Everyone who gets into poi will have different goals, different motives, and different directions that they will take.
There are those who are always pushing themselves to learn new moves, and become more and more expressive as they develop, and there are those who learn a couple fundamentals and just spin those for their own enjoyment. There’s also everything in between.
I sit somewhere in the middle, with the goal of becoming more and more disciplined with my practicing so that I can really step up my skill level. But a lot of people are more or less pleased with where they’re at, and ridged practice would actually make poi less enjoyable for them.
If you’re someone like that, let me say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Poi is something different to everyone, and if you can weave and turn and windmill, no one can say that you can’t have a damn good time with that.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t keep a few techniques in your mind to help iron out something you’re doing. This article is geared more toward the average hobbyist, as it’s mostly just ideas to keep in your head while you’re playing around. I will write another article in the future on more discipline-based practice for those who really want to up their game.
This list I’ve made comes from the combined research I’ve done on effective learning and practicing, and from my own insights I’ve had while spinning that have helped me a lot.
Check it out, and keep in mind that everyone learns differently, so what works for me might not work for you. Enjoy!
Practice Makes Permanent, Not Perfect
We’re taught from a young age that tons of repetition is how you get better at something. While this is technically true, it is NOT true if you’re repeating something incorrectly.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of just repeating a move and screwing it up the same way time after time. This winds up training your muscle memory to do the trick in the very way that’s screwing it up. Needless to say, it results in slower progress because you have to un-learn the wrong way before mastering the correct way.
What I try to do is if I notice I’m failing in the same way every time, I stop for a minute to think it through, visualize it, and approach differently next time. You’ll get fewer attempts in but will usually learn a move much quicker.
Mess Up Big
There’s a concept I’ve heard of which says that our brains learn things quicker if we screw up bigger. No, I don’t mean throw your poi through a window or wail yourself as hard as you can in the crotch.
The easiest way to explain this is through an example. Say you’re just starting out, and you’re trying to straighten out your wall plane. You find that when you attempt it your planes really want to start bending outward.
Instead of trying to slowly work them back to straight (or in addition to, since correcting on the fly is a good skill as well), stop spinning, then start up again but with your planes bent too far inward. This way, your body gets used to the feeling of the poi being on the other edge of the move as well.
Sort of like tuning a guitar, you go lower and higher than the note until you shrink down the middle enough that you’ve got it in key.
Focus On Each Hand
You can do this in two ways. For one, wrapping up or dropping one poi and doing each hand separately is the easiest way to begin practicing pretty much any move. If you haven’t tried this by now, DO IT! And do it multiple times; even when the move starts clicking, you can always go back and clean up each hand individually.
The second and less obvious way is something I discovered when I was failing over and over and couldn’t figure out why. Quick answer: while spinning with both poi, switch your focus to your non-dominant hand and see what happens.
What I have found is that one of my hands will always be on autopilot while the other leads the way, especially in moves where the poi follow each other such as a windmill or weave. My left hand isn’t as good, so it tends to just fall in line behind the right, but when the left is leading it’s much harder for my right hand to follow.
In that example, the focus would be shifted by physically changing which poi must lead, but the same effect can be achieved by moving your awareness to the opposite hand. It will make it temporarily harder, but do it anyway.
Don’t Swing Through Difficulty
This I remember learning from a Nick Woolsey tutorial. If you haven’t checked out his tutorials, look him up as he’s a great teacher. An important tip he mentioned was to struggle through the positions that your body finds most difficult.
If you’re playing around and you find a place where your poi don’t feel very natural or clean, the urge for most people is to swing through it and get to a position that is more comfortable. What you’ll find over time, however, is it’s those subtle places between the moves that, when practiced, teaches far better control and cleans up your spinning overall by a large margin.
If and when you find a hand positioning where you can’t control your circle, stop your hands where they are and try to spin there until you can do it more or less as long as you wish. It happens far quicker than you might think, and it is SO helpful in both the short and long term of things.
Getting stuck with a new trick is frustrating. What’s funny though is that often the frustration drives people to want to sit there and fail repeatedly until it clicks; almost as if we don’t want the poi to win the battle.
If you find yourself in a similar mind state as this, what is usually best is to leave the move for another time and start practicing something else. Whether it’s 10 minutes, a day, a week, hell even a month or two, a break helps.
I’m not sure why this is the case, I’m sure there’s some scientific reason behind it, but whenever I do this I find that the next time I try the move it miraculously clicks.
It could be something like working out at the gym. Lifting weights no doubt makes your muscles bigger, but the actual growth happens when your body is resting and recuperating. Maybe brains and muscle memory work in a similar way, where the new information needs to sink in on the down time.
Maybe they don’t, I’m not a flippin scientist.
There You Have It
There’ a few different things to keep in mind whenever you’re spinning. I think you’ll find that although initially it can be tougher to pay attention to different things than you’re used to, it’s actually not much extra work.
You’ll still be able to freely spin and play, but with a little extra mindfulness you should be able to get a lot more done without extending your practice time.
Getting better feels awesome, so try a few of these and see if you can’t make something click!