Image by Andy M. Ngo feat. Nelson Zuniga

What is Tricking? A Comprehensive Beginner's Guide to Tricking [2021]

What is Tricking?

Tricking is a new, acrobatic discipline. It borrows and incorporates kicks from martial arts, gymnastics flips and twists, and ground moves from breakdancing. These elements of kicks, flips, twists, and ground moves are fused together in creative, visually-pleasing combinations. It has been described the ultimate form of movement and expression.

Originating in the 1990s from martial artists trying to add more flare into their forms, tricking has grown past “extreme martial arts” into its own living, breathing movement art. More than the movement itself, being a tricker means being part of an international community of like-minded individuals who take joy and pride in throwing their body around and making unique shapes in the air.

Watch: Michael Guthrie's "Body of Work" & Scotty Skelton's "Arcade Lions"

Who is Tricking FOR?

Tricking is for everyone and anyone. Trickers come from all kinds of backgrounds – martial arts, dance, parkour, tumbling, trampolining, etc. but many have zero background and are completely self-taught. Most learn strictly from YouTube tutorials and learning from other practitioners around them. As a tricking instructor for 5+ years, I’ve seen students of different ages, flexibility, athleticism, and bakcgrounds. But they've all been able to trick by breaking the motions down into their components and using safe progressions.

Honestly, the biggest hurdle to learning how to trick is not physical, but mental. The majority of people don’t believe in themselves or are self-conscious about trying something uncomfortable for the first time. But the act of training and moving eases these fears overtime and helps build the confidence and body awareness.

Scared? That's kinda the point. Tricking is scary and exciting – and that's the appeal. But fear comes from a lack of body awareness and knowledge, these things can be remedied with enough work through the pre-requisites and fundamental drills. Embracing this fear and working through it by going through the basics is the only way to get good at tricking.

If possible, train with someone who already tricks – they will be able to guide you on your tricking journey. Or find another person who wants to learn tricking with you! Community has always been embedded within tricking’s DNA and having a training partner makes the learning process more fun, rewarding, and escalates the rate of gaining new tricks.

Related: No Excuses Tricking

Why Tricking?

There are many benefits to tricking - mental, physical, and some would even argue spiritual. These include but are not limited to:

  1. Looks and feels cool. This one is the most obvious one, it's just plain awesome to do and to watch. There's nothing more satisfying than performing and executing a move that you've been working towards and it comes out exactly how you want it to. It's all about the execution.
  2. It's a creative outlet. Every tricker has their own style in how they execute moves, what moves they choose to do, and how they put them together.
  3. Builds mobility and flexibility. To execute these flips and kicks, you will have to become more flexible and coordinated. As you train tricks, condition, and stretch, your body will continue to improve.
  4. Perpetual reward system. One of the unique things about Tricking is that there is a binary, distinct reward system. You either land a trick or you don’t. And when you DO land it, you are immediately rewarded by an unparalleled wave of excitement and joy. Take the backflip for example – you go from drilling the motions, to trying it with a spot, to trying it on your own. You’ll most likely begin by landing on all-fours first, but there will be a tangible moment where you land it for the first time. With tricking, you’re always chasing the next trick – there is no skill cap.
  5. Mimics growth in all aspects of life. Tricking, like anything else in life, is the result of defining a goal, chasing after it, and attaining it. This applies to all aspects of life, but having a physical manifestation of your attainable goals will change your mindset around who you are and what you can achieve.

Elements of Tricking

Tricking has evolved from just "advanced kicking" paired with "sloppy gymnastics" into its own defined artform with distinct elements. While of course each element has some sense of subjectivity, tricking can be broken down into the following elements:

  1. Vertical Kicking. An extension of modified technique originating from multiple martial arts (Taekwondo, Karate, Capoeira etc.), vertical kicking refers to kicks that occur on the vertical axis. These are broken down and notated by takeoff, rotational value, and the kick itself. The Takeoff refers to how the trick is initiated (pop, cheat, swing), Rotational Value refers to the amount of spins being executed, and the Kick refers to the "kick" executed at the end (round, hook, or variation).
  2. Tricks on the Inverted Axis. By far the largest amount of variety in tricks in this category - it refers to all moves that have some level of flip (hips go over the head). This can happen on a variety of axis', from the on-axis flipping deriving from Gymnastics & Tumbling to the off-axis tricks that have grown out of the sport (such as the tak, cork).
  3. Tricks on the Horizontal Axis. These refer to tricks that occur on the horizontal axis - mainly butterfly kick, spyder, and janitor variations.
  4. Variations. These refer to what modifications are made to the base move. For example, a back full can be modified with a round kick, doubleleg, or a hook kick (and much more) to change the visual appeal while retaining many of the base attributes.
  5. Transitions. The step in-between one trick and the next. At its core, tricking is all about creating combinations out of multiple tricks - and transitions are what makes combos possible.

The unlimited nature of tricking comes from the combination of all these elements. Understanding and mastering these different elements are essential to become a well-balanced, aesthetic tricker that stands out from the crowd.

Related: Loopkicks Tricktionary

How to Approach Tricking

Unlike gymnastics or martial arts, tricking is non-linear and not very strict with how you progress. Tricking has so many different categories of tricks that are all loosely related, but not necessarily dependent on each other. You can relate it to a video game tech tree - a lot of different bases and different path choices when it comes to leveling up. Because of its diverse nature, you can choose an aspect of tricking that you enjoy and stick to it without feeling the need to attempt to master every aspect of the art.

Your tricking "skill" can be seen as a building, with the length being your variety of tricks, the width being the trick execution and cleanliness, and the height represents the difficulty of tricks. Some seek to be well-rounded in all elements and might not have as tall of a building while others might stick to a certain element (ie swings or kicks) and have a tall but "skinny" building. Only the rare, few trickers such as Michael Guthrie has been able to master all these elements.

Here are two "suggested" paths that many trickers end up taking:

  1. Slow & Steady. This is for the person who is not comfortable with doing flips or does not have the equipment to attempt riskier tricks. Start with vertical kicks and cartwheels. Build upon these basics and get to know your own body and develop bodily coordination and air awareness. From there, progress to butterfly kicks and aerials. Build a wide base and then start slowly growing “up”.
  2. Thrill Seeker. This is for that fearless soul who just wants to try the risky tricks and feel that rush. If you already have backflip and/or frontflip, just keep doing things that you like to do. Do variations of backflips and fronts, and maybe start adding an extra rotation. Drill those power moves and drill setup tricks (ie cartwheel and scoot) to start chaining those moves. Make sure to train safely though!

In the end, these two paths are just two halves of the same coin. Either slowly build up a strong, varied base and move up, or expand rapidly down one “skill path” and go back to train other tricks later. That’s the beauty of tricking. You don’t HAVE to trick like anyone else. Pick what you’re naturally good at or chase want to be good at. Watch trickers who you want to emulate.

Let's Get Started!

  1. Pick some tricks you want to work towards. Check out our Top 10 Fundamental Tricks List to see which tricks you should get first. Once you’ve already mastered all those, check out our Loopkicks Tricktionary. Watch some samplers, get PUMPED! Don't just go right for the hard stuff, train your basics; tricking is all about aesthetic, artistic movement.
  2. Look up open gyms in your area. Cheer or gymnastic gyms often have floor time available to the public, check online to find any good training spots. Also check out TrickSpot  and see if there are any other trickers in your area!
  3. Stretch and warm up. Make sure to do a full-body warm-up including all the major muscle groups along with your joints like knees, ankles, and wrists. Getting warmed up is super important to ensure you don’t pull anything and it also gets your muscles ready to try new tricks. Never start the session completely cold. Stick to dynamic stretches, and you can cool down with static stretching. Warm up with some basic jumps and spins as well to get your body coordinated and mind active.
    Part of your warm up should be doing your basic tricks. Basics mean different things to different people as you progress, but generally stick to tricks you are 100% confident in.
  4. No gym access? Go to the park! Grass is the next best thing to spring floor. Some even prefer grass tricking to spring floor (see Justice Buchanan). Look for a spot that isn’t too patchy and that is free of debris. Preferably find a relatively quiet spot where you can train in peace with not too many onlookers. Play some music and get hype!
  5. Do some tricks! Follow tutorials and just play around. If you don’t know which tricks you are going to do, follow this list! If you have zero experience, I highly recommend starting with vertical kicks (tornado, spin hook etc.) and working on cartwheels. These are low risk, but absolutely crucial to forming a strong base as a tricker.

General Words of Wisdom

Some miscellaneous advice that will apply to you no matter what tricks you are working on.

  1. Fundamentals are important. This one is a bit of a cliche, but it's true. Take your time and ensure the pre-requisite tricks are strong and that you are confident in your ability to perform them before chasing after the next level. Doing so will prevent injury and make you a more well-rounded tricker. If you're struggling with learning a new trick, it might be that you haven't trained the pre-req enough.
  2. Training outside the session is just as important as the session itself. This one varies with your age, but as you get older, maintaining a proper strengthening and stretching routine as well as diet, sleep, and nutrition will really affect your ability to train and learn tricks. Yes you get stronger by training tricks, but tricking can also create muscle imbalances and other issues that need to be corrected through proper training.
  3. Use your arms. One of the biggest mistakes I see with new trickers is them not using their arms (or their whole body) for their tricks. Almost all skills require the cooperative use of all your limbs in unison. If you're struggling to land a trick, watch some videos and pay extra attention to what each limb is doing.
  4. Record yourself. This one's a big one. Always record yourself and compare your footage with the pros. Comparing and contrasting your technique with theirs will go a long way in learning how to properly execute tricks.
  5. Variate before adding another rotation. Instead of trying to do a double full after learning how to full, make sure you train your doublelegs, hypers, swipes etc. Doing so will force you to try different axis' and setting positions which will get you more comfortable with the motion. It also has the added benefit of making you a more well-rounded tricker.
  6. Watch footage. Tricking was built on the sharing of samplers and training videos. Get inspired from your favorite trickers and try to emulate how they do their tricks. Break down how they move and learn from it.

Final Words

Tricking is a journey that is as challenging as it is rewarding. The key to a successful tricking "career" is to enjoy the process and be patient with the results. Not every session will be a hype, limit-breaking one. Some of them will just be doing boring basics or drilling for longer than youd like. No two trickers are the same and comparison can be the thief of joy. Watch other trickers for motivation and hype, but at the end of the day, tricking is a battle within you and yourself. Tricking is incredibly diverse - no two trickers have the same style. I suggest that you take your time to work on your basics and focus on bettering your body (injury prevention, rehab, recovery etc.) alongside your tricks training.

Watch a lot of samplers and follow a lot of trickers on Instagram. Tricking owes its growth to online video and the sharing of ideas. Inspiration and learning derive from exposure to what is being done in the sport. Now is an exciting time for tricking - new ground is being broken all the time and new limits are being shattered.

Resources for New Trickers

Tricking has always attributed its growth due to the accessibility of the internet - here are resources to start your tricking journey off strong! We have provided some our best resources along with some off-site resources that we'd highly recommend.

  1. Top 10 Fundamental Tricks List
  2. Loopkicks Tricktionary
  3. Facebook Tricking Group. Currently the largest online community of trickers. Discuss tricks, share videos, and find new training buddies!
  4. Kojos Trick Lab. A paid service run by Sam "Kojo" Plummer with many tutorials and videos made by top trickers.