As humans, you and I have something in common: most of the time, you would go through the motions in life, and can’t recall a lot about most of what you do throughout a typical day. However, sometimes, there are events that force you to think back, way back, and wonder: how the heck did I get to this point? Well, I am in the middle of one such moment.
Just 3 minutes ago, I finished watching the famous Final Routine from Ryan Mulroney in the 2002 World Footbag Championship, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I also knew this routine was the one who inspired one of my favorite footbaggers of all time, Nick Landes, to start his own freestyle journey a while back. These events have made me realize one thing: hmm, Khoa, you seem to know a lot about freestyle footbag. However, didn’t you start out as a football freestyler?
Yes, I did indeed start out playing freestyle football back in 2007. At this current moment (2017) I have been doing this for over 10 years. Time sure flew, especially when you have been in a sport for as long as I have. The journey has been crazy, filled with all the ups and downs imaginable: I got really, really good, like world-class good (2007- 2012), lost my ability to juggle the football (2013 onwards) and struggled to come to terms with my lost abilities. My denial period lasted till 2015. Only after that year did I finally deal with the anger and grief of the loss, and has been steadily, and finally, letting it go. Then comes the new period of my life, beginning this year, when I finally entered the workforce, and now being the proud boyfriend to a wonderful girl, as well as a father figure of a little being (my cat) for the first time in my life. All this did come with more responsibilities, and I suddenly find myself not being able to freestyle for as long and as hard as before anymore (being older also contributed to that xD). Still, I still try to do freestyle (both of them) everyday, even for just 1 hour a session and learn how to live with that. It’s all a part of life.
So how does freestyle footbag fit into all this? I’ll tell you the story!
I do not claim to know everything about footbag. However, I do know the basics: that it was invented by two people, one of them being Mr. Hacky Sack (John Stalberger). After that, footbag divided up into two: the casual hack circle, and the competition scene. On the competitive side, there have been a great lots of legends throughout the years: Kenny Shults, Rick Reese, Peter Irish, Tuan Vu, Tu Vu… and many others. However, generally, from a football freestyler perspective, the journey into footbag wouldn’t start until years later. Especially for me.
The year was 2010. It was the year when a footbagger came into freestyle football and changed things forever. That person’s name is Vasek Klouda. From him, football freestylers like Philip Warren Gertsson (PWG) and Kamalio began to popularize footbag concepts like Clippers, Eclipses, and Rakes in the freestyle football scene. The first time when I saw an Eclipse done with a ball, I freaked out. Like I understood an ATW, or a Double ATW, heck maybe a Triple ATW, but that? That blew my mind. I remembered trying it for a whole afternoon at Cal Anderson Park in Seattle with my friend Noah Garrabrant, and competing to get that trick with a soccer ball first (he won).
Still, footbag at that point for me was just that: Eclipses, Clippers, and Rakes.
Then, in 2010, when I was trying to find a good place to perform freestyle football (I usually tried to do that when I was not at school or doing homework), I wandered to the Space Needle, where an unexpected sight awaited me: a tall, athletic man was already there, performing some mind-blowing tricks with the footbag for the passer-bys. At first, my mouth fell open. I could not speak. I couldn’t believe my eyes! There was someone THAT GOOD at footbag right here in Seattle? That was insane! Even in a million years, I couldn’t believe the chance I’ve just been given.
After I finished collecting my jaw from the pavement, I summoned my courage and walked over to him, and tried to talk to him. The conversation went as such:
Me: “Hey man! Are you doing freestyle footbag?”
Mystery man: “Oh? Yes! I am!” (his eye widened a bit, indicating that I surprised him by knowing about the sport)
Me: “Can you do a rake?”
Mystery man: “I can!” and then did it first try. My jaw dropped to the floor once again! YAY!
Me: <stuttering> “Hey man, I can’t help but see that you are performing. May I perform with you?”
Mystery man: “Uhhh… (I could see that he was considering the important question: Who the heck was this guy, and more, would he screw up my performance? xD Finally he decided to give me a chance)… yes, you can!”
And that was how it started. I joined in and performed with him under the Space Needle. After the performance, I could see he was also impressed with my skills with the ball, and we had another exchange with each other. I found out that his name was Justin. Justin Dale. We exchanged our contacts and parted ways, promising we’d see each other again.
I didn’t know it then, but this encounter would change my life forever: My footbag awareness began there, as well as a fruitful and wonderful friendship that I still treasure.
About 2 weeks later, I received a text from Justin. He invited me to come to the Space Needle again and perform with him. I of course agreed and even brought my freestyle football friend, Cole Morgan, there with me. The session/ performance was a huge success and we became good friends afterwards. I also was introduced to Reilley Adamson, another Rain City Shredder. For the entirety of 2010, 2011, and the beginning of 2012, I and my freestyle football friends would often join Justin and the RCS crew in training and performing. It was a time unlike any other in my life. I got to learn some awesome trick names and basic concepts: Ripstein is a double Swirl, there was a 5-revolution trick in footbag, the Czechs are the best at this game, and Vasek was once above everybody else in the sport by a mile… I was also introduced to many people who I became friends with: Dan Reed, Alex Zerbe (I only met him once and he showed me some Eclipses), and even Chris Dean. I felt like I belong. This seemed to be the crowd I could be with! I thoroughly enjoyed every moment, and I always looked at that time with fond moments later on.
Sadly, my time in Seattle was not to last forever, and on April 2012, I departed the city (with no little amount of tears) in order to continue my graduate studies at the Pennsylvania State University. Fearing that I’d have no friend over in State College, I did an online search in order to try and find out if there was any football freestyler at Penn State. The search yielded a nice big fat zero. However, when I searched for “PSU footbag”, I was directed to something called the “Penn State footbag club”. I sent out a message asking to join and the guy on the other side replied and told me to come to the HUB on the first day of school. “Cool! I’ll come and see how good these guys are!” I thought to myself.
On the first day of school at Penn State, I came to the HUB, and there it was: a circle of people kicking. There was a tall guy and another guy who seemed to be pretty good. I noticed they both were wearing Lavers (Adidas Lavers, the shoes that many footbaggers use), and was kicking around a bag with some other people who didn’t have Lavers. So I joined in and asked them what was going on. I introduced myself as the guy who messaged the “Penn State Footbag club” and they welcomed me into the circle. The guy who I thought earlier was pretty good was actually, well, VERY good. He could do clippers especially well, and he seemed to have a very good ability to get into a clipper position… hmm, I didn’t know how to describe it… like he could bend his ankle really really far in to create a great surface to stall the bag in the clipper. Sometime later I would find out that ability was called “cranking”. He had some good crank!
After watching him for a while I asked: “Hey guys can you do Ripstein?” and the tall guy asked the guy with good crank: “Hey Nick, can you do a Ripstein?” Nick replied: “Hmm, let me see…” and did a Ripstein first try. I was so impressed and told them I would meet up with them again and would follow their Facebook closely.
For the second session (in the side area of Rec Hall), I was mostly by myself, working on some freestyle football stuff in a separate area from the footbaggers. Nick came over to try some stuff with the ball and he did a perfect clipper first try! I also was introduced to other members of the group: Nathan, who was REALLY tall, Ivan, who was also tall, Greg, who was stocky, and George, who looked very much in shape. I did not interact much with them, unfortunately.
However, things got much better in the 3rd session. We all had a blast in front of the HUB again, and I got introduced to Ryan and Marc for the first time. Nathan, Nick, and Ivan also joined in. Everyone had a great time in that session, and I had the chance to try some footbag tricks, and I think I got my first ATW with a bag (stall it properly too) in that session, in my freestyle football shoes. I began to get hooked, and after Nick told me my game would improve tremendously in Lavers, I decided to go online and bought them for myself.
And that was the moment when I decided to step into freestyle footbag for the first time. Since then, my level has improved, and I had some tremendous fun with the PSU footbag club. Many people came and went: George, April, Derek, Aidan, Kat… but the core members remained the same: Ryan, Ivan, Nathan, Nick, Greg, and later Ben. I attended PSU Jampionships III, IV, V, and hosted VI (with great help from Greg and Nathan). I became more or less brothers and sisters with everyone, especially Ryan Morris, who I still consider one of my 2 best friends as of this moment. I also got introduced to one of Nick’s student, who might one day be the next world champion: Nathan Bonslaver.
In my time at Penn State, I also traveled to local Jams and Championships, including East Coasts (2013 and 2014), New Year’s Jam (2015), and even US Open (2013, 2015, and 2016). I met and befriended so many footbaggers, including (but definitely not limited to): Matt Kemmer, Kevin Hogan, Derek Littlefield, Cass Taylor, Alex Venis, Aaron Orton, Pete Bowler, Anton Briting, Zach Jahner, Johnny Sarah, Mathieu Gauthier, Ianek Regimbald, Ryan Thomas, Cory Allen, Tom KO, Zeb Jackson… and some absolute legends of the sports like Jim Penske, Evan Gatesman, Nick Landes, Gordon Bevier, Dustin Rhodes, Brian Sherill, Ken Somolinos, John Schneider, Lon Smith, Ethan Husted, Darryl Gentz… and many more.And in 2017, my journey in footbag reaches its highest point when I came to Worlds, met my long-time idol, Taishi Ishida, and also many more: Bruce Li (the amazing Jianzi player from China), Dave Clavens (FINALLY!), and Olav Piwowar (the man with spider legs who almost did Alpine Nemesis). I also did my first ever Worlds routine in my life, dropped 3 times, but came out happy. I also met the legend of legends, Vaclav Klouda, and it also brought my story full circle: began with Vasek, and now end of phase 1 (still got a lot more kicks in me) with Vasek.
As my level increased, I began to notice that footbag could use some things from freestyle football, like for example the concept of sitdowns. I was aware that before me somebody did some sitdowns with the bag, but it never got popularized. As I had some prior knowledge with sitdowns from my experience as a football freestyler, I decided to introduce it again to freestyle footbag, and so far the response has been quite positive. It is my dream to one day see these sitdowns incorporated more into footbag, especially footbag routines.
There are some other things that I also noticed, and I have decided to list them all here. I realize some of this stuff can be a bit jargon-full, so I will provide a short TL:DR for you guys here:
Point number 1: Neither Freestyle Football and Freestyle Footbag is harder. They are just different from each other.
Point number 2: The trick crossover and no touch combos for freestyle football, and the use of the clipper for footbag are the most fundamental technical differences between the 2 sports, besides from the fact that one is played with a bean bag and the other with a size-5 ball.
Point number 3: Football freestylers (the majority of them) will never be disrespectful and ask the infamous question: “can you do it with a real ball?” for you footbaggers.
Got the gist? OK, Let’s go! 😉
What is harder? Freestyle Football or Freestyle Footbag?
One of the comments that a lot of my non-freestyle friends tell me when they see me play freestyle football and freestyle footbag at the same time is that: “man, when you do it with a ball and then switch to a bag, it must be so much easier!” Do I think that is true? Somewhat. I used to reason against it, because in my opinion, reducing the size of the object you are doing tricks with does nothing. The reason for this is that everything falls at the same acceleration, namely 9.81 m/s^2, so it doesn’t matter if you use a ball or a bag, they all fall the same. However, it is not actually so. I realized this when I could do Eggbeater with the bag quite easily now (on my strong side at least). However, its freestyle football equivalent, the Alternative Homie Mitchy Around the World (AHMATW) still eludes me, especially when I do the footbag (stall) set. The reason should be quite obvious: the size of the ball is bigger, which means you have to do bigger dexterities (revolutions) in order to complete the trick, which make the trick harder to execute. As the number of dexes increases, the difficulty spike compounds. It should be a “duh!” moment for everyone, but it actually took me a while to come to terms with this.
Well, so does switching from a ball to a bag make a trick easier? I now believe the answer is a resounding YES! If you have done for example Palle Around The World (PATW) with a ball, then you most likely will be able to do its footbag equivalent, Triple Around The World, with relative ease if you spend some time getting used to stalling the bag after going around it.
However, do I think the peak difficulty of freestyle footbag is less than that of freestyle football? F!@K NO! Why? Let’s look at some statistics of some of the highest level tricks in both sports:
4-dexterity (revolution) tricks:
– Freestyle Football: Kevin trick (disputable due to nobody ever hitting it clean), Mikolaj 4-rev trick (equivalence of Phasing Revup in freestyle footbag)
– Freestyle Footbag: Nemesis, Arch Nemesis, Phasing Revup, Clownface, Backside Clownface, Pixie Quantum Eggbeater, Blurry Flurry, Pixie Chainsaw Massacre, Furious (op) Double Leg Over, Furious (ss) Double Leg Over,… just to name a few.
5-dexterity (revolution) tricks:
– Freestyle Football: absolute big fat zero
– Freestyle Footbag: Nemesis Swirl, Heart (Pixie Plasma Swirl), with Arch Nemesis Swirl on the way by Jim Penske.
Looking at this list, it is obvious that by using a bag, the number of maximum dexterities you can do is higher. Do I think then that freestyle footbag is harder? Once again, F!@K NO! And I will concede this point only when Vasek, Honza, or Jindra can do a 4 dex trick like Nemesis with a ball!
So, Khoa, WTF is your opinion then? I think both freestyle sports are EQUALLY AS HARD. They are just hard in different ways. For freestyle football, you need the explosive speed way more than freestyle footbag. You can see that everytime a football freestyler like Skora do a 3 revolution move. For freestyle footbag, you need to learn how to conserve every single one of your revolution way more than that of freestyle football. Just look at the way an accomplished footbagger like Matt Kemmer do Around The Worlds (yes, ATWs!) will show you the absolute mastery in conserving energy and revolution space that a master footbagger requires in order to do higher level footbag tricks: the bag looks like it only travels 1 inch below and then above the ankle every single time an ATW is done, never more.
Neither sport, at its peak, is harder or easier. They are just different.
However, I do think there are aspects of both that the other can utilize. For freestyle football, we can incorporate the clipper not just as a “style move” but more like a regular component of normal lowers! I will elaborate this further in the section “The most significant difference between freestyle footbag and freestyle football”. For freestyle footbag, many more elements of uppers and sitdowns, main disciplines in freestyle football, can be utilized. In fact, I myself have tried to do elements of sitdowns with the bag, and so far I have already accomplished a lot. However, what I did was just scratching the surface of all the possible things one can do with a bag in a sitting position. I sincerely hope that more footbag freestylers will pick up these two elements of freestyle football because they will lead to new possibilities as well as opportunities for further utilization.
What is the most significant difference between freestyle footbag and freestyle football?
To me, the answer to this question comes down to two tricks: the freestyle football’s “crossover” and the freestyle footbag’s “clipper”.
What is a “crossover”? Well, here it is: Crossover (Tutorial). As you can see, the crossover is, well, to my best ability to describe, an air Zoid kick. So, why is this significant?
The reason why comes down to the issue of utilization. In a traditional footbag trick, there is usually no kick in between. When you reach a kick, the trick ends. Also, kicks in footbag receive zero points (add), you see, so people do not use them often at the end of tricks. If you land a Double Around The World with a stall in the end, the trick is considered a 3-point (3-add) trick, because you have 2 revolutions (2 adds) + a stall (1 add) = 3 adds. However, if you end a Double Around The World with a kick, you will only end up with 2 revolutions (2 adds) + a kick (0 add) = 2 add trick. When you get to the “professional level” in freestyle footbag competitions, nobody wants to utilize tricks that are less than 3 adds (Guiltless) in difficulty, and thus, kicks are usually left behind.
However, in freestyle football, you can use a crossover in order to end tricks. As a matter of fact, football freestylers use this VERY frequently. Combining an Around the World (into out) with a crossover, and you got a trick called Touzani Around the World (TATW, so called because a Dutch guy named Soufiane Touzani invented it). Combining an Orbit (ATW out to in) with a crossover, and you got, likewise, a Mitch Around the World (MATW). So many tricks in freestyle football were created this way, including (but not limited to): Touzani ATW, Mitch ATW, Abbas ATW, Palle Trick (think Pixie Legover ending with a crossover), Skora ATW (think Eggbeater ending with a crossover), Skala Mitch ATW (Pigbeater ending with crossover), Eldo Mitch ATW (Fairy Eggbeater ending with a crossover)… et cetera. (Do a Youtube search and you’ll see what I’m talking about)
But wait, it gets better! The fact that after the crossover ending of these tricks, the ball pops up provides an excellent opportunity to continue doing another trick afterwards before the ball ever hit the foot again! These combos are called “no touch” combos because of that. So, the fact that in freestyle football you can have a kick in between a trick enables you to continue a seemingly endless combo of crossover-based tricks chained together without a touch in between them. Recently, Tobias Becs, a Norwegian football freestyler, did 32 Alternative Mitch ATWs no touch. This is a virtually unexplored avenue of freestyle footbag (well, except for Honza when he did a no touch combo in his “2013 Ultimate Footbag Combos” video, a video that has recently had its song altered, a sad fact given I have gotten so used to watching it with its original song. They went perfectly well together), and I feel like, with more people’s attention, this can widen the freestyle footbag’s trick selection tremendously!
Everybody knows what a “clipper” is nowadays. And yes I mean even football freestylers. From the time when Vasek Klouda introduced it to freestyle football back in around 2009 – 2010, the clipper has exploded in popularity in the freestyle football community. Nowadays, football freestylers in Poland (Luki, Mikolaj…), Norway (PWG), and Japan (Ochio, Kazane, Pixy, and especially Ibuki), as well as the footbag world champions Vasek Klouda and Honza Weber are pushing the limits of clipper usage in freestyle football, meanwhile introducing many footbag tricks, including Reverse Swirl, Swirl, Whirl, Ripstein, Dimwalk, Ripwalk, Double Spinning Clipper, Whirr, Bedwetter, Blurriest, Mullet, and even Phasing Revup (the first 4-rev freestyle football move). However, the use of clipper is still very much limited, with the users usually utilize it as a stylistic move rather than something to be used all the time in combos. Except for Vasek and Honza, everybody else would only do clippers in blocking combos (combos when the ball is between 2 legs, and then manipulated around), or they’d use a combo of tricks that only contain clipper moves, usually only on one side (Yes I am looking at you Ibuki, haha! ;)).
In freestyle football, the discipline that most resembles footbag is the style of”Lowers”. However, in lower combos, the ball will start from the toe surface of a foot, and end on the toe surface of that same foot, or the other foot. In freestyle footbag, combos usually have tricks involving the bag moving from either a toe surface or a clipper and end on same toe, same clipper, opposite toe, or opposite clipper.
This may be a bit confusing, so please let me clarify my point. We’ll use a trick, let’s say, HTATW (Pixie Legover) to demonstrate this. You have 2 revolutions: the first is done inside to outside, and the second is done outside to inside. The trick will begin from one toe surface, and end on the other toe surface. That is usually how most tricks will be in freestyle football. These tricks will then be chained into combos. So most freestyle football’s lower combos are tricks involving revolutions done to the ball, then end on a toe surface.
Now, imagine this: what if instead of beginning the HTATW (Pixie Legover) from a toe surface, we begin it on a clipper surface? So the trick will be: clipper surface -> inside to outside revolution -> outside to inside revolution -> toe surface. That will be a Stepping far Legover.
Now how about beginning the trick from toe and end on a clipper (toe surface -> inside to outside revolution -> outside to inside revolution -> clipper surface)? The result will be a Pixie Butterfly (Dimwalk).
Now let’s say the trick begins and end on both clippers (clipper surface -> inside to outside revolution -> outside to inside revolution -> clipper surface), the result will be a Ripwalk.
So you see, the way freestyle footbaggers use the clipper can add so much variety to one trick. In freestyle football there is only HTATW, in freestyle footbag there are Pixie Legover, Stepping far Legover, Dimwalk, and Ripwalk. 4 tricks in response to one! If anyone ever wonders why there are so many tricks in freestyle footbag, even though they are lacking the components of uppers AND sitdowns, you now know why!
Yes, I do know that at the level football freestylers are at currently in clipper moves, we can’t do that just yet. But really, just imagine the possibilities! Clippers can be used for much more than just stylistic moves! One day, I hope I will be able to see it in every lower combo. The introduction of this use of clipper into freestyle football, in my humble opinion, will definitely change the way people approach lowers forever.
“Can you do it with a real ball?”
I’m just going to take the perspective of a football freestyler (that I am ;)) for this matter.
Every footbagger has heard of this question, and every footbagger hate the sh!t out of it.
That I have no problem with. I hate this question so much as well. However, what I do notice is that some footbaggers even developed a dislike for freestyle footballers because of this question. I will not antagonize you guys over that. I can see why you might think that way.
However, I am here to tell you guys that no, we football freestylers don’t take pleasure in actually be able to “do it with the real ball”, and no, if we ever see you guys on the street performing, that question will be the ABSOLUTE LAST thing we will ever ask you. In fact, you will NEVER see any decent freestyle footballers use this question. The ones that do are JERKS, and they usually are hated within the freestyle football community as well.
First, of, we know and respect your dedication. We too know what it feels like to be obsessed with kicking an object around trying to do weird tricks with it. Other people may think it’s a silly thing to do, but we should be the last to think so. We get you guys. We really do! We are like that as well.
Also, football freestylers LOVE footbag and they want to know more about it! I remember attending the US Freestyle Football Championship in 2013, and when I told everyone the names of footbag tricks, like Nemesis and Montage… they thought the names in footbag sounds so cool. That brought a smile to my face. I do believe many football freestylers do have the same attitude towards footbag. This year at Superball, a Japanese football freestyler named Yosshi finished his final routine by doing clipper to clipper… with a bag! That was unprecedented and I do believe he loved the footbag as well as he loved his football!
Secondly, we have our own version of that question too! That version is: “Can you do it on a field?”
Every football freestyler have heard of it. Every football freestyler hate the sh!t out of it.
In fact, there is just no end to it! When you can do it on a field, dumbasses will ask you: “Are you as good as Ronaldo or Messi? (2 best soccer players in the world)”, and when you ARE Ronaldo or Messi, they will find another way to bring you down. Those 2 are actually the ones with the most haters in the world.
That’s just how the world works sometimes. Stupid, I know! The truth is, there are jealous people out there, who are just hating you simply because of the fact that THEY can’t do it THEMSELVES! In fact, they usually can’t do anything themselves. If not, they would have understood that it takes blood, sweat, and tears to develop the kind of skills that our sports require. Even though I hate these people’s guts, I too must say that sometimes I do pity them. These are the people whose lives are so boring they have to take it out on another, more interesting guy out there (us!). So we should not be discouraged because of that. We should be proud! We actually are so cool we have haters!
So, everybody, I would like to end this piece of writing with a small note: our communities are very much alike, and we can learn so much from each other. I made a two-part video once about both sports (*), and I still believe in the message at the end of the 2nd video: “The way forward is together!” So let us go together. To the future!
(*) Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ck9bTe9RbKo
Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmBHIP9S-7g
This year, after the video competition at Worlds 2017, one of these videos were featured after the videos of the competitors. When Justin Dale came to me and told me this news, he said that he thought the videos were very well researched, which brought an amazing warm feeling to my core. They were meant to be well-researched because I want every football freestyler to see the beauty of footbag, and vice-versa.
Written by Khoa Nguyen