thoughts about exec and stuff

Started by stevenueve, May 18, 2023, 07:48 PM

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Some questions:

  • What is execution?
  • What do we use to compare to determine good execution?
  • Is there always an ideal version of a combo? If so, how do we reconcile the fact that people might have a different vision of an ideal?
  • How narrow is the scope of the 'execution' criteria? Should one's aesthetic decisions be considered?
  • Should the difficulty be considered in determining how well something was executed?

Execution is a measure of accuracy, which inherently puts a limit. When we judge execution, we are putting every spinner on the same scale and measuring their accuracy towards a specific target. But what is that specific target? I think that when we talk about how having good tempo, low arm motion, and good rotations are signs of good execution, we're really talking about approaching an ideal, which a combo execution who perfectly consistent tempo, perfectly circular rotations, and no arm motion. Perhaps this is why when we talk about flaws in execution, we mention factors that subtract from the combo, as opposed to elements such as difficulty and originality, which derive most of their criticisms from elements that could've been added. Execution is a measure of accuracy towards a target ideal.

A very universal and base ideal seems to be consistent tempo, circular rotations, and low arm movement. I think this is quite justified. The first reason is that these conditions require skill to reach and are straightforward to measure. This makes them good criteria to judge as they are objective, but that doesn't answer why it's these factors specifically. Rather, we've answered why tempo needs to be constant, why rotations need to be circular, and why arm movement should be low, but the question at large remains why we picked these factors in the first place. I believe answering requires us to define 'pen spinning' in more strict terms. A good place to start would be to consider a world in which we removed these concepts from consideration.

What is tempo? I think a fundamental definition is the persistent movement of the pen itself. If you consider other forms of contact juggling, you'll notice that pen spinning is closer to balisong or begleri than say cardistry or kendama in the heavy emphasis of constant movement of the object. This is not to say that cardistry or kendama don't require movement, but rather there is not the same emphasis on keeping an object movement at all times no matter what. You are allowed to simply hold an object still akin to stalls in those two mentioned hobbies, but this is heavily frowned upon for a good reason: the constant motion of the pen is an essential part of the image of pen spinning. There are plenty of tricks that stop the pen in some suspension or hold, but these tricks have never been popular and most likely never will. Imagine a world where we didn't care about always moving the pen and most combos compensated for that loss of movement with stalls, holds, mafibo, or hand waving, where instead of consistency there's a lot of pausing and stopping. I think we would consider that fundamentally not pen spinning. It's why dropping the pen is so unacceptable—the pen god damn stopped.

Rotations are also quite easy to justify. Consider that the iconic way the pen spins is just one of many ways to manipulate the pen. Even if we required the pen to be moving constantly, there's no reason we couldn't substitute the spinning plane with exclusively rolls, seasicks, rotations along the line, and tipped charges, which have the potential to be high skill. The issue is that it just wouldn't be pen spinning.

Arm motion as a factor is a bit more interesting in that it more so speaks on the introverted nature of the hobby. I imagine that losing the emphasis on low arm motion would not result in people erratically moving their arm like they have a seizure, but rather it would transform the hobby into something akin to stand-up where the rest of the body is more involved. Given that stand-up is not popular or particularly enjoyed by most pen spinners, and that pen spinning has not divulged far from the 1p1h with close-up angles, I think another essential part of pen spinning is the near absolute focus on the hands and the motion of the pen. Keeping arm motion low is an extension of excluding all other elements and favoring minimalism to emphasize the hand and the pen.
Okay. So we've justified the existence of these ideals in that they are high skill and also define pen spinning in a fundamental way that if they were not considered the hobby wouldn't be considered pen spinning as we know it. But now we have the problem of reconciling with the fact that these ideals are merely such: they are not rules to be followed at all times. In fact, even when following these ideals quite strictly, we still give a lot of leeway to spinners that we consider as having good execution. There are tons of variances especially when it comes to tempo and arm motion, but it doesn't bother most people, and slight differences can come off as aesthetically appealing. However, when a spinner decides to dramatically change their execution away from the ideal to create an appeal elsewhere, how do determine what is variance as a result of an execution mistake from a meaningful and skillful adjustment?

This turns out to be a very difficult question. The obvious answer of considering intent actually opens up a can of worms. For example, consider the pinkybak finisher. What is commonly considered a classic execution error is catching the pen on the wrong side of the COG such that most of the pen is sticking away from the hand, but it isn't impossible that someone might simply prefer such, even if 99/100 spinners don't, and did so intentionally as a finisher. In fact, the bust is a great example of a finisher where it is valid to hold the pen on either side of the COG. One conclusion is that it's justified if it's intended, but to do so would be ruinous as it could justify anything. First, we can't know intent for certain, so we'll only be able to go off of what the spinner says, which appears to be an execution error is actually intended (e.g. "time stop"). Second, because it is possible to accidentally execute a combo better than expected, relying on intent could penalize what is otherwise perfect execution. Another more interesting conclusion is that it's justified only if it makes sense within the combo, but this begs the question of how something makes 'sense'. Another perhaps not even incompatible position is that the pinkybak finisher is not acceptable because there are certain things that are not allowed, which of course begs the question of what makes something allowed?

I don't think I can provide a definitive answer, but I'll give a couple thoughts. There seems to be a lot of utility in separating the criteria of 'execution' from that you may call 'aesthetics', 'effect', or 'visuals' because it feels like the former is subtractive while the latter is additive when it comes to judging. It seems like when you judge execution, you parse the combo through your mind and imagine an ideal version with no mistakes and subtract points depending on how much the original differed from the ideal. Visuals as a criteria is like difficulty or originality in that it's something the spinner justifies by what they add to the combo. It doesn't make sense to mix execution with visuals, even though they do affect each other in an important way. I think what happens is that the visuals morph what the judge sees as an ideal based on their past experiences seeing pen spinning, and they judge the combo on what could've been the best version of the combo with the elements applied. What affects one's judgement of what is the 'best version'? I don't know for certain, but it really feels like something the community collectively agrees on which grows as people's expectations change. I think the answer to what is and isn't considered an execution error lies at the heart of what people at large consider to be acceptable, which changes and develops over time.

Now, I don't know for certain whether my conception of what is and isn't acceptable is definitive even though most people who seem to disagree reap the seeds of their opinion in their god awful spinning, but I think we should actively be trying to shift the perception of execution towards a specific direction. Personally, I'm a really big fan of discovery, and as someone who focuses extensively on aesthetics and refinement, I think we ought to focus less on execution. For one, new discoveries tend to be very difficult, and it doesn't seem rational to apply the same execution standard of judging double charge with most of the cutting edge technical spinning material, in which a decade of practice on the same combo would not yield the same result as a typical VP freestyle. We've also seen how an overemphasis on execution has limited people's acceptance of new visuals, with Saltient being an excellent example of an undoubtedly visuals based spinner who was rejected for their preferences. This is not to say we should throw out execution as an important criteria, but rather it's just one criteria. Just as some people prefer not to focus on difficulty, originality, or aesthetics, it should be fine not to focus hard on execution. The only thing that should matter is whether a spinner could actually justify their shortcomings with skillful elements elsewhere.

Too tired to write more.
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