The world is spinning around you. You’re trying not to think. Trying to let things happen naturally. You can’t get tense. You can’t be afraid. You tossed those options aside right before you went airborne. Your trust is in your body now. It can’t comprehend the shapes, figures, and objects surrounding you; but it knows what to do. You’re just trying to find the ground. When you see it, you know that your 360° rotation has ended.
Your body untangles in the air as if it were programmed by a computer. You tremble as your foot hits the ground. The landing is uneasy, but you made it unscathed. You gather your wits and turn to your friend, who was watching you in silence. He sprints and embraces you. You finally stuck a Trick you’ve
been trying for two months.
The celebration lasts for two, maybe three minutes. You wish it would last longer, but you know it can’t. By the fourth minute you’re back in the zone. You know that it wasn’t enough. One spin is nice, but two is even better. A 720° rotation is next. Is it crazy? No. It’s Tricking.
In 2001, my friends and I came across a website called Tricks Tutorials. We didn’t know the significance of it. For the next ten years, the three of us shared a unique bond...
We were Tricksters.
What is Tricking and how did it start? Despite seeming modern, it dates back to the late 80’s when it grew out of North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA) competitions. Traditionally reserved for punches and kicks, competitors added jumps and spins to create more compelling forms. As with any aesthetic event, participants started going bigger, getting better, and flashier. Soon the flips of gymnastics, the twists of Wushu, and the standout maneuvers of Capoeria were debuting in karate forms.
When this happened, NASKA competitors formed teams. The first, pioneered by famous stuntman Ernie Reyes Jr., was the West Coast Action Team. Videos of their performances can be found on YouTube dating back to 1994. They eventually split into Zero Gravity Stunts and Loopkicks. Out of the two, only Loopkicks is still around today.
As the West Coast Action Team grew in popularity, so did the intrigue for these acrobatics. Luckily, the earliest Tricksters had small clips of themselves uploaded on websites. Viewers could download videos of single moves to have a model for practicing. At the time, dial-up connections prevented anything more extravagant.
Eventually, around the year 2000, the clips were strung together to create longer videos with background music, which became known as samplers. Although not intentional, this started Tricking’s migration away from sport Karate. Creators were free from the judge’s confines. The flips, twists, and kicks became more than a Karate score. They became entertainment.
You have to imagine how difficult it was producing these videos with no digital media, no memory cards, and no fancy editing software. It was a long process that started with the VHS camcorder. Those that went through the trouble didn’t want their videos to rot on an unknown website. Instead, they threw them on sharing programs like Napster and KaZaA. Not only were Tricksters watching, but everyday people had the chance to tune in. As with most viral videos, they are out of mind as fast as they entered.
Billy Bilang, however, was the exception. Not stopping when the video did, he found Tricking enchanting enough to create a fan website (www.bilang.com), showcasing the most impressive samplers.
The website boomed. It became a trademark of accomplishment, much like having an album go platinum. If a sampler was featured on Bilang, the Trickster had to be good.
Most featured samplers were created by what seemed to be professionals with strong backgrounds in martial arts. Fans grew restless. They didn’t want to sit and watch anymore. They wanted to Trick. But were these crazy acrobatics feasible with no formal background? Websites like OxPasture and Tricks Tutorials thought so, and were the first to offer free walkthroughs and explanations of popular Tricks. Of the two websites, only Tricks Tutorials still stands today.
Fueled by online resources, the Tricking community grew. But the new members were a different breed. They had no teacher, gym, or equipment. Their backyard, or nearest grassy area, became home turf. It was a revolution. Teenagers were doing unsupervised acrobatics, risking their health on a bed of grass. All headed by advice from someone on the internet. But they took pride in being so raw, and were deemed “Backyard Tricksters.”
Backyard Tricksters were unlike the others.
They had no interest in sport karate. They just wanted to make those cool videos that were featured on Bilang. With this came the true separation between Tricking and martial arts. Samplers became more important than sport Karate scores. Personal creativity surged because they weren’t bound by NASKA’s rules. Backyarders showed the world that anyone could Trick. With the world as its audience, it had no choice but to expand.
What started on the west coast has since traveled east, likely wrapping around the entire world. Tricksters report in from Denmark, Norway, France, Australia, Germany, Korea, Uzbekistan, Czechoslovakia, and on and on.
Strong friendships were formed between Tricksters through online forums. So strong that they started what are now called gatherings, in which Tricksters from all over meet for a few days and Trick together. Today, gatherings happen all over world, although the first was born out of a union between Tricksters that lived in New York, Maryland, and Virginia.
Few are good enough to make Tricking a career. The rest of us, however, relish the personal satisfaction it gives us. Samplers have become more than a pile of clips slopped together. They are showcases of both skills and personality. They are works of art.
At its root, Tricking entertains. Some say they Trick for self expression, but that’s philosophical hogwash. We Trick because damn few people can. We Trick because of the high we get after landing a new move. We Trick because of the camaraderie between friends and fellow Tricksters. We Trick because for that millisecond we’re suspended in the air, we’re giving gravity the middle finger knowing that nature never wanted her rules to be violated.
We Trick because we fall in love with it.
Yet Tricking is an infant, and no one knows where it is headed. Better athletes join every year, making impossible a taboo word. Clothing lines are starting in hopes of Tricksters adopting a certain look, much like other extreme sports.
Its growth isn’t alone in that regard. Activities like Parkour and Freerunning are also rising. The three, however, like to keep their divide. Parkour is about navigating the environment and its obstacles with efficiency. Freerunning is similar, but it ditches efficiency and adds flare with acrobatics. Tricking is perhaps best described by Jon Call, the creator of Tricks Tutorials, when he wrote that the sport’s aim is to create an aesthetic blend of flips, kicks, and twists.
The defining quality of Tricking is the kicking, thanks to its martial arts origin. Free runners don’t usually kick, since they lack the wow-factor that flips and twists have. But this is what makes Tricking unique. The flexibility and skill required to handle the martial arts demands makes it something that is more apt to be trained for.
To develop flexibility, Tricksters – even backyarders – often practice basic martial arts kicks. The time and toil taken on the nonglamorous aspects of the sport filters out overzealous beginners. It doesn’t end with being able to touch your toes. Muscles have to forcefully contract while being stretched far beyond resting length. Warming up is a necessity to prevent injury.
Of the qualities inherent in a warm up, dynamic flexibility – or the ability to actively move through a range of motion – is most important. For ideal injury management, Tricksters should be at their peak dynamic flexibility without much warm up to ensure that it’s not a weak link.
Flexibility is a neurological adaptation that requires a high frequency of exposure to see rapid changes. The best way to increase, and maintain, it is through a ten minute dynamic stretching session every morning.
An example of a routine working from head to toe would be: neck rotations, shoulder rolls, arm swings, arm circles, torso rotations, front leg lifts, back leg lifts, and side leg lifts. It doesn’t need to be long or exhausting, but each stretch should be done until a release is felt. By stretching both in the morning and evening, flexibility will skyrocket in just one month.
The other side of being able to stretch beyond normal range of motion is the muscle’s ability to forcefully contract. This is known as explosive power. Since Tricking is underground, the athletes try a host of training techniques to get better. But when it comes to explosive power, this is usually a mistake.
Although plyometrics and similar techniques have their place in some training programs, they are huge mistakes for Tricksters that already train 3-5 days a week.
Stripped down, plyometrics are a bunch of high intensity jumps, leaps, and bounds. Guess what Tricking looks like when it’s stripped down? A bunch of high intensity jumps, leaps, and bounds. Tricking in itself is plyometrics.
Meshing two high intensity techniques doesn’t allow for ample rest and recovery. It’s like chocolate syrup on top of chocolate cake for someone that wanted vanilla. There’s only so much stress the body, specifically the joints, can handle. A full load of plyometrics and a full load of Tricking is a ticket to the doctor’s office.
But even the ambition to do plyometrics, for most Tricksters, is misguided because it suggests they lack explosiveness. But most already have great explosive and reactivity ability from Tricking. What they lack, however, is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Freakish power requires freakish strength.
Squats are the traditional go-to for lower body training. But just like plyometrics, without proper programming, they can cause problems. Trickster’s lower bodies take a beating as it is, and Squats only add to the stress and subsequent recovery demands.
Deadlifts are a better choice because they stimulate the muscles of the legs enough to get the job done with less stress on the knees. As a bonus, they strengthen the lower back, which helps force transmit better through the body. Strength is only useful if you’re healthy enough to apply it.
These issues are normal in a sport that has yet to find its identity. Ambitious souls ponder the exterior of the acrobatic maneuvers and expect greatness. Perhaps their ticket to Hollywood in movies, stunts, and commercials. Perhaps. But only a few have found that fortune.
For me, those dreams are dead. Instead, I reflect on when I found a website – Tricks Tutorials – that changed my life. I was an overweight teenager with no regard for personal health that aspired to be an artist. With one mouse click, I became a twenty-four year old health and physical educator, coach, and fitness journalist that was given an opportunity to write about how Tricking changed his my. Maybe it was my ticket after all.
This article was featured in the Oct/Nov 2011 Issue of the My Mad Methods Magazine. "It’s Called “Tricking” How an Underground Extreme Sport Changed One Man’s Life" was written by the Ron Morris. Learn more about the My Mad Methods Magazine by Clicking Here
Anthony Mychal has a Master’s degree in Health and Physical Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and a Bachelor’s degree in Health and Physical Activity from the University of Pittsburgh, where he was lucky enough to study under James Smith and Buddy Morris. Anthony’s passion for fitness began in 2001 when he stumbled across an underground sport - now called tricking - that consists an aesthetic blend of flips, kicks, and twists. Currently, he spends his free time writing for his blog and other publications. Find out more.
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