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How to Cut Extra Smooth n’ Speedy

Editor’s Note: Hot on the tails of last week’s post about speedrunning, Eliot Slevin (of Run Rabbit and Clouded Paper fame) has written in with his approach on… well, you’ve read the title, so you know what to expect. On to the featured post!


Hello! So you’re wanting to make your cuts look faster, smoother, and more natural. You might think that all that’s required is more practice – but you have to make sure you’re getting the right practice.

I’m hoping this little guide will help you get buttery smooth and super duper fast.

The basics – what is smooth?

Imagine, in your mind, a robot doing Cardistry. The kind of robot you imagine on a factory line, building iPhones or something. Whatever motion it needs to do, while it’s doing that motion it does it with an almost perfectly flat speed:

The velocity that this robot moves the packets at would always be exactly the same. Never too fast during easy parts, but also without stopping at all when there is a grip change or a challenging part.

Now, let’s imagine a new, not very smooth cardist doing the same cut – let’s say it’s Sybil. Their performance might look something like this:

The first thing they do is spend half a second getting the grip right for the Z-grip opener, where there’s no motion at all. Once they have it, they open it super fast, because they don’t want to look super slow. Now they have to pass the packet from their right hand to the left. This is a really tricky move, and they weren’t ready to do it (because they rushed), so they have to stop to do the pass. Once they have the grip correct, they then complete the next pretty simple move as fast as they can, because they feel weird that they stopped – and so on. Usually what we think of as a ‘not smooth’ performance isn’t actually ‘slow’. It just has these really fast parts, and parts so slow they almost stop.


So what can we do to fix that?

Thing one: Slow down

Sounds either stupid or obvious, but the first and easiest thing you can do is not rush the easy parts. Take the parts in the cut where you want to go super fast (like the opener after once your grip is secure), and slow it down by 50%.

This has an interesting knock on effect.

  • Firstly, it means there’s less of a contrast in speed in your performance. It might look ‘slow’, but it’s already looking ‘smoother’.
  • Secondly, you’ll actually find the hard bits easier now. Because you have time to think ahead and be ready for the tricky things like grip changes, you’ll find you can do them faster. So you also speed up the slow bits.
  • Thirdly, you get to fix things during these easier motions. It’s not uncommon to land a grip not quite perfect, which is a simple mistake that doesn’t stop the performance. But this small mistake can lead into a bigger mistake a few steps down the line. By slowing down you get the chance to realize “Oh, I’m not gripping this packet like I usually do, when I do the pass I’ll have to grab it slightly differently to get it in the right spot”. Obviously this all happens without you realizing it – but by slowing down you get the chance for it to happen.

Thing two: practice the hard parts

This is what I mean by getting the right practice. If you want to get your performance faster, or smoother – just doing the cut again and again without thinking about it will totally help. But you can get a lot further in the same amount of time by really focusing on the hard parts. The slow parts. The things that trip you up.

There’s a difference between doing a motion and really analyzing what’s holding you back. You’ll notice places where packets get messy, realize places where your grip usually isn’t ideal for the next step, and find the bits where your finger flexibility is making it hard. And when you start addressing those, you’ll really start to notice a difference. 

Thing three: simplify the hard bits.

A cut is made up of many different motions, sleights, or techniques strung together. Eventually you’ll notice that some of the techniques are just hard. There’s no way around it if they’re just quite challenging. These are usually motions that:

  • Require quite intensive hand-size or flexibility to do
  • Involve less control over the packet, say you only have two fingers on it instead of three, and it’s held with the back of the knuckles. There’s a good chance it could spin out of control
  • Have an element of randomness; you might be fully letting go, for example.

First things first – if a motion has a real challenge to it, I think you should make sure it’s celebrated. Don’t let it be buried in the depths of a cut, where nobody is really going to see or notice what you did. Make it in the open, obvious – make it the nugget.

But what can you do about hard bits? Something I do all the time, is simplify it. Usually the interest or value you could’ve got from a hard bit is easily outweighed by the better performance. The other thing is if a cut is more consistent – I’m going to practice it more. There’s that little dopamine hit when you nail a performance: if that’s easier to get to, I’m going to do it more. Which means more practice, which means a better performance. It’s a nice little addictive loop.

Consistency is key

When simplifying, the thing I always look for is if it makes the cut more consistent. In order to get cuts fast, like super fast – you need really consistent motions. Things that you can do without failing 100 times in a row. So I personally always optimize for that.

Pre-loading

If there’s something you can do ahead of time, it’s usually a good idea. For example, imagine the Sybil when you pass the first packet from the right hand to the left for the second time. When you do it you both have to split the packet, and grab it. Two things in one move, it’s pretty hard.

But when you pass the packet from right to left the first time, you could do it the same way. Both split the packet, and grab it. But what most people do is do the split ahead of time, by doing half a swing cut. This means when you go to grab it – you just need to grab it. No splitting required!

By doing some of the work before the grab needs to happen, you can make the grab faster, smoother, and more consistent. There’s heaps of places where you can look at ‘pre-loading’ packets for yourself – I do it in Daren’s Squeeze all the time.

Work to your hand size and flexibility

If you’re a new cardist with small hands, you’re never going to be able to get ludicrously smooth rolling thumb cuts. I’m sorry, it’s just not going to happen. There are just some cuts where if you want to get really smooth – you need to work to your abilities.

And that’s totally fine, there’s so many workarounds you’ll be able to figure out. Is that grip in Sybil where you need to hold a packet between your pinky and middle finger just a bit of a stretch? That’s cool, you can easily just hold it between your pinky and index, in classic straddle grip.

The point is, it’s not about doing a cut exactly like somebody else – feel comfortable modifying cuts to make them work for you. If it’s more consistent – it’s good.

Thing four: speed.

There’s a classic statement, that if you want to go fast, first you have to go smooth. And it’s totally true, for a good reason. Once you feel really in control of a cut, where you can do it smoothly without any challenging pauses – it’s really easy to then do it just a little bit faster. Once you have that foundation of control that smoothness gives you, it’s easy to start working on speed.

It’s still a lot of practice, don’t get me wrong. I recommend taking just one cut, one you really really like – and just seeing how far you can go. How fast can you get it, how smooth can you get it. You might surprise yourself.

Cheers,
– Eliot Slevin


Follow Eliot on Instagram @eliot.slevin

3 replies on “How to Cut Extra Smooth n’ Speedy”

Gotta shout out the classic Daren quote: “Smoothness creates the illusion of speed.” (Or something like that.)

Speed is particularly interesting topic because there aren’t that many fast cardists. There are the obvious ones; off the top of my head, there’s Eliot (of course), Duy, Anthony Chanut, Leon Tai, and the Bucks (to an extent). However, many cardists do have speedy moments within a move.

That seems to say something interesting about the role of speed in cardistry. What if, instead of looking at speed as an end goal, we look at it as an element of move design that can be moved around and adjusted as necessary to change and form the specific flow of the move? I think that’s what you’re getting at here: the idea of being so in control of a cut that you can speed up or slow down to suit the move (callback to the Nikolaj example from the last post).

It’s also interesting to consider optimizing for speed at the possible cost of detracting from other elements. No doubt, every move has compromises, but if you optimize for speed, then what’s the goal? I’m not saying this to try to undermine your point––I’m saying it because it’s important to consider what our intended goal is when we perform cardistry.

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