Transcript of Episode 63: Apparatus
Emmet: Hello, and welcome back to the Handstand Cast with me, Emmet Louis and my co-host Mikeal Kristiansen.
How are things going Mikeal?
Mikeal: Day could be going a lot worse. I’m sitting here in the middle of the night and recording a podcast with you.
How about yourself?
EL: Could be worse. How could it be worse? People could be following the news and they have announced aliens exist or Project Blue Beam is in effect, you can choose which one you want. So, alien death rays in space could be impacting my life right now, or a new world order of government. Something could be worse, or things could turn out to be an elaborate hoax.
The world needs a good new hoax actually. There hasn’t been any good hoax’ lately, except if you’re onto the Corona virus, which isn’t really a hoax. I want something like; the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is real. That level of hoax. Please, give it to me.
Mk: Yeah, we need more hoax’.
EL: So, before we go full Joe Rogan mode..
Mk: The Handstand Factory Podcast is just a lead up to our inevitable going off the deep end, fuck off, far out podcast where we discuss all of the darkness.
EL: By podcast 200, we will go “handstands? What is that? Do you know the earth is flat?”.
I heard, speaking of flat earth, that the ultimate proof flat earth doesn’t exist is someone, somewhere would have set up a swing so you can take instagram shots swinging off the edge of the earth.
Boom. The end. The earth is not flat.
Mk: That would definitely be something. Well you know the ice wall around Antarctica.
EL: The hang glider trips off the ice wall over the edge?
MK: One of my favorite theories around it is when the guy who does “All Gas No Brakes” did an interview at the Flat Earth Conference. There was a guy that talked about the ice wall around the earth which was really Antartica. How on the other side there was “New Berlin” and how Hitler was cloned. It kept spinning from there and he cut out before you got to hear the depth of the theory. All made complete sense.
EL: Yeah, I could see that. Isn’t that the plot for Iron Sky Two? It’s a great movie by the way.
MK: Isn’t Iron Sky on the moon?
EL: Iron Sky is on the moon. Iron Sky 2 is basically Journey to the Centre of the Earth. The pitch for Iron Sky was nazis on the moon and then the pitch for Iron Sky 2 was Hitler riding a dinosaur.
MK: Yeah pretty much the same stuff.
But, again, as usual, we have some non conspiracy shit to speak about.
EL: Just to round off the conspiracy, I think there is a rule for podcasts, like Godwin’s law, where the longer they run the closer the conspiracy cast they’ll turn into. If it’s two guys it’ll turns into conspiracy cast and if it’s two girls it turns into true crime, those are the rules for some reason on podcasts. Someone should name that law and then they can be famous on the internet for three years.
Anyway, today’s episode in the Handstand Cast, on the topic of handstands, is apparatus. Balancing on apparatus. Doing strange things on apparatus. Though it’s such a big topic, I don’t think we’ll be able to cover every single piece of apparatus that has ever existed in circus or other kinds of things. The most familiar place people would think if you’re into handstands would be canes, obviously. In general they are a kind of staple in the handstand world. I suppose I just want to talk about what makes a good set of canes if you’re looking to buy or make them, more so than the balance, which we’ve talked about before. It’s one of those things where it’s very easy to get bad canes and have canes that are ineffective for what they need to do. One of the useful things about canes is they basically move in a way your body can’t move. They horizontally displace the contact point underneath you, and this kind of vibration that a cane is capable of kind of cancels out the noise, kind of fixes the speed wobbles in your balance. Particularly useful for one arm, but obviously useful for two arms. It’s one of those things, it’s getting the right steel or the right cane for you and everyone has their own preference but it can be quite common where you get canes that don’t have this kind of wobble. Particularly those ones made of water pipe tubes.
MK: Yeah, canes is really dependent on the person, how it’s made, and all of that. It’s really easy to get really bad canes. I’ve seen way to many of them. I think understanding the purpose of canes or the specific canes you want is integral to getting canes that do what you want them to do. You could have either what I call the glorified block, which is basically a cane which is so sturdy, the steel is so thick or the cane is so short that balancing on it is exactly the same as on a block. That can be totally fine if all you want is to get used to balancing on a higher surface and getting over the fear factor of doing handstands on something high and so on but it’s certainly won’t contribute in the way a pair of well done canes will. That kind of noise cancelling, that kind of slowing down of the balancing sensation. A pair of super sturdy 2.5cm thick steel bars is just not going to move unless they are more than a meter long. The canes in general need to be well made and within certain parameters or measurements to be able to actually help you balance.
EL: Yeah, it’s kind of interesting the world we’re in where it’s possible to buy canes on the internet now. I know that sounds weird but when I was first in instructor school it was just not possible to buy canes. There was no one selling them on the internet, you had to either go to the metal worker yourself which costs money. You basically just had to deal with whatever was there. It’s kind of funny now-a-days you can choose your hole spacing on your canes, where as a lot of people would be like “there was one set at circus school” and the spacing was this way and that’s all you had or there was the good set which didn’t wobble too much and that was it. Now there are different canes with different thickness and different attributes, you don’t have to suck it up. Well you have to a little I suppose. They’re kind of cheap as well, you can get an OK set of canes for 2-300 quid and they’re good. Before, I remember someone paying 7-800 quid sterling, not even euros, to get a set of canes made and they just weren’t that nice to use. Steel was just too stiff.
MK: The first canes I ever had made I think I spent over a thousand euros because my first coach was in Norway and basically took the steel parts to a metal worker I found online. I called them, went over, showed them the parts and had them make a turning cane. It costs so much money, and the canes were not great. This was little more than ten years ago and back then a pair of canes was an exotic tool. You couldn’t just get them online, there was no information about handstand canes. Like hand balancing, it was more reserved to the circus and the people in that trade.
It’s interesting, and we are going to get more into it during the podcast, if you look at the history of these things. These pieces of equipment have been around for a very long time and if you look backwards toward old school circus; they were so much a part of the creation of an act, coming up with new types of apparatus and instruments that you could balance on and making them very specific. So much cool stuff that I’m sure no one is even using now or have thought of. Now people are saying look at this special handstand equipment but it’s actually been around a hundred years ago but it fell out of fashion.
EL: Yeah, or I saw those ads on Instagram of that guy who has the canes that kind of support you around the elbow, kind of look like a crutch on the ground. It’s viewed as something new but I had them when I was in circus media which was maybe 2001. We called them self balancing canes because you can just balance on them and they do all the work. It’s basically a crutch. In fact these ones were actually made from crutches that had been modified and welded a bit. You’d put your hands through the hole, you’d hold the handles of the crutch and just lean against them and it would balance you. There was another circus school in the same building as Circus Media called Circus Maniacs, best name ever, that had a similar program going. The lady who ran it came from a very trad circus background. It was a big thing back in the day because you weren’t meant to teach the trad secrets to contemporary circus. She would teach swayed perch, which was this big pole that you balance on your head or shoulder and then someone would climb up it while it sways from side to side. You would see it a lot in Chinese circus and Russians as well. It was one of those death defying acts. Watch this man balance on this eight meter pole on his forehead! What you would find in a lot of these acts is these sort of auto balancing canes on top of the swayed perch. Almost a handstand equivalent of a safety line on a tightrope.
MK: I actually have a picture of that kind of thing on my computer right now. A really old one where a couple of guys, maybe thirty meters or so high, are leaning on those. It’s kind of a pseudo handstand in one sense. Another ridiculous tool I’ve seen around, maybe on social media, where you put your shoulders on top of something and your head goes through the object and then you are basically doing some kind of shoulder stand.
EL: Yeah, kind of looks like a toilet.
MK: Yeah, you can just stuff your head in a toilet. You can get the same shit done at home without buying anything.
EL: Just drain your toilet out and hope you don’t gas yourself on the sewer gas.
MK: That’s an absolutely glorious idea. I want to see that. Actually I have seen that, there was someone in circus school that had a sort of loose toilet that wasn’t connected and they did some kind of head in toilet balancing shit.
EL: That kind of chair, in fairness, is pretty good for people who have neck issues and want to work on their handstand skills, to give it it’s credit. But when it’s billed as this handstand trainer that’s a no no basically.
MK: And then there is this glorious one which we are going to buy and take the piss out of at some point Emmet. It looks like some sort of torture station where you strap yourself in some sort of board that is attached to a frame and the board can rotate so that when you are attached you can lean backwards and it will flip you upside down. That’s somehow going to help you learn handstands. I would have to spend a long time to find an analogy that is bad enough to compare that fucking thing because it is hideous.
EL: That table is kind of like an inversion table for tractioning out your back but modified so you can go fully upside down. I wonder if you would get stuck there, something I worry about. A lot of inversion tables have strategically placed handles so you can pull yourself back up, but this one had no handles and you’re strapped in quite intensely. You could end up as “Man Dies from Handstand Because Pooling in his Brain”.
MK: It definitely didn’t look well constructed in any particularly way. I wouldn’t be surprised if that thing in a death trap.
I was thinking in terms of actual equipment again and to really set the idea of the cane, which is probably the most popular tool now a days. It is sort of the go to performance thing, it is useful for learning and in the elitist internet circles the cane has actually gotten a little bit of a bad rep because it is easier on the cane. So you have all the dudebros learning handstands and they are like “Well actually, it is easier on the cane so you should use only the floor”. I get the sentiment because it can take away from your learning process in the sense that if you only use canes you won’t be able to practice anywhere, you’ll be dependent on the canes to train. Where as if you learn on floor, block, and cane, you learn to use all three tools and have a lot more options.
EL: One of the things I like people using canes for is it gives you access to some of the harder skill or abilities such as endurance. It’s basically sub max training for the balance system. You aren’t pushing it to the limit so you actually have a bit more space and time to work on body positioning and other kinds of things. You don’t have to worry about suddenly dying because your fingers bit the dust. It’s definitely very useful. People get on them and really enjoy them and it can become the main practice. That’s not really a problem. If you are bottlenecking your training with just your fingers or your shoulder positioning, you can actually remove that or give yourself a power up. Canes are basically a power up. You take the mushroom, you get bigger, you are able to do more impressive stuff and work on your things. Then, when you go to the floor you’re not just loosing time wondering “how do I transition to a flag or a straddle?”. When you’ve already worked on a cane, there is less hesitancy.
MK: Yeah, it’s certainly useful. Of course there are plenty of performance benefits to it.
One thing that didn’t actually strike me until I’d performed for several years with canes is how the audience is seated in various venues. One day when I was practicing the director came up and said “we need to put you up on something”. We introduced a very tall chair into the act because, as he pointed out, the people in the back could not see me. It makes tons of sense. Loads of circus’ go high up and contortionist use podiums and so on. Ultimately if people don’t see what you’re doing then you’re just wasting a bunch of time.
I’m actually using canes quite a bit now for my shoulder. I can train more difficult position on the cane without too much trouble. In relation to only training on the ground, a friend of mine asked “what do you think of only training on canes?”. I paraphrased Star Wars to him and said, “Canes are good but if you only train that it will dominate your destiny as it did Obi Wan’s apprentice”. You need to get your floor in if you want to reap the success of strengthening your balance maximally. There is a sense of power or strength in the shoulder that is more demanding if you are doing ground or block. It’s not a super roughian strength but the precision needs to by high and very very fast when you are doing ground work. It’s just useful to at least be able to but canes are good. They also give you confidence to do things up high and are a brilliant tool in so many ways.
EL: I’d like to talk about balancing on random apparatus as a topic. You see it a lot in viral videos lately, where you see people in the calisthenics or strength training side of things balancing on weird things; maybe sets of dumbbells or other stuff. It’s interesting to watch, but there is definitely a lineage of death defying handstands on things that aren’t meant to be used that way. I suppose in the circus world we have the classic thing, chain balancing.
MK: Chair stacking is one of the old school favorites. I remember you can find so many old school photos of chair stacking acts. If you want to see the most impressive one ever you can check the work of “Zangoli?”, an old Chinese acrobat, who did maybe twelve chairs up with one cane and no launch. Absolute madness.
EL: I’ve seen this Chinese act where they did the chair stack where it’s kind of like a shoulder stand act to one side, handstand on the other side and they had a rainbow of chairs stacking higher and higher going out to the side using the weight of the acrobats to pin them all together. About ten girls ranging from adult to children would be going out on smaller and smaller chairs on this more and more precarious thing. The shoulder handstand thing on chairs is pretty easy to do even if you can’t L sit press. If you can floor press you’ll probably be able to get it. Having so many of them coordinated on it, fuck, it was pretty good.
MK: I think I’ve seen that clip. The regular chair stand is kind of a funny handstand because its one of the easiest ones since one of your arms is very close to your body like a shoulder stand position. You have a lot of force to work with. It’s very stable and sturdy in that arm positioning. It’s very good in terms of impressiveness since you have so much stability in that bent arm.
I was also thinking of parallel bars and gymnastics tools for handstand such as the straight bar handstand that you do in the normal and reverse grip. You never see that within hand balancers but tons of gymnasts or calisthenics do a lot of that, like the single bar handstand. I’ve seen some really legit one arms on parallel bars which is doable but hard. I;ve also seen some people do it coming in from a single bar handstand and that’s pretty fucked up. I’ve never tried that.
EL: I can’t even picture how that would work.
My brain is kind of flooding with all the different kinds of handstands I’ve seen over the years now, and I suppose you can kind of categorize them into two main categories; stable and unstable. We have in the gymnastics world parallel bars which are stable but then we have rings which are unstable. Different balance demands. Obviously we have our friend Mr. Bosu Ball, an interesting one. We also have the classic roller boulder.
MK: Yeah the roller boulder is a huge one here. There was this viral clip maybe a year ago of some guy doing a back handspring and fucking sticking a handstand on a roller boulder board. He just fucking nails it, it looks insane! One arms on roller boards is obviously pretty fucking hard but doable.
EL: I’ve seen a Chinese act where someone was doing a handstand on a roller boulder with a handstand board on top of their feet and then another person climbed up them and did a handstand on a roller boulder on top of the handstand board on top of the person doing a handstand on top of the roller boulder.
MK: That’s fucked up shit. There’s so many things people have come up with. I think for most people they don’t understand it kind of becomes like standing on your feet. I remember when I first saw a turning one arm I thought “what the fuck is this? How is this possible to stand on one arm and rotate?”. When you learn to do a turning one arm you you realize it isn’t that big of a deal. It becomes the same. In the modern age, with instagram, you see balancing on dumbbells or bosu balls and it seems impossible. Whereas with someone who is experienced on their hands the change isn’t drastic at all. One other thing I saw was some guy who is walking on his hands on dumbbells that roll.
EL: Yeah I was thinking of that guy as well. With dumbbell stacks it’s whatever because I’ve seen so much insaner shit in circus. With dumbbell rolling where you are switching from dumbbell to dumbbell, that’s awesome!
MK: It’s really unique. He’s doing handstand pushups on the bar as it rolls as well. It’s pretty damn impressive. You also have those guys, doing a kind of classic thing, with roller skates on their hands, doing jumps and what not. Even Rodney Mullen doing handstands on the skateboard. There’s a ton of these various things. It is like standing on your feet, and you can stand on your feet on a large number of things. With handstands you can just make that seem very impressive and epic.
EL: I was just thinking of some of the classic ones. I suppose the history that came from Alexander from Russia where they had canes and different apparatus with hydraulic risers. They would go up on a big hydraulic riser and they would do roller boulder and it would go up ten meters or handstands on canes that would suddenly get longer. Maybe someone needs to combine this all into a Bosu Ball telescoping cane.
MK: One funny apparatus that needs to be mentioned is the fucking glove. The one finger handstand. You see loads of old school photos and people defending it to the death. I’ve seen one of those gloves and know how it works. They’re pretty cool. I have a friend who did something pretty similar. To explain what I am talking about; whenever you see someone doing a one finger handstand they are wearing a glove which acts as a pseudo cane that is fixed and stable of course. There is a cane piece coming out through the finger part, so you are essentially holding this little handle as you are balancing. It is not very comfortable but it certainly isn’t a one finger handstand.
EL: Just to throw it out there since we are talking about apparatus; there is a classic photo, I think it was in a Karl Zines book, of someone doing a one finger handstand on a slack line while spinning hoops on their legs. This person would perform this skill and they were not wearing a glove.
MK: Are you sure?
EL: I’m 100 percent certain because the photo on the previous page shows someone doing the one finger in a bottle version with the glove on. The caption says a lot of people would say he’s using a gimmick and that the glove is a gimmick. On the next page it states it can be basically undisputed that this guy is definitely not using a gimmick.
MK: I do have a photo on my computer of someone doing a one finger on a slack rope but you can’t see whether he is using a glove or not. We need to source these pictures.
EL: Yeah I gave that book to someone many years ago, although I’m sure we can track it down.
MK: I was thinking of another apparatus when you mentioned the crutches. You do have the guy we linked in the previous episode; the Chinese guy who jumped down the stairs on one crutch. I’ve also seen a few videos of guys who do handstands on crutches with ice skates on the bottom on ice. There is a video, probably still on YouTube, of a guy on ice skates with the crutches with skates who skates across and jumps into a handstand and lowers into a crocodile on one arm while sliding. It’s just absolutely absurd, even though he does have that kind of crutch support. When you come down on a crocodile, if anything is just slightly off everything will go wrong and he’s on a fucking crutch iceskating.
EL: I’ll put it in the show notes. This guy Vitale from 2012. He’s actually one of the first hand balancers I found on Youtube when I first started. There was barely anyone or much stuff back then that wasn’t just Circe de Soleil performances.
MK: Yeah. Other apparatus such as slack rope are great examples, where you see a lot of the girls in the studio in Kiev doing one arm kick ups or spinning hoops. There is also handstands on bikes or unicycles and all of that stuff. It’s basically endless, all the kind of crap that people have bothered to stand on. I’m just fascinated how far people have taken it and maybe what has been done that we haven’t seen at all.
EL: Yeah. Particularly the Vaudeville era, the kind of variety show era when everyone was trying to be unique. What the hell were they doing? Handstands on glass I’ve seen before. Handstands on broken bottles is a classic one. Handstands on a bed of nails, which I’ve done myself. That one is just simple physics. The hardest part about the bed of nails act is getting a board and drilling every single hole in it to put the nails through. When you put that many nails through a board with a hammer it will split, so you have to pre drill the holes. That’s the hardest part of the act. The rest is just “I’m on a board of nails” and physics makes it so it doesn’t hurt. Doing a handstand on one isn’t really that difficult.
MK: That’s a good one. I’m trying to think of other things I’ve seen through the ages.
EL: Ok, let me pose you a question. We are obviously getting into cool things to do handstands on. What’s the stupidest thing you’ve seen handstands done on?
MK: Stupidest thing I’ve seen a handstand on? That’s a hard one, I’m actually not sure. Artistically I’ve seen a lot of really bad choices. Stuff that is disguised as something else I’m generally not that big a fan of. “Hey look at this, I’m doing a handstand on something that is trying to resemble a different object”. I need to think a bit to come up with something.
EL: I’ve got one in terms of technical circus terms. I can’t remember the guys name but I know one of the agents that tried to book him. He was pretty good at handstands, pretty good at straps. Not amazing but pretty good. His whole thing was living art, or art that was living. His handstand act was he had someone make him a sculpture, and this thing was fucking huge, heavy and metal welded. When I’m talking huge, it needed a four by five meter stage to set up on. So to put that into terms for Americans; it was pretty big. It was probably three or four meters high. It was sort of like a climbing frame but artistic and the thing weighed probably two tons. So to book his act, you had to book a truck to come pick the thing up, he would do his act and then you would need a forklift and hopefully doors big enough to get the thing through because it didn’t break down. When posed the question; why don’t you get some bolts put into it so it can break down and get packed up? “No, no, no, that would interfere with the art”.
MK: That sounds a bit tedious.
EL: This is going back a long time now. His web presence, his branding, his photos, his videos at the time.. Everything was on point. It was well done, in credit. So it was a very visually interesting act, so the agent friend of mine would get a lot of inquires: “This looks awesome, can we book him?” Then they would hear the constraints and “oh, hmm, no, we aren’t going to hire a truck to ship this”. So, that was the stupidest thing.
MK: I started thinking about the fucking dolphin. Basically it is a performing dolphin that is basing a svechka traveling across the pool. It’s on the nose of the dolphin which is upright and the dude is basically doing a hand to hand one arm up there. That is more weird and ridiculous, maybe not the dumbest.
EL: It’s definitely out there. There is something awesome about that but there is also the issue of animal cruelty and dolphins in captivity.
MK: Definitely not into the animal circus. You also have the monkey doing a handstand on the horns of a goat that stands on a box on top of a tight wire. Worse yet is the fucking bears doing handstands, walking and watching trapeze. It’s interesting but let’s phase that stuff out please. It’s past bedtime for that.
EL: Unfortunately. We wait long enough it will come back in fashion as these things do, but fuck that. Another stupid thing I’ve seen people do handstands on was cans of beans. They had a whole show that involved a lot of handstands on top of cans of beans, balancing on them. Basically the point was to make the cans burst open and then they smeared themselves with the beans to finish their act in a very erotic manner, that you can only get from baked beans. Heinz baked beans of course, not like the commoner garden variety Lidl special beans. Had to be Heinz, because they were the only cans that could last the duration of the act, which was about twenty-twenty five minutes.
MK: I mean, one of the things I did for handstand blocks once… In most Scandinavian countries they have coffee that comes in super tight plastic handstand block shape. I remember I was doing press training on two packs of coffee. That was pretty fucking dumb actually, one of them actually burst. I didn’t spill much but it became all soft and shitty so I couldn’t continue and had to go to the floor. That’s also up there.
EL: I’m just going to take this moment, since you are talking about handstands on coffee, to pimp our “buy us a coffee”. If you want to buy us a coffee and support the podcast through coffee links. Everyone who has done it already and bought us a bit of coffee; awesome, thank you so much! We’re actually saving the money up for me and Mikeal in person. You don’t know this but we actually came up with this plan a while ago; we’re just going to buy all the coffee we can in one go and then rub the coffee on ourselves on OnlyFans or something.
MK: OK this is the newest venture we have for Handstand Factory I haven’t heard about.
EL: Yeah it’s our latest venture. Handstand Cast OnlyFans. We have an OnlyFans by the way. If you can find and subscribe that would be amazing.
We don’t actually
MK: Yeah that would be news for me too! I went to Turkey for a while and suddenly we have an OnlyFans… What’s going on?
EL: Mikeal’s been in Turkey. He’s getting a tan. He’s getting a hair transplant. Not his head hair because that’s fine but his chest hair because hair is back in I hear. If there’s calls for an OnlyFans let us know and maybe we’ll do it.
MK: That’s one of the last things I’d do. I’d balance on all the stupid things in the world before I do that.
EL: We don’t have to do nudity or sexy stuff. We could literally just have you balancing on weird stuff and we take requests. I’m sure someone would be into it.
MK: Yeah that’s the problem. Someone would be REALLY into it.
EL: Watch Mikeal do handstands on a carton of milk.
MK: Hey you never know. People are into a lot of stuff.
In general all this apparatus, and all things you can balance on, ultimately just ads to the fun. To be able to balance on a bunch of different things. It teaches you about different components of the balance and how to handle it in different ways.
Oh yeah one the dumbest things to balance on are those fucking springs. They confuse me. I don’t understand what they are supposed to do.
EL: Yeah. The argument I’ve heard for them is that they help each teach balancing handstands on rings, or they give a similar taste to it. I just don’t think they move a lot. I don’t know if anyone has seen these; they are like half a sphere with a handle on them. They are actually pretty close to rings when you use them. They do replicate quite a lot of feeling you get on rings oddly enough.
I’m just going to throw a challenge out there for people. I haven’t seen these but they would be awesome. Carbon fibre canes. I’ve never seen someone make a full set of canes made out of carbon fibre, maybe just hand pieces. In theory it must be possible to get stiff enough carbon fibre to build it all.
MK: Yeah, but I don’t know how carbon fibre moves or responds to stress. You essentially want something that bends rather than breaks, I’d assume. Aluminum canes wouldn’t be particularly good in terms of how it responds to stretch in the lateral dimension.
EL: As far as I understand on carbon fibre is that the fabric type, or direction of the weave, contributes to stability. So you should be able to pick a weave that gives you a wobble in the right direction. Obviously I know less than fuck all about carbon fibre other than watching Youtube videos on these things. Someone make them and then I’ll sponsor them. Very keen to see it if you did.
Quick trip down memory lane; you remember that time that guy was doing a handstand on a skateboard and creased it. That was pretty funny.
So basically an overview of doing handstands on things or more things we’ve seen this week. Other than that, if you want to ask us any questions, send it in to @HandstandFactory on Instagram. Other than that, we will catch you next week, hopefully.