Learning can be Painful
Learning new skills can be hard. Most of us can look back on our early academic careers and remember a time when we said to ourselves, this is the hardest semester I have ever taken. Or remember being faced with feelings of hopelessness, frustration, and fatigue. Well, if these degrees were easy then everybody would have them. But what exactly is it that makes some semesters harder than others? The answer is most likely the fact that we’re actually learning new skills; we’re creating new neural pathways in the brain. When you’re taking a course that feels very hard, that is a telltale sign that you’re learning something brand new. If you’re taking a course that feels easy, it’s most likely because you knew the material or had previous knowledge similar to what was already being taught. In Destin Sandlin’s video on Smarter Every Day “The Backwards Brain Bicycle” , when learning a new skill, it’s not enough to have knowledge about how something is done. You must have understanding. How do we gain understanding? We get it by practice. Over and over. Of course, this isn’t the entirety of the message of Sandlin’s video, it’s only a small part. Sandlin highlights how riding the reverse bike is very hard and frustrating. His brain wasn’t wired to manipulate the handlebars combined with how one intuitively balances on two wheels. In my experience, it isn’t necessarily frustrating because you knew how to do something, then you couldn’t because of one small change (although that can certainly occur). Rather, learning anything brand new can be challenging because it requires many stages of incompetence and failure before any kind of progress can be achieved. This is the price we must pay for mastery. I like this one quote by Stephen McCranie about success, “the master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried” . It seems that proficiency at any skill is built upon sweat, blood, and tears. Not only that, but perseverance in the face of repeated failure. This has has been my experience in learning even the most basic of coin magic.
Failures and successes
I have attempted to document my failures by keeping track of each attempt at a coin magic trick after memorizing some basic steps of each. Once the steps of the trick were memorized I attempted to execute the trick, slowly, without reference to the book, and while recording or watching myself on video to see how the coin trick might look to an observer, and to alter my own behavior if necessary.
After each attempt, I placed a tick mark on a sticky note in order to keep track of whether or not the attempt was a failure. On the very first day I had many failures, even while going through the coin tricks as slow as possible. The purpose of documenting the failures is to highlight the fact that any new skill, trivial as it may seem (especially when it comes to coin magic), might involve many moments of failure before some acceptable level of proficiency is reached. Here I use the term proficiency lightly.
It should be noted that these sticky notes don’t reflect how many times it took me to walk through the steps of the trick while pausing to read the book and interpret how the descriptions of the movements translate into physical manipulation of the coins. These tick marks are only failures after I had already memorized the manipulation steps, which was slow and painful in and of itself.
Videos Documentation of the best of first “successes”
These videos serve only to highlight the fact that I was able to learn the brute force, slow, deliberate, and unconvincing steps required to (maybe) eventually learn the trick in a fast, smooth, and natural way. These tricks are in no way meant to reflect how the trick is supposed to look. A master coin manipulator I am not, and I do not do justice to these tricks in any way. I have to admit that I respect magicians quite a lot, and this video documentation of my coin magic baby steps certainly does violence to the coin illusionist profession.
Learning By Doing
This is certainly an example of learning by doing. Although, this is not an apprenticeship in the traditional sense unless the words of J.B. Bobo count as indirect apprenticeship since I am directly utilizing his knowledge, except that he isn’t physically here to guide me (he passed away in 1996). However, Bobo frequently includes notes to the learner about nuances or tricks of the trade which wouldn’t be apparent to the learner based purely on the book images of the coin tricks alone. The apprentice attempts to follow the model of an experienced master journeyman or tradesman (in vocational training) whose behavior form the basis for the model. Even though one weakness of apprenticeship style of training is that a masters knowledge may be tacit (subconsciously implicit but not understood by the learner), and a master may not be able to explain some of their deep knowledge that is taken for granted, Bobo makes his best attempts within the text of the book. Even though I have a book at hand, written by a master of coin magic, clearly this is not an apprenticeship. Rather, this is like guided experiential learning; a sort of mix with apprenticeship and experiential learning.
It would seem that my approach to learning coin magic is working. I might attempt to locate some videos or supplementary materials that could contribute to some of the finer details and nuances of my skills. It would be great if there was a Competency Based Learning course for some of this material, like Khan Academy for coin tricks. Although, there would be no way for assessments on one’s success. But there might be some room here if the course could teach all of the theory with images, and video demonstrations which highlight nuances and individual steps. Assessments could be done on theoretical knowledge of each coin trick, collections of coin tricks, or theory of general skills one needs to know for most advanced coin magic (palming or vanishes for example).
Here is a list of my progress videos. Please forgive the choppy, tacky backgrounds in some of the videos. I was playing around with some of the Apple software for a video program and I didn’t have a consistently colored background nor did I have a good lighting source so the result is some strange effects.
Back Clip Vanish (changed from “Through a Handkerchief” per Learning Plan)
Touch of Midas
Not shown due to “cringe factor”; lack of skill reveals too much about how exactly the trick is accomplished, detracting from its visual appeal. In addition, the trick requires some narration of the story about King Midas to serve as a distraction, but I can’t seem to be able to speak clearly nor in a fluid way while I’m going through deliberate, unskilled coin manipulations. However, I was able to get through each of the steps for this trick and eventually make it work, but due to my lack of skill the illusion wasn’t an illusion at all. Rather, it was quite embarrassing.
Featured image by Maria Calvo