(Wei Cai/Amherst Wire)

The art of the Chinese yo-yo

The Chinese Yo-yo is less of a toy than an artistic medium.

November 29, 2016

AMHERST — For many members of the University of  Massachusetts Amherst Chinese Yo-yo club, the yo-yo brings back memories of a much simpler time in their lives — a time where simple toys grabbed children’s attention for hours.

However, what the Chinese Yo-yo Club does is anything but simple.

According to Hubert Lin, a sophomore electrical and computer systems engineering major, “[The Chinese yo-yo] is different. It’s a lot bigger … with a regular yo-yo, the yo-yo is attached or knotted to the string. With the Chinese yo-yo, you have two sticks with the string in between and the yo-yo is actually physically separate.”

(Wei Cai/Amherst Wire)

Having a yo-yo that’s designed this way allows them to perform tricks like passing it off the string to another person’s string. 

In this way, the Chinese Yo-yo is less of a toy than an artistic medium, according to Jason Tsai, a freshman operations and information management major.

“Chinese Yo-yo is a creative art that has many variations to express essentially stories…there are many tricks and movements you can do with it. You have more motion for actions, ” Tsai said.

Becoming good at expressing those stories using the Chinese Yo-yo is not easy. Although Tsai is only a freshman, joining the Chinese Yo-yo Club was something that was many years in the making.

“A lot of us actually started learning it for fun, then we joined the performing group and so far, we’ve been practicing for nine to 10 years so it’s just constant practice,” Tsai said.

Even for Andrew Sheu, a junior chemical engineering major, practicing the art dates back to his childhood.

“I started out with this. I really didn’t learn the other kind…the way you start out learning it is you have to get the rhythm and kind of know how to balance it,” said Sheu.

Their numerous years of perfecting the art haven’t gone unnoticed. On Oct. 22, they were invited to perform at Smith College by their Asian Students Association (ASA).

August Lin, a junior chemical engineering major, said the Smith College performance was a valuable experience to the club.

“It was good to branch out to a different audience — that routine was a modified version of our previous routine … it was fun [performing] to a different audience,” Lin said.

The performance at Smith College came on the heels of the club’s biggest performance to date at the UMass Asian American Student Association’s (AASA) Asian Night in the Spring of 2016.

Reflecting on last semester’s performance at UMass, Jeffrey Tsai, a senior chemistry major, said that although there is a lot of pressure on the group before performances, the reward is well worth it.

“The reactions — you can tell from the audience — [they include] screaming and clapping, it’s a testament as to how high of a reward it is,” Tsai said.

Along with a high reward, Jeffrey Tsai admits that there is a high risk of injuries too.

“There’s actually quite a bit of risk to ourselves. The yo-yos can move at very high speeds and typically on a bigger stage, we’re the only ones that it can hit. All of us have had injuries — gashes or scratches mostly across the arm,” said Jeffrey Tsai.

The only way to combat that? Practice, concluded the group.

(Wei Cai/Amherst Wire)

Despite the fact that most have had years of prior experience, the group is still open to those with none.

Typically, several times a semester, the group holds general interest meetings along with workshops where interested members can come and learn. They stress that people of all skill levels are welcome to join and grow with them.  

“If you see us practicing, don’t be afraid to come down and ask us for information about it, ask us to try it out. We love to teach people and we want to have more members,” said August Lin.

This welcoming sense is driven by the group’s origins on campus, and how they were initially embraced with open arms.

In the beginning, the Chinese Yo-yo Club was set to be more of a Chinese Culture Club, however, due to the lack of funding, this was not immediately possible, according to Hubert Lin, who also serves as vice president of the club.  

“Up to now, we’ve just been doing yo-yo, and we want to do more … our end goal was to not be exclusively Chinese Yo-yo, we wanted to do more in terms of Chinese culture,” Lin said. 

Email Wei Cai at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @weicaiumass.

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