The Third Toss

When I was 13, just a few years before I began fencing, my sister had this awesome boyfriend. He was fun, kind, and, he could juggle. I thought he was so cool. I wanted to juggle myself and thought that I could learn it so fast. I asked him to show me how he did it so he did, in about a minute. Then he turned his attention back to my sister and that was all the instruction I ever had. I managed to get a hold of a juggling set shortly after that and began to practice.

I quickly realized the hardest part was not the throwing or catching. I have pretty good hand eye coordination. This helps me a lot in juggling and fencing both. It wasn’t the width or depth of the juggling field either. I practiced facing a wall that had an adjoining wall at ninety degrees on one side and a door on the other. I learned quickly how much it hurts to run your knuckles into a wall. So for me width and depth wasn’t a problem. I managed the tempo by singing songs with clear rhythm, and solid tempo, timing my throws and catches which solved height challenges. My form was great, but I struggled with the third toss.

In standard juggling you hold two balls in your dominant hand and the third in your off hand. This helped me with fencing too. I’m use to using both hands to accomplish a task. The first throw from my dominant hand was easy. It always went the perfect height and landed on the perfect target at the right time. The second throw came from my off hand. This throw wasn’t as perfect as the first but with my systems in place it was generally successful. It was the third toss that was so hard! With two balls in the air I tended to hesitate a little too much before I threw the third ball, if I threw it at all. Often the third ball would collide with the second as it came down, or I would throw it too shallow or even sideways. With time and practice I overcame this and eventually became a decent juggler.

Nine years later I was serving a mission for my church and I found myself in a really stressful situation. At night I turned to something I knew I was good at, juggling. It helped to boost my confidence and it relaxed me. One particular night after a really hard day I began juggling and I just couldn’t get the rhythm. My depths of field and height were off. That third toss was giving me trouble. Fed up with the lot I threw my balls on the floor and started to cry. After a moment the very gentle thought came to me that this was only a total failure if I didn’t pick up the balls again. After a few calming breaths I picked up the balls, and they dropped again. So I took a few more breaths and tried, again they fell. But I felt different. I felt better. I tried again and it clicked. I had all the balls up in the air in perfect harmony. I wasn’t a total failure.

I relate this to fencing because it takes practice, a lot of practice. Even after nearly a decade of juggling experience, which is way easier than fencing, I still had a night like that. I have nights at fencing equally frustrating. I have nights where my footwork is awful. I have nights where I can’t keep my tip on line. I have nights where I will try something dozens of times and never get it right once. But I have learned that I can keep going even after I fail. It is never a total failure unless I don’t pick up my sword and try again.

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What helps you work through challenges or failure?

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