Reviews/Contact Juggling


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[edit] Contact Juggling by James Earnest

  • By: James Earnest
  • First published 1990
  • Currently Published by: Butterfingers books in the UK
  • 100 Printed pages
  • Format: 8.5" by 11" Plastic Spiral bound
  • Available from: Juggling shops and online

[edit] Review by User:Lupine

Well, first let me preface any and all my remarks by saying “I am a VERY new contact juggler”. I was looking for a book to teach me the basics, and to compliment the online how-to videos that I’ve found. This was recommended as a good starting point. I bought my copy 6 hours ago, and I’ve now read it cover to cover twice. So let’s have a look shall we?

First impressions from just picking up the book are unfortunate. It really looks like one of the Uni pamphlets or club newsletters that get bound up. I can’t say that I was impressed just looking at the outside. And considering the number of times we get told throughout our lives not to judge a book by its cover, you think I’d have learned by now.

The foreword and introduction are instantly forgettable. This is good because they are totally out of tune with the rest of the book. I suppose that it’s not a bad thing to have a little history and introduction, but I would think that a person going to the trouble to buy this book would already know what they were looking for. So now I’m 4 pages into this and wondering if I’ve just wasted a weeks food money.

Ah, but then we get to chapter one. The butterfly. And all of a sudden this book makes sense. The directions are clear, concise, and used in conjunction with the online videos allowed me to make significant gains, very quickly. Just the videos can leave gaps in the explanations. Just the book would be quite hard to follow. When this book first came out in 1990, I can imagine people rewinding there copies of “labyrinth” back and forward over every scene with a crystal ball in it, comparing scenes in jerky slow motion to the diagrams in the book. Over and over again. 19 pages of very clear diagrams, with good detailed instructions to reference, certainly makes it easier to follow what happens onscreen.

Now bear in mind that my efforts at butterfly have so far resulted in a hole in the wall and a traumatized cat. For me to now be able to do jerky, ragged one handed butterfly moves with either hand is a significant improvement. By the time I got to reading chapter 3, isolations, holds and rolls, it was clear that this book could be a valuable resource.

Once again the instructions for isolations were solid, clear, and if you were looking at a how to video as well, made a lot of sense. The grips and stalls were well thought out, and presented in an order that allowed you to progress through them one by one, seeing how they would all link together. Another wining chapter I thought.

Except for one or two things.

You get not quite 2 pages of instruction for body rolls… that seemed a little strange considering what a large part they seem to play in most of the routines I’ve seen. Why such a small section on body rolls I wonder? And it got a little stranger as I moved into chapter 4, other tricks. Other tricks was 5 pages long. That’s it. 5 pages. To cover every other single ball move you can think of. Except it doesn’t because most of the one ball routines I’ve seen have a lot of material not covered here.

My book was 92 pages long including the appendices, the introduction, the glossary, and the hi’s and byes. With only 60 pages actually devoted to contact juggling, and 19 of those used for butterfly, I guess you run out of space pretty quickly. The whole section on multi ball only covers about 15 pages of actual text (discounting blank pages and titles) for 3 chapters. That’s not a lot of room to cover the vast multitude of sins that is multiball contact.

I’m going to admit to fading out a little here. I only have one acrylic ball, a couple of not so good plastic ones and a bunch of tennis balls, so I wasn’t going to get a lot out of the multiball section yet. Once the rest of my loot gets here at some distant future time, that will change, but for now I just read through it. And once again, it seemed to be quite clear. Not something I think you could use as your sole method of learning, but a good compliment to other teaching methods.

And then it all fell to pieces. Chapter 8 was other objects. Not enough pages to properly cover single ball stuff, but enough left over to do tray, plates, knives, and sticks… Why? Sure, it was interesting. And I liked seeing how it was done. But it’s not why I bought the book. And it just got worse with the appendices. This book was written in 1990, and obviously the interest has grown to the extent that good quality acrylic contact balls are cheap(ish) and readily available (with a bit of hunting). The section on materials is hopelessly outdated. And I mean so far outdated as to be useless in most cases. This is then followed by the second appendix, three ball cascade and devil sticks.

Considering how well thought out the instructions on butterfly and transfers are I was surprised at just how bad the section on toss juggling was. It was completely unnecessary, a waste of space, and is covered more competently in a myriad of other books. Same for devil sticks. Done before, done better, not needed.

And last but definitely least, the third appendix, understanding juggling. It might just be me, but I think the whole exercise in this section was to try and stop his students from asking again and again about the weird way he separates his juggling styles. Reading it through made sense (sort of), but was it so important to tell us all this that you used 8 pages to explain why rolling a bowler hat down your arm should be taught at the same time as rolling a ball down your arm? It’s a book on contact juggling. Why not keep it that way?

And so I reached the end of the book. 92 pages long including everything, of which 56 were really good, useful, detailed instructions. And the rest was junk. God that sounds harsh. But it is true that I am now seriously considering just removing all the pages that are totally unnecessary and just keeping the rest. At half the size, I could carry it with me and look at it when I get stuck on a move. That would be great. And seeing as how it’s bound with one of those uni pamphlet plastic spines, it would be so easy to do a well.

I guess that when it comes time to sum this thing up, I’m going to cop out to a certain degree. I’m going to look at when it was first released. I’m going to look at the fact that it has never been revised. And I’m going to look at the fact that it is one of the only books on contact anyway. Basically I’m going to forgive it all its many, many problems solely on the grounds of how good and useful the pages on butterfly and their variations are. If you have access to the internet (and you do, or wouldn’t be reading this), find some of the excellent instructional videos that are floating around this site, and watch them with this book open to the relevant pages. You’ll find those pages easily enough, they’ll be the only ones left in your copy after you pull out all the junk.

[edit] Review by User:Brine_child

It's been described as the bible of contact juggling on a number of occasions and was the starting point for me as I'm sure it was for many, many others. The question is, is "Contact Juggling" actually any good? Well first we have to consider when it was written, first published in 1990, it's now 2008 and my incredible mental arithmetic powers tell me that almost 18 years have passed since this book was printed. 18 years is a long time in a creative community and to be honest "Contact Juggling" is starting to creak in a big way.

Really the only interest I can see in Earnest's book is from a historical point of view, this is what contact juggling used to be about. The main focus of the early part of the book is the butterfly and variations thereof; Earnest even states that the butterfly is the 'essential' move in contact, a view which is finally starting to be challenged. To be fair the book does teach the butterfly well, devoting a full 14 pages to butterflies and simple variations, with much more time devoted later on to two ball butterfly variations and the like, the artwork works well, simple and generally easy to understand and it looks decent as well.

The problem that I see is that if you were to use this a a sole learning aid, you'd find that even once you'd worked through the whole book the ball would still mainly stay on your hands, as the world of body rolling is left pretty much untouched. To give an idea of how lacking the book is in this area, all body rolls are covered in two pages and chest rolls get a mere 3 paragraphs. Outside of two ball butterfly transfers; multiball gets a similarly rushed approach, although some useful ideas are introduced the descriptions are far from detailed and there is no structure behind the teaching.

Also the appendices are somewhat baffling; first a truly out of date section regarding which ball materials to buy which pre-dates the availability of acrylic balls and recommends lacrosse balls (gack), next a section which offers a simplified and somewhat redundant guide to three ball juggling and devilstick, I attempted to learn three ball off this advice and failed so I just asked someone to teach me. I've yet to try the devilstick advice out.

Then we get a section about understanding juggling which appear to be James Earnest justifying his own categories of juggling, it is also immensely skip-able and fails to offer much insight. This also applies to the 'prime factors' of juggling which attempts to quantify juggling tricks, while siteswap is a little boring but still useful, this is both boring and pointless.

As a learning resource "Contact Juggling" seems to have had its day, the majority of the useful information can be seen on DVDs such as "Contact Juggling: Part 1" or Matt Olsen's first DVD, much of the information is also available for free from the internet. Once I found the community and the 'search' button in particular I didn't really need to look at the book again.

So a diverting piece of contact history but worth purchasing? You can spend your money on much more useful resources than this. Maybe time for the retirement home for "Contact Juggling".

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