Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Using Strikes Correctly

by Crazy Ivan

Being a good hacky-sacker helps out a ton when it comes to being a good Myachi player.  Hacky-sackers generally have some of the hardest motions in the game down before they start playing.  Not only do they take to the foot tricks quicker, but they also usually "get" the hand motions faster.  They understand the nature of the aerial and they see a lot of the possibilities right away.  So if I teach an avid hacky-sacker the 360 and the Illusion, they'll usually figure out the Wolverine, the 720, the Double Illusion and the Sonic on their own.  Moving from footbag to Myachi is like moving from piano to guitar; they're both really different, but knowledge of one helps you learn the other.

That being said, for all the advantage the hacky-sacker has, there is one disadvantage that they must overcome.  When I teach a hacky-sacker to play Myachi, the very first thing most of them do is start batting the Myachi with the back of the hand.

This is the wrong way to go, as any Myachi player can tell you.  Sure, you can bat a Myachi around on the back of your hand all day if you want but (a) it doesn't look very cool, (b) it's hard to keep under control, (c) it kind of hurts your hand and (d) it's not very fun.  That's just not the game that we play.  But that's primarily the game that most hacky sack players are used to.  There's is a game of consecutive strikes; of keeping the sack going.

Myachi is, of course, much more a game of style and control.  So one of the first things I tell people (and indeed one of the first instructions you'll read on your official Myachi playbook) is not to strike or bat the Myachi.  It's something that we're always pretty clear on at first.

But then, as you get better and better at the game the strikes find their way back into your shreds.  Usually the Trampoline is the first one to get there, but then the kicks and knee-pops show back up along with moves like the Popper or the Melon Popper.  Eventually, strikes become a pretty big part of the game.  Having a solid toe-save can be one of the most important aspects of freestyle shredding and Fu.  So that leads a lot of people to wonder why we discourage strikes so much at first.  It is, after all, a pretty substantial part of the game.

There are a few reasons that we discourage strikes and foremost of them is simply that it's really difficult to learn to control a Myachi if you're striking it.  You kind of have to learn the control first.  It's also important to control the spin of the Myachi leading into a strike, otherwise you catch a point or corner that causes the Myachi to spin out of control.  So the first and most important reason to discourage striking is that it makes the game easier to learn.  But the drawback to that is that many people never really learn to control their strikes.

Eventually this becomes a weakness.  As I already mentioned, having a good kick-save helps a ton in both freestyle and Fu, but weak striking abilities are even more detrimental in a game of MYACH.  Even novice games include multiple Trampolines, but among veteran players, marathons of kicks or alternating Poppers are not at all uncommon.  So clearly a well rounded Myachi player will need to master this element of the game as well.

The important thing to remember when you're working strikes is the angle of the Myachi.  If the Myachi is flat at the moment of the strike, you'll have maximum control of it.  The more off-angle it is, the more difficult it will be to control.  The is true of all strikes, but the tougher the strike, the more important it is.  Even a beginner can recover pretty easily from an off-angle Trampoline, but a Toe Pop or an Instep Kick to the corner of a Myachi can be a disaster.

The other thing to keep in mind as you practice is that strikes usually come in clumps.  It will do you a lot of good to master an Instep Kick, but it will do you a lot more good to master 4 in a row.  This better prepares you for MYACH games, comes in handier in kick save situations and it forces you to learn to time your kicks even with a Myachi that's spinning like crazy.

And unlike most trick types, the strikes are a breed of move that you actually want to stick together in a shred.  With almost any other type of trick, I hate to see it clumped together in a shred.  I hate it when somebody, for example, does all their centrifugals in one long sequence within a larger shred.  The same is true of aerials, traps, portals and almost all other categories of trick.  But strikes are completely different.  The visible effect of a strike is multiplied every time you add another strike to the end of that.

The reason is obvious.  Even someone unfamiliar with Myachi can tell that stringing a bunch of strikes together is difficult.  You audience can see the inherent chaos in the move.  Sprinkling a few kicks here and there in your shred is very effective; it gives you punctuation points and a good audible kick really wakes the audience up.  But offering a long chain of strikes is far more impressive.  When you start kicking, the audience is half-expecting every kick to go wild and the more you do in a row, the more tense the audience gets.  By the end of 10 or 12 consecutive strikes, you might find your audience holding their breath in anticipation of the miss that never comes.

That being said, if you go much further than 10 or 12 strikes the routine becomes predictable and starts to get boring.  Even though I encourage people to use many strikes back to back in a routine, I still endorse using strikes sparingly.  It's not a huge part of the game and it shouldn't be.  A little chaos is awesome, but this is a game of control.

So my suggestion when it comes to using strikes in a shred is to get them all out of the way in one big chunk. Poppers, kicks, arm-attacks and all in one long sequential shred and then no more strikes for the rest of the routine.  The two real exceptions to this rule are the Trampoline (which is an audience favorite and can fit in anywhere) and the Flying Fish (which can't be done in sequence and should never be used twice in the same routine).

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The World According to Myachi

by Crazy Ivan

The other day I got a couple of guys from Lithuania into the game.  They were in the city for a couple of days on business and had wandered in looking for souvenirs for their kids.  They got distracted by Bones throwing down a crazy foot shred and once I caught them looking it was over.  A few minutes later I've got them each doing Wolverines and a few minutes after that they were picking out Myachis to keep them company at the airport.

I can't say for certain, but I think that marks the first time I've ever personally sent Myachis to Lithuania.  It might simply be that I met a family from Lithuania years ago and got them into the game.  Maybe I forgot where they said they were from and maybe I simply neglected to ask.  Of course, even if I never sent Myachis to Lithuania, it's possible if not probable that Myachi Man, Kid, Maverick, Monk, Animal, Bones, Noodles or one of the many other Myachi Masters that does this on a daily basis has.  For all I know, Lithuania is absolutely crawling with Myachi Mania.

But it did get me to thinking about where Myachis have and haven't been.  So I made the map you see below.  In this map, the Blue countries are the ones where we've actually sent a Myachi Master.  The Purple are the countries where we've had Maniacs that either joined our forum, put up YouTube videos or otherwise stayed in contact with the Myachi community.  The Gray countries are places I've sent Myachis, meaning that I've met people from these countries, taught them the game and then they've bought Myachis to take home.  Alas the White countries are the ones that, for all I know, have yet to see their  first Myachi:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Choosing the New Series

by Crazy Ivan

Right now at the House of Skills, the dining room table has been taken over. There will be no dining on it for at least a couple more days.

That's not really a huge problem for us.  Pinky and I usually eat downstairs in our apartment (also known as the basement) and Monk and Mav usually just order some sushi or chinese or pizza or whatever and eat in the living room.  Kid, Lucky and Bones are rarely here at dinner time so I can't really comment on their dining habits except to say that they don't involve the dining room table at the House of Skills.

That's not to say that the table doesn't get used.  It's often used for important stuff like playing Myachi Ping Pong, holding up our skill toy collection for photos, card games, hurtling... it's generally a pretty busy table.  Even now, it's serving a pretty important function, just not one that involves food.  Right now, every inch of the table's surface is covered in fabric swatches of hundreds of different colors and patterns.

This is all part of the now very familiar procedure for choosing the upcoming series.  This is the first real step, in which we select the fabrics that we'll be using.  Our manufacturer in China sends us all these swatches of available fabric and we have to whittle it down from some seven or eight hundred to the number that will actually be in the series.  Right now we're looking for 24 colors for both the 12 single pack series and the 6 double pack series that will accompany it.

As I've learned over the years, there's a lot more to it than simply picking out the fabrics that you think are the coolest looking.  That's certainly how I tackled it the first time I was involved in the process, but after seeing a number of series come and go I've come to realize many of the important nuances of choosing a good series.

 Step One: Eliminate the No-Gos 

This is actually pretty straight forward.  Not every swatch the manufacturer sends us is actually a good candidate for a Myachi.  So the first thing to do is to go through every swatch and set aside the ones that aren't going to be any good to us.  There are generally 3 things that can cause a swatch to get rejected this early on:

  1. Bad Fabric - Obviously, not every fabric is right for a Myachi.  If a fabric is too stiff, too slippery or too tough, we can't use it at all, even if it looks really cool.  Now granted, we've made some Myachis in the past that turned out to be too slippery, stiff or tough so I'm willing to admit that this isn't an exact science, but there are a number of fabrics that can be eliminated right away.
  2. Bad Design/Color - Sometimes you see a fabric and you have to wonder what in the world it would be useful for.  Some of the swatches are the most hideous of colors and color combinations and still others are covered with repugnant imagery.  I can't say exactly what makes a design or color bad, but when I'm looking at a periwinkle fabric with pictures of strawberries and puppies on it, I can feel pretty confident setting it aside.
  3. Big Pattern - Myachis are pretty small and most of these fabrics were designed with articles of clothing and upholstered pieces of furniture in mind, so often times the pattern is awesome, but it's too big.  It's such a pain when it happens but sometimes you find the most awesome fabric pattern, but the pattern itself is so big that on a Myachi you would only see a small portion of it and wouldn't be able to see what you were looking at.
So once these ones are set aside, it's time to move on to the next step.

 Step Two: Get Everyone's Opinion 

Myachi isn't a one man (or one woman) show.  Back in the earliest days of the movement, Myachi Man was making all these decisions on his own and had only his own tastes and experience to draw from.  That's why many of the earliest series might have seemed repetitive.  But these days we have a big team of qualified Myachi Masters and all of us have a lot of experience watching people pick out there Myachis.  So not only do we bring in all of our own opinions and tastes, but those of us who've been at this for a while also bring some knowledge of what kind of colors and patterns sell.

This is the part of the process that we're in now, and that's why the table is covered over in swatches.  We're getting the opinions of everybody (even the members of the team that don't live here, which is why the table is taken up for several days) and developing a slow consensus.

Now, there's never a 100% consensus.  There will always be one that somebody really likes and nobody else likes.  There will always be one fabric that we're split on.  Maverick and I often have to take the role of the cynic when some of the newer masters are opining on their preferences by pointing out similar looking fabrics that produced duds.  But in the end, we'll probably all agree about the majority of what goes in the series and the rest will be a compromise ultimately brokered by the Myachi Man.

 Step Three: Balance the Series 

This is a step that we only learned the importance of relatively recently.  As the series got bigger and bigger, it became more and more important to look at the whole series together, rather than focusing on the individual sacks.  If you've ever looked at a series and said "There isn't enough variety in fabric types" (series 5.2) or "There aren't enough bright colors" (series 3.2) or "There aren't enough dark colors" (series 2.1), that's because the series wasn't properly balanced.

Once we have everyone's opinions there are usually a lot of sacks that we can say are definitely in.  We ask everyone to choose their ideal series independently and once we do, we look over all of them for overlap.  There are usually a few fabrics that everyone had on their list.  Something like the Harcore Cammo or the Red Dragon is just a no-brainer and as soon as we see the fabric we know it's gonna be part of the next series.

So we start with all those fabrics.  Let's say that provides us with 8 of the 24.  Then we look at what we've got and ask ourselves if it's heavy on dark or bright, if it's heavy on a specific fabric type, if it's heavy on a particular color.  Then we start filling in the rest of the series with the most popular selections from everyone's choices.  As we do, we continue to evaluate the whole series.  Do we have enough reds?  Enough blues?  Too many blacks?  Any greens?  Is this series going to look dark on the shelves?

This is actually an extremely involved process all by itself.  Not only do we have to make sure that the series is balanced, but we have to try to ensure that it will remain balanced even after the most popular sacks sell out.  To get there, we not only have to figure out which will be the best sellers, but also which will be the least popular sellers that will dominate the shelves as the series draws to a close.

 Step Four: Find the Alternates 

It's a sad fact, but sometimes the fabrics we like the most won't be available once it comes time to pull the trigger on the series.  The whole process, including shipping all these swatches from China, takes several weeks and oftentimes the swatches that were available when they were sent out are sold out by the time we get done with all of our fiddling and mixing.

Now, we could just choose 5 or 6 fabrics and call them the "alternates".  We could pick or favorite ones that didn't actually make the cut and plug them in for any fabrics that weren't available.  We could do this and we actually have done it in the past.  But we've learned our lesson about it.

The problem with that method is that it messes up the intricate balance that we try to achieve.  What if two of the fabrics that weren't available were red but the top two alternates were black?  That could lead to a series that has very little red, too much black and is overall just way too dark.  What if the fabric that was unavailable was a pink and the top alternate was an green fabric with spiders on it (which would be awesome!)?  That might result in a series that doesn't have enough sacks that appeal to the gals and that might actually cost us sales.

So the alternative, which is way more involved but gets us a way better result, is to choose an alternate (or two) for every fabric that we select in the series.  We look at the fabric and then try to find something similar (ie same basic color, same fabric) as an alternate.  That way even if 8 or 9 of the fabrics we want are unavailable, we can still end with a balanced series.

 Step Five: Come up With the Names 

At this point we lock in our choices and we do a prototype run.  We get sample Myachis with all the fabrics we've selected flown in while the factory tackles the bulk of the order.  This gives us a week or so to jam with them before we settle on the names that will appear on the packaging.

This is actually such a long and drawn out process that it really deserves it's own blog entry, so for now we'll leave it there and once we reach that point in this new series, you can expect a follow up article.