Monthly Archives: March 2014

Voodoo Needs You!

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Ever wanted to be a part of Voodoo Unicycles? Live the Rock n Roll lifestyle, perform in front of crowds all over the country, tear up hotel rooms and ride with the top Street and Trials riders the UK has to offer?
Well here’s your chance.

Team Voodoo are looking for one enthusiastic rider to join them on an exciting 16 date tour; demoing, riding hard and having fun living the unique life of an Extreme Unicycling Super Star. All you have to do is email info@voodoounicycles.com and request an application form, fill it in and let us know exactly why you should be the newest Voodoo rider. Attach a link to a video of your riding (the more unique, the better) before April 27th and you could be in with a chance.

Remember, Voodoo Unicycles isn’t just about riding hard, we have a certain philosophy and promote a style and way of life. We want original, unique people who are born performers, get on well with the rest of the team and are passionate about spreading the Voodoo message.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFKc44EGuAo

Get your application now from info@voodoounicycles.com and you could have the honour of wearing the Voodoo patch as part of the crew.

Circus School gets new national status – What does this mean for UK Unicycling?

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It’s been announced that Circus Space, one of the leading facilities in the UK for learning traditional Circus skills, has been recognised as the UK centre for excellence by the government and will be renamed, The National Centre for Circus Arts. It’s the only institution in the UK where one can earn a degree in Circus Arts. The move has come in an effort to keep home grown talent here in the UK, where Circus has taken a dive in the past decades, often considered as the black sheep of the performing arts family.

Before I start treading on thin ice and risk upsetting anyone with my supercilious tone, I personally believe contemporary Circus arts to be nothing short of incredible. At their best, these people are well rounded athletes, comparable to Olympic gymnasts but with the charisma and stage presence to be an entertainer. In the case of companies like Cirque Du Soleil and Limbo, they are jacks of all trades and masters of each one. Far from The Simpsons episode where Homer goes to Clown College, this is serious shit.
That being said, as much as I wouldn’t want to endure a more “stereotypical” circus performance of clowns throwing buckets of shredded paper at each other with painted tears on their white powdered faces, symbolic of the inner anguish and existential nausea that echoes in their mind saying “why didn’t I become a doctor like my mother told me”, I know there are many people out there that consider this an art form too.

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But…

Ever since I started Unicycling, and I know I’m no stranger in saying this, I often hear the never ending mockery, mantra like in it’s frequency “Are you going to join the Circus?” “I suppose you’re going to become a clown then?”. All synonyms for “We don’t take you seriously” and “Get a real hobby/job”. Consequently, my developing disdain and dislike for this cliché assumption and the condescending way I’m often addressed has meant that my life’s mission and that of Voodoo Unicycles, has been to forge a path for our sport as just that, an urban athletic activity and not a performance. To condemn that stereotype as old fashioned, ill-informed and totally not cool. However, it’s also impossible to ignore where we come from and it would perhaps be disrespectful to do so. An unfavourable history is still a history and until we reinvent one wheel into Street, Trials, Muni and Flat, we will always be linked with the Circus.

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So what does this mean for Unicycling? And when I say that, I mean Unicycling as a comprehensive activity, not just it’s modern, urban subsidiaries?
Again, let me be clear, reading one of the only journalistic articles about the subject on the Guardian website (you can read it too here: http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/mar/08/circus-school-arts-national-centre-east-london ), It’s clear that Circus Space is not going to be overrun with crusty folk using the “Jason Auld Shopping Trolley Technique” to get their balance. This is a training facility for serious, ripped up, toned, stacked, agile, flexible performance athletes but as I’ve stated, the rise of Circus has got to be tied to the rise in awareness and enthusiasm for Unicycling, I’m sure almost all would agree. The steep learning curve, often cited as the primary reason for Unicycling never being as popular as Skating or BMXing, would obviously still exist but with more people getting on Unicycles and perhaps learning the basics, we would have a pool of talent to pick from, like an arcade claw game, with the foundation to build Street, Trials, Flat and Muni skills upon.

With the rise of the internet, it would be quite logical to suggest that more people are riding than ever before but to isolate the UK scene, I’m not so sure I’d jump to that conclusion. When I ended my first few events, there were a group of riders, you knew would be at national and international events, you saw posting regularly in the forums and that you knew were learning tricks and techniques daily that would have them showcasing a new arsenal of spins and twists every time you saw them. Edd and Leo Hawkes, Lucas Wintercrane, Joe Baxter, Joe Hodges, AJ Harris, Dale Entwistle, Mike Swarbrick and later on, our very own Mike Taylor and Simon Berry. Mike Swarbrick was the first guy to land a triple backflip god damnit! And his backflip variations, although not exclusive to his repertoire, were relatively ground-breaking at the time. Casual rides were more frequent, The famous Northern Unicycle Trials Sessions (NUTS for short and shits and giggles), the legendary London rides, often mentioned like myths amongst younger riders, sometimes with the addition of a Unicorn or a quest for the Holy Grail. Fast forward to 2014, BUC (British Unicycling Convention) has been cancelled for the 3rd time in 4 years, the UK forums have shut down and the UUU (our “governing body”) is on the verge of collapse. Your average London ride will attract the nearest locals and long gone are the days where foreign riders would travel to the UK to ride with the best of British.
Of course I’ll listen to arguments that there are far more Flat riders than once upon a time and it’s almost impossible to monitor the number of people picking the Unicycle up for fun, who don’t engage the community via social networking, so I can accept that I may be glorifying the past but I doubt anyone would argue that there is growth in the scene.

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Can this announcement about a BA in Circus Arts be a boost for our sport or are the two so far removed that they are no longer relevant? Is the alternative Unicycling scene growing in your area? Worldwide? Or are we in decline? Let us know what you think.

Who Wants to Unicycle for 10,000 Hours?

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Today, an article on the BBC News website was brought to my attention by a friend on Facebook entitled “Can 10,000 hours of practise make you an expert?”

Of course, this is a reference to a popular theory, that if one partakes in a particular activity for 10,000 hours, they can consider themselves a master of that skill. Although ubiquitous in modern life, the “10,000 hour rule” was first cited by an author named Malcolm Gladwell in his bestselling book “Outliers”. The chapter itself was inspired by a paper written by Anders Ericsson who concluded through his work with young musicians that ”many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years”. Ericsson has since gone on to rebut the claims of Gladwell suggesting that his work was taken out of context by the author and does not believe that mastery can simply be contributed to a magic number. Gladwell countered that by stating that there is room in his theory for natural “talent” and suggests that no one can achieve true mastery of a skill without good genetics or a hereditary gift.

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The article cited at the beginning of my post (which can be viewed here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26384712), tracks the pursuit of a young golfer from the States who has dramatically improved his golf handicap, he says, without any inate abilities and with pure focus, concentration and repetitive practise.

This got me thinking, how many hours have I Unicycled in my life? There is no possible way of calculating it accurately but I started over 11 years ago and if I averaged at 1 hour per day that’s 4015 hours. Aside from being halfway to mastery, those are hours I could have wasted drinking, smoking and making love, so this revelation was quite a shocker.
It also reminded me of the age old comment that most of us hear “You must have great balance to ride that thing” or the defeated, pessimistic learner who claims “my balance is terrible, I’ll never be able to ride that”.

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So what is it? If we put in our 10,000 hours can we consider ourselves experts or without a predisposition, will we ever be great at something? I remember hearing about a Discovery Channel show that, a man I have no hesitation calling Great, Kris Holm was involved in. They studied his riding ability and concluded that he had above normal balance. What they couldn’t decipher, understandably, was whether he had this gift and that explained his prowess on the Unicycle or if he had built this ability through training his body through Unicycling. It’s something that has fascinated me since I was young and I’m sure it’s something that will continue to trouble all of us interested in becoming masters until the day we die.

Perhaps this quote from Will Smith will shed some light on the topic:

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“The separation of talent and skill is one of the greatest misunderstood concept amongst people trying to excel.Talent you have naturally, skill is only developed by hours and hours of beating on your craft”

The golfer, the subject of the BBC News article, has managed to improve his ability to an almost professional degree and is only half way through his 10,000 hours.

How many hours have you been riding? Do you consider yourself a master and if so, is that down to your genes or just plain old hard work?