Zen and the Art of YoYo Mused on

I started yoyoing (or throwing, as the community calls it) seriously about a month ago and it’s been quite the adventure already. In just a few weeks I went from not being able to throw a sleeper without extreme wobble to having a smooth, strong throw and being able to tricks like the Cross-Arm Trapeze, The Matrix and Plastic Whip.

My storied beginnings

The last time I held a yoyo was in 8th or 9th grade (I’m 25 now). A few friends and I picked up some YoYoFactory FAST 201s a year or so prior and would dick around trying to learn some basic tricks. We never learned much before everyone just lost interest as kids do. I stuck with it a bit longer that the rest, getting to the point where I could do a Trapeze and Brain Twister before finally putting my yoyo down and largely forgetting about it.

Fast forward 10 years; I’m browsing Massdrop and I come across some competition yoyos. I was instantly reminded of how bad I always wanted one back in the day. Right away I noticed the foreign almost hourglass shape of the yoyo; it wasn’t like any I’d seen before. My interest was piqued. After a bit of research, I found out it was a pretty normal W-shaped yoyo, an evolution of the classic butterfly (now commonly known as organic) shape. It was more money than I was willing to spend at the time for what was essentially me dipping my toes in the yoyo filled waters. But I knew I wanted one and, importantly, unlike broke-kid-me, I actually had money to buy something with.

Magicyoyo N12 Sharks's Honor
Magicyoyo N12 “Shark’s Honor”

Like any savvy shopper I did my research. In the end I picked up a Magicyoyo N12, also known as a Shark’s Honor. It’s a rounded V-shaped yoyo, that means its got straighter walls than the W-shaped one I was looking at (a further departure from the organic shape). Based on reviews, it plays on par with $50-$75 yoyos. The kicker, though, is that it retails for a mere $20 on Amazon, with Prime shipping. If you don’t mind waiting for it to get to you from China, you can get them new for as little as $15. At that price, it makes a great starter yoyo I love it, the finish, the color… perfect. If I had ever thrown a $100 yoyo I might think different, but who knows. Its just a fun yoyo to play.

What does any of this have to do with zen again?

I’ll get there, so hold your horses. I ordered on a weekend, so even with Amazon Prime it took 4 days. In that time, I had found my 201 and began practicing. By the time my N12 arrived, I was back to my previous skill level. I remember the first time I threw it, I had it in my hand and thought, damn this thing is big, awkward and hard to hold. My first sleeper had so much wobble, the yoyo looked more like a sphere at the end of the string than an hourglass, then came time to bring it back to my hand. I knew it was unresponsive, which means it won’t ever come back unless you wind some extra sting into the gap for the yoyo to catch on, a practice called binding. I had watched videos on binding, but not once could I get the yoyo back to my hand. The realization that this yoyo was much less forgiving than anything I had played before.

A short period of rapid growth

I built up my competence with my N12 within a few hours of playing with it. Now, it was time to start learning new tricks. I started going down the trick lists at YoYoExperts, Yo-Yo Tricks, and The Definitive. Starting from the very basics, things I already knew or thought I knew. It turns out that I had been doing Brain Twister, a trick I once considered my best trick, backward. Needless to say, it was good that I started at the very beginning. I was learning (or relearning) 2 or 3 tricks a day for my whole first week. Since I have gotten into more new tricks it has slowed down to a trick a day, and now to a trick every 2 or 3 days. But that’s okay though, that’s just how it works (my first point of zen). In years past, that rapid deceleration of pace would have irritated me to the point where I may have quit; not this time, though.

Going with the flow

Even if the pace of my learning has slowed down, thanks to the internet, there’s a near infinite and steady flow of new tricks and skills coming down the pipe. I’m just riding that flow, learning new things as I can (my second point of zen). There’s also my literal flow, that is to say, my flow of elements within tricks and tricks within combos. My favorite type of players are the ones who string together the crazy smooth and flowing tricks rather than those who play with fast and abrupt pops. This has been reflected in my own play style. It took me a while, but I learned the key to the smooth flows are to let the yoyo do what the yoyo wants to do, you coax it into doing what you want; you don’t force it to bend to your will (my third point of zen).

Steven yoyoing outdoors, the yoyo is sitting in a nest of strings
Me working on Spirit Bomb

True focus: a clear mind

The thing with yoyo tricks, even the most basic ones, is that you need focus and determination to master them. Say you start out like I did–your throw has lots of wobbles. You decide to take to the internet, browse to your favorite forum or subreddit, and ask, “How do I throw with less wobble?” You’ll get a unanimous one-word answer, “practice,” no tips or guides, just that one word. That’s really the nature of yoyoing, practice (and lots of it) is the only way to get better. In many ways life is much the same (my fourth point of zen).

When you start focusing on something your mind begins to clear. With enough focus, you can clear your head of any thought. Yoyoing is literally the best tool for clearing your head that I have ever found. My previous go-to activity for clearing my head has been cycling for quite a while now. When I’m cruising down the streets at a marathon pace, my head just empties of all of my concerns and stress as I leave them in my wake. Yoyoing rivals that. It may not clear my head as well or as fast, but yoyoing requires zero prep and can be done almost anywhere at pretty much any time. That convenience is invaluable.

You can’t forget the therapeutic nature of the physical motions of yoyoing either. The rhythm of it, its methodical nature; yoyoing can be quite soothing from a physical perspective as well. Throwing is like my own private retreat from the world, I can step into and take the edge off whenever I may need (my fifth point of zen).

Magicyoyo N12, halves split open exposing its bearing and string
My well loved Magicyoyo N12

These points all add up to something meaningful

You may have noticed I’ve been collecting points of zen as I went on. These were all directly related to yoyoing, but they don’t have to be; and for me they’re not. In this short time frame, yoyoing has already influenced how I think.

That’s just how it works

There are things in life you just can’t control. They are what they are, and likely you have little to no influence on them. You can’t just dwell on them incessantly. It’s not healthy and can really get you down. Which leads to my next point.

Go with the flow

When life throws you punches you have to brush them off and keep moving forward without breaking stride. Life will have its ups and downs, but the important thing is to keep moving forward. Let the things that hold you back flow over and around you as you move on.

Don’t force it to bend to you will

When you force things in life, whether its people, situations or what-have-you, they tend to go sour pretty fast. Your will isn’t an almighty end-all be-all force. Therefore, you can’t impose your will onto others. You have to be supportive. If you need a situation to go your way you need to position yourself so that things naturally come to the outcome you want, but be prepared to just go with it if it doesn’t. Adapt and move on.

A clear mind and soothing therapies

This is actually two points and are much more literal. Sure you can try to brush your stressors of and let them flow on behind you, but some will still stick. I know this is true for me. It’s nice that I have found things I can do when I just need to clear my head and decompress.

And finish with a bind

This post is partially just about me telling the story of one of my hobbies and equally about how the principles of yoyo transcend the activity of yoyoing and can permeate your entire life for the better. If you have never thrown, or just haven’t picked up a yoyo in years, I recommend you try it. You might just find your outlook on life will improve. At the very least you’ll learn a new skill that improves hand eye coordination.

A wound yoyo sitting on a table
Wound and waiting to be thrown

For anyone looking to get started, I would recommend you check out YoYoExpert and Yo-Yo Tricks. They have lessons starting from how to hold a yoyo up through some of the most complex tricks there are. Further, if you need to pick up a yoyo to learn on, both sites also sell a wide variety of yoyos for any budget. Once you’re up and running there is also The Definitive and Rethink yoyo for learning new tricks. The teachers of all four sites have pretty different teaching styles and teach tricks in a different order, so you should find the one that works best for you. If you’re looking to get into the community, there is /r/Throwers, yoyoing’s home on reddit, or the the YoYoExpert forums. I hope this has been inspiring for you. It feels good for me to have shared this with you. Throw on.

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