Whirlwind Tour Part 2 (continued) – Boston

And today, another crazy one.  I had a terrible haircut, was unable to take a nap despite being very, very tired, and talked with one presenter from here in Boston.  It was in general very positive, but of course, they need to see the real show before they can say anything for real.  He really liked the show, though.  Of course, it is much easier for me to deal with the business side of things in English…

Even better since I had to hone it all in Japanese first!  It is like learning how to run underwater, I guess.  When you emerge, running itself is so easy!

Then it was off to meet my best friend from college and another friend who I have gotten to know better since college.  We met at a local bar/pub, and ate, talked for about an hour.  About real stuff, you know, and it was quite pleasant.  We talked about our friend…  caught up on everyone’s life, felt like we were 8 years younger.  Women, drinks, movies, literature…  very nice.

Then I went to another bar where I saw my gymnastics coach from MIT and my best friend from gymnastics…  Outside of work, my friend does this thing called ‘acrobatic dunking’ for the pro basketball team here.  His team should really go to Lithuania some day to do it.  We talked about women and life… very nice.

My coach told me that I can do an artist-in-residence at MIT any time and that he will make sure that it works.  I am very excited about the idea of lecturing at my old university for a semester when I have time.  I had a real Guinness, talked all about my life, heard all about theirs…  it is interesting how three friends can change over time, but still stay the same, you know!  Talking about performance, women, gymnastics… why we do it all, how young we were back then, how the world has changed, our world has changed.

In the end, my friend gave me a ride home in this custom-built car that he has had since we were freshmen… he build it from zero, it has been stolen and gutted three times, and he build it up again each time.  I appreciated it for the first time.  as a labor of love, as a piece of brilliant engineering, as the product of someone’s will to perfect something, as an automobile, and as a work of art.  Why was I never able to see things like that before?  What will I see in five years that I could never see now?

Then it was back to my other friends’ house for drinking and playing video games (American style catching up on things) and talking about women, women from college, what everyone is up to, about art, about plans.

I started thinking about the mental, emotional and physical, and how I am not amazing in any one of them, but what I can do that is maybe worth a little something, is to see how they all are interrelated and the role that they can play in a performance piece.  And how a performance can tickle those three parts of things… we criticized arts at MIT as being a little too mental, a demonstration, say, and I realized that when I come as an artist in residence, this is what I want to change.  To make art more human instead of less so…

All in all, a hell of a day, business, many friends, business and friends, and then friends.

I remembered songs I played with my best friend when we were in college and played them in the background as my other friend talked to my best friend’s sex interest on the phone…  just like college days.

Cleared some shit up about the girl in the hallway who is dating my other friend… in short, everything I thought was a little bit right and a little bit wrong.

I learn so much about life when I travel.. so far, things have been good except for some frictions about my last minute-request to stay with family on oahu two days ago that resulted in me getting a last-minute hotel room instead, but what can one do?

Tomorrow at 5am, on to Montreal!!!


Gymnastics in Tokyo

My new project is to put together a video of my entire career in 3 minutes.  It’s quite a task… to make these things easier in the future, I will be keeping all my “best tricks” in an easy-to get to video format.

It is funny looking at all these old circus videos of me from the last three years. I really have gotten better…

But I have developed tendonitis in my left shoulder by overtraining a little bit.  Hard to believe that I’m almost feeling like training is a chore – I remember the good old days when this shit was fun!

Still, it’s not bad – and it feels so good.  I’m training a bit with the Tokyo University gymnastics team, and about three hours a day just for my handstand number and to try to look a little sexy for the girls.

Water tableau in the National Circus School of Montreal's annual show

Why I Joined The Circus, or Lessons From Year One

i enjoyed the self-discipline of gymnastics and martial arts and thought that the performing arts would provide a platform of expression and communication – but why circus specifically?

i had always admired the mastery and grace associated with my romantic notion of a “circus performer,” but had always considered it to be an unobtainable goal – something one had to be born into, or something bestowed upon world-class athletes trained since childhood in an eastern european country.

in my third year at mit, and second year as a gymnast, i was sidelined by injury and its subsequent surgery and rehabilitation, trying to fight off feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

a year later, now in my senior year, i recovered to the point that i could start training and competing again, but i wasn’t feeling the psychological connection or drive that I once had.

at about this time, i learned that boston was only 5 hours away from one of the premier professional circus arts training centers in the world.  auditions are grueling, competitive, and extremely selective, and less than 4 weeks away.  it was just the motivation i needed.

those four weeks were dedicated to training.  flexibility, strength, airsense, relearning skills, 8 hours a day, each day ending in a bizarre mix of frustration and hope.

at the audition, i was floored by the high skill level of the performers and the sheer difficulty of the tasks and assessments that we needed to perform: strength, flexibility, trampoline, tumbling, handstands, acting, dance, and a presentation in front of all the instructors of our own personal number of 3 minutes.

when it was all said and done, i was satisfied that i had performed my best.  a storm was rolling in between montreal and boston, and on the snowy 5-hour ride home i was certain that i had not made the cut.

but why, then, would i run to the mailbox every day for the next month and a half?  why did it feel so right when the fat envelope from the school arrived, overflowing with congratulations and immigration forms?

lessons from the first year of circus school:

  • learn to live with constant self-doubt and insecurity.
  • you’ll never realize that you are getting any better.
  • every day you are taught to accomplish things that yesterday seemed impossible.
  • you’ll overcome feeling of inadequacy (“i’m too heavy,” or “i’m too weak”) and overcome (not suppress) your fears by developping trust in others.
  • despite all the trash talking in the gym, circus is intrinsically non-competitive
  • circus crosses all borders
Breaktime for the MIT Men's Gymnasics team

Letter Back to the MIT Gymnastics Team

What can I tell you about school here? 

Well first off, I'm ridiculously happy with it.  classes are about 10-12 hours a day.  my best workouts are when I have free training, though.  The stuff that is helping me most is my trampoline class, handstand class, and my flexibility class. 

The sickest skill i've seen here has been a triple somersault off of a teeterboard: full, double, full.  landed perfectly. 

I get about an injury every week, and usually it heals just in time for the next one. 

The conditioning that we do is not too different from the stuff I did with the team, except that it is sort of always there in the background throughout the day instead of an hour at the beginning or end (or both) of practice.  lots of ab stuff, lots of body tightening... in fact, I would say that 90 percent of everything we do here is abs and body tightening. 

My record for handstand is 1:30 freestanding with no walking or arm bending, and my record for onearm is 10 seconds.  keep in mind that real handbalancers can do like 5 minutes on one hand, though... and hop that way. 

Um... I have my rudi  now and can do a double twisting front to my face... 

I've also learned some great side summi drills, and am about two weeks from being able to do them anywhere on the street... 

Full twisting butterfly is being taught to me, as well as three step back tucks off of a wall... 

I guess that's all I can think of for now. 

I hope that all is well for you guys and that MIT is not killing you with work.  just remember. if things get really bad, you can always run away to the circus. 

Yat mallah, suck less, pain good, etc. 

I will be back in town the week of the 22nd, so with your permission I will be in the gym screwing up as usual.

A Premature Retirement

On October 16, 2000, one year after a bad fall off of high bar had torn my right biceps tendon from the bone, I officially retired from acrobatics, aged 22.

I went about the process of extricating myself from my old life as a performer.  I had to contact film directors, stage directors, stunt coordinators, dance companies, gymnastics coaches, and training partners to let them know my decision.

For four years, while an undergraduate MIT student in New England, I had lived two lives.  The first was a life of classrooms, books and practically insurmountable volumes of coursework.  My mental limits were tested and strained, and intense focus and concentration was required to keep from losing any ground on the academic treadmill that I was running on.

The injuries showed no signs of improving, and in a letter of resignation that I sent to the director of the company I was dancing with, I wrote, “when i’m in a gym or… rehearsal these days, I’m fighting these terribly negative feelings regarding a whole mess of things… I just feel like my body is broken, and that I can’t communicate with it anymore.”

“I need to distance myself from my instinct to move artistically, because my feelings of failure that stem from it are just too poignant for me to deal with right now.”

My retirement lasted for exactly three minutes and six seconds.  At that point I realized that it was not up to me whether or not I was going to be a movement artist; this was all I could do in life.  The last 14 years of my life had been dedicated to overcoming my body’s natural tendency towards rest in order to present my ideas physically to the rest of the world.

I immediately recanted the letter I had sent to my director, and told her I would start rehearsing immediately.  I felt my workouts in the gymnastics gym improve 10-fold with this new realization that I was training not out of choice, but out of a personal need.  I felt a surge of confidence and self-motivation that I had only flirted with in the past.  I also felt myself daydreaming about something that I had forced myself to ignore over the last twelve months: living the life of a professional acrobat.

When I look back on my life, it doesn’t really seem so terribly odd that I’ve found myself called to the romantic circus arts.  After all, they embody all of the tenets of life that I hold most dear: strict self-discipline, emphasis on excellence, and an intense focus on personal creativity and innovation.

My background is one of physical theater, and I find the circus arts to be a distillation of all that I find magical in physical theater.  When an artist relies purely on physical movement to communicate to an audience, there is no room for pretension; the art that is created is by definition one of honesty.  As I told a good friend of mine recently, ‘water can’t pretend to be wet.’

Later in life, I became involved in gymnastics.  From the sport, I learned how to push what everyday people consider to be the natural limits of the human body.  The insight I gained with respect to the discipline and training that it takes to mold a person’s natural ability into the capacity for wingless flight, I found that I was able to identify a common string that connected everything I admired about human accomplishment.  I saw a connection between the movement arts, such as dance, theater, and martial arts, with athletic excellence as well as with other arts, such as painting, music, and philosophy.  For the first time in my life I understood that these pursuits represent our species’ desire to communicate with itself.  I saw artists, athletes, and scholars as individuals on an endless human pilgrimage into enlightenment.  I wanted desperately to join in this journey, and the way that seemed most clear to me was through the movement arts.

I put these thoughts in the back of my mind until December, when I heard about a school in Montreal that was dedicated to the education of circus artist.  In my research, I learned that although the school was terribly selective, it provides its students with training that is unparalleled in the Americas.  Practically on a whim, I sent away for the application form.

At age twenty-three, I was in late-middle-age for an acrobat.  I felt as though I had no shot at getting in, but I also knew that it was something in life that I had to do now, if ever.

Applying to the school was a two-step process.  First, I had to send in a basic form which included my personal data, as well as a resume and three short essays.  upon reviewing my application, the school might select me to be one of the one-hundred potential students called to the school in February to attend a two-day long audition.

I sent off my application form on January 30th and did my best to put the school out of my mind.  I knew it was crazy; I had been a college graduate for less that six months, and I was in the process of applying to college again?  ‘It doesn’t matter,’ I thought, ‘they’re not looking for people like me.’

But it did matter, and it was impossible to put it out of my mind.  On Friday, February 9th, I received a letter from the school requesting my presence at 8:30 in the morning on February 23 and 24.  The letter was in French, so I asked one of my housemates to translate it for me several times over to make sure that i had understood it correctly.

Now knowing that I was at least going to step inside of the school, I felt fear of failure for the first time.  It’s one thing to have been turned away right off the bat: ‘you’re too old; you don’t have enough experience; we have too many applicants this year, sorry!’  it is quite another to be offered an audition and then to face personal rejection.  But the life of a performer is one that demands personal strength in place of external congratulations, and if this was the path in life that I wanted to take, I would have to face this first step both without reservations and ultimately, completely alone.

MIT gymnasts competing in the Iron Max

Farewell Email to MIT Men’s Gymnastics Team

After hanging out with max a bit after practice today (in town til saturday) I was inspired to go back and find this email from three (!) years ago about Iron and Brass Maxes.  Note the pathetic records.  on the other hand, we had to do it all in 90 minutes.  anyone remember what our second year records were? 

Anyway.  Hi Max! 

So the gym will be taken down tomorrow, ending all brass/iron max’s until sometime after graduation.  for those of us leaving Boston for the summer, it marks the last group Iron Max until September. 

This is a primer for those of us who have not attended an Iron Max or for those of us who will now need to carry on the weekly tradition of exhausting ourselves in solitude: 


              Walk through:

                           5 chin-ups

                           roll over the bar

                           4 pull ups

                           muscle-up over the bar

                           roll over the bar

                           5 dips

                           5 circles (or some other body-tightening thing like chinese push ups or body-tightener rolls)

                           2 punch-fronts

                           5 v-ups

                           Squat jumps down the length of the floor

                           5 leg raises to the bar

                           muscle-up to handstand on rings

                           climb a rope.


                           Do all of the above, but time yourself.  Faster is better.

                           Record: 1:35 (JC)



              Do all of the following (the prescribed order is the customary one) until you can’t do no more:  The record # is to the right of the event.

                           Cross w/ straps               0:47

                           L-Hold                              0:42

                           Handstand                       2:05

                           Bicep Hold                       1:12

                           Dips                                  53  

                           Humpin’ the Horse         30  

                           V-Ups                               75  

                           Rope Climb                      4.0s

                           Wings                               150 

                           Muscle-Ups                     9    

                           Back Tucks/Minute         23  

                           Pull-Ups                           18  

                           Swing-Dips                       30  

                           Wide-Arm Pull-Ups         16  

                           Press-Handstand             7

                           Ring Pull-Ups                   26 

                           Handstand Push-Ups      25 

                           Jumps/Minute                 59 


A word on judging/What the exercises are (Yes, you get judged; this is gymnastics!):


So this is a competition.  We can’t have people cheating. Obviously, a lot of us are asking questions like “well, what makes a dip,” or “wouldn’t 75 v-ups in 10 minutes be the same as 75 in a minute and a half?”  well, Iron Max says no.


              General Rules:


              -There is a loose time limit.  Try to get all the exercises done in an hour and a half.  This is about the average time it should take one person to do all these events.

              -Judge yourself harshly.

              -Beat your previous high score.

              -In general, you can rest in support position on an apparatus.  this does not include lying on the floor.


              Event rules/What they are:


              Cross Strength:

                           -Done with straps at elbows

                           -Start timing when arms are horizontal

                           -Stop timing when feet touch ground.


                           -Done on bars.

                           -Heels must be above bar level.


                           -On apparatus of your choice.

                           -If you do it against the wall, you must continuously tap the wall with your heels; you can not be on the wall for more than an instant.

                           -No, if you fall you do not get to start over.  Better luck next week.

              Bicep Hold:

                           -Done in pull-up or ‘back of hands to you’ grip.

                           -start when chin is above bar

                           -stop when chin dips below bar


                           -You must dip down until the bars are at nipple level.

                           -You must excersise full rang-of-motion; go all the way up.

              Humpin’ the Horse:

                           -done with five pound weights on each foot.

                           -Start with top half of your body on the horse with your body straight and horizontal.

                           -arch up to about 20 degrees.

                           -do not let your feet go below horizontal.


                           -Touch your toes (at least make an effort)

                           -You may hit the ground but not rest or bounce off it.


                           -2 pound weights on each foot.

                           -Start timing when butt leaves ground.

                           -Stop when you hit whatever the rope is hanging from.

                           -You get two attempts.


                           -Hang in the arm support on the p-bars.

                           -flap those wings.

                           -full range of motion.  as high as you can go, as low as you can go.


                           -You know.

              Back Tucks/Minute:

                           -You have one minute.  do a million back tucks.

                           -How many did you do?

                           -Anything coming more than half way around counts as a back tuck.


                           -No bouncing, swinging, or jerking.

              Swing dips:

                           -Dip on the forward swing.

                           -You must dip so that the bars go to nipple level.

              Wide-Arm pull-ups:

                           -You are in chin-up or ‘back of hands facing away’ grip.

                           -Your arms should make an angle of 90 degrees.

                           -No bouncing, swinging, or jerking.

              Press Handstands:

                           -NO JUMPING

                           -On any apparatus you want.

                           -Only count good ones.

              Ring pull-ups:

                           -These are like reverse push-ups.

                           -Keep your body straight.

                           -Your feet should be supported such that when you hang, they are the only things touching anything and you are below horizontal with your feet being the highest part.

              Handstand Push-ups:

                           -Any Apparatus you want.

                           -You can lean.

                           -Go all the way down

                           -Go all the way up.


                           -Jump from the floor to something about waist height.

                           -These should not be squat jumps so much as punches.