Devil stick (also Devil Stick, devilstick, devil-stick, Rhythm Stick, etc., or plural forms) manipulation is a form of gyroscopic juggling, or equilibristics and is generally considered to be one of the 'circus arts'. Sometimes called "devil-sticking" other terms often used are: "twirling", "sticking" and "stick juggling".
A "set" of devil sticks is made up of three pieces - the baton and two control sticks - but it will often be called a "pair of sticks".
Typically if a center stick is not tapered (i.e. a straight dowel or rod) and possesses tassels at its end, then it is known as a "Flower Stick" (as the tassels, when the stick is spun, will twirl outwards and resemble an open flower). This term is also now used to describe a straight center stick with any weights (not just tassels) at its end and sometimes refers to hybrid sticks which are both tapered and have weights. Tapered sticks without end weights are known simply as Devil Sticks. Flower sticks can also be properly called "Devil Sticks" as that is the more general term.
The pendulum is an important move to learn, because to a great extent, every other trick is a variation on it.
The 'helicopter' spin is a variation in which a horizontal rotational force is applied as the baton 'pendulums' in the vertical plane, causing a continuous rotation in a nearly horizontal plane. Advanced twirlers can twirl the stick with one stick only (called the propellor), with an arm, knee or other limb and are able to manipulate the baton in any plane above below or in front of or behind the performer's body while walking, unicycling or tightrope balancing. Some can even twirl two batons simultaneously.
There are an infinite number of tricks available to the devilsticker:
Apparently originating in Africa earlier than 3000 B.C.E., there are pictures of juggling sticks on friezes found in Egyptian tombs. Juggling historians have asserted that the 'devil sticks' followed the Silk Road from Cairo to China.
Whether they were reinvented in, or travelled to, China, there is no doubt that by 2000 B.C.E. the Chinese were using juggling sticks. It is commonly believed that Marco Polo then brought juggling sticks to Europe from the Orient. Juggling sticks have been used in Europe since the Renaissance.
With the hippie phenomenon, the advent of huge outdoor music festivals, the invention of modern variants on stick design, and the post-sixties increase in popularity of juggling as recreation or as a hobby, stick juggling has become increasingly popular as an activity even among people who would not consider themselves to be 'performers'.
These are often colorfully decorated and are known variously under such brand names as Quick Stix, Crystal Stix, Hippie Sticks, Mixstix, LunaStix, Equilibristicks (a play on the word 'equilibristics'), Trick Sticks, juggling sticks, Stunt Sticks and many other names. Despite the plethora of names, stick twirlers often call them simply 'sticks'.
As new materials and construction techniques become available, resourceful jugglers and craftspersons have advanced the design of the 'modern devilstick', making them more durable, more portable, or having physical properties that enable jugglers to perform feats previously deemed impossible or too difficult to accomplish. It is a widely held belief that 'sticks' will continue to advance as construction techniques and materials become more advanced or as materials become more widely available. An example of an advance is stix on which the ends can be lit on fire, often referred to as "fire spinning".
A variation of the devil stick and its name, "flower stick," was invented by two roommates in the 1970s. The flower stick was designed to slow down the very fast movement of the heavier and shorter central baton of the traditional Devil Stick, so it could be used to learn more difficult moves and tricks, but was later found to be a fun toy in itself, although the design was not patentable. Michael Margolis, one of the inventors, also worked as a physical therapist and used the popularity of his flower stick in the eighties as a recovery teaching toy in his rehabilitation therapy practice. He later supported himself by making and selling the flower stick to many non-jugglers at workshops. His design of the baton was made with leather belt reject ends that were tooled with flowers and hand-sewn into a cup; these endpieces were attached to a dowel or fiberglass shaft which was wrapped in stair-tread material. He was an accomplished performer who focused on the slow, stalling illusions of the 'magnetic' quality of the flower sticks, even playing his invention while on inline skates.
An increasingly common 'modern' variation on stick design is that of Fiddlestix, which are made of cylindrical aluminum alloy or titanium shafts, either hollow or solid. The center stick is wrapped spirally with dense suede, butted edge-to-edge to make a smooth, suede covered 'frictive surface' and the end of the shaft is wrapped with a one to two inch (5 cm) thick layered, floppy 'tassel' of wide-cut, fringed suede. The sidesticks of a set of fiddlestix are either similarly covered with suede ('slider set' is what this is called, as the suede can help the centerstick to slide smoothly along the control stick) or are covered with surgical rubber or silicone tubing (grippier but no slide). In the case of the solid titanium baton, the surface of the stick is either machine-milled or grit-blasted, to produce the friction surface and there is no covering on the length of the center stick. This type of stick is almost universally paired with control sticks covered in a soft natural latex, silicone, or hard vulcanised rubber tubing - materials which provide varying degrees of friction against the bare metal of the baton's control surface.
Though the name Fiddlesticks has been subsequently registered as a trademark for several different products and services, the fiddlestick design, as created by Glenn, was intentionally placed into the public domain, by the doctrine of prior art. Beginning in August of 1987 (at a Mountain Aire festival, featuring Aerobatic exhibitions, and concerts by Carlos Santana and the Grateful Dead) in Calaveras County California, the designer, Glenn, (also known as Bongo, Bongo the Clown), (see pic, above) a juggler from Eugene, Oregon, began freely sharing his 'inertia tassle' design with other jugglers, and explaining its physics, in an apparently successful effort to avoid his design being patented by corporate toy companies. Since then, numerous variations on the 'inertia tassel' design have been created - as well as some designs that have tassels of such slight mass as to be merely decorative.
These tassels (wrapped axially and with the fringe pointing away from the center of the baton) are heavier than the lighter leather cup ends of the older 'Flower stick,' designs. Due to the tassel's fringe being more flexible (at right angles to the long axis of the stick) and at the same time less flexible, (rotationally), their effect of slowing rotation to extend possible reaction time is much more pronounced than with the flowerstick 'cup' type. The physical effect of the inertia tassel is that the effective center of gravity of the center baton is often on the opposite side of the control from the baton itself, lending extreme stability during certain maneuvers.
One interesting variation Glenn created based on his earlier design is a 'folding' stick, which can be stored in a pouch less than round by long. These folding sets are not as durable as the non-folding type, but are a good choice for those who like to always have a set of sticks on hand.
It is possible to teach some basic physics using devilsticks. Balancing the devilstick horizontally on one handstick shows a fulcrum (centre of the devilstick) and each side of the fulcrum is equal length, weight and mass. Putting the handstick to one side of the centre and letting go of the devilstick (held with hand) will mean the devilstick will begin to fall down (due to gravity) on the longer, heavier side of the fulcrum. As a devilstick is essentially two pendulums fixed together in the middle, a shorter devilstick will tend to spin (propeller trick) more quickly than a longer one, so demonstrating frequency or natural resonance.
Many tricks learned on the slower Flower sticks can be translated to the higher speed action and reaction time necessary for the more difficult and faster one-piece Devil sticks. It is possible (and fun) to devilstick other objects such as a walking stick, NHS crutch or rolled-up umbrella, indeed, almost any relatively round object with a long axis.
Traditional Devil sticks are made of a one-piece lathed dowel of perhaps two feet long with the ends made at least twice as thick as the middle. The shorter length makes it have a much faster spin and unpredictability factor. It is often wrapped with tape or other material to allow some traction for the contact with the same style rubber hand sticks, and the ends are sometimes slightly padded. This is the more dangerous juggling toy that can split a lip or deliver a serious blow to a learner or the inattentive.
Each player has one control stick and stands either side of the net, a centre stick is used as the volley ball which is tossed over the net to the other side of the court. The centre stick may be hit as many times as the player likes and it can be manipulated in any plane before being passed across.
Scoring and faults are the same as normal volley ball.
Fire devil sticking includes the same categories of play described above. Fire devil sticks mainly have an aluminum core. Flaming devil sticks have wicks on the ends allowing them to be set afire, using a variety of flammable liquids as fuel. The most commonly used fuel is paraffin oil or kerosene as it is known in the US. Different substances can be added to the fuels to gain different coloured flames. For example copper chloride will produce a blue flame. However, advice should always be sought from an expert before mixing chemicals. Firesticking is an inherently hazardous activity. Appropriate fire precautions should always be taken when using burning fuels. Serious burns, and damage to property, can result from mishandling burning materials.
Fire Devil sticking is sometimes used to add an element of danger to performances. When photographing these performances, long exposure times are used to catch the trails of motion.