i write for inner peace.
Magic competitions are a tricky thing. Judging and scoring one is like attempting to assign numbers to the human spirit, or monetary values to a person’s words, actions, and deeds. It’s not as clear-cut as sport, where a field goal is indisputably two points, or a race, where your position at the finish line is self-evident.
Competition itself brings out the best in any discipline, and sharpens it to a sword-like point towards the steady pursuit of victory, whatever the competitor is told constitutes that targeted destination. Competitions of Magic are valid enough in the realm of sword-sharpening, but I disagree with the conventional scoring methods, or what is held as valuable enough to measure the worth of one’s magic.
Tradition holds things like deceptiveness, originality, appearance, entertainment value, and showmanship as elements of a powerful mage. If I were to judge magic, I would vanish these boundaries that I feel limit the growth of the art and may blindfold its practitioners into cutting down false targets. These would be my scoring categories:
These are the criterion upon which I would score a Magic competition, and let the numbers I would attempt to assign them be erased like symbols in the sand on a windy day. I hope mages in high places will use my criterion for a competition one day. That would unlock a hidden level of magicians unseen since ancient times when the magician was in fact a character of transformation and not just a player in an act.
Best wishes to all the competitors out there. May the results of your endeavors polish your soul as much as your swords!
Are these card walls hollow?
Paper thin things don’t last
What significance do these numbers-
jumbled, random or ordered, bear
To me anymore
What patterns are masked
in the trivial pursuits of diamonds lost,
What are magicians really searching for
beneath the layers of cardboard
The dexterity will fade,
mechanics grips will loosen
What then will we grab onto
when our hands are old
Where will all those late night hours go
when our audiences’ eyes finally blink
or turn away- strangers on subways,
with real homes to get to, or new cities to see
When those trains stop running
who will really ride these Bikes
in circles forever
there’s emptiness trapped within the
walls of a hollow card case
I hold the cards, I feel nothing
If I suddenly dropped them
will my hands be homeless, or free
ambitions on paper
for the wind to keep
My first job was magician. Kid Koala concert, 2005. Bending metal and turning flame into flowers like Super Mario’s business. They said we were like, “hip hop magic”. I remember that reaction. So I tried this thing of snap-producing cards on beat, since we couldn’t talk much at this gig. I think my hands shook earlier that night, but I washed them slowly and stared them down in the bathroom. Magic for money, dream job achieved. What did we make that night- $50? Plus dinner, at Subway? They did buy us dinner. And we chose Subway. Anywhere would have been feast, coming off of our first conquest. Our Crowd vs. Yours- that was our brand promise. Me, the Jazz, the Quizyx, the Genie; the rookie quartet, at the corner of the room. I started calling my guy ‘Jazz’, didn’t know he could play like that. He came from shy silence, to beast crowd player. Same trick, 100 times to different patter lines. We were broke champions that night, $50's richer split like 4 ways, subs in hand. No awards or followers or likes back then: just the pure stroke of cutting through a performance, and coming out standing on air, was the reward. The joy of magic was simple: throw down, celebrate. Like in a game after a dunk. I can’t dunk in real life. Magic though- that’s as close to flying as the kid can get.
Magic breaks ankles: you look here, and the ball is over there. Gazes are crossed, thoughts stumble. You fall out of your seat.
And those who do this to you have all these moves at their disposal: dribbles, no look passes, top shots, and the card you need is dealt: game over. Back to back threes, four of a kind, royal flush down the middle, for them to read and weep and loose sleep over the next day.
There are the mistakes: you play through them. You and the audience are a team, passing attention from side to side like a ball manipulated, until the driving lanes open. Effects dunk themselves over defenders of their own skepticism, shots hit stone-faced critics despite their hand in your face, and the people get on their feet and crane their necks to see what’s going on. You are the arena: whatever you do in the game echoed in their cheers and praises, their boos, or their silence.
Magic is a game: a team sport between audience and performer; a real-time duel of skills and strategy where execution mixes with emotion to put on a show. The magician, coach of an entire repertoire, each effect a player with a role to fulfill on the floor. Some will get knocked, fouled, and still find a way to score. Others will get benched for turning over the situation, the method, the secret. The star effects will become entrusted to pull rabbits out of hats in the clutch, earning their minutes, and getting the crowd behind them to fuel a run.
Prediction effects hit like long distance pull-ups. Transpositions move like give and go’s between the fingers, back-door behind the hand when no one was watching. Ball manipulation sequences lull the defense into a trance before the blow-by: before the pass to the open effect, the kicker ending. Dagger from the corner, no help rotation- you practiced this move in the gym when no one was watching, and now it feels the same; the knack is there. The effect connects right between the eyes. The crowd falls out of their seats, rubbing their ankles, scratching their heads, smiling ear to ear as they get back up for more as they watch things like the impossible get done like the Warriors are about to get vanished.
The question I used to ask myself and my mage comrades at cyphers was “what is magic?”, as if its definition were some elusive secret, and stumbling upon it would unlock some hidden power to enable us to advance the art form.
I’ve heard the Dan Sperry magic sucks rant. I’ve heard Armando speak out on the mass distribution of secrets. I’ve seen Eric Mead post gem statuses. If I see you, I see you. But in between all that, I hear the endless humming chatter of the magi masses, infatuated with something that I’m not so sure is real magic.
What isn’t magic? At one point laymen thought it was a hoaky novelty: wands and top hats. In the spirit of magic being a Way, and with as much compassion as I can have for the community of which I am a part, I’m compelled to define where not to go to keep moving:
Mages: What is magic not to you?
They were as uncharted and off-the-grid strong as the forces in the Bermuda triangle, swallowing entire crews that dared to cross them. They have etched untold legends into the pages of my memories through our many gig adventures together. Our paths may have diverged since then into new eras of adulthood, but I cannot forget that House where my magic came from. This is kind of how I'd like to remember it all as I drift further into the gigless, swordless afterlife of working a 9-5 grown up job, far removed from those distant shores were crowds went wild and cards flew careless. Pirates, ninjas, supervillains, mystics- these mages were straight out of an RPG game to me. We didn't have the most fancy, suit-and-tie operation, but we had bad-beer fun running it. I can accurately say that my job back then was getting paid to play magic; to be in a real-life videogame. I am grateful to this odd group of unknowns in the magician world- legends in my book- for giving my brainchild of magic a childhood as fantastical as the wonders we peddled.
For A Pocket Discovery from Royal Road
when I pick up the cards,
I let too many moments shuffle by
Ask spectator to overhand shuffle deck
without stopping to take in what’s in front of me
spectator removes a thought-of card
it’s all borrowed, fleeting
Spectator returns card
irretrievable in the fast-forward movement
of numbered dates as they pile on top of each other
Card is overhand shuffled back into deck
these memories will someday be lost
indifferent cards shown on top
indifferent cards shown on bottom
what I once held in the palm of my hands
is now out of reach
Spectator puts shuffled deck in their pocket
our days are numbered
Ask spectator to give you a number between 1-12
let the countdown begin
Begin removing that # of indifferent cards from spectator’s pocket
that first night, I couldn’t sleep
by the second night, I was still figuring out how to hold her
on the third night, my swaddling skills improved
Continue recounting first days with Nali as you remove cards from their pocket
our memories come back
Before the last card is removed, name the color and suit of the chosen card correctly.
time stands still
Remove one last card and hold it face down. Ask spectator what their card was.
these are the moments I can’t let pass by
Turn over card to reveal selection
In the opinion of many powerful magi, you’d hear things like connection quality with the audience, the frequency of the reaction beats, the sight of a standing O, or the after-show quotables of spectators recounting what they saw/felt as all being signs of a show's greatness.
Will my show be talked about years to come? What ripple effect will result? Will I get re-booked? Will this win a magic competition or smoke rival magi? Will the footage of it get me many Likes, preferably from the populars of the magic community? I respect these valid, human questions as I’ve subjected myself to entertaining them.
Upon alternate reflection, here are seven Hagakure- or Hidden Beneath the Leaves- signs I would look for to distinguish a good show from a great show, or rather a show of value vs. a show of success:
Mages: what for you separates good from great shows?
The magician picks up his deck of cards and searches for significance. He signs his name across the face of indifference for recognition, in an effort to be seen and remembered. He travels through the deck searching for himself, lost in the anonymous shuffle of faces and numbers and symbols.
His ambition propels him to the top: he is king of the hill, his act a perfect 10, winner of the jackpot and ace of his trade. He found his queen, and then three more. He found himself the wild card- the fool traversing in circles only to end up where he started. He becomes lost; a number in a paper chase; a puppet in a box. He is discarded and forgotten.
Into the hands of a new shuffles, he submits. His moment arrives- he is brought back to the top, for all to see, and in those fleeting seconds the room fills with praises. His work finished, he is guided back beneath the shuffling currents like a wave into the ocean from which it came. To everyone's surprise, he transcends the top to move beyond himself, changing colors, being in two places at once: a disposable member of something greater that somehow sticks together through every sharp movement the guiding hand subjects them to.
He is an extension of those hands. If he is seen and remembered, glory to those hands. If he is found, thanks and praise to the one who found him. If he gets torn, and put back together, may his worth be validated. If he gets buried in the deck and somehow rises out into the air, praise be to the riser and redeemer and not the magician by himself.
The magician, significant in his insignificance; a word on a page in a book chosen at random; a numbered card that will someday become dust, concealing infinity at the pips as the hands and blood beneath conceals the sacred heart, conceals the holy night.
Child of Light
In the game, you can fly. Performing a good set is akin to flying- to piloting an entire audience to uncharted, unimaginable destinations. You also get to play music on a flute that turns villains (hecklers) into good guys.
Platform: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS Vita
IMO: 4.5/5 stars
Killer is Dead
This is walk-around magic for high-profile corporate clients that throw you into grinders. Prepare to fight/perform surrounded on moving bullet trains, mansions on the moon, narrow hallways, and in imperial palaces. You can pretty much get through the entire game doing the same combo/routine a thousand times. You also get to wear a cool suit.
IMO: 4/5 stars
Life is Strange
You have powers- you control/manipulate time! How is that not what you do in the moments before the magic happens, to an audience’s thoughts and feelings as you see them through a set. Some moments last forever, some are a blur- all depending on you, making for very dramatic video game performance. Your power changes the course of your life, and the entire game’s outcome is decision-based- pick a fate, any fate, and control it!
Platform: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
IMO: 4/5 stars
Soul Calibur (all of them)
One of the moves is called Heaven’s Monument: after being knocked down, you push yourself off the ground with your bow staff toward the sky, and descend onto your opponent’s head/mind in a powerful recovery strike. Improvisation, awareness of opponent, knowledge of repertoire: if performing magic is a martial art, Soul Calibur is the reason. Find your character, fighting/performance style, weapon/prop of choice, and practice unto mastery. The game is a jam session that never ends.
Platform: PS1, Dreamcast, Xbox, PS2, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
IMO: 6/5 stars
The Move Unseen
A blog for magic.