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The Importance of Repetition in Practice

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The journey of a flow artist is long, infinite, and boggling to the brain. One of the first hurdles we encounter is our daily practice. How we go about that practice determines the quality of our results.

A simple approach to practice is just that: practice. If you pick up your prop and mess around with it you’re bound to stumble into something new and exciting (SwoopyStalls anyone?).

There are endless ways to go about practicing. What follows is my emphasis on repetition. At face value the idea might seem a bit dull, but once you see just how effective it is on the brain and body you’ll know why I think so highly of it.

Key Processes

First, a bit of neuro and physio talk. As you may know, our brain is constantly wiring itself. This happens when we perceive an external event like results from our actions or the actions of others. We’re also wiring our self based on internal events like thoughts, opinions, or information processing. Even as you read these words, neurons are lighting up and forming connections in your brain. Pretty cool, huh?

The same is true for your body, in a way. Muscles near your eyes are engaging to move from left to right on the screen, and another set is engaging to focus on the screen (as oppose to focusing on something 50 yards away).

Right now, my finger muscles are engaging to type these words. Blood is rushing through them as muscles contract, extend, or relax.

When we exercise and spin a prop our muscle fibers rip and tear. Assuming no serious strain occurs, the repair process will clean everything up and bring it all back stronger and more able than before.

This is all basic information about how the brain and body regulates itself. If you want more information on the subject from the field of science, I highly recommend Buddha’s Brain.

There’s so much more to what’s going on than what I’m covering in this article, but try to keep in mind this main concept: When we use our brain and body we exhaust that part of us, but in most scenarios the repair process which follows will bring us back stronger than before.

With this idea in mind, let’s go through three primary encounters we’ll eventually have during our flow journey. In each, we’ll discuss the effects of repetition and how to maximize them.


We’ve all been there. One moment you’re trying to wrap your head around an idea and get your body to create it. The next moment you’ve broken through, and suddenly a crazy concept like toroids becomes simpler and doable. Ahh…what a fine release of dopamine.

Sometimes the process is like pushing against a brick wall. The breakthrough could feel like you merely teleport to the other side, or that you had to push every molecule of your being through the bricks themselves.

Via repetition you can shove yourself inch by inch through the wall. It’s not as easy as repeating the whole move, though. If it were, you’d have already made the breakthrough.

What we want to do to help encourage breakthroughs is repetition of closely related ideas. If you’re trying to get down an antispin flower in diamond mode, and you already have a similar inspin flower, start there. You’ll often find bridges between similar ideas which help make the transition into a new idea easier.

Once you actually make the breakthrough and achieve your first full performance of the new move, it might still feel awkward and sloppy. That’s alright, and completely natural. After a breakthrough your neural and muscular connections vaguely formed what is needed to accomplish the move. Repeating the move will hone those connections. This is where we get to…


The best way to clean up a move is through repetition. Teaching the move to others helps, too, because you’re forced to think about the smaller pieces of the move. Plus, having to explain it to others completes the idea more thoroughly in your own mind.

You’ve probably noticed that once you make a breakthrough the move is awkward and difficult for a bit of time. Again, that’s completely natural, and you’ll often need to sleep on it to truly get the move clean the way you want.

I still urge you in the direction of repetition, especially right after a breakthrough. This lights up the connection in the brain which is associated with the new move, and with each run through the connection becomes more concrete.

The body also simplifies its movement. At first, the new move requires a lot of effort. After a few weeks it might feel nearly effortless. Certain muscles become stronger and more attuned to the movement. You might also find other muscles engaging in a wild manner, and eventually those calm down through enough repetition.

As we repeat a move, tear our muscles, light up pathways in our brain, exhaust ourselves, and recharge during sleep, our body learns to produce the new move with less muscular effort and less thought.

Cleaning up can be both fun and troublesome, but the truly troublesome tyrant on the table is…


It’s like a breakthrough because there’s a wall, but different because the wall consistently says, “No”.

For a while I felt the plateau wall was an ass hole. Why wouldn’t it let me through? Why does it hide secrets from me? Shouldn’t there be a door somewhere? And why did they use bricks to make it instead of cubes of jello? That would have been easier to work through, and tastier.

The fix I’ve found for plateaus is still based on repetition. I do mix this idea with others, like slowing things down, lengthening your poi or prop a little, and seeking stillness. All three of those ideas are subjects I’d like to write about in the future. For now, let’s keep our eye on repetition.

Doing the same patterns over and over might feel dull at times, and it might feel like you haven’t been able to find any new pathways to play on in a while. In these times, keep repeating what you know. Slow it down, too. As you move more slowly, keep an eye out for new directions to branch out in.

Let’s think about our usual example of diamond mode flowers. Can you tell I’m a fan of them? In my mind, a diamond mode flower breaks down into four hand positions which, when connected together, results in three possible hand paths from any given point.

Diamond Mode Poi FlowerIf you’re at the 12 o’clock position (or the North position, or the upper pointing petal of the flower), you can move to the 3, 6, or 9 o’clock position. This is simple for many, but I’m breaking it down to make sure we’re on the same page.

A 4-petal antispin flower cycles through each of the four hand positions in sequence. You go from 3 to 6 to 9 to 12 and back to 3, or from East to South to West to North and back to East.

Try stopping at each hand position to see what’s going on at that part of the move. You can hang out there and spin static circles, slow it down a bit and do static pendulums, or just stop moving and everything freezes.

It’s at these points where we’re likely to find something new. Slow what you know down enough and you’ll have time to think yourself in a new direction. The more slowly you can perform a move, the more room you have to clean it up. Cleaning up a move gives you more familiarity with it. More familiarity makes it easier to spot new opportunities.

We could go on for some time about plateaus alone. It’s a whole article (or series?) by itself. If you’d like to know more about how I push through plateaus, comment below. If there’s enough interest in the topic I’ll bump it up on the “To Write About” list. 🙂

That’s all for this month. Keep an eye out for articles from others on the FIRE Magazine team, and I will see you all at the end of March.

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Nick Garcia is a student and teacher of fire poi performance, and an editor for FIRE Arts Magazine. He manages the Mind, Body, and Flow column, which talks about physical and mental development with flow arts. When not spinning fire, Nick is a copywriter at His Own Company