The deeper one gets into yo-yoing, the more one is exposed to all the wonderful jargon and nebulous concepts that its enthusiasts have come up with. One of the trickiest bits of vocabulary to define has always been “technical yo-yoing”: most players know it when they see it, other players can give you a vague definition, and non-players will look at it and walk away shaking their heads.
This particular style of tricks is known for its intense complexity, its focus on slight details & variations in tricks, and its heightened level of difficulty. Yo-yo tricks exploded in growth with the introduction of the bearing, and it could be argued that the roots of technical play were established with Steve Brown, Neff, and the SpinDox during the Renegade era. However, “tech” as we know it would really hit its stride in 2003 with Johnnie DelValle’s groundbreaking championship freestyle.
The focus on intricate string play and long, risky combos was a huge paradigm shift. Though the Eli Hop and other showy choreographic moves have found their way back into competitive play, technical play shows no signs of leaving. If anything, the championship title awarded to Hungarian tech wizard Janos Karancz a decade after JD’s victory seems to indicate a new golden age of tech.
I thought it would be best to turn to the pros to discuss some of the core tenets of technical trick construction, and am proud to feature well-respected trick theorists Mikhail, Rafael, Isaac, Spencer, Gabe, and Jacob. Let’s hear about it.
How would you define “technical yo-yoing”?
Mikhail Tulabut (Team YoYoJam): “The simplest way I can define it is a trick/combo whose string geometry is more complicated and dimensional than Double or Nothing. It’s like holding up a flat piece of paper compared to holding up a paper airplane.”
Rafael Matsunaga (Duncan Crew): “For me, if I call something ‘technical’, I’m mostly thinking about complexity of tricks. Even though some simpler concepts may require more technical expertise and are actually harder than what I call technical, I’m probably more inclined to use technical to describe trick with multiple string folds and hard-to-describe mounts and moves.”
Jacob “Elephark” Jensen (Werrd): “I think of modern yoyoing as the sort of yoyoing that focuses primarily on creation and sharing ideas, as opposed to classical yoyoing, which gives importance to mastering a set of tricks and/or performing for the sake of selling yoyos.
I think of technical yoyoing as the facet of modern yoyoing that focuses on concepts and elements for their own sake, or the sake of the trick. The science of yoyo tricks, if you will. … For me, I think the term ‘tech yoyoer’ is most accurately descriptive of a player who studies and preferably attempts to expand the library of trick concepts available to the community. Kind of like a scientist. Okay, exactly like a scientist. And there’s theoretical science and there’s practical science, and each scientist gets to choose how many scoops of each to put on his plate at lunchtime.“
Isaac Sams (Duncan Crew, Innovation Movement): “Technical yoyoing: sequencing that is too complex to fully follow without learning it.”
Spencer Berry: “I usually lump technical yo-yoing into most of the tricks that non-yoyoers may be amazed by, but probably can’t tell apart. Which is a huge lump! To a yoyoer, I could probably even get more specific: tech tricks are those that explore holds beyond the building blocks. Sometimes tech tricks explore new concepts or combine multiple simpler concepts into single motions, but more often than that they are the product of kids seeking originality while they bounce from string to string, knot to knot. If the trick is complicated, it is easier to be unique, right? I often hear tech and flow pitted against each other – but a trick can easily have both or neither and of course grades in between.”
What, in your opinion, makes a trick or combo “good”?
David Ung (Team Yoyofactory): “I think a good trick is one that requires every motion. Extraneous movements in tricks and combos really bother me (in most cases. Some people have really interesting “useless” moves that I think are fantastic). Good tricks generally have great pacing, too. I don’t know exactly how to explain/define good trick pacing… but just look at Yuuki or Charles to get a good idea. There is always enough original material/moves sprinkled throughout the trick to keep you entertained the entire time.”
Gabe Lozano (Duncan Crew, Sector-Y): “To me, a trick or combo should follow a general theme. This can be done in several ways, but my personal favorite is taking a move or hold, and then finding all the neat transitions in and out of that move/hold, and then tying it all together in a way that flows nicely. That way, all the pieces fit together and feel cohesive.”
Mikhail: “1. Dynamics. There should be a rhythm to it. Kind of like the 3 Act structure of story-telling. Setup (Mount), Confrontation (String hits and maneuvers), and Resolution (Banger/Reveal/dismount).
2. Flow. Things should always be moving and feel natural. When I’m working on a trick, I like to feel and “listen” to where the yo-yo and my hands want to go. It obvious when I try a movement and the yo-yo just won’t have it.
3. Surprise/Originality. Natural movement and flow is nice, but I also like to see movements/slack/mounts that come out of nowhere and haven’t been done to death.”
Rafael: “I believe good combos are like good music. Everybody likes a different style, but some characteristics are universal to good combos/music. First of all, a good combo must be well executed, otherwise, it’s the same as a fantastic sheet music being played by a mediocre musician. Then it comes to composition itself. If the elements follow a certain pattern or just go well together, that’s a nice combo. I know that’s a bit vague, but like music, once you listen to a good song or see a good combo, you know it. And just like music, some styles and elements end up becoming a fad and nobody cares any longer, even if people keep doing it (like dubstep, or I guess trap these days)”
Spencer: “I’d say most of MY favorite tricks that I CAN do have sensations to them. Either a motion that just fits right or a theme that carries the yoyo through some sort of story (not necessarily literal, but motions that build, climax, release, arc, etc).
As far as tricks I enjoy watching, my favorites are usually exemplary examples of someone’s personality made yoyo trick. I think Rojas and Haycock are perfect modern examples of this – watching them play they are unmistakeable – often imitated – but never faked. There is a sense of identity – suddenly holds, moves, even tricks you’ve maybe seen before become infused with a fresh personality.
The real challenge, I find, is making a trick sufficiently simple for me to both want to learn it and enjoy doing it. In the past i was drawn to long, complicated, proprietary tricks. Because I knew they were mine and I felt like it was new territory. But I’ve definitely shifted into a seek the simplicity phase where it is equally challenging to find something that is simple but fresh and fun to do.“
Isaac: “Since the ‘modern’ style of yoyoing is so young, we have to take inspiration from the non-yoyo world to make any sense of what we’re doing. Some of today’s best tricks are made like this, and the reason why they’re the best is because everyone can make the connection, not just yoyoers. A good combo has no borders.
Another thing to take note of is utilizing all your possible zones. A really long combo done in front of the player is boring, it usually doesn’t catch enough attention. A well-scoring combo will consist of tech placed inside-arm, outside-arm, overhead, over arm—basically, cover as much area as you can.”
What pitfalls should be avoided during combo construction?
Gabe: “I personally dislike combos that are disorganized. If you’re throwing in hops, boings, stalls, grinds, arms, etc. into one combo, it’s just a disorganized mess. Even if every element is cool, when you throw them all together, your elements don’t get the recognition they deserve because they’re surrounded by too many other moves that don’t complement it. The trick then becomes forgettable. Good tricks are memorable, and having a strong theme and focus is key.”
Isaac: “What kills a combo for me is when a player stays in a mount for a while without accelerating through the trick. What I love about the Russian style is that their combos only consist of ridiculous transitions, so you can barely tell when they are in a mount before they’re already out.”
Rafael: “A trick is boring/bad if no effort is put into it. If you’re just taking existing elements from two popular combos and putting them together, there’s no effort in creativity. If you come up with a new hold but can do nothing with it, there is no effort in construction.
Overusing the music metaphor again, if you’re just doing other people’s combos, you’re that dude with a guitar playing covers on the beach. People may enjoy it, even give you props for playing their favorite song, but when Tom Morello parks across the street you’ll be as good as dead. Good tricks and combos come from trick artists.”
Mikhail: “Never-ending combos. I attribute this to ‘contest yo-yoing.’ Yo-yos spin longer, and regens save time to get more points, but holy crap when a trick should obviously end at a trapeze, and they just regen out of it to regen out again it feels like a run-on sentence that should have clearly ended a while ago but it just didn’t and kept going because it could and it didn’t even use a comma to break up the thought and just started a whole new thought because it was easier to just keep going even though the statement was clearly over and came to a natural and fitting end but nah never mind let’s just keep going for a little bit because I can and then an abrupt. End.”
Spencer: “I don’t want to say that any tricks are bad, I think if someone came up with it and it brings them joy then it is a success.
If a trick or combo is boring it is probably having trouble distinguishing itself. With the abundance of tricks that exist now, it is very easy to create something that may be technically new, but has nothing fresh about it. Which is strange to say—because people make fresh tricks out of old holds, old moves, old tricks all the time—but there is also a lot of new tricks that don’t seem fresh because they don’t assert themselves to anything beyond a series of moves someone put together. Does that make any sense?”
Technical yo-yoing may rightly be regarded as one of the most unapproachable styles, but persistent practice and mindful trick design can also make it one of the most impressive. This is by no means a complete summary of the wide world of tech, but hopefully is enough to inspire you to try some kink mounts.