Mastering Ten Tricks

Posted by Jonathan Bayme on 27 May 2013

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There’s an old story in magic that goes like this: A young hotshot magician walks up to and old master and brags, “I know over a thousand tricks.” The old master replies, “That’s nice. I know ten.”

Allow me to interpret: When the young magician says he knows 1,000 tricks, he’s telling the truth. But he “knows” these tricks on the most superficial level: He knows their secrets. He couldn’t perform these tricks to save his life. The old master, by comparison, “knows” ten tricks like the back of his hand. He’s performed each one for decades. Each one is a miracle.

Using the old master’s standard, the young hotshot magician probably knows zero tricks. The young magician doesn’t have time to perfect any tricks; he’s too busy learning the secrets to new ones.

So how many tricks should you know? And how do you arrive at these tricks?

I asked magician Justin Flom, who will reappear on The Ellen DeGeneres Show later this week, how many tricks are in his life. Here’s what he said:

“How many tricks do I know? Countless. How many tricks do I perform? About a dozen. I try and keep a large library of effects and methods in my head for creating, however when it comes to performance I perform the same dozen tricks. Magicians have made careers on less.”

Justin’s mastered a dozen tricks, but he still learns new magic every week. He visits theory11 and other magic websites and the local magic shop almost every day. Why? Because he wants to perform the best magic possible. If he discovers a trick that’s better the one in his current repertoire, he’ll make the switch.

Discovering great new magic takes time and energy. I love performing Bizzaro’s Color Changing Sponge Ball. Fits my style and personality perfectly. But I had to go through 100 new tricks before finding that one.

What about the 99 tricks I don’t use? Am I embarrassed or upset I spent so much time and money on them? Not at all. Going through the process of trick rejection has made me a stronger magician and stronger creator.

theory11 CEO Jonathan Bayme puts it like this, “By knowing history, what's been done before, and what's being done now—you build a foundation. With thousands of "secrets" in your brain, you begin to understand how magic works on a macro level - and you create a virtual Swiss Army knife of deceptive techniques in your own head.”

In other words, to become a great master, to perfect ten tricks, you may have to study 1,000. Learn as many techniques as you can - and study not just how magic works, but why it works. And keep that ultimate objective in mind: a small handful of knock-‘em-dead pieces.

Like Bruce Lee said, "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times."