Combat Juggling

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In the image above, there are two men who are juggling. That’s pretty clear.

What’s less clear? They’re engaged in a duel — fighting each other in ways that jugglers rarely do. And only one juggler will prevail. The rules are pretty simple: Each competitor juggles three juggling clubs. The first one to drop a club. or otherwise have a club hit the floor is out. But this isn’t a test of endurance — it’s a test of strategy, guile, and brutal swings of mallets at one another.

Welcome to Combat Juggling.

The image above comes is a screenshot from a video. You can watch the exchange here if you have time, but for now let’s use another screenshot, below, to explain what’s going on.

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In combat juggling, competitors are allowed — and expected — to knock their opponent’s clubs to the ground. That’s exactly what’s going on in the image above. Pay attention to the guy in the yellow track gear and using the blue clubs. He’s pretty clearly juggling. One of his clubs is up in the air, waiting to be caught. His left hand has a second club, held back behind him, and that blur in his right hand is the third club.

If you look closely, though, you’ll see that he’s doing more than just tossing clubs into the air — he’s also using using one as a cudgel. The club in his right hand has slammed into the other guy’s club — and that red club, which should have been in the other person’s right hand, is instead on its way to the floor. Unless the skyward blue club hits the ground before the batted-away red one does, the man in yellow wins. And the blue club isn’t going to hit the ground first, for two reasons — first, basic physics, and second, because the guy in yellow is probably going to catch it and keep juggling. That’s the whole point: you keep juggling while doing whatever you can do make your opponent stop.

Combat juggling was created by a well-known juggler (to the extent that there is such a thing) named Jason Garfield. Garfield, per Wikipedia, “is regarded as one of the most controversial members of the juggling community” (yes, really) because he “despises the concept of ‘artistic juggling,’ promoting the idea that juggling should also be regarded as a form of sport.” Combat juggling, which adds competition and athleticism to something typically reserved for clowns and magicians, probably fits that bill. And while it still seems like a joke, it’s become increasingly popular since. As VICE reported, the sport matured enough that, in 2011, ESPN3 ended up airing a combat juggling competition, and YouTube is littered with videos of people dueling while juggling with sometimes hilarious results. (Yes, sometimes, someone gets hit in the head and no, the rules don’t allow you to bludgeon your opponent.)

Over the years, the sport has grown to include a team variant — five on five, or as the World Juggling Federation says, “two teams, ten combatants, 30 weapons” — with different formats. One format (seen in the video linked above featuring the minor head injury) is called “Sumo,” in which players face off, 1-on-1, in the small circle; the loser is eliminated and the winner plays the next guy on the other team. Another is called “360,” where competitors earn points for spinning in circles with all three clubs in the air, while, as seen below, their opponent tries to knock their clubs away.


There’s also a format called “Kill the King,” a pretty straightforward format where the object is to eliminate a specific player on the other team. And then there’s a “Zombie Combat,” perhaps the most complicated. Buzzfeed explains:

The goofy name belies some clever rules — there’s potential for serious strategizing here. When a player loses a club in this game, he can remain in the game, but he is now frozen as a “zombie.” There a few levels of zombiehood:

Zombie — A player that maintains control over two clubs. Zombies cannot move, but can use the clubs in his hands to attack any opponents who pass by. A zombie can be reactivated if one of his teammates throws him a club and the zombie begins a three-club juggle. This move turns a zombie into an active player and an active player into a zombie.

Paralyzed Zombies — A player that maintains control of only one club. Paralyzed zombies cannot move or attack. However, a paralyzed zombie can be upgraded into a zombie, if a teammate throws him a club.

Decapitated Zombie — A player that loses control of all three clubs. Decapitated zombies must exit the playing area and take their clubs.

A team loses when all of its members are paralyzed zombies or decapitated zombies.

That version can be pretty chaotic, with clubs flying in all different directions. If you want to watch a best of seven zombie combat round, you can here — it’s been edited down to about seven minutes (including team intros) — and as you’ll see, there are clubs everywhere.

There’s not a lot of money to be made in combat juggling — ESPN3 doesn’t pay a lot for the rights and it’s hard to find a sponsor — so if you dream of becoming a pro athlete, you may want to try another sport. On the other hand, it’s juggling combined with combat and that’s a pretty amazing thing to be good at.

Bonus Fact: The world record for juggling chainsaws, per Guinness, is 94 catches. Guinness did not report on what happened on catch attempt number 95.

From the Archives: Kaninhoppning: Another sport, of sorts. Less violent, much (much!) cuter. Really, you need to click the link just to see the picture.

Related: Juggling clubs, because you know you want to give combat juggling a try.