Practice: Thinking about Ricky Jay

November 26, 2018


Writer, historian, magician, performer, actor, Ricky Jay died on Saturday, November 24,  at the age of 72.

While a man who knew how to run all the classic short and long cons might not seem the ideal role model you need to take a closer look. Here is someone who spent his life observing and practicing.

As my drawing students know, I have been a Ricky Jay fan since the 1970s. I have some of his books, I’ve seen video tapes of his performances, and of course seen him act in movies. I was drawn to him because of several common interests, but one is very obvious.

In “Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay,”  Jay says the following, while playing with a deck of cards:

Practice to me was never anything but pleasure. It’s what I like doing. If I’m frazzled, the nicest thing to calm me down is probably to put a deck of cards in my hands and let me sit down for a few hours.

He goes on to speak about consciously working on the move he wants to perfect, not just as repetitive practice. Practice carried out thoughtfully and with intention makes improvement possible; it’s the only way to attain mastery. 

Ricky Jay had that, and he inspired a lot of people, including me. If you look into the record of his work in film, video, and print you’ll discover how he could put magic, slight of hand, and card tricks into historical context that connects humanity across cultures and millennia. Truly a magical feat, built on a life time of learning, observation, distilled insights into the human condition, and of course the importance of practice. 

Spend some time with Ricky Jay so he can inspire you too.

    • Todd Cumpston
    • November 26, 2018

    Love Ricky in “The Spanish Prisoner”… I need to rewatch that now!

    1. Reply

      I haven’t seen that in quite awhile myself. I might have to have a Ricky Jay film festival. Do check out any of his magic video work you can find.

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