By Leif Pettersen
Posted on 3/22/04
Originally printed in "Juggle Magazine," January/February 2004.
While running as fast as my feet would carry me, Sugra and I
had a shouting conversation about what he was doing, while I tried to stay
out of his way and not interfere with the traffic disruption protest he seemed
to be leading. We yelled a few questions and answers back and forth before
he gave me his card. My adrenaline gave out and I was left watching him and
the bikers crawl off into the distance.
I surfed to Sugra’s enlightening web site that very evening.
A native of Tasmania, Australia, and long time resident of Christchurch, New
Zealand, Sugra Morley is clearly not your typical juggler. He has been physically
and philosophically juggling for 16 years. He previously worked as a professional
photographer, and is a qualified skydiving jumpmaster and a caving guide,
having led parties which have broken the Australian depth record.
Sugra says he “started juggling just before I turned 40
in years, and just before I turned ten in birthdays.” To clarify this,
he explains that he was born on February 29th — leap year day. He learned
the basics of juggling at a party in late 1987, then practiced at home with
tennis balls — “Oh, I almost got it! I’ll have another go!”
His imagination was captured by the challenges it presented him.
“What comes from a deep place will have a wide embrace,”
he intones. “Since I was as old as I was, I didn’t have the boundless
energy of youth, so a primary issue for me right from the beginning was: How
can I do everything to the maximum mechanical advantage? How can I use my
energies as efficiently as possible? I needed to learn how to use only the
muscles that were necessary for the job, and how to let go of those muscles
that were not needed and were getting in my way, to tend in the direction
of being as balanced and expansive as possible.”
Developing a deep and serious interest in the art of movement,
Alexander Technique — “learning how to use your body to the maximum
mechanical advantage, where you have the maximum of energy with the minimum
of effort” — had a profound influence on him. Meanwhile, Sugra
Technique, which I’ve just now coined for his benefit, seems to revolve
around paring down juggling and unicycling to “the most possible fun,
with a minimum of effort.”
Sugra explains that his juggling is “basically very simple.
It is very wide. I figure that the wider it is, the greater is the possibility
of finding that point somewhere out there where the fall of the ball can be
converted into lift through the movement and freedom and fluidity of my joints
and bones and limbs.”
Yes, I have had to read everything Sugra has written at least
three times before I get a sense of what he’s talking about. I am a
very literal guy and his material is the furthest thing from it. If juggling
were a religion, Sugra would be our Pope. His Applied Juggling Philosophy
knowledge is more cavernous than anyone I have ever met, and reading it makes
my head spin and sparks shoot out of my ears.
When asked about his practice habits, his answer dazzles me.
“I never thought of it as practice,” he says. “To me it
was always the real thing, standing in water up to my knees in the middle
of the Avon River in Mona Vale Gardens in Christchurch, with two small waterfalls
in front of me, in a weir, juggling with up to seven tennis balls, or backcrosses
with five. The sound of the falling water is a white noise that isolates one
from extraneous noises. When I dropped the balls I wouldn’t have to
chase them and the continuity would not be broken; the tennis balls would
be heavier when wet; the water kept me cool; negative ions from the waterfalls,
etc. The real reason was because I enjoyed it!”
Sugra always juggled in the water for at least an hour at a
time. He says he only did it when he felt like it, “but I did feel like
it a lot, even through the middle of winter! After a good session in the weir,
I’d feel charged and energized.”
Having left the traditional workaday world for a life of both
physical and metaphysical exploration, Sugra states, “Being paid for
my work is fine, but working for my pay is not! Money is not the driving force
for me.” With this attitude, he lives a life of “doing things
because I want to, not because I have to.”
Unicycling and juggling have become more than just a job or
a profession for Sugra. He uses his skills to fuel activism events. “I
generally look at things on a different level from other people,” he
says. “Often the specific issues are relatively meaningless to me; the
deeper issues are more important. Parades and protests are fun! I feel and
believe the juggling and unicycling very much assist the process of releasing
energy and joy from the depths of peoples’ hearts.”
His efforts are more than merely activism. To him, juggling
and the unicycle are expressions of the natural physical laws of balance,
the natural laws of justice in symbolic terms.
Sugra Morley’s presence in the Irish street protest was
due to a coincidental right-time/right-place encounter with a Critical Mass
rally. Critical Mass is basically a parade of cycles, a protest against the
rising tide of technology and its associated injustices. While Sugra has been
on quite a few Critical Mass events in Christchurch over the years, he was
unaware one was about to start as he unicycled past in Dublin. In what appears
to be a typical Sugra moment, he went from being a passerby to being the group’s
spiritual leader in seconds. More importantly, he seemed to dampen what would
have undoubtedly been a chorus of horn honking from screaming, frothing Dubliners
trying to get home for their tea. Instead, Sugra’s infectious jolly
attitude turned the entire procession into a fun and special afternoon treat
for all those who were lucky enough to run across it. Backed up vehicles and
onlookers were not enraged by the inconvenience, but were rather more interested
in what the event was about, a coup in the awareness-building, public-protest
Sugra is acutely aware of the difference his presence can make
at activist events. “If I am genuinely happy and exuberant in such a
situation, then peoples’ response will be the same,” he says.
“Everybody instinctively loves to see and be a part of vital life expressing
itself strongly, whatever the purpose!”
As a result of expressing himself, in the mid ’90s Sugra was charged
with disorderly behavior in Auckland for juggling five tennis balls while
standing in the water fountain in Queen Elizabeth Square. His defense in court
was going to be, “It’s impossible to juggle five balls in a fountain
and be disorderly!” Sugra’s lawyer told him the judge would love
that logic, but he was acquitted before he had the chance to use it.
When asked about his shows, Sugra says he tends “not to
put on a show in the traditional sense, although I will in a limited way.
I think of myself as not so much doing a show as being a show; just being
myself, whatever that means at the time.”
He feels that hat he does is not as important as the way he
does it, and says that is why his juggling is rather basic in terms of tricks.
His goal, if you can call it that, is not specific tricks or maneuvers, but
rather, “to continually stay on the balance point, the growing tip of
my authority over myself; my learning edge. If you are not on the edge, then
you are taking up too much room.”
I can’t say that I identify with (or understand) everything
Sugra talks about. He sent me an essay entitled “Balls as the Medium
of Exchange,” a dizzying dissertation comparing the current state of
world economics to juggling throws, that I am still trying to wrap my head
around after the fourth reading. Quite frankly, he’s way out there,
whereas I am only able to wade into his world up to my knees and peer through
high-powered binoculars at what’s going on off in the distance. But
he is inspirational, energized, and interesting. It’s hard not to admire
someone with these characteristics, even if he looks like he may be a recent
escapee from a nearby clown retirement home.
You can learn more about Sugra Morley on his web site http://www.inet.net.nz/~sugra.