In this episode Emmet and Mikael discuss the final stages of Mikael’s show Wald with his company Right Way Down. They then shift gears and discuss head position how it affects handstands and how the various positions can feature in your training.
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EL: Hello and welcome back to the Handstand Cast with me, Emmet Louis, and my glorious co-host Mikael Kristiansen. How are things going, Mikael?
MK: Yo, yeah, they are going. Yeah, right now I am basically entirely swamped in the, uh, final stages of the production of Wald, the show with my company Right Way Down. We are in a city called Odense in Denmark. Located an hour and a half, two hours, from Copenhagen. There is a super nice space here called Dynamo workspace. It’s basically like a circus building. It’s run by a couple here in Odense who have been running Dyanmo here for I don’t know how long. But they’ve been around for a while. They’re organizing festivals and they have residencies and so-on. They’re essentially acting as a co-production of the show so it means they’re helping us both financially but also with space for us to rehearse and produce the show. And we’re also going to be playing the show here once it’s finally finished.
EL: Epic, epic. Speaking of Odense, I mentioned this in my other cast. I think I was there. We were at a juggling event. A juggling, circus convention. Probably about seven years ago, six years ago. It was just when they had gotten the space. So, we got to take a peek inside it before… literally just gotten the keys that week. So, it was kind of a nice convention because it was set in that dead period of January after New Year’s. We had taken over – basically a primary school. Oddly enough they had managed to convince a primary school to give them the whole building for the weekend. So, we were sleeping in classrooms. Basically camping. Using the cooking facilities. And just having like, all out…Yeah. I was hosting one of the shows. The renegade show. It was one of the longest running ones we’ve ran. It was from like 10 at night until like 7 in the morning.
MK: Oh Jesus.
EL: Yeah it was pure degeneracy towards the end. It finished the show. The show finished with like. There’s a challenge. There’s a famous escapology routine where you wrap yourself up in cling film and then escape from it. So, I set that as a challenge for someone to attempt on the stage. It’s kind of one of these… Like, if you know the secret behind it, how to escape from cling film, it’s very easy. It’s not a challenging escape.
MK: But if you don’t –
EL: But if you don’t know it, you don’t know what you’re meant to do when the person’s putting it on, you kinda…
MK: Get wrecked.
EL: Yeah, so, there was this one dude, yeah he will remain nameless. But he decided to strip down naked, don’t ask me why, and do this escape as a challenge. And then he had to be cut out. We had no knives. We only had teaspoons. So, he was cut out with the handle of a teaspoon. So…
EL: Fun bunch! Very fun bunch in Odense. It was a very small intimate convention. Only about fifty people as well. So, it was very nice.
MK: Yeah, I can imagine.
EL: So, you’re in the final week of production?
EL: Knowing all I know about production and all these things is like… Final week basically eighty percent of the work gets done. So, you’ve done about twenty percent of the work and you think you’re done and now you’re probably pulling your hair out trying to get everything done.
MK: Yeah, actually, we’ve been…I mean of course this show it’s kind of outstayed its welcome in very many ways because we were supposed to have been done with it last year. We cancelled premieres like three times. It’s just like super annoying to kind of…having to pick up the pieces from – Basically, we were supposed to be done last year and like, play last year in July, even before that. Now, I was kind of dreading coming here. All of us were kind of skeptical wondering how the hell we were going to pull this together after all this time. It’s now been eight months since last we met and worked on it. And yeah, both in kind of the creative part of the process and in the pure practicalities, it’s been a lot of ups and downs. But, I would say that a lot of kinda the rough work we had done before but we were luckily very efficient for like the first week when we were working here. From scene to scene through the show. And just like cleaned stuff up and we were pretty much in agreement of what we wanted out of the scenes and what we felt was the suiting choices to make. So that was really nice. And then, but there’s so many details that goes into actually finishing a stage show. Of course one thing is if you have a director and that director has a vision. And like, they’ve gotten a bunch of people they want to work with – and then you get them on stage and you try a bunch of things and you sort of have over arching control of it. But we are kind of working as a collective and the, there’s many voices. We all kinda need to hear and see each other. There are loads of good things about that. And I’m definitely happy that that was the approach that we had for this process. But it does of course have its challenges. But we’re working really well. But then you have all the stuff that needs to be kind of handled in terms of light design, light set up, and decisions about all of that. The sound design. Setting the cue. Seeing if it works. Testing stuff out. Finding if something is too long. The music doesn’t fit. Oh, now we put in new lights, which means the stage shifted slightly. All the light cues need to change. And so, and so on, so yeah it’s a lot. I just came back now from the space and yeah, Matt is still over there working with the light designer setting a bunch of cues. Music still not done. We basically leave for Portugal in five days. So, it’s going to be done. But I don’t think we will do a full, full run through until like Saturday and we leave on Monday. It’s going to – it’s tight. But then again, it always is, I guess. It’s just the way these things run, in general. Even if we would’ve been finishing it last year, we probably would have been in the same situation.
EL: I remember, yeah, one of the shows ages and ages ago. To do the tech rehearsal. For those of you who don’t know, the tech rehearsal is when you make sure all your stage technology is working. All your cues work. Everyone knows what they’re doing. All the props are put in place and everything. The show I think was about a ninety-minute show with an intermission. It took fuckin fourteen hours to do the fucking tech run the day before the opening day.
MK: Yeah, those things are miserable.
EL: Yeah, it’s like “No, go back a bit, music starts two seconds early, start now.” Blah! Oh my god. Just thinking about that one, it’s terrible! Yeah, so you have that all ahead of you which is going to be loads of fun!
MK: Now we are basically in that finishing up, cleaning up process. Like all of the rough work is done so I mean we are going to go tomorrow and work on some solo material because we basically prioritize all the group work where every human needs to be tight. And know exactly what’s going on. And then, like finishing up a bunch of solos and duets and kind of things that break apart the group work. We’re just kinda left the focal point of the show. And that stuff we have. That’s pretty much kind of locked in but still kind of detailing and sharpening and stuff because it’s very interesting when we work as a group like this. Because for example the day we notice like, every like, because we work on several places, we are kind of on handstands in a line in canes, so we’re pretty stacked up close to each other, and when we’re going down at one point, we’re kind of piking to the side and going down to the floor and like we work a lot with bent legs and weird shapes and so-on, but in that particular moment, we’re going with very straight legs and it becomes glaringly obvious if one person has just a little bit of a bent knee. It changes – or that’s where your eye goes because it creates kind of the difference. So there’s a lot of detail work that you don’t really need to think about when you’re working solo which becomes extremely important here. One other thing is you can’t fall because you’re going to fall into someone else. So, falling towards over balance. It just isn’t an option. And it’s quite funny when we’re doing a lot of those sequences. Like, basically doing like Svechka’s on a line backwards. Of course, you can’t fall. It’s in a show so you don’t want to fall anyway. But any kind of backwards dropping it’s not even a consideration. And it’s funny because when I go up, I do like a fast straddle jump up like centimeters from someone else but I just know that they have the same sensation in the hand as I do when they jump up. And they’re not going to fall. They’re not going to drop into me. And it becomes this funny kind of trust system that we have when we work together.
EL: Yeah, it’s definitely one of those things when you pull in, the risk of injuring yourself, yeah…The risk of injuring someone else, or causing catastrophe, generally makes people sharp enough –
EL: Risks over the years…Well, I may fall out or I may miss my slip, but if I’m going to give it over to someone, suddenly it’s the best one I’ve ever done.
MK: Yeah, it’s really cool in that sense we’re working a lot with – there’s a lot of timing, and there’s a lot of stuff that you need to be – you need to be sharp. And it’s funny there’s – we do so much to our handstands in this show. Like, there are so many entrances on two arms. The forearm kills you, basically. Because you stay up for significant amounts of time again and again and again. I think Matt counted, on yesterday’s run through, no the day before, he counted that he was up in handstands around sixty times during the show and he did like forty-eight presses or something. So, uh…
EL: How long is the show? Sixty minutes or something?
MK: Yeah, it’s kinda funny because like it’s um, how, it’s interesting for us, how is a show like this is going to be perceived if everyone does, fifty, sixty plus handstands? How do you make that interesting across the course of an hour? That has been the challenge. And what we still of course are wrestling with in certain scenes like making sure that the dramaturgy kind of runs in a way that keeps attention because when you’re creating… One thing is creating like an attention span across an act. Because five minutes is in general something that most people will be able to keep their attention if they’re in the same room as you. Like, it’s not that difficult. But when you’re pushing that like…It seems particularly above forty-five minutes, it starts getting harder and harder to kind-of keep people’s investment in what you’re doing. Like our show will be fifty minutes instead of a full hour which I think is a really good choice because the worse thing we could do with our discipline of handstands is outstaying our welcome. As soon as you don’t really have much more to put on the table and you try to force it it’s really not going to work. And. We’ve kind of gone pretty far in terms of research and artistic choices to make sure that we can keep it interesting and … it’s really cool to kind of watch. We did the run through today which was an absolute fuck fest where like, basically, it was the first time with lights and the lights were cued up wrong because they were based on another different version. And then, people were really tired. I fell out of every single thing. I didn’t train yesterday. And I was in complete shambles in every thing. And it doesn’t matter. It’s a run. And we’re learning as we do anyway. But when you watched over the video afterwards your eally see the things that really do work, they are something.
EL: Oh nice.
MK: Like, even in the end of the show. Some of the most, or maybe the most interesting thing we do with handstands in the entire show, or at least for me, is very late, or at the end of the show. So, that’s kind of been the challenge. Ok, how can we make this seemingly very simple and quite boring plain thing of just standing upside down into something that can carry a performance. So, we’ve dug quite deep, kind of, in many areas.
EL: You cover a point in that rant I want to bringup actually and interrogate. First off, there is a mini challenge for anyone listening: forty eight presses in 45 minutes without resting. Or constantly moving around in between stuff. There is a little challenge for yourself. I wonder…
MK: You’re going to feel your forearms. Possibly. It’s interesting, when we had one of those runs. When I did fine. I felt physically fine during most of the show. My forearm was pumped but in the end. After… Cause we do this thing in the end but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who sees the show. We do a thing. And when I do the thing. And the thing is very physical for a very long time. Like, I could have just kept on doing that thing for another five, ten minutes after the actual completion of the show. So, it was so kind of low down in kind of the low end of endurance things that you can just keep on going, and keep on going. It’s of course kind of precarious too. Because you bust a wrist in this show, and you have a problem. So, we’re trying to stay within kind of reasonable limits of physically as well.
EL: It’s going to be interesting to time everyone’s journey through the show and the amount of time they spend on hands vs. walking. It would be interesting to see the total amount of time and set that as a challenge as well.
MK: Yeah I’m not sure actually. Just like for super long. It’s just like you’re constantly back into action very quickly. Very often. There are some parts where people have rest particularly if you are going to pull off tougher things later in the show it gets rough. We’ve been very smart with that too and like, we have made it so that if we’re going to play this several days in a row we cannot have it on that level where you need to pull off the crazy shit in the end and you just end up failing or risking stuff. So, sustainability of playing it has been a very important thing we always consider though it’s mostly kinda the artistic integrity of the show and the direction and the commitment to the handbalancing discipline. I mean that was also the reason why I started the project was to just ok, “Let’s push that.” Because everyone in this show has knowledge in another discipline to a degree that they could potentially have done that in this show. But we’re choosing to not go with that. Many people have asked us, “Why don’t you do hand to hand in this show?” and matt and Imogen for example, they can do pretty decent hand to hand stuff but we just… there are people doing hand to hand shows. Like, tons of hand-to-hand shows. Like you can just go and watch Company X Y and I urge anyone listening to this to go on YouTube and look for Company X Y and you’ll find the French hand to hand company. I think they have fifty acrobats in some other shows and it’s absolutely crazy and super nice. They do very impressive and interesting things. But it’s just like we’re not doing hand to hand. And I think in hand-to-hand technique just because it’s another way to handstand well, we can leave that to the people who do hand to hand. We want to work with the balance thing itself. The self-control. Whereas hand to hand is a lot about the base. Applying the control over basically a flyer that does the job being a very good stick. So, yes, definitely a different approach that we chose and I’m very happy that were committed to that.
EL: Its definitely one of those interesting ideas. Just like, oh, imposing limitations on yourselves and then just sticking to it and forcing it to be interesting. It’s kinda… Yeah.
MK: And I can’t say it’s been easy. We’ve dismantled and kind of picked apart the entire show, like twice almost. Once we really dismantled it and just went like, “Well this really doesn’t work.” We had an outside eye who came in and just like, kinda: You’re not able to portray the things that you were hoping to portray so you might need to reconsider a few things. And its not like we dumped the material but like we would basically. Basically, you have a bunch of legos and you try to construct them. You spend a long time into a shape. And then you think this shape resembles something. and then you show it to someone and they’re like, “Nah, not really.” So, you dismantle the lego piece. Maybe you get rid of a couple. Maybe you get some new ones. That is essentially what we did. And it’s cool to see some old ideas that we had one and half years ago kind of came back. Other ideas that we just discovered got scrapped. And it’s kind of like, organically, reshapes itself into something new and that’s been super nice to just see now. And now we’re in like the same kinds of discussions. Like, oh yeah, this scene’s a little too long, a bit too mellow whereas here is more energy. How can we sort this out? And like there’s so many things to consider. Maybe like, the music can add power in a certain moment but maybe trying to add power in that moment is too predictable in terms of dramaturgy so perhaps you want to go against that? Or you want to create a specific lighting state that portrays a different… And so-on and so-on and so-on. We’re really working a lot with this. How to say… I mean, the entire kind of concept of kinda working with biology and like shapes and creatures and mutations and yeah, plants, forestry, essentially. I think we’ve stuck to that quite well and kind of like, the metaphoric landscape we’re creating kind of hits that. Another thing also that I really was interested in trying to find in the very beginning of the ideas of this project was like, could we get to the point where you’re watching this performance and you kind of forget that we’re doing handstands AKA something impressive. That like you get acclimatized to the landscape that we’re creating so that like, oh yeah, you take it for granted for a while and then at some point you’re reminded, like “Holy Shit, they’ve been up in handstands for a long time now!” So you kind of re-remember this. So that there are these kind of several layers of – that you can perceive in the show at the same time – because that’s always something I appreciate when I watch things.
EL: Yeah, that’s really cool. It’s kind of. It’s that kind of thing that’s like… Cirque is always in some ways – because everyone is so trained – struggles to make things look difficult, particularly stuff you’re performing. Whereas this is almost going counter to that. It’s just assumed that everyone is a fish. So the efficiency becomes the tapestry for something else. But then you’ll snap out of it every now and then and go like actually, hold on, this person is just basically doing stuff on their hands that I can’t do on my feet, and I just realized that. Like, holy shit.
MK: That is exactly the thing. We were discussing that the other day. Some things are hard for us to perceive because I think very many times in this show there is kind of a lot to look at in this sense, that we don’t notice. Because we just go and we do another handstand in a particular constellation in space. Well to us, that’s just another one but to an audience who isn’t used to people who are just like: They run in space, and they kick up a handstand very close to each other and like they don’t hit each other. They don’t fall over. To them, it’s obviously not even a consideration to crash. Whereas someone else who like, even someone who has tried to do a handstand. Like, “Holy shit, I tried once in my living room and I kicked the chair and that hurt.” Like, we need to remember that there are like, most people that watch this are going to be people like that. But what we tend to do of course is judge it through the eyes of other handstand relatable people that watch. So there are obviously a lot of stuff in the show that I think people who do handstands will find very fascinating because we are actively trying to push the limits of what is what and how things can be used. And one thing I’m really happy about with this show is that like, it’s definitely not this kind of circus show where – or handstand show – where you can come to the show where you are an educated handbalancer or so and you can kind of tick off all the different kind of positions, that was a flag, that was Figa, that was a this, that was a that….Like of course we use a bunch of techniques. But like it’s in most cases used in a way where it’s either like in a certain context, and it’s more about the context than the display of the control of the particular element. Whereas there are some places we do that of course because we also appreciate hand balancing. That’s why we do this. But we don’t it to be kind of like gratuitous. And like, ok, we have now ticked all the boxes. The planche is there. The pressed handstand is there. The Figa is there. This is there. That’s there. Because let’s face it. Everyone who is on Instagram and thinks that handstands are really cool. They are not the majority. Particularly not of the general audience that will watch the show basically. So, I think it’s accessible in its obscurity in many ways. This kind of thing that we’re doing here.
EL: Nice, nice, yeah. I’m looking forward to seeing this whenever I finally get a chance to leave the domain I’m in and come see it. So, you’re playing in Portugal. Is there any plans to play anywhere else?
MK: Yeah, actually there is a bunch of plans now. Most of them are like, to be confirmed, really but there are currently plans like, we’re playing the show on a festival called Vaudeville Rendezvous on the 21st and 24th of July. I can’t remember the stages or like there’s two different cities in the north of Portugal wherever we’re supposed to play the show. Then we’re supposed to play the show here in Odense in Denmark the 4th of August for what’s called the “Dynamo Festival” which is the festival of the space we’re currently rehearsing in. And there are also plans for playing in Stockholm in September, Stockholm in November and in March and say in a festival on the 13th and 14th of January. But you never know with covid. Even now I’m sitting here and googling because Portugal has rising cases of covid so we’re hoping that like we can likely go there but like Denmark might put Portugal on their red list by Friday and if that happens it’s going to be very hard for us to return to Denmark and play the show. And we might have to dump two of our cast members in Portugal because they won’t be able to return to the UK and Germany because they have fourteen days of quarantine, and they will have to be in Denmark within fourteen days. And then on top of that if everything goes right, it’s going to be a huge pain in the ass to ship all our hundred and fifteen kilos worth of cane plates and canes down to Portugal. Down to Portugal we’ve found a solution but back from Portugal it’s not so easy. And we’re looking into various solutions to get all our shit back to Denmark for the date we need to have them so like I said, so there’s a lot of logistics. And there’s a lot of fiddly diddly to be done to make such a thing kind of actually happen. Yeah, big shoutouts to Dynamo workspace that has helped a lot. The Art Council of Sweden that supported us with a substantial amount of money and we’re also a part of this project called Circus Link which is a new initiative to give possibilities to newly created shows so that’s why we will play in Portugal in Vaudeville Rendezvous. It’s why we will play in Dynamo Festival and why we will play at the Biach Festival in France in January. So, we’ve had a lot of luck with this so hopefully we will…
EL: Barring global pandemic stuff…
MK: Yeah, in the end like it’s felt so unlucky. I’ve just wanted to take the entire project behind the shed and give it two shotgun barrels to the back of the neck. Because holy shit, I was annoyed by the entire thing. But now it’s closing in and it’s a classic thing. Anyone who’s ever done like the stage performance show thing they know that like, last two weeks of like intensive panic bullshit you go through all of the motions, the self-hate, you are sure it’s going to collapse you want to die and you want the project to disappear and hopefully, finally, you end up with something that doesn’t suck. And I think we’re already there. So…
EL: Nice, nice. I remember throwing some canes around stage and storming off in a rage and disappearing for a few hours. And then coming back, “Ok I’m better now.” Then the next person gets to go and have a rage and a bit of a shout.
MK: I think we got it.
EL: Awesome, I still want to see some rage. That was a little Segway into the actual topic of our episode today.
MK: More than a little Segway. A twenty-eight-minute Segway…
EL: What more do you want? Always giving more. So, our topic this evening is we’re going to talk about head positions in the handstand and all those kinda things I suppose.
EL: So, head, do you have one?
MK: Yes, I do occasionally. Sometimes it’s actually full of things. Sometimes it isn’t. yeah, head position is yeah, I mean, it’s a thing we talked about on and off here and there. I think it’s one of the most kind-of, one of the ones that are the most, that people have very strong opinions about.
MK: And many of those opinions are easy to debunk. And what I mean by that. If it was such that there is one optimal head position, then, and that would give you de facto advantage over other hand balancers, then, all of the best ones would be using that one. Or everyone would be gravitating towards this specific one I’d say. And you find very large variety in terms of like exactly where people have their heads.
EL: Yeah, it’s definitely one of those things that gets very touchy. I can even think probably about 10-12 years ago I would be like, “head positions must be like this for optimal things…” And I always had that head position. I even had a revelation recently that the head position I prefer is not the one I used to prescribe those ten, twelve years and force everyone to do because I just figured out recently, if I set my head in a certain position, it stops me elevating my shoulders because my shoulders touch the back of my beck somehow and makes some kinda contact point. So this head position it stops me elevating my shoulders beyond what I find comfortable and efficient in a handstand so I have that kinda like feedback…I noticed this the other day like “Oh, wait, that’s what that does.” So, it’s kinda like a lot of things get prescribed like “You must do them this way” in some circles and with generally good reason but a lot of the time it’s not.
MK: Yeah, I think the classical ones that usually look through your eyebrows that kinda hide your head between your arms I think this one is like… because you have certain head positions, sort of looking at your toes. It’s like a certain skill and you’re doing it for a specific purpose and we’ll get to that one, too. But if we’re taking the default kind of look at the floor handstand then if you look through the eyebrow and try to hide your head. Try to not. Try basically to not bring your chin out. You try to actively not bring the head in front of the body. Like, it makes sense in certain kind-of gymnastics things.
MK: It’s very funny because it’s taught by a lot of people even hand balancers that this is how you should put your head. And I remember like I had some of these discussions and I was just like hmm, let me look over a bunch of hand balancers. So. I then look at my own where my head is all the way through. I looked at Yuval’s which was the same, I looked at Miguel’s and Thomas, which was the same, I looked at Denys Tolstov’s which was the same. I looked at Andrey Moraru which was the same. I looked at some chinese acrobats, which was the same. Everyone was looking at the floor, with the chin out and kind of like, basically, the same way that if you stand on your feet and want to look at the ceiling you just basically tilt your head back. And that’s what everyone was doing.
EL: yeah, hold on, didn’t you say at the start that everyone doesn’t gravitate towards one position…
MK: The funny thing is though like I have seen people do the opposite. This one girl I was teaching in Netherlands. Fucking beast of a girl on her hands. And she was really preferring this like head in between the arms position. Like quite a lot. And she was doing great with it. And I asked her,”Yeah, well do that because it works for you.”
EL: Yes, definitely, you see that a lot in, that kind of head position a lot in acrobatic gymnastics as well. It’s the head between the arms and looking out the …I finally got an answer years ago why this was coached. And it’s for handsprings and back handsprings. If you are doing a handstand, your default head position is looking through. When you go through a back head spring, probably you’d be more likely to throw your head back ahead of the arms, and anyone who tumbles knows, you want the arms to go swing up to the ears and then that’ll all moves as a unit. That stops you from throwing from the head and keeps the shoulders closed. So that was kinda the answer I got and it makes sense in terms that’s kind of like: Drilling the position of gymnastic handstands is a transitory position a lot of time or used in it so then…
EL: So then drilling this sort of way would be used as much as possible so it’s engrained.
MK: Yeah, even seeing like acro-gymnasts, sport acrobats, when they do hand to hand I’ve seen people that like they’re in high, like in one arm on one arm, high, up high, and they’re looking forwards. Because they are not balancing at all. They are literally just locking the position. They do not need the feedback from the eyes to adjust to anything they just need to know the body, lock the position, allow the base to take control of the balancing. So, I’ve seen a lot of that kind of stuff in those hand-to-hand contexts whereas like, and I mean, if you want to look in other kind of disciplines in terms of where the eyes look. Capoeirista’s, they always want to look at your opponent so when you do a cartwheel or handstand you’d always be looking out. B-boys have a tendency to always look out or to the side, either at who they are battling, or they look at their leg. Like, for example, if you see people do pike-freezes, it’s the best way to identify whether or it’s the Figa tough style balance or if it’s the pike freeze thing. It’s like if you look at the floor, that’s how you balance. No one in their right mind tries to balance a pike Figa with an open shoulder with their head out. It’s possible but holy shit that is some difficult stuff and it’s very rare someone who can actually hold it for like a significant amount of time.
EL: Andrey Moraru looking at you…
MK: Yeah, people like him can pull stuff like that off. Even him, I would assume with effort when your head is not looking at the floor. But yeah, it’s, like, I find it though, fascinating. Like you said, you just called me out on that: “Most people don’t gravitate.” And hey, you’re actually right, most people that are good on their hands gravitate towards looking properly through so they can see the entire floor and have the head in front. But as there are examples of the opposite then it must be more or less some kind of a…
EL: But it’s kind one of those things that I went through the same research just looking at people and it’s all over the place. it would probably be one of those things who can one arm to a decent degree and see what they actually do and see if there is actually a proper commonality or if it’s just a biased thing you’re looking at, or you have selected people. It’s definitely one of those things that I know, you know, some of the other schools of one arm who also produce good people. Can’t think of off the top of my head. What’s his name? Is it Yuri in ENC?
MK: He used to be there. I’m not sure if he’s there anymore but he was there.
EL: He has people look down the arm basically like you’re shooting a bow and arrow. Like that kind of view. I’ve seen a couple of other Russian coaches use that as well. So the head is obviously hyper-extendy, but they are looking straight down the inside of the arm and they’re not extending the neck out.
MK: Yeah, I think towards the one-arm action, there’s tons of variation as well. Like in terms of is the head close to your arm or not. It’s kind of like that entire dimension comes into things but yeah. I’ve like, I’ve seen people teach: “You should be looking at the hand.” Which works. Because some people do that. I’ve always just looked straight down at the floor at the same point as I look on two arms because it felt most practical to me. But certainly I do think if you would want to do one arms which is a McCain and your habit your through all your life is to look at your hand it’s probably better because you don’t need to change where you look as you just watch your hands. Though for me, I look directly at the floor and then directly at the floor on the other side when I land.
MK: Like apparently, I even saw Andrii Bondarenko who replied to a comment on that on his Instagram. Because he did a video where he did one hundred hops back and forth on one cane as absurd as that is. And he looks at the floor on each side. So, if you can do a hundred hops, looking at this side of the cane well then it is obviously possible because there is not a lot of people in this world who can do a hundred hops. So again, it must then be perceived as an option among many.
EL: Yeah, it’s definitely. It’s kind of, I suppose…This spell that the head position, the best thing to kind of do with your base head position, is try a few out and see what works for you. Basically. Head position as a training tool. This is something we use a lot. And something we use a lot. And something like for myself that you introduced me to using head position as a training tool. When I was in circus school and all that, head position would show up as a thing you can do in handstand. It wasn’t a “Oh, this actually has some cross over to more advanced skills even on two arms.” So, it was kinda one of the bigger sorta… I probably used one of the biggest upgrades to my training or how I teach people, was from that kinda, you showing it and explaining it like “Ok, I tested it out, actually Mikael’s completely right, it is very important.”
MK: Yeah, I think it’s quite common now…with like, the head type of positions, like a lot of people use them and teach them. I think it’s one of the most, one of the better intermediate handstand tools. It has a little bit of uh, how to say, it can kind of have like an automatic kind of moderative effect on your handstand too because when you move the kilograms of your head mass to the other side of the body line, it changes subtle-ly your central mass and it also like, I think the best thing about it is that like, everything that has to do with kind of getting into your anterior delts and kind of your chest and those kind of like arch, handstand traits…
MK: They become impossible to do with the head through. So, the head through has a tendency to – I often use it as kind of like, a way to force flexion among people who struggle to understand that position. Because as soon as you look up, you will close your chest. That elusive thing of like closing your ribs is something that comes together with the movement of the head and the fact that you get more weight towards the heel of your palm, kind of.
EL: It’s definitely like. That was the context that was always used when I was in circus school. It kinda like uses a line correction drill. You’d be doing a handstand. The handstands we were taught were generally a more hollow shape than I teach now. With more replicating a dish vs. a straight body. It was kinda like, oh, you’d be spotted, you’d have to bring your head through until you could see your toes and kinda close the body that way. Then once you’d found that, then you’d put your head back down and be left to free balance. It was kinda like, doing that, first year cirque school, a lot of like, look at how you spotted, look at the toes, get the shape, get the shape correct, where they want it, and then back down to the floor for your balancing. So, it was kinda. That was the main sorta thing. And then it was also like, oh well you could look through, you could look at the audience, other kinda things, but yeah, really working and refining these head-in positions is definitely one of these things. Because you know, roughly we can define I suppose, three base head positions. Let’s face it they could be infinite in terms of degrees. You have your normal look at the floor position, whatever works for you. Then you have your looking-at-the-wall-opposite-your-chest position so looking straight out. And then you have the one looking up at the toes or looking up at the ceiling. And they all have kinda different challenges. There’s not much in terms of balance I find. There’s not much other than the visual change. I suppose that’s a big component of it. There’s not much of a change in the weight or the shoulder heaviness. But once you start getting the ears past the arms that’s when things start to get interesting.
MK: Yeah. It’s like I think the funny thing it’s very common when you get people to try this first. If they try it freestanding. It’s like, let’s say you can handstand reasonably well, you try to move your head, and as you move your head you um, a couple things can happen. Either a ripple from the movement of the head will shoot the feet over to the other side. You get super finger heavy, and you drop. Over towards the over balance. Or you move the head through which moves more weight towards the heal of your palm, and then you fall down that way and kind of…One key solution I’ve found to this in terms of a micro-cue, in terms of sensation of what to feel for when moving the head: It’s like, imagining, first of all, you’re very centered in the hand and you’re not finger heavy at all before moving the head and then it’s like, as you move the head it needs to be happening in one confident action.
MK: So, you don’t spend ten seconds moving the head. And the third thing, is like, imagining that you open your shoulders slightly more as you move the head through since if you move the head, then it’s very easy that the shoulders will kind of follow them…but like if you imagine that you kind of flex your shoulders by an extra millimetre at the same time as you move the head, it can sometimes be easier just to get that kind of perfect placement. It’s so nice when you do head in handstands because like there is less weight towards your fingertips. So, it’s kind of like less effort to move your body with the fingers. And it becomes kind of like, very soft to control once you’re there but you can’t be there very often. It would be hard.
EL: Yeah, definitely want to just talk on some of those. Moving the head on one movement. It’s always this idea of knowing exactly where to look. I’m going to get one look at the floor, look at my toes, look at the ceiling, whatever it is. Getting to that 1,2 idea. It doesn’t have to be fast but it has to be like: I move and then I stop. Because every time you stop, or every time your eyes lock on to something along the way, you initiate a balance correction that your body will need to stabilize a new position even briefly. So, if you’re doing like three or four micro stops along the way, then suddenly you’re basically building a cascade of rebalance actions that have to be amortized at the very stop phase. So that’s kinda definitely one of these things to work on. The other kinda thing – the extra push is one of the interesting things because you shift the weight into under balance and this is…I don’t want to say it’s a mistake because it’s definitely something you can do. But you need to find even more verticality and more shoulder flexion strength to brace for the weight of the head coming to also avoid the shape coming too open and the shoulders tending towards that Mexican direction. You see this on some people. What you really wanna drill on your heading work is that you don’t want your handstand to be diagonal towards the fingers even if it’s not finger heavy. If it’s finger heavy you haven’t opened the shoulders if it’s not finger heavy you probably pushed open the shoulders. You’re still trying to find this…it’s slightly off-vertical but it’s still very, very, very close to it vs. like if you look on the side and you see your feet are gone beyond your fingertips. It means you ended on a slant or if you see a gentle curve to the front of the body. You still want all the straight-line mechanics if you’re using the straight handstand obviously. So, it’s just like boom. It still looks like my normal straight handstand but it’s just a tiny bit…like the heels are possibly to the first knuckle of the fingers and I want to say…and that’s from like, when I see that, when I see someone doing that and the shoulders haven’t opened too much, then I know, ok, his person is getting it. They’re probably working pretty damn hard.
MK: I usually also use that, the cue that like if you can see your entire body or more or less, it usually means that you’re in pretty good shape for the looking at toes. Or for the looking at head-in position. And like, because if you don’t see your hips it usually means you’re piked. Or you can also see that you’re piked, literally. But if you don’t see your toes, it means that your hips are in front and the toes are behind. So, it’s quite – you can kind of regulate it in terms of what you see. The problem is that if you’re at this stage, you will likely start falling if you start doing stuff while you’re there. It is a pretty tough position to hold at first. But it’s very well worth it because it kind of – it does give you control towards under balance in the same way that’s kind of a tuck handstand and a pike handstand and eventually a press handstand does. Even though it’s different. But there still is this quite clear correlation between people who can do pike looking at toes meaning putting their head out towards underbalance, legs towards under balance, while keeping an open shoulder so that there’s one line from hand to hip, a diagonal line but a line from hand to hip. So, the correlation between people who can do that, and the people who can shift very softly over to like a fingertip one arm hold without losing the shoulders simply because the shoulder flexion is strong enough and coordinated and flexible enough. And this pike looking at toes, tuck looking at toes, action, it’s more a demonstration of readiness of shoulder in one sense whereas it’s not like strictly necessary for everyone. It’s like if you’re working towards one-arm handstands, you would likely spend some time still on two-arm handstands and then these are the types of two-arm handstands you should be spending your time on if you want kind-of the effect of a kind-of hand balancer style one-arm.
EL: Yeah, definitely one of these things, the other thing is, like the benefits…some of the subtle benefits I’ve noticed with people is…I started like, once I kinda got the tip off from you and started implementing it, I was using more advanced people, and then I started using less advanced people, more beginners once they had fifteen, twenty second handstands. Just trying them in to kinda, I won’t say in a formal, formal manner, but still in there very early. I noticed the group, I was kinda A, B testing with groups to see what I can see. And the ones who were doing it were developing their balance and reactive capacity faster and I really think there’s like a lot to be said for this. Oh, we get used to balancing with one configuration on the head. The vestibular system. And the arrow system and the ocular system would all contribute to balance. Are all used to one alignment. But then if you start introducing new alignments then suddenly ok, well we, our ears are upside down basically. Oh, now they’re completely flipped like sixty degrees to what we were used to. The same with the eyes. Like, it’s…I find, first thing I learn, but like I get double vision when I do head-in. Maybe it’s just my eyes are trashed or something. But I have to close one eye if I’m doing a longer hold. Pirate handstands. That’s what kinda, yeah, I think this kinda messing with the balance system provokes the body to be just rely on its sensation. Even like, for myself, like the biggest change, it was after that workshop we had and finally met in Berlin many years ago. Put them straight into training after the workshop and tried them out. What we were really doing was refine the sense in the hand that I could get probably because I couldn’t see too much. But I just had to rely on: “What do I feel on my hand?” And that was generating the corrections. And that kinda, leads into, because we were talking about head position but also eyes open and eyes closed. Like, these kind of things just you know, take it -once again – we’re normal training, how we do things, we remove variables and then we add them in. And this is the other way: remove the balance system and then we have to rely on something else. It’s kind of interesting as well because like, particularly with the eyes closed thing, you get like, two types of people generating the handstands. You get ones who are perfectly fine with their eyes closed, there’s no real change. Obviously drops a bit, their hold times. Then you get other people. Oh, I close my eyes, I try to handstand, and it just goes to chaos, or I can’t kick up with my eyes closed or stuff like this and those people forced to do with their eyes closed and the head position, had the biggest gains. So, it’s kind of just like, it’s a way of basically I suppose, training one of the other balance systems in a way, that oh, the eyes, our visual balance system was doing most of the work, ok now we’ll force you to use the other one and just train that.
MK: Yeah, so I’m sure there’s something to that and you kind of need to be less reliant on exactly where you look. It’s funny also to relate it back to the show that we’re doing now. There’s a lot of light cues and stuff that happens. We have like small pieces of white tape on the floor so that we can see while we jump up on canes because again we’re jumping up in a row and like, there’s just not the option to fall over. And you just need to know and just need to trust that you’re going exactly into the place you need to. You can’t trust the kind-of…Because I’ve found also that when people learn to balance on canes, one of the things that freak them out is the fact that the eyes are further from the floor. Like put them on a box and it’s not that big of deal. But suddenly it’s that you see down… It’s the same as if you do handstand on a cliff. Like, if you can see the drop, it’s much worse than if you can’t see the drop. And yes, the same thing, like I remember whenever I kind of need to retrain my jumps, which is on higher cane, the main thing that messes with me compared to a lower cane, is the fact that my eyes are further from the floor and like, it’s instinctive automatic thing that like I drop myself towards under balance and save it every time and it happens for a few days until I get used to it and then it’s not harder than the lower cane at all but the fact that I did that distance is there. It’s different. It makes you do weird stuff. I think there is like getting used to not reacting to that is kind of like in the same type of domain sort of to not be impacted by the fact that OK my eyes are further from where I’d land if I fell but that doesn’t really effect my ability of balancing, I mean particularly if the drop isn’t going to kill or hurt you, then it’s more kind of a fear that is not it’s not like, a death fear that you’re actually having to deal with. It’s more kind of getting used to it.
EL: Yeah, it’s definitely one of those things I definitely know that from training people on canes. Maybe for your switches what you need is little fold out platforms that are the same height every time? So, you do switches on like two metre canes but you still fold the platforms out to fifty centimetres, so you have targets to look at?
MK: Yeah, I mean there are people that do that with large high pole beams and stuff like that. It kind of gives you that effect. Of course, you will land on the podium too if you fall.
EL: You can just have like a paper one or something. Like card is not going to hurt if you fall out.
MK: Maybe that’s good to have a piece of cardboard stuck around the cane. No big deal! It’s like jumping on the block. Makes me always want to try it out. But then again like, you need to get used to that, like, the feel and you’re actually going to do that.
EL: That could be kind of interesting. I’m going to try that out. I’m going to put a piece of cardboard on the canes. I have a bit of cardboard in the house now. Put a target on it. And then get the canes and see if it changes the balance. And then just increment it down. And then just see what happens. Instead of having the short canes which are just glorified blocks. You still have the same targeting: I’m off to the same height as my blocks, but I’m actually on a long set of my canes.
MK: I do that with Lisa too.
EL: That would be interesting.
MK: She’d be the perfect victim.
EL: The perfect victim, certainly she does three minutes on blocks or on canes. Yeah, that’s kind of interesting. Did we touch on everything?
MK: I think we were kind of visiting most of the head space?
EL: Hahaha, the head space! Ok, cool, cool. I think we will wrap it up there. It was a good one to pimp our programs, the head movements and the formal head training takes place in our Push Harder Program and also in the Expand Program. Check them out if you haven’t. If you have, train it harder because you’re probably slacking on it thinking it’s not important.
MK: Yeah, don’t.
EL: Definitely, for me, just it was of the light hand moments when I knew I was dealing with someone special when I met Mikael who was able to go like “Do this!” and I was like “OK, I’ve seen all this shit before.” But no this is the comprehensive version why we actually do this.
MK: Do you remember Emmet that I said to you. Like, this is the first time me and Emmet met. At the end of the workshop, I knew that Emmet was the only one in the group who could do pike looking at toes with the type of shape I was looking for and I said to the group: “I am 100% sure that if I put him into a fingertip supported one-arm, he’s going to be able to hold it no problem.” And I did that, and you held it. And like, that was basically, the principle I talked about that like, him being able to do a pike looking at toes undisturbed meant that his shoulder flexion and his kind of control in under-balance would be effective enough so that he even in a pike-split could easily be holding a fingertip supported one-arm without that big of a deal. So, it was a good example. I was kind of doing a gamble on it then but I was like, I was pretty sure and…
EL: The interesting thing about that I had actually shelved handstand training for about three years at that time. I hadn’t been doing any and I was just like, seeing you come to town and knew you from Gymnastic Bodies forum and I was like, “Oh yeah, fuck this, I’m definitely going to check out this workshop.” So, training handstands for about three weeks beforehand or two weeks beforehand just to try to not be embarrassing and uh, yeah.
MK: And now we are podcast fiends!
EL: There you go! Other than that, let’s wrap it up there and we’ll see you next week!