total game changer. I can turn and everything!!
Bizarre squat stunts
I squatted a friend (whose shoulders I later stood on) for five reps in return for audience approval and a shot of vodka squirted into my mouth from a water gun. This was for a renegade show, which are late-night free-for-alls in which jugglers stand up and perform increasingly bizarre tricks or acts in return for alcohol. It’s hardly a physical gain, but it took a reasonable amount of confidence to stand up in front of a crowd like that and risk heckling.
So why all the sudden improvements? My day consisted of being baked out of my unshaded tent by a merciless sun every morning after far too little sleep, eating when reminded by helpful people that it was dinner time now and a breakfast croissant eight hours ago was not really enough to live on, being dehydrated, training very vaguely and drinking alcohol most evenings. These are not ideal conditions for gains.
Not going to complain, though. I’m off to Beckton for more backwards rolls!