Matt Howlett

Matt Howlett

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7 Ball Juggling

2016-10-23

Juggling seven balls has always seemed difficult but achievable. At EJC, about 100 people take part in the seven ball endurance event every year. The endurance world record stands at more than ten minutes - a long time. A group of us hanging around in the park the other day were trying to estimate how many seven ball jugglers there are in the world and the number we arrived at was about 10,000. That's quite a lot - seems doable.

Anyway, I'm currently trying to learn how to juggle seven balls.

But my ball-juggling aspirations end at seven. The world record for 8 balls is just over a minute. It was set by someone of freakish natural talent (Anthony Gatto) who dedicated ~35 years of his life to juggling before becoming disillusioned with the whole thing and starting a cementing business. Anthony Gatto could only keep the pattern going for about a minute. I'm definitely not that talented or dedicated and I'm also fairly keen to try to keep my shit pretty much together.

Eight is also an even number, making the most basic 8 ball pattern a fountain (4 balls in each hand, no crossing). This pattern is not as visually appealing and is less satisfying to juggle than a cascade (which is very satisfying to juggle) - the most basic odd number pattern.

So... juggling eight balls is never going to happen, but flashing eight (throwing all the balls up once and catching them again) probably will because it's going to be great practice for getting the 7 ball pattern really solid. Is this not juggling? What does it mean exactly to juggle N balls? The International Juggling Association has a rule about that: If each hand catches each ball at least once, this is called 'qualifying' the pattern. Numbers jugglers often talk about 3 milestones:

  1. Flashing
  2. Qualifying
  3. 100 catches

Personally, I feel like I can 'juggle' a pattern at about 30 catches. Qualifying isn't long enough to feel like I can really do it. On the other hand 100 catches is a lot - even for 5 balls.

So how quickly can you learn how to juggle seven balls? For me, 'demoralizingly slowly' pretty much sums it up. Most of the time it feels as though i'm not improving at all - a couple of weeks of daily practice typically results in no measurable improvement - I can even feel like I've gone backwards. Over a period of about six months, I've progressed from seven catches to about twelve.

...and having compared notes with other jugglers, this seems to be about normal.

Conceptually, the 7 ball cascade is not very difficult - it's just the 3 ball cascade with more balls. It is a little physically demanding, but for short runs strength isn't a very important factor either. The difficulty is all in the throw precision. Learning it is about putting in enough hours to build up the required muscle memory.

For effective learning, it's best to mix things up a bit and practice patterns related to the 7 ball cascade in addition to the 7 ball cascade itself. The patterns I use as exercises include (in increasing order of difficulty):

  • really solid 5 ball cascade
  • 3 in one hand
  • 4 ball snake
  • 6 ball fountain (3 in each hand)
  • 7777770

I also deliberately play with the parameters within a given pattern:

  • make the pattern higher / slower
  • make the pattern wider / narrower
  • ball weight

More tips:

  • If the 7 ball cascade is feeling messy, I often switch back to juggling 5 balls until this is feeling very controlled (which it usually won't be if 7 balls is messy). Also, I usually use heavier balls, making the 5 ball pattern take about the same amount of energy as 7 balls.
  • Think slower / deliberately act more controlled / hold the balls longer.
  • Orange is a good color for practice balls. You might like to also get one extra ball of a different color to use as a 'tracker' (helps with counting throws).
  • Which is easier, 5 clubs or 7 balls? In my experience 7 balls is much harder. I've juggled balls a lot more than clubs and I can already qualify 5 clubs.

Equipment:

  • Gballz E8 2.625 inch @ 115g ($14 per ball) - this is the ball of choice for many jugglers. They last a long time, they change very little over time and they're are a good weight / feel for juggling.
  • Gballz E8Pro 2.625 inch @ 100g ($15.50 per ball) - a lighter version of the E8. A better choice than the E8 for jugglers that aren't quite as strong. Due to the lighter, coarser filling, these balls have a cheaper feel to them than the E8s. Also, they are more inclined to bounce out of your hands. They are still good to juggle though.
  • Gballz N8 2.75 inch @ 110g ($12 per ball) - bean bags marketed by GBallz as being suitable for numbers juggling. I find them relatively difficult to juggle. In particular, I find releasing the first of four balls from one hand relatively error prone. I appreciate having a different type of ball to mix up the practice though. These are good for that.
  • MMX1 62mm Filled Stage Ball (~$8 per ball) - these are the balls I learnt to juggle with - all the way from 3 to 7 (nearly). I actually prefer them to the E8's, though this probably has a lot to do with familiarity. The main negative aspect to these balls is that they bounce / roll a little too much. This means when they collide it's difficult to recover from and after they hit the ground it can be a little time consuming to gather them up.

So there ends my thoughts on 7 ball juggling.

I'll end with a clip of me qualifying 7 balls when I can finally do it.