From being an amateur yo-yo player who performed self-taught tricks on the street to becoming a national-ranked performer who has dazzled the country’s diplomatic allies at state banquets, 23-year-old Yang Yuan-ching (楊元慶) is set to further hone his skills by embarking on a world tour with his yo-yo.
Yang said he fell in love with the yo-yo when he saw the tricks an elementary-school classmate performed with the toy.
At first, Yang tried to learn the basic yo-yo tricks from books and videos, but the results of his efforts were far from satisfactory.
“Translating the written descriptions of yo-yo tricks into actual moves was the most challenging part of my self-taught learning process,” Yang said.
“However, through persistent practice, I was able to lay the groundwork for mastering the yo-yo,” he said.
Yang’s infatuation with the yo-yo reached the next level when he was in junior-high school and watched a video of Japan’s national yo-yo contest, which he said “gave him a whole new understanding of what people can make the yo-yo do.”
Determined to sharpen his skills, Yang started traveling to northern Taiwan every month to attend a yo-yo club.
He also dedicated eight hours a day to practicing in an effort to catch up with other competitors in national yo-yo contests.
Because many tricks are complex and performed at high speeds, Yang’s fingers suffered many injuries.
“There was one occasion where I did not realize my fingers were bleeding and the blood had stained the yo-yo’s string red by the time I got off the stage,” Yang said, adding that despite the incident and the long hours of practice, he was always determined to become a professional yo-yo player.
Due to his perseverance, Yang came first in the Taiwan Yo-Yo Contest in 2007 and made it to the final at the Asia-Pacific Yo-Yo Championships in 2008.
Yang was then admitted to the National Taiwan University of Arts’ drama department, where he learned how to combine entertainment with his yo-yo skills.
Stepping up his efforts, Yang also obtained a certificate for street performances.
“Unlike indoor performances, during which audiences remain in their seats whether they enjoy the show or not, street performances always get the most direct and honest responses from onlookers. If people stay and watch, it usually means they love the performance,” Yang said.
Yang was also selected to join a group of entertainers who performed at state banquets attended by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and some of Taiwan’s African diplomatic allies, and Yang said he was worried that he would disgrace the nation if a trick went wrong.
“If I made a mistake while I was performing on the street, I could always laugh my way out of awkward situations. However, making mistakes at state banquets is akin to bringing shame on the nation,” Yang said.
Yang added that he was particularly worried that the foreign heads of state would “turn around and stare at Ma” if his performance went awry.
Yang was referring to Ma’s 12-day trip in April last year to Burkina Faso, Swaziland and the Gambia, where Yang was invited to teach Gambian President Yahya Jammeh the basics of the yo-yo.
Asked about his goals, Yang, who is set to graduate from university this month, said that he plans to spend five years traveling around the world performing yo-yo tricks after completing his military service.
“Despite my sophisticated skills with the yo-yo, I still feel like I am lacking sufficient internal energy. By seeing the world and getting a taste of different cultures, I hope I could find that energy and bring more flavor to my performances,” Yang said.