What I wish I knew when I started practicing sleight of hand
“When we think of the past it's the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that.” Margaret Atwood
My dad's an entrepreneur and my mom helped him build the company from the bottom. Both of them are the embodiment of hard working people. I started helping out at the family farm when I was 11. Both my brother, who was 14 at the time, and I did not think we would be spending every holiday for the following 7 years working at the family company. In the beginning, my brother and I would race to see who could clean the most rooms, carry the most wood or wash the most dishes. At the end of the day, dad would take us to sleep somewhere else, as the family building was not yet habitable, and on the way there each one of us would boast about how much we had done that day.
'Just make sure you keep those spirits up!' smiled my dad.
'Of course.' replied my brother.
'Yes, yes, yes!' I yelled.
I grew to partly resent my dad. Every spring, summer and winter holiday we had was spent painting, building, cutting, serving clients, translating for tourists, writing emails, cleaning thousands and thousands of dishes, glasses and cutlery, learning through the shifting of seasons what hard work and discipline meant.
Some of it must've rubbed off, for as quick as I picked up magic I couldn't give it up. Cards were all day in my hands. Fiddling with them as a child would fiddle with his toys in order to see what they could do. You'd expect I'd turn into a practicing machine after all those years of disciplinary work and military education, but I didn't. Maybe something inside of me rebelled against the idea of applying discipline into this new artform I had picked up. Or maybe I was still in need of more discipline. My miracle was that nobody told me that I HAD to practice in order to get better.
I'd spend time watching Ed Marlo perform his amazing switches, color changes, palms and subterfuges, those long fingers of his hiding an entire backstage at the table. Snuggled up in bed or sitting awkwardly in my desk chair, Allan Ackerman, Daryl, Paul Harris, Bill Malone or Tom Mullica would roll in front of my eyes piecing together in my subconscious mind what magic was supposed to look like.
In my mind it was simple. If I'd move my fingers like they did, I'd accomplish what they had. Nobody was there to tell me that was silly. And my thoughts were a closely kept secret back when I was a kid. My family and friends would do the talking and I would just listen, argue or not say anything - registering different information about how they thought, spoke, planned, moved or felt. I wasn't smart or anything, I was just imitating what the heroes I was reading about were doing. In my mind it was simple: "If I'd do the things they do, I'd get the results they had.".
"Just how much do you practice a day?" a Spanish magician had asked me.
I was so embarrassed to reply that I lied to him.
"Around 3 hours." I told him.
Practising for me didn't make sense at the time. I had no use for practising. If I could perform it without flashing, patter didn't matter. If I could perform it without trembling, the trick didn't matter. Once I started recording myself for the project "365 Hours of Magic" I began paying attention to my presentation as well. The project forced me to come up with an original idea each day and publish it on youtube, but having a project didn't change much. I was practising only enough so that I wouldn't flash or give away the method behind the idea. I was still imitating what my heroes were doing. For me, life was too short for small projects and time was too little for practicing.
My father and I had an agreement. If my grades didn't drop under 9.5/10 every school year, I was allowed to organise my time as I liked. So, you'd think I was studying while I was away from the cards, but that wasn't the case either. I wasn't studying. Well, yes, I was doing my homework, and of course I was preparing for the mid and final exams, but, besides that, I would learn everything I had either in the morning or at school. The rest of the time I spent on the computer (until my brother came home), watching TV shows with my mom (this was a weekly tradition), editing what I had filmed, listening to music, hanging out with friends, watching cartoons, pretending to read, writing poetry or playing on the PS2.
Looking back, for an outsider it would look as if I was drifting through my childhood, waiting for high-school to end or for something to happen. Nothing was further from the truth. For me, everything I did counted as preparation for the day I would leave home and be by myself. If I truly wanted to live an artist's life I had to know everything - EVERYTHING, from writing to drawing, filming to editing, creating to playing; it all had to evolve and be brought to such a level that I could make use of these at any point. It was only at 18 that I realised I wanted to drop out of High School, move to France and live my myself there. You see, I was never really good at seeing 5, 10 steps ahead, but what I was good at was following my heart.
Over the years, I developed a personal philosophy: 'Don't practice the RIGHT way. Practice YOUR way.' Don't practice how everyone else does. Practice how you feel is right for you in order to have a good time, be inspired to keep on doing magic and to be able to reach the goals you've set for yourself. I wish I'd have known this back when I started out. The following years I witnessed a few of my close friends give up magic completely and pick up something else. The closer you get to the present time, the more I try to inspire others to practice in a way that's purposeful, instead of practising just to get better.
For me it was getting closer to 365 hours of magic and entertaining people on youtube. This project gave my practice purpose. It didn't feel like I was practising for myself, it felt like I was practising for others too. For all those people that'll invest their time watching my videos or all those that supported me from the beginning. Having a project made it easier filming video after video after video without getting stressed (and if I did get annoyed, it made it easier to keep going when I was failing), made it easier to stay up till midnight to edit what I had filmed (even if I had exams the next day) and definitely made creating easier as I was pressured to come up with something daily. Having a project made it so I'd forget I was practising at all. Made practising feel like a step rather than an activity. A step towards a greater purpose. My greater purpose, the one I had chosen for myself.
I was lucky to do this out of instinct, but I really wish I had known all this at the time. Maybe I could've motivated more people to continue doing magic or inspire other magicians to make practising more purposeful by picking up projects. But our past is there to nurture our present. As such, I have put together 7 projects that you can pick up today and make your practising more purposeful. Here they are:
- "One to 52" - a project where you do magic with 1 card, then the following day with 2, then 3, 4 and so on until 52 days pass to find you performing an effect with a full deck. Can be adapted into a youtube or instagram project. You can either create the ideas or perform other magician's tricks. Fun to ponder as a group during a jam or convention. And can even pass as a Zoom or live show. The opposite works as well: start from 52 cards and work your way down to 1 card.
- "[insert trick deck name here] Month" - choose a trick deck (such as Stripper, Svengali, etc.) and perform/learn one new trick each day for a month. I'm a firm believer that trick decks deserve more attention from semi-professional to professional magicians and that there's plenty of untapped territory here.
- "Cards Out" - perform an effect then immediately discard the cards that have been used. If you perform an ambitious card, discard the spectator's selection. If you did a sandwich effect, discard all 3 cards. Always discard the protagonist-cards and keep the rest. Do this until you have no cards in your hands. Can be done as a show or succession of videos.
- "Same coin, different face" - choose 1 effect and 1 method and perform as 10 different characters. These characters can either be other magicians or movie stars, dictators, famous people - you name it! Great for instagram, youtube, facebook, tiktok, real life - you name it.
- "365 Minutes of Magic" - livestream one 61 minute show every week for 6 weeks until you reach 365 minutes of magic. Each show must completely differ from the previous ones and cannot use ideas from the others. This is very much alike to what Chung Ling Soo did with his own shows.
- "One to Ten Fingers" - perform an effect with 1 finger, then 2 and so on until you are performing with all of your fingers. Can be made as 10 separate videos or one long routine. You can use any sort of object for this and do not have to limit yourself to only doing body magic. Just make sure you only
- "Books Out" - perform and record every single effect from any book of your choosing. Try performing and recording 1 effect per day until the completion of the book.