In this Episode of the Handstandcast Emmet and Mikael have a very special guest, Yuri Marmerstein, to have a long and wide ranging conversation about everything handstands, coaching and their training experiences. They also answer questions from you, our listeners, concerning why you would have an online coach with there being so much information available, as well as if they know any high level handbalancers or performers who didn’t go to circus school.
We hope you enjoy it!
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S2E48 – A Conversation with Yuri Marmerstein
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Transcript of Episode 48: A Conversation with Yuri Marmerstein
EL: Hello, and welcome back to the Handstand Cast with me, Emmet Louis, my cohost Mikael Kristiansen, and this week we have a very special guest. I’m very proud to announce that we have Yuri Marmenstein online with us tonight.
Normally I ask Mikael how it’s going but we’re going to skip this. We know exactly what he’s up to.
How’s it going Yuri?
YM: No complaints.
EL: How are you doing on the whole, time is at a stand still and we’re in infinite Groundhog Day of Corona going on?
YM: It’s been interesting because I’ve pursued many other interests that are now gaining momentum. Now I’m doing too many things at once and have to work to do some consolidation. I’m doing good.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with everything, but no complaints.
Last year, I decided to try to do some new things, because I have time from not traveling. Now the momentum is picking up.
EL: It’s always interesting to learn new skills, which is a topic of the podcast – learning stuff. We’re always learning things. I always find this idea that when you’ve pushed a certain skillset to a high level, the understanding you get on learning that skillset can transfer very quickly to a new skillset, or at least a grasp or understanding on what you need to focus on when learning and starting out, or to pay attention to.
Because we’re a handstand podcast, I suppose we should talk about the handstand. I like to say we’ve asked all our guests this question, but realistically we’ve only had a few guests and for specialized topics.
But for yourself, as a specialized, online handstand coach/explorer/trainee, can you give us your definition of a handstand?
YM: You’re standing on your hands, so no support from anything else. The only thing in contact with anything else are the hands. The arms are relatively straight, where at least from one angle they look mechanically straight. Then the hips..the feet…no…the highest point should be something in the lower body past your ass. Even then I’m not sure. So that’s a good question.
Arms relatively straight, and hands are the only thing touching the floor. The body is more or less aligned somewhat vertically to some degree that can be perceived by someone who doesn’t know what they’re looking at. There’s some kind of vertical…I guess a planche could be a handstand. But someone looking at it who didn’t know wouldn’t say so.
But a contortion handstand where they’re folded and maybe their legs are not the highest point, someone would still look at that and say it’s a handstand, even though maybe the open hips are the highest point in such a handstand.
Something along the lines of a vertical force vector, and along the lines of arms relatively straight from a certain angle, and relatively vertical…
EL: You said something interesting we talked a lot about on the podcast: the arms are mechanically straight. This is one thing we always try to drill home, about the line. People think the line is making the back of the body as straight as possible, whereas the line is the mechanical line of force that passes from the centre of mass into your base of support.
MK: One thing I’d like to ask also in relation to that – this is the first time we’re actually having a conversation, but I think the first time I got in touch with you was in the Tricks Tutorials forum years ago. I used to love that place, it’s still the best place I’ve visited on the internet. It was brilliant and hilarious.
From what I saw when I first saw you, you were deep into acrobatics and tricking and all that. I remember you went more into learning handstands from there. How has the acrobatic or that side related to your handstand training? Was there a lot of stuff you found different when starting to pursue one arms from where you were, and so on?
YM: I found it completely different. Later I used it as an earthquake test, so to speak: if I could do a set of tricking, then a set of one arm handstands back and forth. That means my handstands are at a high enough level. That explosive mindset is very difficult to switch off when you’re in that moment.
In the training, I had to do a lot less acrobatics the few years I was really focused on handstands. I still did some to maintain it, but had to put it more on the back burner because it’s a different mindset, not as needy of a skill. You can train once a week and still make pretty good progress. I kind of put it on the back burner because I couldn’t focus on everything.
If I’m doing tumbling but smashing my wrists and then standing on them for 2h a day, that’s also a workload that gives a potential risk of injury. I did a lot less acrobatics, and then started getting back into it at some point too. Lots of back and forth.
Ultimately, right now, I want to do everything at once, but my stove only has four burners. Shit, how are we going to cook all these delicious meals I want to cook? I might have to only cook certain meals.
EL: Something I spotted on one of your tutorial posts on Instagram recently, was teaching walking via a cartwheel mechanism to get the swaying hip. I thought that was interesting; it’s not the way I teach walking. I can see how someone with a good tumbling background can get some up, over, out the side. At the same time, the idea of shifting the hips.
It’s almost a hybrid of tumbling and handstands.
YM: It’s just perspective. For me I think of walking as a completely separate thing. If I’m walking I’m trying specifically not to balance. Imagine a stilt walker; they don’t have that connection with the floor, so they have to balance moving back and forth. I think of it as balance by being constantly off balance, as opposed to anticipating and correcting balance.
It’s a different mindset. To me, it makes sense. What I see in lots of students is they try to stand, then walk and catch themselves. It’s fine, all good and part of the learning process. If the intent becomes more clear – if I’m walking I’m constantly moving; If I’m standing I’m not moving. If I want to test myself I can switch back and forth. Walk, walk, walk and then brake check. It gives more options, a buzzword phrase I like to use, ‘clarity of intent.’ What are you really trying to do, and how is that manifesting?
The more clear you can be with what you’re actually trying to do..that’s a powerful thing.
MK: Clarity of intent is a really nice way of putting it. When I think about stuff I’ve spent time learning, I think the things where I had clarity of intent was where it was easiest to work on the task. The clearer that idea has been, the more I’ve worked on the task, left it alone, gone and done something else, instead of over obsessing and trying to look at it from all kinds of angles. This is what I need and want to do, and you just do that.
Whenever someone starts out with a new skill or tries to get into a new mindset…you have so much information to be able to filter that and see what’s actually relevant and not. Like you say it’s part of the learning process, but the more you can refine that stuff, the easier it will be to-
YM: I ask this sometimes in workshops or class scenarios. Can you give me feedback on this? I ask them, what are you trying to do? It might sound condescending, but I want to know the communication is there. Sometimes there is a lack of communication for someone, to themselves in their own conversation. Am I trying to make it like a video I saw? Can I imagine myself doing it? Can I envision a path if I can’t do that yet? Do I understand what the feedback mechanism is if the manifestation is not equal to the intent?
I ask myself that all the time now. If I can’t do something what is a step I have to take to get one set closer to doing that?
EL: What I do a lot with clients, even more advanced levels – if we’re just doing a kick up to handstand. Say someone can’t do it but are physically capable of doing it. They just haven’t got the coordination yet. What are you trying to do? I’m trying to kick up to handstand. That’s not really good enough. Are you trying to kick up but focusing on keeping one knee locked?
Okay, now we have something broken down where we can basically put a binary.
We have the mental understanding of what goes on, then the translation of the mental understanding to the physical manifestation. At the same time, is the physical manifestation…is the mental understanding too broad?
For a beginner, a kick up to handstand, or jump to straddle handstand – probably too broad a thing. I’m going to straddle, going to keep my legs as wide as possible. Or I make sure I get my hips over hands first, then worry about it later. That kind of thing.
YM: I think the idea of focusing on one thing. Realistically, any of us at any level, you’re not smart enough to think of everything at once. You can’t handle those calculations. Whatever math is going on in whatever unconscious part of the brain that handles those calculations – you can handle one of them.
That’s a good intent too. If you make multiple mistakes in kick up to handstand, have a different intent each time. Maybe I do 5 kicks where I really focus on locking out the arms. Maybe I do the next 5 kicks where I focus on the knee, and if the arms bend it’s ok. It’s still a mistake but it wasn’t the main focus. If I try to focus on everything at once, the tower is going to collapse. If I can focus on different elements with that clarity and intent, then I can start building things.
MK: If we relate it back to what you said earlier, Emmet, once you’ve spent a significant amount of time learning something, you have at least something to reflect upon how you learned it. If you are reasonably good at something, you likely have come to an understanding.
You were really messy in your approach when doing this, then as you get better you get more aware. Then you get clearer at what you’re trying to do, and then you can make more rapid progress and larger steps.
I was working with one guy a few days ago. It’s the classic thing you’ve both seen. It’s pretty good when it’s against the wall. Then he goes freestanding and a lot of the old problems pop up. Then he gets worried, like he’s ruining his progress. No, now you have another huge thing to deal with – being in free space.
This makes it so the free space training is valid and good. The wall training is valid and good as well.
To use that metaphor of the clarity of intent, since he’s spending a lot of time training only kicking up, not worrying about balancing. He’s doing a physical research on his body. How hard do I need to kick with this leg? How much do I need to push with the shoulders? He gets a high number of repetitions done practicing that.
Then he goes on to the wall to try to put these two elements together later when trying to balance. Of course stuff is going to get messy, but at least you know what you’re trying to do.
He’s trying to get up in some sort of balance. It will be rough, but you’re working on exactly the task.
YM: It’s dealing with chaos too. Can you have the same intent when there’s more distractions? That goes into a lot of different kinds of training. Ok, you can tread water swimming next to the edge of the pool…what changes mechanically when you go to the middle of the pool? Nothing.
But if you fuck up you might drown. But mechanically nothing changes; psychologically it does. That’s another level of that progress. It’s not enough to just do it in the perfect scenario. You have to have it enough that when there are additional variables and complications, you still have the same focus.
The point is to train so your skill doesn’t get worse when shit is going on. It’s the same clarity of intent; it doesn’t change. I’m focusing on the same thing, it’s just there are other things going on and I can’t delegate my focus to those things. I can’t think about the potential falling because I’m in the middle of the room. That will make me fall more, because my mind is going there.
EL: It’s translating training, developing the skills for a performance context as well. We’ve all been performers at various stages. I can do X skill 100 times of 100 in a training hall with perfect conditions. Now I’m on stage, it’s 11pm, there’s drunk people hollering at the edge of it…can I still do it?
YM: Exactly. We would do group aerial performances and we would rehearse, get recorded music, and get to the place. All of a sudden the stage is smaller, and there’s dancers, and there’s a live band. The music we rehearsed to is completely fucked and sounds different and it’s a completely different count. And maybe during the actual performance, there’s people in the crowd we now have to push away; they might get a foot to the face.
It’s the same idea – focus on the task. You learn to understand the variables and modify them. But it does ruin your focus. If you focus on the shit that can go wrong, you won’t do the thing you wanted to do. Your focus is limited. Your stove only has a couple of burners. You can’t cook all the shit. You’re not Gordon Ramsey. You have two arms, and four burners. What will you do with those burners? If you let the onions go too long, you have to keep flipping them so they don’t burn.
MK: You made me think about a couple of times when we were performing at a pretty big show I used to be in. The show has massive amounts of rigging and ropes. SO much stuff, if something gets tangled, it could wreck an entire scene.
I was front stage and going to lie under a large net that was rigged above me. Then the net was going to fall down at a certain point. I was going to pull it off stage, and then the aerial hoop act was going to start.
I’m lying there, waiting for the cue. The music cue kicks in and I see the bolt that’s supposed to go out goes out, but the net doesn’t fall.
She can’t do her entire act when that thing is on. The musician is starting to play the music, but I can hear him stalling and running a couple more bars. I see the guy on the other side of the stage. He points to a thing. I just stand up, in performance mode, pretending I’m supposed to do this. Somehow I manage to find this little ball thing with a thread on on the wrong side, and chuck it over so the other guy on the other side of the stage caught it.
I’m pretty sure we managed to pull it off. It was all due to what we had trained, the performative state. “Oh shit, I don’t know what the fuck to do now but play it cool, like it’s part of the plan.” Then somehow we salvaged the entire thing.
YM: I love those moments. I’m starting acting too now, and what I understand is a lot of these iconic film moments, they weren’t even part of the script. The DeNiro, “You talking to me?” That was the director yelling at him across the room with some cues. The camera was still rolling and he was just talking to the director.
A lot of iconic moments weren’t even supposed to happen. It’s more in the moment, more real.
The same thing. It’s why I love chaotic moments. Whatever you rehearsed goes to shit. All of a sudden it’s reality, but the reality is, how do I deal with this chaos? Which direction does my mind go to? Does it freeze or find a solution?
EL: One of the most chaotic things that ever happened in a circus show – when I was in circus school, the year ahead of us were doing their end of year group show. They had a big top down in London, and it was a Saturday matinee for children. There’s two girls doing a double aerials routine, and they finish the routine with double barrel rolls around the bar.
They’re wearing hot pants and tights. The hot pants and tights are wound around each other around the bar and they got locked into place and couldn’t get out. They were clearly stuck. The kids were laughing, it was kind of funny.
One of the guys, an older circus performer in the show as part of the main cast, to keep the focus, came out of nowhere. He went backstage, got an EMT scissors, climbs a rope in a ring master’s costume with his scissors between his teeth, cuts the girls out. They drop out onto the crash mat underneath. It looks like it’s all meant to happen. Both girls end up without their pants on and have to run off stage very quickly at a Saturday matinee.
A lot of were parents were like, I’m not sure that was appropriate. They thought it was part of the kids show. They pulled it off so well. I was ushering the show from back stage so I could see; they were panicked as fuck. They weren’t able to reverse around the bar and get out.
Those panic moments are interesting.
YM: I love those moments. I go into something now specifically without a plan. If I can research it, sometimes I’d rather not. I want to see what happens when I’m surprised. Then the moments are more real. I like that surprise, what happens to your mind under chaos.
MK: It’s also relevant if we speak directly handstand related. Whether training or performance, and in terms of clarity of intent. The ability to fight, and handle balancing, whatever is happening. That is one large part of where the focus goes. You are going to encounter those chaotic scenarios, both in your training context, and in any situation where you’d like to show it off, essentially. Then being able to catch it, being able to handle your body, is about you’re able to deal with it without hurting yourself.
With regards to acrobatics, I was in the town of Rennes, France, with a friend of mine who’s a really good acrobat. We were out and partying, in the subway. He’s a bit drunk and very energetic. Suddenly out of nowhere he decides to do a backflip. He has a beautiful back tuck – high, rotates at the perfect spot. He jumps super high, and instead of tucking, you see his legs come towards his face. As he’s starting to pike he looks me in the eyes, and understood he fucked up. He’s heading straight down towards his neck and concrete floor.
He basically sneaks his arm in under himself and slides it out, smashes onto his back. Then he did three backflips in a row to not be afraid and then we went on the subway…
YM: A few years ago, when I was staring to get back into acrobatics. I was in Colorado and I was messing around and did a round off back handspring on the air floor to test timing. I went too high, high enough that I started to rotate. I was in the air and knew I could not land on my feet or flip because I had no rotation. I did a quick look – will I land on the air floor or the real floor? Real floor is going to suck.
I did a suitcase. It didn’t feel good. But I had that moment in the air of, fuck, just have to do what I can and minimize the worst risk.
EL: I’d like to cycle back to another question on technical handstanding, before we get too off the topic.
Everyone is always fantasizing about the line. What is your definition of the line? Have you got one?
YM: I do have one and it’s changed a lot over the years, both over my own practice as I got really into handstands, and then a bit more out of it and back and forth, and working with different people.
The mechanical line is not the aesthetic line. The mechanical line, for me, is a vertical line through the arms, and the hips somewhere along that same vertical line. The arms are holding you up. From this angle, also vertical to the floor. The elbows, depending on the person, are straight enough that they don’t have to use a lot of muscular force of the arms to hold yourself up. Use hyperextension if you have it – not everyone does, so it is good not to obsess about it. There’s a lot of potential injuries at the elbows.
So. Vertical line of the arms at every angle, and the hips somewhere along that line. People obsess over the back not being straight. A lot of world class hand balancers, their backs are not straight but they know how to hold themselves.
“My shoulders aren’t open.” It was not that long ago that nobody had open shoulders. Jack Lalanne was doing one arm handstands in between whatever the fuck he was doing and he had an arched back. I always use that photo of Sean Connery for reference as well, on the set of Doctor No. ‘Somebody tell this guy to engage his abs because that handstand is completely wrong!’
It’s the idea of using less muscular force from a mechanical stand point, and that won’t look the same for everybody. It’s what I tell people as well. You’re obsessing about a straight line? It might take you more mental focus to get your back that straight in a position that is probably not even that comfortable in the first place.
If it’s easy to hold, work with it.
If you want the aesthetic of the straight back, then by all means, continue. There’s a point at which getting a straighter handstand no longer improves your actual skill. My thoughts.
MK: I completely agree with your wording as well. It made me think, when you said this, there is a Chinese hand balancer here in Stockholm. She’s a mega beast. When she was 15, she was a girl you see in the Chinese videos, up on one cane for however long.
She told me stories like, “When we left circus school when we were six years old, we used to count the blue marks after the stick of the teacher. Ha ha ha”
She usually warms up on one cane, then does 20 hops or something. She gives me advice and says, “don’t worry where your legs land. Just make sure your hip is on top of the hand when you land.” That was all she had to say to me. I totally agree with what she says.
She will land on completely straight arms, and is so flexible that her adjustment all happens in the hip, where I go more shoulder and elbow because it’s where I have more capacity.
You need to have your hip on top of your arm in a way that mechanically does not drain a lot of energy for you.
YM: I use the Chinese as an example. A lot of them don’t have that good of an aesthetic line because their method is more, ‘if you can hold a one arm handstand for 5 min, it probably doesn’t matter what your line looks like, because it’s good enough you can hold it that long.’
EL: They haven’t had the 50 Instagram coaches telling them their line is wrong or back could be straighter.
This question of aesthetics becoming the de facto way you do something..
YM: I think people like to have an absolute. Maybe it’s too deep into psychology, but a lot of people don’t want to have options. They want to know this is right and this is wrong, because it’s a simple way to view the world. It’s a simple way to view the handstand. “Straight is right; banana is wrong.” A handstand can be so many different things…and you can be so many different things if you just believe in yourself..
They don’t want options, to hear It Depends. I’m sure you get the same questions, “Do you have any tips? What do I do for this?” Well, here are some potential options that you should probably explore, because I’m not you and can’t tell you what works for you. I can tell you what works for me, what worked for people I coach. I’m still exploring myself, they’re still exploring themselves. I’m still exploring better methods to work with other people. It’s ongoing. The more I know, the deeper it goes, and the less direct answers there are.
Because it’s easy to visually quantify straight-not straight, people hang onto that. This is right, this is wrong. It becomes their religion: arch in the back is unacceptable.
MK: I remember distinctly on some Facebook post, someone was doing a Maltese, a legit street workout dude Maltese. There was a bit of an arch in the lower back, and that’s what someone commented on…a little arch in a fucking Maltese. Very few Olympians on the rings competed with perfect form; they always got deductions. Chill out.
YM: I think he knows. If you’re at that level where you can do it, I think you know where your back is. You have enough body control and awareness.
Even aesthetics, the new school of hollow body – I don’t think that’s aesthetic. I like the old school of gymnastics where they arch. To be it was more of a presentational posture. That’s perspective, but who is to say what is right or wrong.
EL: One of the old courses books refers to the straight handstand as the European handstand. It says like, “we prefer the curvy flowing lines of the American handstand [arched back and chest] to the straight line of the European handstand. We find it more aesthetic and it’s what we teach.”
They did have the straight as an option, but they chose to do it all with an arched back because they prefer it.
YM: There is nothing wrong with it. I ask a lot and encourage students to ask as well – what its he teacher’s reasoning for why they do what they do? It doesn’t matter, but if they have a clear reason for it..
I teach the arched handstand because I think it looks better. That’s a good reason. I teach the straight reason because the internet says it should be straight. That’s a shit reason. That doesn’t come from their own perspective, but listening to others who don’t know what they’re talking about, sharing their shitty perspectives. Then it’s a feedback loop of nothing, someone without experience.
MK: The imposed conception of architecture that comes from human civilization; we are used to a straight structure being effective because if you do that with an iron bar it works. If you look at everything in nature, it all twists and twirls and does these things. Spirals, we should just spiral handstand.
EL: Going back to the line. One of my hobbies is making clothes. I was following a blog called Cutter and Tailor. One guy learned the old English style of making men coats, a very specific style.
Normally when you’re drafting to make a pattern, you use a set square or ruler or French curve, all these tools. His teacher had them banned. His rule was like: “here’s a ruler. If you can find a straight line on the human body, you can use it to make a suit. But if you can’t, do it with your eye and figure it out.”
We’re trying to make something curvy, flowy, sinewy, without relying on straight lines. It’s all an approximation.
YM: A straight line doesn’t exist; it’s a way to approximate something we can’t understand to that degree of precision.
EL: We’ve gone into Nerd mode.
MK: It’s what we should be doing. This conversation is part of what is lacking, having come from inside the Circus community and seeing the proliferation of a lot of mid and higher level handstands into fitness communities, then the language and conceptions shaping there and seeing how they were shaped within circus.
To me, neither of them ask any interesting questions. These are problematic, and as you said Yuri, they don’t have a direct de facto answer.
Another good example of this is I’ve been working with students in Circus schools for longer periods of time. One school, I had three different students. All of them were so different and had such widely varying potentials, as artists and as athletic abilities.
One of the girls was a beast presser. The other would struggle to learn press. One guy had a crazy flexible back. Why shouldn’t they be encouraged ? You have this thing, a certain set of basics that you should use, and then specialize in different directions because they have the potential?
I find that way more interesting than a linear and hierarchal learning curve that has to be this or that way. First of all, everyone is different. Second, people are people and might have different….
YM: There’s different levels of genius too. There are uneducated people that are genius.
The same with the education system. Everyone does the same linear stuff, then there’s this test to determine who you are and what you can do. Some people aren’t good at numbers but are good at thinking. Some people can’t read but are geniuses.
It’s this idea that you have an area you can go to, and have the position to develop it highly. Yeah, why wouldn’t you do that? Instead of following what the linear pathway is.
EL: With linear pathways and circles and everything, is it flattens all the peaks. If you’re really good at something, you can push. If we look at all the people we admire as geniuses, or are very good or virtuosic or whatever, they had one thing they were good at, pushed that and tried not to let the bad things they were bad at hold them back too much. They didn’t go, “oh, I’m really good at music but not so good at painting. I better spend hours doing my painting to get my painting up to mediocre level.” Instead they went, “I’ll just get really fucking good at music and not worry about doing painting.”
YM: Bro, don’t you know you have to be a generalist.
EL: It’s good to have a broad set of skills, particularly in a certain discipline. But at a certain point, you do have to specialize either in the area that interests you most, and the the area that has the most potential for talent. These might even be the same things.
YM: I like also the idea of doing things you’re not good at, to never get good at them. Just to do them, get the perspective of what it is to do them, and to get off the high horse of “I’m good at something, so I don’t have to bring myself down to that level again.”
Both ways, you have something you should develop to a high level, and that can be anything. If you don’t you miss out on that perspective. Then if you do things you’re not good at with no intention of getting good at, but it doesn’t matter because you learn something from doing them.
EL: That is how I treat bouldering and climbing. I go, do it, have no intention of ever getting good at it or even getting past the second level or whatever. If I can go up the wall, I go up the wall. If I can’t, I don’t care, but I’m not going to be a boulderer, sit down and figure out this problem for hours. I literally just go to treat it like a wall based rollercoaster. That’s great.
YM: I didn’t even know there were levels. I just liked climbing all the random rocks, and then someone told me the colours indicated the path.
MK: I had the same the first time I went up. The guy told me I can’t start here, it’s over there. Then I was halfway up the wall and had to go back down to try the route.
Going back to the why you do things and who sets the rules and decides what is valuable and important to learn, I have several activities I like to do. I think it’s cool and brought me lots of perspectives and confidence in all kinds of things. It’s very easy to constantly look outside yourself, is this the correct thing I should be doing now to signal to everyone else I’m doing valuable enough activities, in a sense?
I’m pretty good at handstanding, but not so good at planche. I should probably do a bit of planche so I’m not this kind of person. Or, I need to train my legs or else I end up as a person that has chicken legs, and it means I’m like this because it’s what other people say about it.
YM: Do what you want, then enjoy it. I used to have comments from the same guy, “When are you going to work on your flares?” What if I don’t want to, what if it’s a move I probably don’t care about? So probably never.
If I don’t want to do it and it doesn’t bring me joy, I don’t need that skillset. It’s not going to get me jobs. It’s going to get me a couple of likes on the internet, but the algorithm is fucking me now anyways. So who cares?
I hit this stage in my social media too. I posted a photo of myself napping, and that did better than most of my posts. I was laying on the floor fucking sleeping. Alright, I see, I’ll play your game. I’ll do a YuriSleep account.
EL: I have a meta question for you. What question would you like to be asked more?
YM: I don’t know. The reason I do these questions, but I don’t do them anymore on Instagram. I’d say ask me a question, and I’d give people shit for asking bad questions. That was a repeating cycle. I’m looking for the good question, and I’m searching for the one I believe exists.
Three parties can learn from a good question. The worst question is, give me information. “Bro, got any tips?” ‘What’s the best way?” I don’t know the best way. The best question is where I learn about myself from answering it, I help someone get perspective on what they had a question about in the first place, and a third party listening to that can also gain something from the different perspectives.
The best question is the one where the answer permanently changes how you think about or view something.
EL: Nice. I like it.
YM: it could be anything. It’s not a specific question. How are you? I don’t even know how to answer that. Maybe it’s my social inadequacies. How am I? I don’t care how I am. I am. Therefore I am. It’s not a meaningful question.
Any tips? Any tips on press handstand? It means you don’t give a shit enough to research yourself, and the answer I give will not help you anyway. It’s going to be so generalized that it may not even be the best advice for you.
I don’t like super personal questions because I don’t share personal information, but I like ones that make me think about myself and who I am. I’m still getting to know myself. I’ve learned a lot. There’s still more to learn.
Why do I do what I do? I don’t know.
EL: Awesome. So. Another one that’s topical for us. I noticed you will start releasing some more video courses and materials online. I’ve seen you do one arm handstands, I know you have others on Vimeo. Plug your stuff as well, if you’re at the stage you can share.
But, how do you feel about the transmission of knowledge to a digestible manner over a non interactive source? Video courses are non interactive. I will explain something on video. The person will watch it. There’s a transmission of what you hope the person gets. I’m not certain where I go with this but…
YM: No I get it. There’s a layer missing. When you use a paper filter in the coffee, it absorbs some of the oils. You don’t get all the delicious flavours. To some degree, I’ve grown as a coach from it. I have to anticipate somebody’s interpretation of what I say. I want to say something in a specific way that leaves the least amount of room for artistic interpretation.
I’m clear with what I want from somebody but we don’t speak the same language. The learning style is not the same, so from online coaching I’ve learned to explain things in a way where I’m better at expecting potential faults.
At the same time, there’s no energy exchanged. The instant feedback of learning in person is good. In the workshop scenario, the chaotic situation, I don’t have a rehearsed workshop where I teach. I have a general pathway I might follow that’s subject to change. I do that specifically because I know my mind works better when there’s chaos. I can create a better solution when it hasn’t been pre planned.
When I make a mistake and fuck up, I like having that opportunity to correct that mistake. The online medium doesn’t allow for that. On the other hand, it is easier to get something widely spread out. You can scale it up and hopefully the communication is good so at least you can get more people interested in it. Hopefully they end up doing it.
I’ve learned a lot of stuff from YouTube or a non interactive medium, when that was all there was. It’s good and bad. Ultimately it won’t and shouldn’t replace in person teaching. I’m saying this as a very introverted level of the spectrum, I hate people. But there’s a powerful energy exchange when there’s people in the same room going back and forth on a subject.
Even Zoom, this kind of lesson, there’s some energy exchange, but a delay. You don’t hear and it’s getting transmitted into a digital medium. It’s not as powerful.
I’m going all over the place but it’s like people who listen to vinyl instead of digital music. Vinyl is the actual music. With electronic at every split second there’s a beep at this frequency that turns into something. It’s pixelated instead of what actually is.
There’s a lot of good within the online medium but I don’t think people should pursue the online training as a means to completely replace in person training because of the missing energy exchange.
From a teaching perspective, I’ll teach a six hour seminar all day. Obviously I’m tired from that. I’ll teach a one to two hours Zoom class and I’m just as tired from that Zoom class. I have to project and I don’t get anything back. It’s like projecting energy into the void. Where is it going?
It’s feeling Bill Gates’ vaccines. He’s buying all the farm land so he can grow vaccines. The world’s going to shit.
EL: I totally agree on that one. I basically moved all my teaching online the last few years, bar workshops and seminars. It’s very interesting to try and create this. With the students I work with more closely than the courses, it’s like trying to create a training dialogue. We’re not here just so I dictate what you do. It’s more like, tell me how that set of dishes smelled. This is what we’re looking at, which is missing.
This energy thing, the atmosphere surrounding the training. The unconscious that your subconscious is doing by watching someone else doing the skill, or someone else failing at the skill. This increases your body map and potential to it.
MK: And the presence of being there. Everything we don’t think about – smell, light, context. In any room where there’s a number of people, you just add or subtract one person and the energy of the room is different. Everyone contributes something, that specific soup is so important.
I had a good conversation about this, a friend of mine, Amanda from Hong Kong. I said I would shout you out, so now I did it, kaboom.
We were speaking about these things in terms of teaching in online and offline mediums. I think there is another thing that can be overlooked. That is the trust and me coming to you, Yuri, because I have a dream to do a backflip.
Ok I watched your YouTube tutorials, I’ve done these things, trained stuff. But this weekend I’m going to meet you and experience you as a person being there. That makes a huge difference, the in person context, and the inspiration.
When I think about it, I don’t have a lot of people I look up to as gurus. There are a couple of people where it would be very interesting to see them in context and hear what they have to say, experience how they experience the world. There’s a huge part of that. Clearly when you’re a beginner you want to see this person who’s gone through all this and experienced it. Now he’s here and I can experience it first hand. That kind of mixture of delicate details that becomes very important to that social gathering it ultimately becomes.
It becomes ritual. You make a ritual context where you allow this specific thing to happen. You go into this with a specific purpose, a purpose in the doing. You come out with something.
YM: Looking back to how kids learn. We still have that but a lot of it gets turned off. Kids can learn something just by being around it. Being in the environment. You see kids whose parents do whatever. They just watch and observe, and later on they can do it, just from breathing in that atmosphere of being around what that thing is.
We don’t have as sensitive an understanding as adults, because we hit that psychological stage where we think we know about the world, but it’s still there.
I’m not a social person but I still like to be in a place and observe. If I’m in a gym, half of my time is spent training, the other half, as creepy as it sounds, I watch other people do shit. I’m learning by observing them, being in the same place as them.
I watch other people teach classes, and imagine if I had to teach that class. Could I do that? What mistakes are they making and what mistakes would I make? There’s an energy of being in a place, and you don’t appreciate it until you can’t be in a place because the government tells you you can’t.
California opened because the governor is close to being recalled. So now he’s saying it’s ok to go around if you’re wearing like ten masks. The Nevada governor likes to follow what the California governor does, so he raised the capacity of gatherings, that kind of shit.
EL: We’re at the highest level of lockdown. They’re slowly titrating out that everyone is going to stay there until everybody’s been vaccinated. Or most people.
MK: Sweden is chill, a lot of people are on skiing vacation.
EL: That’s what fucked my country. Everyone went to Italy and got wrecked.
MK: With the handstand project I have, we were offered to play this work in progress presentation next month. We need to see if we can do it, because the amount of COVID tests we would need to enter and exit Denmark to do it would basically end up with us paying more than 1500E in COVID tests only, to go in and exit the country. We don’t know if it’s possible to do yet. We don’t know if the regulations will even be the same at that point.
YM: Bro. They’re going to destroy your pineal gland by sticking shit that far up your nose. You’ll lose your third eye.
EL: Maybe it’s the force of good. They’re sticking the thing up there to crack the calcium shell, to open it up again for you.
MK: I have my tinfoil hat in my cupboard over here.
YM: You’re going to need it with that 5G coming out man.
EL: I want the 5G signal to get better.
MK: I did have the 5G crew here at my gym the other day. They were coming in with huge posters saying 5G Kills. They went around checking the various WiFi adapters inside the gym. I think they decided it was safe in the gym, because they bought the gym card.
EL: this is always the risk with a podcast. You can always take that veer off into conspiracy land, no matter what. We’ve been fighting this since day one.
As is tradition in our podcast, and by that I mean since 4 episodes ago for season 2, we started doing Q&A at the end of the podcast. If anyone would like to send us a question, either voice note it to us..send it to us at @HandstandFactory on Instagram if you follow us there. If not, go to our website and find a link to our Anchor where you can voice questions in.
This week, it’s a question I saved for Yuri. It came with a very long email. I’m going to skip all that because it’s very lengthy. I’m going to get the summary questions at the end.
One question we kind of touched on: “What is the point of having online coaches/workshops if there is so much free information already out there? The effort of the student is far more important than some intermittent training with a coach. Please do not give the obvious answer that I can meet with fellow handstanders.”
So what is the point of online coaching and workshops if there’s so much free stuff already?
YM: There are many, many answers to this.
First of all, there’s no point. You can learn anything you want for free on the internet at an advanced level. MIT released their advanced PhD materials for free. You can learn, if you have the desire to do the research, and it won’t be handed on a plate to you, you can learn anything you want for free.
However, most people don’t have the drive to do that. You have to search, find the right pieces of information, apply it to yourself. You have a bias when working with yourself. There’s a good chance when you’re training – and I went through this for many years and still do – whatever you think you’re doing, it’s probably not happening. You need a third party to tell you hat because they have an unbiased observation.
Even if you know what to do, a coach is powerful. Sometimes just hearing someone else say it, or for the tenth time, that’s the time you get it.
So this idea of a workshop or coach, if you get one nugget to take back into your practice, one gemstone, that’s value. It’s one gemstone you would not have discovered yourself as fast.
That being said, I don’t promote my online coaching services. I only do it for people who find it and contact me. I would rather people learn on their own and do the research because they build their own learning process.
It’s like being in the woods and wandering on a path but you don’t know which way to go. If you have a guide you’ll understand that path faster.
Having a coach will keep some accountable, because you’re not going to work only for yourself sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have someone to tell you what to do. There is that unbiased approach when somebody is working with you and can pick out mistakes you don’t know you’re doing, as there is that blurriness when working for yourself. Whether narcissism, self hatred, or a lack of understanding or knowing yourself. There is always a bias.
And there are people who have spent years researching this topic who can give valuable perspective who might change how you view it. On one hand, nobody needs a coach. You can learn whatever you want by yourself. On the other, a coach can be helpful and might make you learn something about yourself you would not have otherwise.
MK: It’s a nice sum up. When I think back on my own learning, when I started breaking and went into hand balancing and stuff, I was considering not going to circus school. In the first year of learning handstands I basically skyrocketed.
I could do a bunch of one arms, I could do good enough vocabulary to be a low level performer, compared to what I eventually became. If I stayed in Norway, I could probably do a bit better.
But to me, I was interested in going to the depths of it. Like you say, there is so much information out there now that you can go on YouTube and educate yourself in whatever. But first of all, the people that do that are those who are extremely driven and very interested in a certain topic.
You must also assume that the interest of those who are not ready to put that much time and dedication into something, it’s not less worth because they won’t sift through the 10 000 handstand videos out there. They really want to stand on their hands because they’re pretty fascinated.
In that context, they might need more coaching, or would like to have someone to work with. What also happens in this ocean of information is basically, how do you know what sources to trust? If you do have experience of the type that we spoke about at the start of the episode – you mastered something before, or did acrobatics or something that makes it possible for you to see what looks good or not – then you find your way through, it works.
YM: That’s a great point too – how do you know? If you’re a beginner you don’t know how to sift through that information and people get good at talking like they know something. There’s a lot of people on the internet like that. They have a nice image, nice graphics. They say, “Hey guys, today I’m going to teach you how to handstand real quick. First thing you do is put your hands on the floor.” Wow look at this guy’s energy, he knows what he’s talking about. It might be complete shit advice from someone who barely trained it, but how do you know? You don’t know it’s shit advice unless you had enough experience with the good advice to sift through it.
If you are training on your own, it takes you longer to find that path. You’re going to be wandering through the woods lost for a while, not know which way is North. You get a direction that can take you further potentially in the training.
I’ve done most of my training myself. At this point when I learn something new I like to keep a very specific ratio of theory, advice and practice. I want to try something without any context to see what happens, then research to see what I could be doing better, then get advice from somebody who notices more than I do. You develop these layers of vision.
When you’re a beginner, you don’t know. I got into shooting guns recently, and was holding the pistol like this or this. Then a guy at the range is like, “no, you do this, that and that, put your thumb there. Your shots are going right because your trigger is 2mm too far this way compared to your finger.” Layers of vision you don’t have, and only develop through experience.
Maybe that was too much information, but I like to keep a ratio of practice with no expectation, research and theory on my own, then consulting a ‘third eye’ (not the third eye!) who has a more nuanced understanding of the skill than I do, to get a little bit of direction. That’s how I approach learning something new right now.
EL: That’s how I’d approach it too. Very good, very rational. One thing you said I want to cycle back to. When you’re teaching yourself, it’s the concept of unknowns.
There are known unknowns. I don’t know this technique but can find out. But there’s a lot you might not actually even know about. This is one thing where a coach goes in. You don’t know you’re causing a problem later down the line by doing this one thing, but it seems like it’s working faster. At the same time you can figure it out.
This is the kind of thing. You can learn anything by yourself and figure it out, or try to get on someone’s experience and figure it out faster.
One thing that kind of irked me in all the preamble to this question – there are learning styles. Many people I know who are very physically talented would not be able to translate a written description of a trick into the physical trick. If you show it to them once, they’d be able to do it straight away.
It’s that idea of learning styles and people who can learn very well from video. But then there’s all the people who have learned from videos and can’t do something as well. Then all the people who can.
There is this taking information and turning it into action, it’s something some people can do. Then other people like myself, If I learn dance or something, I need someone to break it down step by step. I cannot learn visually. But if someone breaks it down step by step, I get the sequence and then I can do it.
But if I get the normal dance class choreography, copy along, it won’t work. But I can dance when I know what I’m doing. My learning style for dance is just not copy. This idea that there are learning styles in this.
You can learn by yourself, but maybe better by text than video, or maybe video more than text. Maybe you need photos and old school line drawing to get it. Finding your learning style is a lesson here.
MK: For stuff like online coaching and workshops, for workshops it’s quite clear. You have the energy exchange, which is a big part of it. You get a lot of perspective of one specific person.
If someone went and did coaching with all three of us, they’d get a chunk that is similar, and one that’s different, then each of our personal perspectives on it. These are rather important for many people. The factor of trust too.
When I started doing online coaching, I was quite skeptical. Am I going to charge money for this? I taught a couple people for free first to see if I can get results. Is it a tangible process?
One thing you contribute with is you practice these particular drills, which you can find anywhere, but you give them context and intent. You know what you’re doing with them and how, and allowing for adjustment of that. You have progressed a lot on this, not so much on that. Then we switch X and keep Y.
Then also, someone who decides to spend money, it’s also a commitment to themselves, which I slowly started understanding. It’s a contract with themselves. I’m going to do this work. Again, we need to assume that people have lives. Some are in a situation where they can easily learn certain skills fast, and that’s great. Some need to have a schedule.
A guy I started working with now said he can work three days a week, maybe. He has two kids. Can I help him get something done? Sure. Having that outside person, and I fucking know since I did so much bad training because it was only me. Holy shit I’ve done bad training. Way too much, or completely sporadic, changing perspective every week because I just read something new, want to try this thing, or what about that….I’ve trained for 20 years and still make these mistakes. Up to today I still have done and do this.
Having someone who pulls you back and tells you what to focus on rather than that, it can be very helpful. I think that’s the same in anything. If I want to learn computer programming, I’d look up a bunch of things online. But talking with someone who really knows programming who can give input and understanding.
They show what goes on further down the line, what happens before…you get a sense of time frame and depth that can be important for many.
YM: You can see the path. I’m about to put out a YouTube video on this, how a good coach can see into the future. We’re going real third eye, but handstand specifically there’s very little instant gratification or feedback. The handstands you do today are for a skill you may not be doing six months from now. That’s something you have to understand and a good teacher will understand how to sift through what is useful now that will still be useful then, or what you’re doing now and will hurt you then.
I trained for many years out of ignorance. With handstands it’s slow and managed to fix a lot of it. With acrobatics, I built a shitload of bad habits because I didn’t know the path, how long to take, what basics or fundamentals were needed to go towards that path. I was doing things I was scared of. On top of not knowing I was putting myself in a fear panic mindset, which made those habits even worse. It took me years to break, and some habits I still never broke completely.
It gave me good perspective as a teacher, but maybe if I had a teacher that time, I would have been like, “Fuck you, you don’t know me, you don’t know anything. I can learn this by myself.” So maybe even if I had that direction back then, I wasn’t mature enough to handle it.
It’s the idea that you may be making mistakes now that you don’t know will fuck you later if your intent was to turn this into a long term high level practice. A good teacher can see into the future and see the step you’re taking now is something you should fix before it becomes something bigger later on.
EL: This was a two parter question, and this leads into it: “Do you know of any hand balancers who did not attend circus school or did not have a coach and are still a very high level. We’re talking beautiful Figas and other advanced positions.”
YM: There’s a lot at this point. Here’s the other question – is it an in person coach? Realistically, even if I’m self taught, I wasn’t locked in a basement training by myself. I was still watching possibilities of people do it. Even then it’s not isolated.
Back in the day I watched every video there was about hand balancing. There were only 3 pages worth, not that many. Now you can’t. It’s the idea that, is anyone completely self taught?
EL: I think the context is, do you know anyone who’s gotten good without spending cash?
YM: It’s mindset. You have to be obsessive, you have to put in the work. You have to do the research; it’s all out there. If you’re actually willing to put the time in it’s very possible. Not everyone will get there because they don’t all have the personality type to get there. It’s not a good or bad thing, just different learning styles.
A lot of people can have great success with that, no problem.
MK: Then you have people like Morgan who you taught, Emmet, who then went and trained in Kiev. He had super talents at handstand and is super crazy good. He could probably have got pretty good without ever meeting you. But since he met you, he got good feedback and was able to skyrocket.
A lot of people who see that are learning pretty well. They either want to take it seriously, perhaps as a career or whatnot., they might want to search out someone. They see they could make better progress or at least immerse themselves in an environment where these things happen.
Of course, the more community context, like tricking or breaking or circus or acrobatics, you enter a community where loads of people do stuff – if you are in that context, then you can get super good.
Another friend of mine became a super mutant monster hand balancer in a really short amount of time. He did some classes with my coach in circus school, but he’s also one of the best acrobats I know. You have..he didn’t “need” much coaching because he has a work ethic and a body and skill level that surrounds the hand balance practice. It’s so high that boom *snaps fingers* explosion.
There’s tons of people that have got really good and it’s all possible. But Yuri like you said, it’s what is self taught in this scenario, is it not spending cash? Absolutely.
But if you’re in a context where you work with people and are struggling with something, someone gives you a tip, that is great. I think it’s bullshit to also glorify the idea of self taught. It’s not necessarily always helpful nor important to be self taught. If you can and want to, then absolutely.
But like you said, you built in weird patterns with acro, I was thinking back to my B Boy, training power moves. If I was training like the kids do, that I was training with, not analyzing every thing and looking frame by frame on video on YouTube and tutorials and shit, I would have got good. Those kids did 18 flares instead of analyzing how to do 2.
YM: I didn’t ever see a video of myself until 5 years into my training. I didn’t even have access to video. Just doing it.
EL: There were no camera phones in circus school. When did those get popular, 2011? I had about ten years of professional training without camera except a dodgy VHS every now and then.
YM: There’s something magical about that too. You don’t know. You don’t get feedback so you just do it again.
EL: The closest we had were mirrors you could roll around the space in circus school. You could set a mirror up. If you faced the right way you could vaguely check things, if you were across the micro and looking at it. Then learning bad habits while looking at the mirror.
So. I’m going to wrap it up there. Yuri, would you like to pimp yourself a little?
YM: Let’s do that. I also moved a lot of my training online because I don’t know what is happening with the world and it’s too unpredictable and I don’t want to multiple thousands of dollars getting my pineal gland jammed just to go somewhere. I’m not going to get into my philosophy on vaccines…
I moved a lot of stuff online, just launched a new online platform to do regular live classes with people through electronic mediums. There’s communication lost. Unless you want to come to Vegas and train with me it’s a good option. You can though if you want, I do live here and won’t be going places.
I just launched that, had two classes and my internet went out, so had to reschedule those classes. That is a bad omen but I will say it’s a get knocked down, then back up. Maybe I don’t have enough 5G in my system.
There’s another video course coming next month. I’m excited about this because I didn’t do the editing, it was done by professional editors. It has words underneath of what I’m saying, different camera angles. Those will be courses from a live workshop I taught in Florida last month. The footage looks really good, it’s not just me with a tripod in my living room.
I can’t run multiple cameras, microphones, and teach a workshop at the same time, much less spend hours editing it properly. Those are two things.
I do offer 1v1 online coaching, but will probably phase that out a little bit. Like I said, my stove only has 4 burners. I like to cook many delicious meals and courses and can’t do it all at once.
EL: I have the same problem with my 1v1. I don’t work on templates. I have pure professional hand balancers, all the way to someone who does Crossfit, handstands, bodybuilding and everything on top of it while having four kids. Templates don’t work here.
YM: The time is the issue because now I’m setting up other things that also take time. I can’t do it all at once. It will be more online courses, and for now online classes. Those can be archived and a whole thing, where the more classes I do the bigger the archive.
I’d love to teach in person again depending on which states of the US are free. Right now it’s state to state, depending how much freedom you get. I’m open to in person workshops in the US if anyone is interested. Probably no international travel with a US passport anytime soon. I don’t want shots or pineal glands poking, just to travel.
EL: If people are interested in working with Yuri, we will have links to all his stuff on our website. Other than that, awesome podcast. Really interesting for me.
We will see everyone else listening in in listening land next week. Thank you Yuri. Thank you Mikael.
- Yuri Marmerstein’s Website – yuri-mar.com
- Yuri’s handstand courses with Reps
- Yuri’s Vimeo VOD
- Yuri’s MoveBox handstand course
- Yuri’s Instagram
- Tricks tutorials – for links on this site that don’t work, type “.php” at the end of the website address
- Handstand Factory courses
- Emmet Louis Instagram
- Mikael Kristiansen Instagram
- Handstand Factory Instagram