The handbalancers trained only on floor (their theory; if you can do it on the floor then you can do it on canes.) The floor was wooden and uneven which meant that people would use things to even it out, using a plank of wood or anything that was flat.
The teacher was Victold a 74 year old man, he was very delicate and polite. On my first day he told me ‘do whatever you want so I can see what you can do and I will help tomorrow’ well, an hour later he came over and said ‘shoulder weak – push more, gufus/figure bad and 1 arm lower to croc bad, everything else, good’…that was it. I guess it was a compliment that he wanted to help me straight away, or I was that bad he had to start straight away!
He then held my hand to do a straight one arm, if you were off balance or out of shape he didn’t say or do anything, if your shoulder dropped he would say ‘push push’, which seemed to be his main concern. Gufus/figure; again he held my hand in straight 1 arm and made me get into it from there and then held my feet. I found that very odd and off putting, I couldn’t really balance but it’s just another technique and it’s good to try them all. He made me do it on both sides (I hate my left side it’s alien to me) Lower to croc he completely changed my technique and I found it so hard, I found it really odd though because all the people that could do it used a different technique to the teachers, and all the ones that couldn’t would do it the teachers way. I now do it the same as the students, without purposely changing anything. He then also made me do gufus/figure holding a pole that had 2 wires running off to the floor which you would rest your feet on, perfect for positioning. For the proceeding 3 days he made me do each of those exercises with him 3 times. Every day he would say this was nice, that was better and then, lift your legs more. He would always start positive then say something I should work on and then leave. It was really nice instead of everything being negative, it would also be something simple, like lift legs, squeeze bum or push in the shoulder. But all he really ever seemed to say was; push more and stronger legs.
He was one of those people that you always wanted to impress especially because he was so nice.
Victold would teach all his students certain exercises, his basics…
1st – handstand, look through at your chest and then pike down to 90 degree, back up to handstand and head back through. This was for stretching and opening the shoulders and working on your line.
2nd – Cartwheel in to a handstand, no wobble, no sticking the chest out. Just cartwheel and stick the exact right shape straight away then cartwheel out, do both sides. Again this was just for shape.
3rd – Handstand pirouettes, this is for keeping shape and pushing in the shoulders. You would do quarter turns.
4th – From a handstand, tuck down and as you push up to straight hop of the floor as high as you can and land in a straight handstand without your shoulders sinking and your back letting go so you are solid like a piece of wood. Some people could make this look quite surreal.
5th – In a straddle handstand rock to 1 arm and take your hand off straight away and touch the knee and back down and then the other side. So you don’t take your time and make sure everything is ok, you just have to do it straight away to learn to be in the right shape. Straight away. Every time. I found this really good because it would also make you really strong if you went too far and had to pull it back.
About the individual Handbalancers
In our little training area of handbalancers there was 5 of us; me, Rimma (female), Andrei, Denis and Romeo (all male.)
Rimma had just started handstands properly at the school, I spoke to her the most because she had the best English and wanted to get better at it. She was 17 and an ex rhythmic gymnast, though it was a long time ago so she didn’t have as good flexibility. She was a great person and made my stay so much better. So, for the whole 8 weeks I was there all she did was: with little wooden blocks on the floor, handstand on the block, transfer to 1 arm and push the block away and place that hand on the floor, then transfer to the other hand and again place on the floor and then back up onto the blocks. At the beginning she could do 1-2, at the end of my stay she could do 10, no one else could. That is nearly all she did all day every day (except condition lower to croc and planche and then do a few sides, but I would say 80% of her time was spent just going up and down on those blocks.) Absolute dedication and persistence. Just before I left we said try and hold a 1 arm and she held for 5 seconds comfortably. An extreme way but it works.
Andreiwas 19, quite big but very flexible, flat in box splits in a handstand and toes on hands in Mexican. Andrei was the best technical student in handstands, but he was in fourth/final year. He would train the same sequences day in day out – that’s if he came in, Andrei was one of the few that didn’t always come in. His tricks were straight 1 arm on right into pike gufus/figure, push through to legs together in a 1 arm side on left then lower down to croc 1 arm on right, slowly- and I mean more controlled than you have ever seen.
He would also train katkov (as seen above, named after Andrei Katkov)that would be his main sequence, he was the most solid there, but he also would kick and punch the p-bars if he messed up (which made the rest of us get angry – especially me, I didn’t need help getting stressed with handstands).
I would train mana (as seen above) with him and we would train 7 sets of 10 seconds , sometimes holding flat, holding past and pulsing from low to past. Due to his flexibility he had some really nice acrobatics, free walkover, free tinsika and a capoeria move, the rest of his tricks looked odd and heavy.
Weirdly enough he was quite un-coordinated, he was amazing at what he could do but not at other things. I remember we were all messing around trying to do pirouette while holding your leg in split at your face and he would literally fall over every time, like his leg was too heavy for him to kick up or he would kick it up and take his own leg from underneath him, the same with illusion turns. It was a very funny day. One big problem with Andrei was his wrist, it was always badly injured, and one morning when he was complaining about it, I just grabbed his arm and started to massage his forearm, something simple. A lot of people know about doing this (but they don’t have a physio, so could be hard to know anything) anyway he couldn’t take any pain; he was terrible, screaming like a girl but after 5 minutes he went into a handstand and couldn’t believe how much better it was. Bad idea for me, then everyday someone wanted me to massage them and fix them. I think Andrei will be amazing and I hope that his wrist won’t affect him. At the end of each day Andrei would finish conditioning 1 arm lower to croc holding the radiator and going down as slowly as possible, he would also then do a sit up combination lasting about 3 mins which a lot of people knew and did, seemed a little pointless to me though. I think we will be seeing him next year or the year after, he’s going to be good.
Denis, the most dedicated there, he was 18 and had done circus and gymnastics from a young age. People would joke and say that he was ‘stupid like a bench’ because he wasn’t great at English and would say and do funny things. He was a good friend of mine and we trained hard together (he is one I miss a lot). In the morning he would stretch like the rest and then do back arch raises. He would ask me to stretch his feet and his knees (he would say it in English and I would say it in Russian, neither very well) then Denis would make his make-shift equipment (see picture above). He would train straight 1 arm, gufus/figure, leg’s together and 1 arm lower to croc. His thing was 1 arm hops, transferring arms and hoping on the same arm sideways, though if he was on his right arm he would hop right, whereas I go left and most people I have seen do which was interesting. I asked why he went that way and not the other, he had no answer, that’s just what he did because no one taught him or told him different, the teacher would help or correct shoulder than say do it another way.
After training handstands he would start training his airflares. This was big in Ukraine (Artur’s influence) but wasn’t seen as a hard move. Then for conditioning he would do 3 sets of 5 handstand press ups on something higher so he would go all the way down. We did this together and at the beginning I couldn’t even do one but because no one was spotting anyone I had to man up and do it alone, I now can do at least 4…I struggle on the 5th. Some of the bases did this but no one could do it like Denis and no other handbalancer did or could. Then he would go and do 3 sets of 5 muscle ups on the rings. This was common for a lot of people and was again seen as easy. I really think Denis will make it big, with a little bit of help with choreography, he got laughed at by the students for how traditional he was…
Romeo, was very quiet so I don’t know much about him. He did handstands and straps. He was amazing at straps, he was so strong. He would press all the switches on both arms and just muscle everything with ease. He had only just started handstands when I got there so was only doing straight straddle and tuck with his fingers on the floor. By the end due to his strength he was holding them all for 5 seconds. He then started to practice sides and flags, he would train plaudits slot and was getting good at them because he was so naturally strong.
One day Artur came in and asked if we wanted to play handstands add on. Hells yes I do! (Artur is another one that if he says something I will just do it, no questions asked) so he did a move, then I did his move and then added mine onto the end. It was great because it wasn’t about getting anyone out, we had people playing who couldn’t 1 arm yet, it was all about pushing each other, trying things you don’t usually do in your own training and staying in a handstand for as long as possible. It would end up being over 3-4 mins easily.
A quick discussion on the differences in schools
So, we had the usual conversation comparing schools and I told them about my school and I explained to them that I was getting, at the most 5 hours of handstands a week, now they got 23 hours a week, they couldn’t believe that’s all I got, and they were shocked and a bit confused – they even complained they didn’t get enough hours. Then I told them that those 5 hours was just me and my teacher, no one else, just the teacher and me doing exactly what he told me to do, with him spotting, correcting and pushing me to get better. Now they couldn’t believe this, they thought it was amazing but couldn’t figure out what was better – they just never considered being able to have it that way, of having a one on one class.