Been awhile since I’ve vomited my thoughts onto the page.. So here goes.
I’ve found myself in a number of conversations recently about how to evaluate a tricker’s skill, in one capacity or another. We don’t have ranks, for the most part, or a code of points that says a level XX must be able to complete skills A, B, and C. So what makes someone a good tricker, or what makes them beginner, advanced, etc? Or, how can I measure myself as a whole, or in a particular area, without necessarily comparing myself to another tricker?
In my opinion, the mark of a good tricker is not the skills they perform, or even their technique in those skills, although those things do play a part. What I look at is how they combo. I look for things like proficiency in the skills themselves, but also in their transitions. Proficiency tends to be efficient technique, with deliberate actions, and “properly” applied power. Beginners tend to be very stiff throughout a movement, and their posture, extension, and power tends to suffer because of it. In contrast, when you look at someone incredibly good, you see an almost relaxed, comfortable state, with bursts of tension and power. Every tiny movement is intentional, and has purpose, and that is when a skill tends to look good and function most efficiently. Likewise, the way people transition tells me a lot about their level. Again, the beginner will be less efficient in their transitions.. they may be slow, or putting too much energy into the landing, and losing it in the jump, or it may just be a hasty jerk into the next skill, whereas elite trickers tend to move between skills in a way that maintains momentum, or even increases it.
I view proficiency, power, and technique as very obvious, almost superficial qualities. I don’t mean that in a negative way at all, I mean that they are the surface, they are the first thing to notice, but not the only thing that matters. A more abstract, or less obvious thing to evaluate is the order of their tricks, and again, by extension, the transitions used to link them. There are obvious entrances and exits to a variety of skills, and while you can make quality combos with them, they don’t say a lot in terms of creativity. For example, the ability to wrap from a cart is a pretty basic skill, and while you can gauge proficiency here, the setup leaves something to be desired. By changing that cart to a masterswipe, an additional level is added both in the setup, and in how that setup was comboed into (because the landing and/or transition must be altered to takeoff from the other leg). It’s also a less common trick, which tells me this person has probably put in some time to develop it, and is attempting to do something less conventional. Similarly, vert tricks tend to come in pairs, often at the beginning of a combo, and will usually be linked with reversal or vanish transitions, or will end in backside for a pop. Simply opting for a frontside pop kick, or using a swing or carry transition will instantly show me this person has a wider variety of skills and ideas about how to do this thing we do. This is obviously subjective, and open to our own personal interpretations, but these details make up a major part of the pie for me.
I see tricking as an art, not a sport, and art is inherently subjective; evaluating the skill of an artist (tricker) will of course vary from person to person. We’re all on this spectrum somewhere between our idealized versions, and where we began. For some of us, the journey is longer than others in each area we look at. A tricker may have loads of skills, and use them creatively, but their technique may be lacking, or vice versa. One does not discount the other, because we, as artists and performers, are the sum of our parts.
So the short answer to the question about how I evaluate the skill of a tricker is simple: I watch them for something special.