- a technique you’ve been training forever, yet have been unable to successfully execute despite your best efforts.
Have you ever tried learning something that just wouldn’t stick? You put in the time, you put in the work, but the results just don’t come. Progress slowly plods forward inch by inch, but when you actually do make some leeway, regression comes along and bitch slaps you back to square one.
Enter the Btwist
Learning this nemesis move was years in the making. That’s right… years. My first go at the butterfly twist (btwist for short) happened in fall 2010. I was still living in L.A. at the time, fresh out of grad school with an expensive degree and an uncertain future. I had no job, no commitments, nowhere to be for 5 months until I would depart for South Korea.
Naturally I had to keep myself occupied.
Tuesday nights meant open gym at UCLA’s gymnastics facility. I was still active in my break dancing and was introduced to the place by a bboy friend. At the time I wasn’t very keen on gymnastics centers. I didn’t have any acrobatic talent and breaking is hard to do barefoot on fuzzy spring floors. I was however drawn to a group of trickers who shared the space with us. It was my first time seeing tricking live, and the combination of flash and recklessness appealed to me. It didn’t take more than a few sessions to meander over from the bboy crowd to the trickers.
I wanted to learn the btwist.
A basic yet flashy move, the btwist is done by the person launching themselves into the air using a butterfly kick, pulling into a 360 degree twist while on a horizontal plane, and opening again to land on the same foot you launched off.
This was the first move that required me to act (in this case twist) while in midair. It didn’t take long to realize just how poor my body awareness was when not grounded. Despite having developed a fairly strong butterfly kick, any time I tried incorporating that in-flight twist my body froze up.
I practiced the btwist for several months. In my sheer frustration I even somehow convinced myself to learn it my opposite direction and actually came close to landing it! Then before I knew it, the bags were packed and I was on a plane to South Korea, where I would leave this move untouched for two and a half years.
It was spring of 2013. I had just turned 31 and in my wisdom decided that now would be a good time to learn this move again. And why not? I was older, weaker, less flexible, more cautious… a winning blend of ingredients for any acrobatic pursuit.
The learning curve was even steeper this time. With age came caution, and all that extra regard for my personal wellbeing prevented me from ever committing to the move. Making matters more difficult was the lack of proper safety equipment. Without a soft landing surface, I was even more afraid to launch myself into the air, much less try to twist midflight. What resulted was a bunch of half assed attempts, and a very discouraging lack of progress before I left South Korea for home.
Upon returning to the States, I quickly found a tumbling gym that in time became my sanctuary. With all the equipment, space, and energy I needed, I vowed that this be the place where I would overcome all my acrobatic fears, starting with the btwist.
It didn’t come as easy as I had hoped. For the first few months I stuck with doing the move in my opposite direction because of the initial success I had with it several years ago in L.A. Unable to progress and overcome that unnatural feeling jumping to my right, I eventually came to my senses and started doing the move towards my left. Although the move felt a lot stronger, I still couldn’t deal with the mid flight panic. I tried to stifle that fear by practicing exclusively onto thick mats, telling myself that I could throw recklessly without any fear of injury. Feeling safer, I was able to now throw the move over and over without actually hurting myself. However, I didn’t make much progress either.
“Throw it on the floor”
That’s what Mackensi Emory said to me after watching my many failed attempts on the mat. At the time I didn’t assign much value to what she said. Sure she’s one of the best female trickers in the world, but what did this teenager know about the acrobatic learning process of a 32 year old? We old folk operate under different rules. We can’t just “throw” moves without mentally processing a safe outcome ahead of time. Plus, the thought of graduating to the floor didn’t seem justified when I was still nowhere close to landing it on mat.
So I carried on stubbornly and safely, throwing btwist after btwist onto mat without landing them. My progress had become so stagnant that I was losing faith in my ability to learn. Something had to change. I finally chose to acknowledge the flaw in my measured approach:
My over-concern for safety had become my crutch.
I only understood the move in the limited context of one environment, and was unwilling to explore other paths towards achieving the move because my environment was deemed safe. And I kept myself in that plateau of failure because I had fully subscribed to the notion of conditional progression– that I could only be allowed to move onto the next level after successfully mastering my current one.
Well, movement is too complex to limit its learning to just one method. So I listened to Mackensi’s advice and changed it up.
I was still safe and measured, but willing to take a bit more risk each time. Repetition after repetition, I started understanding the btwist in a more complete way instead of as separate movements with transitions in between. After just three weeks of practicing exclusively on floor, I landed my first btwist.
Nemesis move conquered
Even after having vanquished my foe, there was no immediate fairy tale ending. Although I could do the move, I still didn’t know the move. It wasn’t but a few weeks later that I seemingly lost the ability to do the btwist again. My nemesis had returned…
Luckily, once you’ve conquered something, you know how to conquer it again. After putting the ego aside and rinsing and repeating old drills for a few weeks, the btwist was back in my repertoire. Now I can even combo it 🙂