Fakirs, or Fake?

As acrobatic performers, we’ve pushed the boundaries a bit by including fakir stuff in the act, as well as working alongside other performers who do the same. We’re frequently asked, when we’re seen lying on beds of nails or glass and supporting our mates on our bodies, ‘how can you do that’ and often folks think that it is just an illusion. So I’ve decided to help separate fact from fiction and reveal a few trade secrets.

In most cases, you too could perform these feats with little effort (maybe without the acrobatics anyway). but I’m gonna have to say this : DO NOT TRY THESE OUT AT HOME – you should seek help and advice from someone who already mastered them. “This blog accepts no responsibility…etc.”!!!!.

OK. Bed of Nails. Genuine. Guinness Book of Records used to specify 1½inch centres, needle sharp. Some performers use masses of nails and claim its harder: the reverse is true. Skin, with muscle under, is amazing at resisting penetration and, if you work out the force per nail, it is surprisingly low. So grit your teeth, apply your weight to as many of the nails as possible at once, and put up with the discomfort. If supporting others on your body, figure out the combined weight first!

Glass. Also genuine. It is VERY hard to cut your feet, for example, walking on reasonably sized fragments of window or bottle glass. BUT NOT IMPOSSIBLE: CARE!! I always place the heel first, the spread the rest of the foot, avoiding any obviously upwards-pointing shards. If the glass bed is deeper, it is easier because it yields under your weight – this is the secret of jumping on to the glass from a height. Similarly, lying on the glass. Some example pictures at the end.

Swords. Genuine again. You cannot cut bread or meat without moving a knife blade back and forth, so you take great care not to move on the blades. NO squirming! Calculate the force per unit length of blade, and you’ll see that four swords will adequately support the average person with minimal discomfort. Ladders are harder, since your whole weight at some point is on one bare foot – but the skin of the heels and the balls of the feet is real tough. Some performers harden it more by soaking the feet in an alum solution, or just going barefoot all the time. Sword – swallowing is another matter, and requires control of two gag reflexes. This can be exceedingly dangerous if something goes wrong, and Dave and I leave this to others. Always.

Fire. More tricky, requiring carefully practised technique, the right sort of material to make the torches (cotton waste, not cotton wool), kerosene rather than other fuels (mostly), remembering that heat always rises so you’ll see ‘body burners’ hold torches on the upper surfaces of their arms… knowing the difference between heat and temperature and applying that science… breathing control is important for fire eating along with the placing and angle of the torch, and professional help is highly desirable.

Blockhead (nails up the nose). Anyone can do this, using the little known fact that nasal passages are straight and long, and that the lining is flexible. Using a lubricated nail with no metal ‘snags’ and a blunted point is essential. No need of ‘hammering’ – that’s just a sham. The nail goes up about half inch and is then tipped more or less level… with practice, you can use other items like scissors and even open and shut the handles a little… but do remember that your brain is up in there somewhere, so think carefully before attempting this.

String and Thread Tricks. Now then. Have you ever seen someone swallow a length of thread, work it up the back of their throat, and then recover it from their eye? Or swallow more thread or string, dig into their stomach with a blade and pull it out? Here I used the word ‘tricks’. There is no trick in what you see – no false stomachs made of ‘NuSkin’ as is often claimed, and no false eyes either. Thread and string truly emerges from the body. But it is not the original string. Enough of that for now. If pressed I could elaborate later. Frankly, we don’t like to mix real feats of endurance with illusions: we stick with the real stuff and let other circus colleagues deal with the rest. Interfering with your eyes is dangerous. I cannot stress this enough. If you are desperate to perform the eye-thread feat, seek assistance from a professional first.

OK. Pictures. In this post I just feature the glass. Starting with a young guy on the beach, pictures from the net. Here, he just needs to lift those arms up…

 And first, to get comfortable…
Standing proud!
Next, two from the Kalutskikh’s,a duo which has seemed to be the most popular search term since I mentioned them (link at the bottom of the page, right):
That Danni on one arm, and also pushing Kirill’s face into the glass. Now a street performer in the centre of Christchurch NZ (before the recent earthquake damage)
That’s enough for now: I’ll move on to the nails another time (we did swords pix already – see the earlier post of pix of Steelkast, friends of the Kalutskikhs).
By the way, the writing up of our story is going quite well…

About tonycavanagh

Born Northampton UK; school Oxford UK and Oak Ridge Tennessee, where I met my wonderful partner Dave, also from UK. Oak Ridge is our main training base for acrobatics and circus stuff, but we also established a base in Wales (UK) to serve us when we are working in Europe. Our 'story', of finding gay love, learning the acrobatics trade and then of how we got shot at during our show (and worse was to follow - just to prove that the risks of being an acrobat are not always the most obvious ones!) are now available in my three books 'Loving the Boy', 'The Power of Love' and 'Against All Odds'. Links available on most blog posts. Actually, waiting for the imminent arrival of the first printed copies was far scarier than anything we do in performance. A fourth book - not about us but exploring the sadness of a gay Native American boy denied his true identity - is currently with an agent for evaluation. watch for 'Let The Future Find Me' in due time. And now to book five... another boy, another quest... seems its always boys...
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7 Responses to Fakirs, or Fake?

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  6. Tony, What About Eating Glas? I Did This As A Rookie in The Old Police Force. My Mother Claimed I Was “Insane” Witch I Stil Am..

    • tonycavanagh says:

      Yep: the glass needs to be thin: you grind it between molars in the back of your mouth until the fragments are so tiny they weigh so little that they cannot possibly do any harm. A drink of milk before, and after, is also a good idea!

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