Page 23                                              September 1982


  By Mary Saucier 


This juggling prop, which consists of two simple hand sticks and a longer, heavier manipulated stick (the Devil Stick), has an obscure Asian origin. Trying to track down specific facts was similar to putting together clues to solve a murder mystery... without the murder!


At the library and bookstore, I found books on the subject of juggling, but hardly a mention of devil sticks. Two notable exceptions were Circus Techniques by Hovey Burgess and Holden's Manual of Juggling, both of which give instructions on its manipulation. Neither, however, shed much historical light on the prop.


Next I contacted jugglers across the country. Many people performed with devil sticks, but no one had any knowledge of its history.


Finally, Dave Finnegan of Jugglebug said he had visited China , and could report some first hand observations from the legendary home of the devil stick. "I can safely say that the devil stick is over 2,000 years old and was used in ancient China ," Finnegan began.


He said they are referred to as "the Flower Sticks," possibly because of the large pom-pom attached at each end. These prevent the stick from breaking when it falls, and also slow down its rotation. "Flower sticks" are longer than the 24-inch American devil stick, Finnegan said, but have the same hourglass form. Chinese jugglers make' 'flower sticks" more visually appealing to their large audiences by the addition of colorful ribbons wrapped around their length, Finnegan added.


Ricky Jay, a Hollywood magician/juggler and collector of juggling information, dug up from his files some valuable historical information on devil sticks in the West. The earliest mention he could find was an 1813 Berlin hand­bill hawking "the performance of Chinese stick­plays by Medua and Mooty Samme. "


"What's curious," Ricky explains, "is that as popular as the devil sticks were in the Orient and in Europe in the 19th century, by the turn of the 20th century they were widely out of use. "


Ricky said modem records of devil sticks show its reintroduction in the 1940s with Karl Rappon, a craft (heavy object) juggler.


The fact that the history of devil sticks is shrouded in mystery leads to some interesting "made up" explanations on their origin. Dario Pittore of the Boston troupe 'Dario, Olof and Eddie G.' offered his personal creative interpretation of the historical roots of devil sticks.


"An ancient Chinese legend holds that a troupe of Tibetan performers played before the emperor of China . He was so astounded by their stick play that he said there must be a devil spirit in the stick, making it take on a life of its own. "


Dario shares the legend with me while demonstrating his own agility with a devil stick.  He tosses and catches it back and forth between his hand sticks, twirls it high in the air, uses only one hand stick for a propeller effect, and occasionally uses his feet in the manipulation.


Maybe there is something magical about the devil stick after all! Dario uses his with ease and grace, and you can learn, too. The home­made whiffle ball devil stick explained below is especially handy for beginners!



Two 3-foot dowels

Two whiffle balls

A file

Two 1/4" round-head screws and washers Hammer and nail


One roll of cloth bicycle handlebar tape One roll of cloth first aid tape


STEP ONE: Cut one of the dowels in half to make the two hand sticks. The other will be the devil stick.


STEP TWO: Drill a hole at each end of the longer (devil) stick.


STEP THREE: Carve a hole, using the file, into the solid half of each whiffle ball. Make it just a little smaller than the end of the dowel.


STEP FOUR: Force a dowel end through each whiffle ball hole and screw it into the dowel using the screw and washer. Prick the whiffle ball first to make a screw hole in it by using the hammer and nail.


STEP FIVE: Wind cloth bicycle tape a­round the devil stick dowel using the same tech­nique as for wrapping handlebars. Start and end just underneath the whiffle balls at each end.


STEP SIX: Wrap each handstick with cloth first aid tape.


There! You are now the proud owner of your own devil stick set. They may be jazzed up with the addition of paint and/or glue.




The principle rests on finding the point of balance on the stick and hitting it just above that point with alternating hand sticks. It may be helpful to balance the devil stick on each hand stick to get the feel for that point.  The devil stick is passed between the hand sticks, making a half-circle rotation from side to side.


To begin, sit in a straight back chair with the devil stick standing vertically between your knees. Now gently pass the devil stick from hand stick to hand stick without raising it off the floor. Hard to do, isn't it?


When you feel ready, start with a slight up­ward motion with each hand stick. The devil stick will begin to rise up off the ground. The key here is to rise up with it, maintaining control.


That's the basic move. Other tricks develop through the use and practice of the devil stick, and especially from practicing with others and seeing their tricks. Remember, mistakes often turn into new tricks!

Oriental and mysterious of origin, jugglers keep discovering its limits.  Andy Allen, junior champ, made this baffling move.

Oriental and mysterious of origin, jugglers keep discovering its limits.  Andy Allen, junior champ, made this baffling move.

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