Recently I was reminded of a series of 7 articles I wrote 24 years ago for Juggle Magazine, The journal of the International Juggler’s Association. The series was about what was once described as “The most fun 2 or more people can do while keeping their clothes on”, i.e., Passing: Two or more jugglers passing objects between them.

The series focuses specifically on ambidextrous passing, meaning using passing patterns which employ both hands symmetrically. Being introductory in nature, the articles are aimed primarily at relative novices, yet still try not to be boring and to have something in store for the more experienced passer as well.

I figured it might be nice to upload them as a “service to the community”. Scanning and editing them takes some time, so below is just the first instalment for now. Subsequent articles in the series build upon the basic concepts presented here, and explore various aspects of ambidextrous patterns: Syncopations, combination moves, hurries, feeds and 3-Counting with more clubs.


Written by Kulu Orr,
Published 1999 by JUGGLE (The International Jugglers’ Association Magazine)


The term “3-Count” signifies that every 3rd count of the basic juggling rhythm is a pass. For each of the two jugglers facing each other, this creates the following sequence: 

1 : Pass with right
2 : Left to self
3 : Right to self
4 : Pass with left
5 : Right to self
6 : Left to self
7: GOTO 1

Such a sequence might manifest itself in the agonised juggler’s brain as “Pass-2-3, Pass-2-3, …” which is why the 3-Count is also dubbed “Waltzing”.

Odd-length Juggling sequences (in this case of length 3) are more balanced than the more popular even-length passing patterns such as the 4-Count (a.k.a. “Every Others”) or 2-Count (a.k.a. “Shower” or “Everys”). The base pattern of even-length patterns are inherently biased, with one hand always handling the passing and the other hand receiving only. In odd-count patterns the hands continuously change roles, with both hands alternately passing and receiving. The 3-Count will thus not only look and feel better, it will also make you a better juggler, improving your ambidexterity. Not convinced? It also does wonders for skin care, belly fat and digestion, and wards off the evil eye.

Enough propaganda, let’s get down to business. Pleasure, that is.

Starting Out Right (Left, That Is)

If you and/or your passing partner are new to left handed passing, you might like to first practice passing just one club each back and forth between you, using both hands (I use the term “club” here because that is my preferred juggling weapon of choice, but feel free to substitute it with “ball”, “ring”, “cactus” or whatever floats your juggling boat). Practice straight passes, so that those from your left arrive at your partner’s right, and vice versa. This exercise will serve well for getting familiar with crafting a catchable pass with the left, as well as for improving in catching less-than-ideal passes with your right. 

Try to consciously make your left handed passes mirror images of your right handed ones (assuming the latter are good, of course): They should have as little wrist action as possible, with the hand extending all the way down and back past your thigh before accelerating on the “launch runway”. The passed club should leave your hand, avoiding your preceding self, and arc through the air spinning precisely 1½ times so that the handle slaps with perfect timing directly into your partner’s outstretched nose palm.  Once your passes are relaxed and consistent using both hands, move up to passing two clubs simultaneously back and forth between you: You pass from your left to your partner’s right just as she passes from her right to your left; Then the other way around.

The next step is using four clubs, with one person juggling three and the other holding the 4th object. You will both pass and receive on every third count. Take turns being the 3 object juggler, till you can both pass and receive to and from a cascade solidly. Once this is mastered, you’re both ready to give the full fledged 3-Count a shot, but you can also try a bit of 5-Count before going for 3-Counting. Start like a regular 4-Count, but now count four selves between passes instead of the usual three selves of the 4-Count, so that the passes and catches will alternate hands.

After you master the 5-Count you might like to try passing with your subordinate side only, playing a standard 4-Count but with all passes from the left. Even if you’re an experienced 4-Count passer some tricks might confuse you a little when having to do them in mirror image. Too easy for you? Try a 2-Count. Too easy as well? Try a left handed 2-Count with seven clubs. Still too easy!? Go away and don’t come back until you can do it with 11 clubs left handed. Well, that got rid of her, now let’s get back to the subject.

Be sure to correct any posture asymmetry you might have left over from your long gone dark right-handed-only passing days. Notice for example if you’re standing with one leg forward, or perhaps your body is slightly turned to one side. Be sure also to rid yourself of any tendency to throw right and left selves differently. Finally, ascertain that your right hand catches feel natural and are mirror images the more familiar left handed catches: Admittedly this section of JUGGGLE  is called “Club Passing Workshop” but good “Club Catching” is fairly crucial to keeping the thing going.

As you get more comfortable with the 3-Count you will notice something strange: It’s always the same club going back and forth between you two, one club on each side of the pattern. In other words, the two of you always hold on to the same two clubs, and always pass back the club you just caught. If you don’t believe me, try starting the patter while you each hold two similar and one differently colored club: Start by passing the differently colored club to your partner and notice how that club just goes back and forth between you. This is even more noticeable if each of you has two balls and a club, the clubs being passed back and forth. Use this to your advantage when trying to recover from a drop: Your partner can keep her side going indefinitely so long as you make sure you pass her back whatever she throws at you, on the 3rd beat. In the meantime you can do whatever you need to do to pick up up and resurrect your side of the pattern.  

An Essential Graphic Tool

A type of diagram that will serve us throughout the series, especially as things start to get complicated, is the “Causal Diagram”. These intuitive diagrams, invented by Martin Frost, are a great aid in both developing and explaining passing patterns. To illustrate, let’s examine a causal diagram of the basic 3-Count base pattern,  depicted in figure 1 below.

Base Pattern.gif (787 bytes)

Fig. 1: Causal Diagram of the 3-Count Base Pattern

Each row of letters is a juggler, using either her left (L) and right (R) hands alternately to throw clubs. Each throw is signified by an arrow extending from the throw’s origin to its destination. When these arrows (i.e., throws) stay on the same line (i.e., same juggler) they represent selves, and when they cross from line to line (i.e., from juggler to juggler) they represent passes. Figure 2 below is an annotated version of figure 1.

Causal Diagram annotated

Fig. 2: Annotated 3-Count Causal Diagram

Time progresses from left to right on the diagram (apologies to readers from the Middle East), and the distance between subsequent throwing hands is a single beat, or “count”. A single count usually implies a single spin on the club, but  you can feel free to throw a fast double spin, a  flat or a reverse spin – so long as the club spends one single beat in the air before being caught. In the base pattern of 3-Count, as seen in figures 1 or 2, we have two types of arrows/throws: Either selves or passes, with both extending across one single beat (from “R” to the next “L” or vice-versa).

What Next?

With some practice you will soon master the basic 3-Count pattern, and as natural with humans (and jugglers in  particular) the question soon arises – “How can I take this straightforward thing and make it more complicated and difficult?”. Two ways to make passing patterns more interesting are trick throws and  syncopations.

First let’s quickly riffle through various trick throws one may incorporate into passing. The reason we’ll keep it short and concentrate in this series with syncopations, is that trick throws are in no way unique to 3-Count. The only special feature 3-Count has to offer regarding trick throws is symmetry when throwing tricks continuously.

Such throws generally fall into two broad categories –

  • Trick Selves:
    If you’re looking for something interesting to do with yourselves (that is, your selves) you might consider doing them as: Backcrosses, under the leg, Alberts (under the leg from front to back with both feet on the ground), treblAs (reverse alberts, hence the name), headrolls, momentary body balance, reverse cascade throws, catch behind the back (reverse backcross), chops, overhead throws, dip spin (a.k.a sidespin), flats (no spin), fast doubles, under the arm or even bouncing them off the floor.
    These are all essentially solo juggling tricks, and can be put to good use (i.e., showing off) while passing without having anything to do with the actual passing. You can try any other inventive way you came up with to transfer an object from hand A to hand B in a single beat.

  • Trick passes:
    Here you replace the run-of-the-mill single spin pass with something that looks (and, sadly, often is) harder. Some ideas for trick passes that shouldn’t require too much special attention by the receiver: Under the leg, behind the back, flat spin passes, javelin passes (thrown “bulb first” with slight reverse spin), fish passes (thrown “knob first” with slight spin), fast double spin passes, half turn passes (club makes ½ a revolution instead of the standard 1½ – feels very strange to throw at first) and treblA passes.
    Conversely, many trick passes launch the club with reverse spin, requiring the receiver to alter the way she catches them. Conventionally such a trick pass will be caught in the receiver’s upturned palm near the center of her body. Such passes may include: Tomahawks (“chop passes”), French Chops (tomahawks thrown from above the opposite shoulder), reverse 1½ spin passes, reverse ½ spin passes, Albert passes and shoulder throws (club is held by knob, swings down and back, and released so it flies over your passing-side shoulder).
    For a seriously silly looking trick try throwing every pass under the pass-side leg (the “Donald Duck” version) or under the outstretched opposite leg (the “There’s no business like show business” Can-Can version).

Simple Syncopations

Syncopation, which may be employed In combination with trick throws, means altering the height and timing of the throws. To start the ball (or club) rolling, let’s examine two of the simplest syncopations, the “Early Double” and the “Self Double”.

  • Early Double:

Your partner expects an incoming club to land in her hand every third count. Usually you will comply by doing two counts of selves, then pass a club so that it spend an additional count in the air before being caught. Let’s consider the alternative depicted in Fig. 3: Spend only one count doing selves (i.e., omit one of the two selves and do onlu one self), and have the passed club spend two counts in the air.

Figure 3 depicts the top juggler throwing an early double on her 2nd left hand throw. The Early Double throw by the top juggler is represented by the arrow stretching two counts across the diagram before being caught by the bottom juggler (a “double”, unlike all the other arrows in the diagram which advance only one beat across before being caught). Note that it arrives right at the time and place the bottom juggler would have expected a pass.

Early Double.gif (812 bytes)

Fig. 3: 3-Count Early Double

You must have noticed this little odd thing in the diagram: Pause.gif (144 bytes) .
That’s a pause count, which translates to – “relax, you don’t have to do anything for a whole count, just hold that club for 1 beat (you can twirl it in your hand if you want to impress someone, but try not to fumble as this will impress them but not in the way you’re probably after)”.  The sequence of throws for this syncopation as shown in fig. 3 therefore goes like so:
Pass a single with leftto partner’s right , Right self, Pass a double with left to partner’s left, Pause, Left self, Right self, Pass a single with leftto partner’s right,  etc. …
Either hand may of course throw an Early Double, just swap “left” and “right” in the above description to get the right handed version. 

Because your pass will spend two beats in the air instead of the usual single beat, if you want it to arrive when your partner expects it to, you’ll have to launch it one beat before the usual throwing time, or one beat “early” – hence the name Early Double. One beat earlier this club will still be in the “wrong” hand compared to the usual base pattern: If you were supposed to throw a regular pass from your left hand straight to your partner’s right, you will instead throw the Early Double 1 beat early and from your right hand diagonally to your partner’s right, having it spend two beats in the air (usually giving it 2.5 spins before being caught, instead of the usual 1.5 spins). Your partner is unaffected by this syncopation, because even though you passed one count too early, the club spent that extra count in the air and landed right on time.

As you do this syncopation you’ll notice that one hand passes three times in succession: A straight single pass, then a crossing double pass and then another straight single pass. The other hand takes a breather for 1 beat immediately following the double pass. It’s worth the time to practice this syncopation until you can do it solidly from both the left and the right, as a one-off as well as successively. It’s great fun on its own accord, and also constitutes the basis to countless other moves and syncopations (“countless”… hmm).

  • Self Double:

Let’s try a different method to have three counts go by: This time we’ll keep the pass a single as usual, but instead of throwing two selves of one count each, we’ll throw only one self and have it spend two beats in the air instead of one. In other words (bartender) – make it a double. The passing and receiving remains the same. You still return the club you just received, and only the pattern of your selves changes.

Figure 4 below depicts such a Self Double, thrown by the top juggler to herself on her first right hand throw. A text description of Fig. 4 would go: Pass with left, Right to right double self, Pause,  Pass with right, Left to right single self, Right to left single self, Pass with left,  etc. …

Self Double.gif (849 bytes)

Fig. 4: 3-Count Self Double

How does this syncopation actually feels? As your hand releases that double self, a pass is incoming. You catch it with the hand that just released that double self straight up, and as this self is coming down you launch that caught club back straight back to your partner. That means you have to throw that double self in such a way so it does not interfere with the caught and passed club. You may find it useful to apply the four club fountain throw technique for this throw, with the self club is launched on the inside of the body and caught on the outside.

When thrown continuously the pattern feels odd, never throwing crossing selves. You just alternate hands throwing a self double, catching a club and throwing it back, with the other hand just idling there for 3 beats. Surely one must find fancy ways to occupy this idle hand, to prevent it from doing the devil’s work.

These two simple syncopations were just a taster. Now that we got most of the terminology and basic stuff out of the way, we can start going through load of cool 3-Count syncopations. We’ll do that in the 2nd instalment of this 7 part series .