Difficult sleight of hand is a concept that has always intrigued me. The main reason why is that I was doing things that people considered “difficult” but for me, those routines and those sleights were the basis of my magic. They were the exact things that I learned at the moment when I started magic. So why was everyone saying I was doing the difficult stuff, the impractical stuff?
I got into magic when I was 15 years old. I spent most of my years prior doing three things; playing StarCraft II, practicing the piano, and training in martial arts. Then on one summer night, while I was completely bored and scrolling YouTube, I discovered this wonderful art that I’ve now been in love with for the past 8 years, magic!
Magic is something that I started studying on YouTube, but I quickly discovered that the way to learn it was through books. It was at least how I preferred to learn it and the place where all the fundamentals and good stuff was hidden.
The first magic books I got were Inner Card Trilogy by Dai Vernon, Lessons in Card Mastery by Darwin Ortiz, and Drawing Room Deceptions by Guy Hollingworth. All of those books hold wonderful lessons, routines, and wonderful magic. But, all of these books are also books that might be considered more advanced. Usually, we say “just start with Royal Road or Card College and work your way up from there”, (which is still solid advice btw!).
Those three books are not considered beginner books, but since I didn’t know that, I had no point of reference as to what was difficult sleight of hand and what was easy. I just thought magic was supposed to be this way and I practiced until I got the routines.
This is also where my previous hobbies came into play.
StarCraft II is a very competitive RTS (real-time strategy) video game, every single move that you make in the game matters and even the smallest mistake can cost you the game when you play against an opponent that is at your skill level. One of the main mechanics is that the game automatically records a “replay” so that after the match you can go back and analyze all your mistakes. It taught me how to be critical and how to give feedback on myself, a good skill when studying sleight of hand in front of a mirror.
The piano is very taxing on the fingers, especially all the fingers moving independently and you have to be able to stretch them. Also, these are good skill for magic as it taught me how to move my fingers and apply different pressures with different fingers.
Finally, martial arts taught me the power of perseverance, keep doing it until you can do it and don’t stop. You are only capable of doing what you set your mind to. (But, always listen to your body, you need rest).
All those separate skills helped me to learn magic and they might have been the reason why I was doing difficult sleight of hand without realizing it. It is one of those things that I start to notice more and more in life, different skills are transferable to different fields. Just like we see in coin and card magic, so can it be that I learn something in magic, and all of a sudden it improves my music playing. Or, I learn a new song on the guitar and all of the sudden, I understand a magical concept better.
So, why was everyone saying I was doing the difficult stuff, the impractical stuff?
Understanding the background that I have was important for me to finally find an answer to that question. I wanted to find an answer so badly because I thought it would be beneficial for other people. It could help people in their study and hopefully make their studies more efficient.
The answer that came to me was a very simple one:
Things are only as difficult as you make them out to be. In this case, Difficult Sleight of Hand is just a construct. It is an idea in our minds of how difficult something is.
This construct can work both for and against us. When there is no construct the sleight or the routine just is. We will learn it when we do and that’s it. However, I’ve noticed that when I label something as difficult, I start to set expectations of how I think it will be. These expectations are usually blocking the learning process since I’m not in the moment with the sleight or the routine. I’m holding back because I think it’s difficult, sometimes even giving up and thinking “I’ll go back to this later when I’ve learned more”.
The other reason why that construct is very misleading is that we might get stuck in the trap of thinking that something remains difficult. A second deal was difficult when I learned it, but when I do it today, I don’t even think about it. It’s just something I do. Another example is that on the guitar I’m struggling my way through a song, while my roommate who has been playing for 15 years plays it near perfectly after hearing it for the first time.
Seeing those things made me realize that difficulty is also relative.
The more we learn, the less difficult things become, and the more we practice the easier something becomes that was once difficult. So easy that at one point we can just do it.
I want to encourage all of you not to be discouraged when a book or a person says that something is difficult, just let the routines tell you whether it is for you or not. Every person is different so, naturally, whether something is difficult or not depends on the person.
Just let the process lead itself and remember to have fun.
Rico Weeland is a Dutch magician who is most known for his monthly performances at the prestigious Amsterdam Magic Show, and for his studies in Card Magic and magical theory.
In 2016 Rico won the prize for close-up magic at the Dutch National Championships of Magic. After that Rico went on to lecture at locations such as the Magic Circle in London, the Dutch Festival of Magic, the Krakow Magic Sessions and Congresso Magico Internazionale Centro Italia. In 2020, Rico co-founded Invisible Practice with Al Berbel, a platform dedicated to research and dissemination. He is praised by the world’s leading magicians such as Michael Vincent, Michal Kociolek, Chris Wood, Ger Copper and Shane Cobalt. Rico is currently promoting his latest work, "The Leipzig Curiosity", which has been well received by critics and is now featured in Denis Behr's Conjuring Archive.
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