Transcript of Episode 62: Walking on Hands
EL: Hello, and welcome back to the Handstand Cast with me, Emmet Louis, and my glorious co-host Mikael Kristiansen. The gruesome twosome are back in the house. Great to have you back on at the same time as me.
MK: Yay finally. Actually, talking computer screen to computer screen again, instead of staring blankly into the void as I was recording last time. I’m not too bad. Still in Turkey at TADAH. If you don’t know what TADAH is…
EL: It stands for Till AND DENIZ ARTIST HABITAT
MK: Exactly. It’s pretty sick, enormous house, so fucking big, it’s stupid. Huge garden, it’s incredible, big training space. It’s basically completely secluded from absolutely everything. There’s no going anywhere. One of the girls hasn’t left the property in almost a year; it’s that kind of place. It’s so easy to be here, you can basically zone out here.
I’m doing volunteer work here. I’m helping with construction, learning loads about that. I do handstands when I have time. Today was really fucking hot. Can’t complain, definitely can’t.
In Scandinavia it still hasn’t become Spring, so fuck that shit.
EL: There’s a bit of sun here, but nothing compared to what you have. You can always check out TADAH on Instagram if you want to get a vibe. It’s also where we host the retreats every year…not last year.
It’s fantastic what they’ve done there. If you’re into circus and want a training holiday…there are different phases of the year. They have a hostel going on, residencies, different courses. Check it out.
MK: They have different kinds of volunteering projects. You can do full volunteering where you don’t pay anything, half volunteer, many options. There’s an application process on the website for volunteering, and what season they’re in, and the people they are looking for and so on. It’s incredible to be here.
I was planning to stay for a month; now I’ve been here for almost two. Working a bit, doing handstands, can’t complain.
EL: The volunteering aspect is cool, because if you’re in circus school or that kind of thing, particularly if you’re into juggling, Till is fucking a machine at juggling. He’s got multiple world records in crazy stuff like six balls overhead. He’s very impressive in juggling. He’s good at other stuff, but he’s exceptionally good at juggling.
If you’re into juggling, want to volunteer and get some coaching, there would be worse ways to spend your time.
MK: As usual, we have a topic, don’t we?
EL: We’ve launched our new program, Expand. We are going to talk about some of the things that happen in the program. Expand is interesting because it’s putting together bits and pieces. We had the idea of a video game expansion pack.
For those of you who don’t play video games, you have the main game, your normal handstand training. The expansion pack adds bits onto it. It’s not a main course program, a definite goal. It has things to teach you you can add to your practice at any stage.
In the program we look at moving on the hands: walking, running, circles, hopping, these kinds of things. We have how to use canes, get up safely and come down, all these things you condition for. Then we have introduction to head movements, how to move the head around and not just look at toes. It’s fun that way.
Our topic today is moving on the hands. Moving on the hands is one I find interesting, because for us who do hand balance, we stand in one spot. But moving on hands is definitely a thing that’s fallen out of favour in the circus world. It used to be very the thing to do on your hands.
There was a circus Vaudeville family, and their act was tap dancing on their hands. They were ridiculously good. I can’t tap dance, so I can’t tell you exactly how good. But very good, in terms of rhythms and times.
Navigating obstacle courses and hopping was a classic, hopping on the little cane.
MK: It used to…even in semi newer stuff, I’ve also seen some Chinese acts. One thing that comes to mind as most impressive but stupidest and ugliest move I’ve ever seen is a Chinese guy who has one crutch that he first jumps up stairs on one arm on one crutch. As he gets on top of the platform, he comes down, takes the applause, and then I think he gets a mouth piece to spin two rings on, then starts spinning those two rings.
He spins two rings on his arm, then one on one leg. The other leg, he kicks up into a one arm hopping sequence, and one leg is kicking while he’s spinning all these fucking rings. Then he jumps down the stairs on one arm.
It looks absolutely a fucking mess, that’s what I love about it. It’s so impressive but looks like a spastic, ugly thing. Glorious.
EL: I think I have this saved on YouTube. They do some of the craziest stuff, like handstand on handstand, one arm on one arm.
MK: The base does a handstand, flyer does a handstand on top of him. Then he does a one arm on one leg, then back to two arms. Then he does a fucking drop onto his neck and catches him around the shoulders, and the other guy goes to some sort of planche. The fact that he drops from handstand on his feet, grabs him around the shoulders, is nuts.
EL: is that the act where they finish where the guy holds the flyer in his one arm, one arm basing, then he puts his other hand down, does a one arm flag, and the other person has their off hand up, and the guy then presses to one arm. He’s doing a one arm on a guy doing a one arm flag.
MK: I think but I’m not sure.
Anyway, in terms of all this, moving on your hands, our stuff isn’t as crazy as that. It’s fallen out of favour. If you’ve done gymnastics, so many gymnasts I know are better at walking than standing on their hands, since it’s a very relevant skill for all kinds of acrobatic work.
If you can’t move on your hands as an acrobat, you are missing out on basically most of the vocabulary. Even something as simple as a cartwheel is moving on your hands.
EL: Yuri Marmenstein had an interesting tutorial for teaching his preferred way of walking: as cartwheels going up to 45º when learning, then side to side, doing multiple tick-tock like cartwheels, to get the hip action.
A cartwheel could be thought of as a side step on the hands. When I saw that, a lightbulb went on. That makes a lot of sense, yet I never thought of it that way. It’s teaching old dogs new tricks. Thank you for that, Yuri.
I think walking is interesting because a lot of people – walking is easier than standing on your hands for a lot of people. That’s what they learn when they start handstands.
In Crossfit, the handstand walk is the thing. Same with older physical education. I remember watching a Crossfit games, they had a handstand where you had to accumulate 30-40s in a handstand. The rules were there was a circle drawn on the floor you had to stay inside. It wasn’t a stand, you could step to catch your balance. At the same time, it was interesting that they recognize that maybe people couldn’t stand on a spot on their hands, but gave this allowance of walking for balance.
MK: I know a fair amount of people who are very competent at standing, but can’t walk so well. I find that interesting since I learned to walk first. My absolute first meeting with handstands was after karate practice. I started trying to stand on my hands for some reason. I kicked up, and walking around was what I did, for some reason. I would have my legs in a sort of semi straddle thing.
I remember very well when another friend of mine, who could do a very banana bent arm handstand, said you can stand still if you grip the floor really hard with your fingers. The walking and shifting weight back and forth with a quite wide position and wrists turned outwards was my preferred way.
Since handstand style training has spread through the internet in a quite uniform way, regardless which coach you have. Most vocabulary is similar, and the road maps towards the higher level skills. Stuff like moving on your hands kind of doesn’t get space. It doesn’t need to, in that specific format. It’s a very valuable thing to learn, and also in terms of getting more freedom and options. It’s a new way of handling and controlling the body upside down.
EL: There’s a great quote about normal walking, but I can’t remember who it is. “Walking is a series of catastrophes, just avoided.” When you’re walking, you have to lose balance in the direction you go, then you catch yourself. If you want to go faster, you do the balance faster or farther to get a bigger lean angle. You’re falling in the direction and catching yourself.
If walking on your feet is a series of catastrophes, nearly avoided, I think walking on your hands…can we joke about it? Avoiding multiple Chernobyl incidents at any point, particularly when learning. We do have a way of balancing where we normally control balance on the point. There is a horizontal transaction or movement of base of support to catch the centre of mass as it moves outside. You can move the hands and meet yourself.
This is the basis of all walking; it doesn’t matter what direction you fall in. You lose balance in the direction you want to go, fall slightly, then hopefully you move your hand in time. This gets you moving. Obviously there’s a bit of hip action in there, and other stuff.
Mikael, you had a good tutorial on Instagram recently, showing the difference between the hip action of two arm walking and on one arm.
MK: It’s usually different. In that sense, it can be good for people to not dabble too much with walking too early on. The problem would be not understanding the difference between the way they move, and particularly starting to do stuff like block walks without having the understanding of what the hip does in one arm handstand, and regular handstand walking.
Then you might end up doing handstand walking when walking up and down the blocks, and you’re not training the thing you’re trying to train. You’re achieving the task of walking up and down the blocks, but you’re not achieving what the task was designed to teach you.
I call it the cardinal sin of gymnasts learning to one arm. They’re so good at walking, then go to what they’re good at when they try to solve the task. Of course, most gymnasts are good on their hands and they learn quickly. They will be likely to move into a walking trajectory because they are good at walking.
That kind of falling involved in it stops some people who are very controlled on their hands, and fine with standing still. As soon as stuff moves in space, they don’t know how to respond to taking the steps. For some it can be scary, how do I hold all my weight on one arm? You aren’t really; you’re distributing away from that hand and falling onto the next.
It’s a cool comparison, if you compare walking on feet versus hands. When walking on feet, we’re so trained at it and sensitive to it, and the legs are such effective tools to do the job. You don’t feel the falling to get momentum and response from the leg. You feel more that you move your legs, and you do so. It’s much more evident with handstand; either you pull the heels or let yourself drop by not activating the fingers, then respond by moving the arm.
It’s clearer, the falling action.
EL: I can remember, I seen this kid show on TV. They were doing an interview with a guy who had the world record for walking on his hands. It was something crazy, an American dude, obviously. It was something like, in the miles. This guy was interviewed then did a demo.
At the time I didn’t know much. Later on, I thought back to it. One thing that struck me, even at the time, he was saying when he was 10 or 11, he just decided to start walking on his hands., all the time. He got obsessed with it, the kid walking to school on his hands. He tried to walk as far as possible, got his friends into it, but they didn’t stick with it.
What struck me was his arms were jacked. He had just scarily big arms for a kid, to look at. Obviously, because he’d walk on his hands. He lived in Las Vegas, where you can be weird anyway. He’d walk in casinos, around slot machines, playing with his feet. He could use his feet to lift things, picking up glasses of beer, not spilling anything etc.
His arms were just big and chiseled. Maybe he worked out at a gym, but as far as I can remember, he wasn’t that stacked. It shows that vertical loading that develops our legs, if he was doing an equal amount…maybe the key to getting really big arms is just to walk on your hands everywhere.
You do it a lot in kids gymnastics, setting up an obstacle course towards the end of the session. Then get the kids to go over it. Set up mats, whatever height, a sloper block you go up or down, over a spring board, all these things. Some turns.
If you ever coach kids and they’re annoying you or you have to distract them, setting up an obstacle course where someone wins a prize towards the end if they get through the whole course, it’s a great way to get them to focus. A bit of friendly competition.
MK: I remember when auditioning for circus school, we had a handstand obstacle course as well. It wasn’t hard, but the task was walk across the floor, turn around and come back. When you were coming back you had to walk inside these circles, then over a thing, then onto some parallel bars or blocks.
There’s a lot of training like that that is- if you look at modern internet style handstand training, these things are gone. It’s more you train your fingertip holds, press to handstand, pike handstand, push ups. You don’t go for sets of walking for distance, or time, or whatever.
It’s not necessary but it’s an interesting part of the training. Loads of control upside down from it. Speaking from my experience from breaking, there it’s all about moving on the hands. It’s interesting to see, you have these B-Boys. I’ve seen several guys who are in a handstand and shuffle a bit around, they walk a bit. They can obviously stand still on their hands, but they shuffle a bit and then whip their legs and fly through air flares and the craziest moves.
Just in the handstand, they choose to shuffle rather than balance and control in one static spot. This is another type of common thing in that field, a dynamic response to balance compared to the static and still one.
There is definitely a place for that within hand balancing, particularly for those that are interested in branching out. In terms of expand, that’s the idea we’re thinking, the various skills and things to do on arms, this is a starting point.
EL: You remember an old school clip that was viral back in the day, a B Boy doing…intimidating people out of the circle in breakdancing.
MK: There’s one clip where he runs on his fists, forwards.
EL: That’s the one, bullying someone out of the space so he could continue to do his planche spins and stuff. It’s a very impressive thing; he’s a very impressive breaker. Is he still impressive by today’s standard?
MK: He always had his own thing. He was also an innovator for that strength style of breaking. The first I can remember was Crazy Kujo doing loads of planches, then Junior after that, probably several more that were also doing it. Junior was the one blowing people out of the water.
I met him once in Norway, he was judging some battles there. He’s super small, jacked as hell, and has the leg issue, so has light legs. He is insanely strong and looks like he flies when he does those things; it looks so easy. He can really create the illusion with the movement.
Even if you see someone doing a planche, like a super strong straight planche, it looks anti grav, but demanding. To him, it’s banana or weird shaped, but it looks anti gravity. That was always his appeal.
EL: I remember him spinning on one arm in a planche.
MK: Then he twists into a flag and goes out to some sort of bridge thing.
EL: That video was awesome.
MK: In terms of moving on hands, you can walk forwards, simple concept. Let go of balance, move hands. Backwards, same thing. You keep your legs straight and almost let yourself fall like on the stomach, keep moving the arms backwards. Sideways as well, you need to do that wiggly hip shifting, or one arm handstand shifts.
Then you have circle walks, which I found to be most interesting walks. You have the very gymnastic style, with legs together, like parallel bars. I’ve seen so many gymnast drills on parallel bars, then single bar handstand, then back to two, then back to single.
If you want to be good at parallel bars but can’t do that stuff, you’re missing out.
I like that kind of thing. It involves some falling, but a lot more precision and decisive falling. You’re actively rotating your body to where you want to place the hands next, then put your hand down. If you want to do very good circular walks, you have to be in a position where you land your lands and could potentially stay.
I use it, not a lot, but with people learning one arms, to do a flagged straddle, hip diagonal at angle you want for one arm, then teach them to rotate, both in moving backwards, clockwise and anti clockwise, to teach people to control rotation. It’s a nice drill, you can do it gymnastics style in four steps, or as many as you want, Learning to initiate the rotation with the hips can be quite good to give people a base, just like our over and under balance of rotation, in the one arms. You see this rotation makes me twist out this way in handstand, but if you learn to rotate the opposite direction, then I have a way of correcting it. I use it a lot with some advanced people, getting these rotations quite nice.
The normal rotation in a straddle, you keep a normal level straddle handstand. This one, you set the diagonal angle you use in one arm, then rotate from there, initiating it with the legs.
MK: It’s more similar to what you would do on four blocks or canes, and want to do a turn around. There in principle you shift to a one arm, a one arm, then a one arm, as you move around. You don’t need to stay a long time on each arm, but it’s more that type of rotation. You deliberately set up a one arm handstand angle. The other way, the gymnastic classic way of legs together keeps that tight shape. Whereas with legs open, if you move in a circle, that’s my favourite.
If you walk in a circle with legs open, your legs drag momentum. In the end your legs move fast so you follow the momentum of your legs.
If you walk clockwise, you turn your right hand outwards a lot to grab the floor with the wrist turned further, so when you catch you untwist the wrist to add speed to it, which is something I love to do. It very easily adds loads of momentum, and is very hard for beginners to do.
If the leg angle rotation is not parallel to the floor, they start going diagonal and you have a miserable fall.
EL: Speaking of rotating on arms, in the 90s breakdancing, there was a walking drill. You would go from a downward dog and walking and placing the hands. You taught me this years ago, you go in and out of the drill with the arms and legs in reverse order, if I remember right.
MK: It’s basically the power move kick. What you do is, and the best way to describe it is, if you stand and are going to do it clockwise, you stand on feet with legs slightly apart. Then you imagine you’re going to rotate your left arm down and place it where the right leg is. The right leg is picked up, then you place your right hand where the left leg was. The left leg is going to be picked up.
Saying that sounds confusing, but what is implied is you need to rotate. You’re going to try to face..make a 180º turn. What this does is, in the beginning you keep the legs low, which basically turns it into small skippy hoppy things around. Over time, you bring it into handstand. When you get up there, you get up with your legs very in a large split. If you do it fast you have loads of momentum in it, and it’s how people usually set up 1990s.
They place the second hand differently depending on technique, since with 90s you want to centre it under your face quite a lot. Fuck that move, it’s so hard.
I’ve said to several people, if I spent 80% of all the hours I’ve spent on handstands, only on 90s, I’d still not be close to the best guys in the world. I think the world record now is 34 by a 9 year old B Boy kid named B Boy Malish. Second place is by Punisher, maybe 32 rounds. The precision with which those guys spin is surgery, fucking insane.
If you think a one arm handstand is volatile and falls easily, or a one arm Svichka is volatile, you haven’t done a 1990. That shit is way worse. You can literally compare it to standing on one leg to doing nice pirouettes. That’s almost the difficulty difference. That analogy doesn’t really work, because someone who can do nice pirouettes can stand on one leg. I’m 100% sure I’m better at standing on one arm than both those guys that did that many turns, so it’s very specific. In terms of raw difficulty I shit my pants 1000x over when I watch that stuff.
EL: It leads onto the other thing, you see this a lot in breakdancing: jumping on hands. With the hand hops, which are in the program as well.
In breakdancing I remember seeing this, one circus club in one university in the early days I’d go to. They’d split the hall with breakdancing society, so half breakdancing and half juggling. One of the breakdancers who was leading the class was very good. Hand hops were his thing.
I was talking to him, and he could do 50-60 hops no problem, but I’m certain he couldn’t hold a stable handstand. He could walk on his hands, do loads of other stuff. But that dynamic balancing is interesting, because in some ways you just place your landing right and not balance, just deal with it when you get there.
Obviously you learned a lot of hand hopping back in the day as well.
MK: That was basically my entrance to a one arm handstand. Most breakers who can easily learn to one arm had good hand hops and a decent air baby. It gives you experience in the area. You don’t learn to balance from the hand, but if you can jump on one arm 35 times, your shoulder stability is pretty decent. Same muscle groups, same-ish type of position you’ll use. Anything about jumping on two arms has loads of applications for people doing regular handstands as well.
It used to be huge in old school circus days. The classic move of back handspring to one arm jumping down stairs, up stairs on one arm…jumping across stage. Not even super hard things, but basically learning to ..for me, learning to jump on two arms also gives you, if you only want to follow the standardized handstand vocab, and that’s all you want to do, but you want to learn one arm switches, for example – if you can’t jump on two arms, you’re missing out.
You need to understand what happens in the legs and how to generate the upward force. There is a small explosive shrug that happens. The vast amount of force comes from kicking out the leg to raise your centre of mass a huge amount. As that happens, you add the little pop and fly several cm up if doing this properly.
It can be tough on wrists since you have an impact landing. At the same time, if you do ten hops and come down, you’re never really using your forearm flexors and fingers to grab the floor and adjust. You don’t need rough adjustments; you just keep kicking and replacing the arms in the proper position under you. That also happens by itself.
It’s similar to a pogo stick; it’s not super hard to keep pogo stick jumps going. If you hold the fucking thing straight, you’re going to land on it. If one jump wasn’t great, jump again. You might have another chance of catching yourself, then jump again, another chance.
This is super relevant when learning to hop on one arm. Now I’m going to give you a very quick tutorial on jumping on one arm. It goes like this:
Learn to jump on two arms until you can do 15-20 on two arms. Then start trying to jump on one arm, the end.
EL: To refine that a bit, there’s a crucial detail that makes the jumping work, or multiple work versus one jump. It’s easiest to learn in a tuck, but once you get the idea of going from tuck, kicking up to generate the momentum up. Then you land and want to get the legs back down, chambered into kicking position, to go again.
I remember I learned the tuck, but wasn’t that good at it. What I learned was doing it in split handstand, bringing the legs into a front split and doing a scissor kick. You kick, the legs meet in the middle in straight handstand position. That gives the up. By the time you’re down you’re into the other split, the good split, and constantly kicking this way. I found when I learned…I learned on a trampoline of all places.
MK: Scissor kicks was the first I learned too. Only later, when I saw the other guys, that’s when I started doing the tuck version of it. Reminds me I haven’t done one arm scissor kicks in fucking forever; I should try that someday.
I jump better on my elbow than one arm. It was a joke that you need to just try to do on one arm. It takes a fair bit of practice, but the interesting thing about learning to hop on one arm is if you have good hops on two arms, and decent ability to flip up into the one arm position to try to do a shitty kick, it might feel like trash. But if you feel your hand moving and it feels stable and safe, all you do is keep doing this.
Do one kick, and as Emmet said, it’s super important that you re-place the leg. I always look at the rhythm as up down, up down. You have the impulse on the down. What always happens when people mess them up is you have a couple of kicks where you reset well, and as you continue you start getting desperate with the legs or lose it a bit. It turns into small flailing with the legs, which doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s always about getting the legs back down.
You do one jump, get two jumps. Once you can get 3-4 jumps, it’s just repeating the process. You can learn to jump on one arm within a couple of months if you have a good foundation. As you all know, a one arm handstand takes a while.
EL: Two months! Handstand by summer.
I remember in circus school, an acrobat in the year ahead of me was good at handstand, couldn’t one arm, and decided he wanted to learn hand hops on one arm. He taught himself.
All he would do is tuck jump into one arm handstand and start kicking. Eventually he got it. Nowhere near holding a one arm handstand. Tumbling was his thing, so he obviously had the body control upside down.
I remember the first day he was beating himself into the floor a bit, laughing a little. Then a month or two later he had them, and put them in his final show. It was very quick and direct. People listening, if you have a background in tumbling, you might find one arm hops quite easy.
MK: They’re undervalued in what they can contribute in learning a one arm handstand. It does build a fair amount of stability and experience on one arm. The main thing with hand hops is you are jumping on one hand; your wrists need to be taken care of.
When you have good hand hops and your wrists are warmed up, it’s not a problem to do a bunch of jumps. You need to pay attention as you learn them, as there will be lots of impact on something you’re not used to.
If you have good foundation, super strong two arm handstand, can do a L kick or similar things to enter that sort of position and have good two arm hops, it’s pretty easy to get a hang of a couple.
If you ever want to advance towards super advanced one arm vocabulary of switches and so on, you are much better off having that kicking ability. It’s what you use as you swap hands on a block. You need that snap. You’re not trying to jump to the moon. You’re trying to make your centre of mass go up, very precisely at a particular point, so you can get the other hand onto the block. If you have that sensation and timing it’s a lot faster to learn than having basically no idea of what happens as you kick the legs.
I know some people who are really good on one arm but can’t jump for shit, trying to do switches. It turns into a really bad walk, where you get stuck on your hand and don’t understand how the hand can leave the floor.
EL: When first learning hopping, generally you need a big movement with the legs to generate momentum. Then when you get the idea behind it, the movement comes quite small. I remember seeing some breakdance dudes, barely bending and extending the legs. The legs were staying slightly bent, probably only 10-15º of motion, very little, just doing it. That precision of little hop, back to chamber… finding the rhythm to it.
MK: Rhythm is huge on it. There are videos of leg together hops, just done from the shoulder, popping it out with no leg movement. It looks ridiculous and the jumps are not particularly high but it works.
Rhythm is important, and important in all moving on hands things. You want to be able to set the rhythm for any of them, or be able to. With hops it’s very important when learning.
When I learned them, it was to music. It becomes easier, you have something to relate to. You need to be down with the legs, and up, on a certain count. That makes it easier to hold.
For walks, you don’t need music. But the fact that you can keep consistent bum bum bum bum with the hand placement means you’re likely moving at a consistent pace with the body, and it’s something that makes it easier for you to be able to speed up and slow down. You have to increase the speed of the rhythm of your arms, and so on.
It’s something to think about, in terms of the entire idea of moving on your hands. This is a component, and you don’t think of rhythm at all when working on static balances.
EL: Maybe that’s why hand balancers favour non moving sklls, none of us have rhythm, I know I don’t.
I think that covers a lot of what we wanted to go over today.
MK: Start walking around. Seriously, those of you who scroll Instagram all day, how often do you see someone do a fucking handstand sequence, then change place in space, then continue the handstand sequence.
Such as, I am back on camera, do some shit, then switch to being 90º to camera. When is the last time you saw that? Almost never, almost everyone trains in the exact same fashion and order, filming from this angle for X, that angle for Y. Change things up, mess around a bit.
EL: Acts as well. Some tricks look better in different facing directions, but it’s rare you see someone doing back to audience facing direction, and then shift to 90º for Mexican skills that look better side on. There’s an interesting place for this in creative work as well.
MK: The geometry thing of the Federation is so strong, you must present it from this angle or it has no value.
EL: Federation says don’t walk. Let’s wrap it up there. Good to be back on together. Thank you for tuning in to the Handstand Cast, see you next week.