21 Levels of Pen Spinning: Easy to Complex
Released on 04/27/2023
I'm Peter Davis.
I've been pen spinning since 2011
and most recently I won the standup theme
in the 2022 pen spinning Olympics.
I've been challenged today to break down
pen spinning into 21 levels of increasing complexity.
Pen spinning is actually a lot like juggling.
You basically use your fingers, your hands,
sometimes your wrists and arms are even knees to toss,
to spin, to throw the pen
or pen-shaped object in any way that you'd like.
As a disclaimer, this is my interpretation of the challenge.
Level one: Charge.
The charge uses conical rotation in one spot of the hand
but just spins conically in one spot
and conical rotation means that the pen is not
actually spinning end over end in a full circle.
It's just tracing out a conical motion
on both sides of the hand.
Level 2: Pass.
Passes are very simple tricks
in pen spinning and you might not even have noticed
you doing them yourself just in daily life.
They involve passing the pen from one finger slot
to the next one and they can go either over the finger
or under the finger in either direction.
The pass is slightly more complex than the charge
because the pen is actually changing position in the hand.
You have to clear the outside finger that you're passing
from and then duck the other finger under or over.
That involves a couple more things that you have to get used
to when you're really gaining fluency in them.
Next up: Wipers.
Wipers are done near the tip of the pen
and that's because the pen has to pass
through the finger slot with a half rotation of spin.
Wipers to me are more complex and passes simply
'cause they can go wrong in many more ways.
If you're not near the tip of the pen,
then the parts of your hand that you're trying to pass
through might get in the way and stop your wiper.
And also when you're near the tip of the pen,
almost all the weight is on the other side.
So controlling that momentum and keeping the pen
from slipping out of your hand can be really difficult to do
on more complex wipers.
The Triangle Pass consists
of three different finger switches.
You can hold the pen to start in all three
and then you lift one from the barrel
while it passes about a third of a rotation
and then you bring the finger back down
on the other side of the pen while lifting the next finger.
So each finger switch is a third of a rotation
and you're always gripping the pen
between two fingers as it rotates.
So every full triangle pass completed that is
every three finger switches, is half a rotation,
Each finger switch accounts for roughly 60 degrees of that
and every two triangle passes you complete is
a full rotation or 360 degrees.
You're not fully gripping the pen at any point
so if you're off center in one direction or the other,
it makes it really easy for the pen to fall out.
Level 5: Sonic.
The basic sonic involves charge
which is conical rotation and two different finger switches.
So you do half a charge in one slot and then you clear
that lower finger down until the pen comes in contact
with the next finger up and then as that charge continues,
that finger that you move down comes back into contact
with the pen completing a full 360 degree rotation.
You can also make Sonic's inverse.
You do a charge and then you clear that finger
up out of the way and then it comes back down
and the middle comes into contact with it that way.
And you can combine these modifiers in a a lot of ways.
You can keep the charge rotation the same
but switch the finger switches,
which is what's known as Moonwalk Sonic
and you can add a lot of complexity in those ways.
Level 6: Thumbaround.
The thumbaround is a trick you've likely seen
in TV or movies or anime
and it involves the pen going around the thumb
and then being caught again with the index finger.
People tend to mess up thumbaround when learning it is
by starting too near to the center of the pen.
So in a round tricks, the barrel of the pen
has to trace over the entire circumference
of the finger or thumb that it's rotating around.
So to learn a thumb around you need to start
with most of the weight on the pinky side
of the hand and then by the time you're done,
you'll be on the opposite part of the barrel.
For the rest of the levels we're gonna be
incorporating pen modifications.
Weight and length can have a big influence on the types
of pen spinning tricks that you can do and how well
you can do them and how difficult they are to do.
These basically have characteristics that make it
easier to learn harder tricks.
They have balanced weight,
a little more weight toward the tips, maybe a good grip.
Different pen spinners prefer different mods.
To me, the natural next step in complexity is the Backfall.
The backfall involves four different arounds
that are linked together with passes.
All four fingers are used and a back is done on the index
then the middle, then the ring, then the pinky.
And in between each completed back, the pen passes
under the finger from one slot to the next.
In the early days of pen spinning the backfall
was a really important impressive trick that
if you could do it smoothly you were one of the best.
These days people can pick it up in their first half year
of pen spinning for the most part, but to do it smoothly
with a light pen and do it elegantly is still
rather impressive and tough to figure out.
Level 8: Index Bust.
The index bust is basically a continuous around,
done on the index finger, which is just the same
as a back but with the opposite direction of rotation.
In around tricks the pen ends up in a different position
than when it started.
So to make them continuous you have to get back
to that original position.
Sometimes it involves a bit of a slide.
Most of the time it involves a little bit
of airtime to move your hand
to the position where the around began.
Index busts in particular are probably one of
the most common finishing tricks you'll ever see in combos.
Having learned about around of tricks,
the natural next step of complexity
to me is half around tricks
which brings us to the Powerpass.
The powerpass is a sequence
of four half arounds which can appear similar
to passes 'cause they take up 180 degrees of rotation
and the pen moves from one slot to an adjacent slot.
The main distinction between a pass and a half around
or powerpass is that the powerpass is what we
call fingerless, meaning that there aren't two points
of contact with the pen.
So you're not actually gripping the pen between two fingers
but it's sort of resting on one or another
and you can put forces in the pen in different ways.
Powerpasses down on the backside of the hand
involve four different tricks.
The normal powerpass involves the fingers curling
from index to pinky and the pen moving clockwise.
Then powerpass reverse involves those same fingers
uncurling pinky to index and the pen going counterclockwise.
The mirrored powerpass involves all the fingers
moving in the reverse order.
And then mirrored powerpass reverse involves the reverse
of that one which means that the fingers uncurl
from index to pinky and the pen moves clockwise.
You'll find that you don't actually have to
flex your fingers really hard,
you'll just learn how the pen feels on your fingers
so that the angle is correct
so that you don't have to keep those fingers
out of the way quite as much.
Level 10: Back 1.5.
So as we went over with the arounds,
when you begin an around, you're in one position of the pen
and when you end you're in a completely different position.
Another way to do an around
after doing the same around is to add just a half rotation
of spin on the back of the hand.
You can learn back 1.5s on any implement
but it's always gonna be easier to use a pen
that's nearly perfectly balanced.
The reason for that is that from one back 1.5 to the next
you're starting on the opposite sides of the pen.
So if those have different weights
it's gonna be really hard to get used
to doing one after the other.
Next up, Cardioids.
Cardiod tricks are hybrids
between arounds and wipers, but they actually
tend to be pretty complex and difficult to execute.
Cardiods are another way of dealing
with the problem of ending in a different position
than you started when sequencing arounds
one after the other.
So the reason that I've put cardiods in this position is
that the number of ways you can mess it up
is pretty darn high and you have to be super precise
with your positioning on the pen
and the margin of error timing-wise is really slim.
Up next: Dual Pass.
In a dual pass you might recognize the resemblance
to a triangle pass.
Every execution of it is a full 180 degrees
but there are only two fingers instead of three.
And this makes it a lot more complex
and a lot more difficult to execute.
You'll sort of learn how it feels to have the pen spinning
on one fingertip while moving the other one.
And you wanna stay basically again right in the center
of the pen because you have very little control of it.
So the momentum can take it off of your fingers
basically at any moment.
Level 13: Power Tricks.
Basic power tricks are sequences
of tricks that are all fingerless
often involving a lot of airtime.
I start with an extended thumb around bust release x 2,
meaning that the pen rotates for a full rotation
and a half in the air,
and then I catch it with the index.
I do a half powerpass to the pinky
then do that again and then release with the pinky again
in what's called a spread.
And then I'll catch it on the thumb
and do a thumb around fingerlessly spin the pen
for half a rotation on these two fingers
that are curled known as a spider spin 'cause
the sort of spider-man gesture it gives,
release again with the thumbaround,
do the same thing with a palm spin and then release again
and then do what's called a Hai Tua,
which is where the pen goes around the thumb rotates
half a rotation on the back of the hand
and then is released off of the pinky.
You'll see that I'm using a bunch of power tricks
that all use the same exact direction of rotation.
And this is the main way that people learn power tricks
because since they're fingerless, they rely heavily
on maintaining one direction of momentum so that
when you're sequencing all these fingerless tricks together
it's really important to keep that momentum going.
Level 14: Inverse Powerpass.
The inverse powerpasses are quite a bit harder
than the ones that are done in the back of the hand
because your fingers can only bend in one direction.
So if you were to make it inverse perfectly
you'd want your fingers to bend backwards,
but you can't do that.
So instead of having the pen rotate
on the curled finger every time,
at each stage of the inverse powerpass,
the pen is only touching one finger at a time
and is sort of balancing on the side.
So in the inverse powerpass,
since the pen is never resting on a surface
you have to maintain that momentum very carefully
and have each of your fingers curl or uncurl
at the precise moment that they need to.
Next up: Fingercross.
So far through all of these levels
we've had the four main finger slots: between the thumb
the index, index and middle and so on.
The fingers proceed in this order as they do on your hand
but you can actually cross your fingers over one another
so that the order of these finger slots changes quite a bit.
The best way to incorporate finger crosses
into your pen spinning is to make sure they're active
meaning that they're touching the pen
while they're crossing over one another.
So if you have the pen between the ring and pinky fingers,
you have that pen within those fingers
as they cross over one another
and you get a full 180 degree rotation.
Level 16: One Pen, Two Hands.
So you don't have to spin pens in just one hand.
A lot of people involve both hands, wrists,
other parts of the body even,
but it's very common for people to specialize in one pen
two hand spinning where one pen is spun,
but two hands can be involved either independently
When you move into two hand spinning,
some things will feel a lot easier than they did originally
and some things will feel pretty weird.
It didn't come to me incredibly easily.
It can be really unfamiliar at first,
but you'll probably pick stuff up a bit quicker than you did
initially because you sort of know how the tricks work.
Level 17: Changing the Plane Of Rotation.
The first thing I'm doing is taking a normal powerpass
and executing it so that my palm is facing outward.
What this does is similar
to what makes inverse powerpasses so much more complex.
When my fingers aren't curling in this direction,
I don't have this knuckle where the pen can rest and spin
and I have to have the pen touch just one finger at a time.
I also can't really see my hand very well
and see exactly how close I am to the center of the pen.
And it's actually a bit harder to flex your fingers
fully when your forearm is pronated like this.
The second thing I'm showing is an index bust
but my hand is just flipped 180 degrees upside down
and this simply makes the trick a lot harder
because you're fighting against gravity a lot more.
You don't have the back of your hand
where the pen can sort of rest and rotate.
When you're changing the plane of rotation for your tricks,
you sort of have to retrain both your brain
and your fingers to relearn exactly what the mechanic is
and what your fingers are supposed to do.
Whether that's fighting against gravity
'cause there's a lot more airtime and you have less
of your hand to rely on, or whether it's just how different
your hand can feel when it's facing different directions.
Up next: Charge Removal.
So a lot of what we've been dealing with so far
is adding things, adding more mechanics, adding more tricks.
Charge removal is sort of the opposite.
You're removing certain things that feel natural,
in order to make the margin of error a lot tighter.
Charge removal can be pretty subtle
and difficult to notice and that's why it's actually
called Japanese motion sometimes
because Japanese spinners used it a lot in a variety of ways
and some people just didn't really notice
or pick up on it all that much.
So the way it often works is when the palm changes position
when you're doing passes or sonics or arounds or anything
there's a natural charge or half charge that's added in
to account for that changing of the palm position.
But with tighter timing and different mechanics,
you can actually take out that extra charge
and snap your hand into position
and it looks really clean and precise.
Level 19: Advanced Sonic Hybrids.
A lot of pen spinners out there really focus
on very thorny combinations of sonics
that require a lot of flexibility,
really tight timing and might not be that elegant.
I like to focus on ones that involve maintaining
a conical rotation cleanly
while moving the hands very precisely.
So what I'm showing here starts with half of a normal sonic.
You clear the middle down and you hold it
with the ring and index, then it's interrupted
by a reverse powerpass on the middle finger,
so the index gets out of the way.
You lift that middle finger fingerlessly,
and the pen is about to enter the slot
between the index and the middle finger.
Then the trick is interrupted again, and while
the pen is rotating counterclockwise on the middle finger,
the hand can rotate a little bit out of the way.
You flick that middle finger down
and with no rotations added, recatch the pen
in that charge rotation between the middle and ring fingers.
This sort of thing is really useful
because often you have to get from one finger slot
to another one.
You can add in these degrees
of complexity to add tiny tricks in
while moving simply from one finger slot to another one.
Level 20: Threading.
Threading is a concept that was recently developed
by a Malaysian pen spinner
who has extremely flexible fingers and has been very,
very instrumental in developing finger cross tricks.
Threading involves a non-adjacent finger cross, meaning
that the fingers that are crossed aren't right
next to each other.
There are a number of ways to fail.
One of the ways is in threading,
your fingers can just get stuck on the way through
and not make it all the way through.
If you cross your fingers too much or too little,
the actual finger cross can come undone
or you won't leave enough space for a finger to go through.
And in trying to execute these cleanly,
it's really tough to make the rotation smooth.
Having hitches in your rotation
while you execute any finger cross trick is
gonna be the case until you get really confident with them.
Level 21: Advanced Combos.
These are the sorts of things that you'll see
in any pen spinning collaboration video at a high level.
I try to add a good variety of visual flavor, changes
in direction, changes in planes of rotation.
A lot of different mechanics, maybe varying the pace,
some slow sections, some fast sections,
and that lends itself really well to showing
a wide variety of the types of tricks
that we've been going over.
In this combo, I start out with some fingerless
around reverses or backs, and then I change the plane
of rotation to do a mirrored powerpass reverse
with my palm facing forward.
Then I'll do some simple wipers and passes to set
up the next section, which is related to the back
1.5s that we saw earlier,
the direction of rotation changed
and the palm facing up instead.
To finish the combo off, I do some quick passes
and fingerless passes to get the pen between my middle
and ring fingers, and then do a simple twisted sonic
that then hybridizes into a more advanced sonic trick
that sets up a rotated index bust release finish.
When you're first starting, it is easy to get discouraged
because things can come at different paces for everybody
but it's important to realize that there's so much out there
that people can learn and contribute to.
In 2022, the World Cup Champion Team featured a
pen spinner who had been pen spinning for under two years.
The great thing about pen spinning is
that you can really do it anywhere, anytime.
You can learn at your own pace using whatever you want.
So I hope this encourages you to pick up a pen, a pencil,
even a stick, and start learning these tricks.
Thanks for watching.
[upbeat tune plays]
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