Monday, August 6, 2012

Asalato Journey, part 1 (with video!)

This is a series I should have started a few years ago, but better late than never.

I'm always talking about pushing through struggles and learning on your own, but maybe it's easy for me to say that now, already being in taiko for 20 years, already being a black belt.  If I tell someone who's just starting to "keep trying, you'll get it", do they feel like it's condescending or dismissive?

About three years ago I stumbled across a neat little toy.  It's called the Asalato, Kosika, Kashaka, Patica...lots of different names for what's essentially a children's toy from Africa.

You can see what it looks like in the video - two hard balls/gourds filled with something that shakes or rattles, connected by a string or cord.  They can be natural or plastic, large or small, low-tech or high-tech.  To see what you can do when you've mastered them, look HERE.

I was obsessed with the bloody things and got myself about six from online vendors.  I had no idea what was a good length or good size, so I got a variety.  I then went on YouTube to figure out how to learn to play them.  I got the basics ok, catching after the "clack", flipping over the thumb for the other "clack", shaking all the while during the catching and flipping.  It was the equivalent of learning how to strike the taiko with a good solid don.

The problem was, that's all I could do.  For months.  And it was frustrating.  Here was this thing I really wanted to do and I couldn't get anything past step three!  I would try and try and try but my hands were too big, the asalato was too small, the ball would fly out of trajectory, etc.  I wanted to learn from a person, someone who could tell me what I was doing wrong, but there wasn't anyone I knew of, no asalato school around.  I tried different ones with the same result.  I went fast.  Fail.  I went slow.  Fail.  Eventually I sort of gave up.  I would pick one up here and there, but right away I would hit that wall of fail and stop trying.

Mind you, I didn't expect to get great overnight; I expected a learning curve.  But instead of a curve I got a straight vertical line that I ran into like a wall.  Hell, when I got my first didgeridoo, I didn't expect to play it well but I was able to make notes within a few minutes of playing and it felt like the more I worked on it, the better I got.  Things I'm interested in generally come easy for me.  But not this time.  And I hated that.

In late June, backstage at the Ethnic Dance Festival, I found that one of the Artistic Directors was toying with an asalato.  I talked to him about it and was hoping to learn something, but it was mostly just light talk.  Still, something sparked in me and I was determined to get back on the horse.

Since then, I've been bringing one with me almost everywhere I go.  I've pushed and tried and failed and overcome a LOT of the things I had trouble with.  I found which ones work best for me through trial and error, even though I still don't feel like I have the best size yet.

The video shows where I am now.  Even with the mistakes and some sloppiness, it's so far from where I started!

I'll try to post more about my progress on this wonderful toy, but I really hope posts like this help re-energize and inspire people who feel like they've hit a wall and can't get better.  You may not have a teacher, you may not have the right equipment, but sometimes it just takes some time and perspective and a lot of practice before you see some serious progress.  Keep trying!

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