Who are tricking like Alita?

Who are tricking like Alita?

Alita, the battle angel, showed some amazing stunts as a roller skater and a Kung Fu master. Watch Bruce Lee’s Wing Chun coming out of her moves in front of the mirror.

However, she is also something else.

A tricker.

When she cartwheeled and flipped and twisted to evade the lethal blow of those chained claws, she was … tricking.

I learned this as I got in touch with one of Alita’s doubles. My Colorado tricker friend Alex Kerwood introduced me to his fellow tricker in California, Thekla Hutyrova. Thekla not only shot the tricking actions for the big-eyed angel but also served as the human prototype of her beautiful hair.

This got me interested in learning more about Tricking.

Tricking is a young sport that combines techniques from gymnastics, trampoline & tumbling, parkour, and global martial arts. Trickers creatively put flipping, twisting, tumbling, and leg moves into a “combo” through smooth transitions. The objective is to challenge oneself and entertain others.

It’s a niche sport started around 2000, with links to Extreme Martial Arts. XMA was popularized by Michael Chaturantabut, the Thai-Chinese-American actor and stuntman. He is best known for his role as Chad Lee, the Blue Ranger in Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue.

As a sport just emerging from underground status with more trickers joining the community, is it still a niche sport? who are the top players?

I would like to answer these questions, as an outsider, using social data mining. Therefore, I did some analyses before asking Alex for insights.

1. How popular is tricking outside China and inside China?

The question is such posed due to China’s firewall that prevents internet users from accessing Instagram or Youtube without a VPN.

Outside China, the growth of tricking was originally helped by Youtube. It’s recently shifting to Instagram due to the easier user interface with shorter video clips and social networking.

By comparing the number of posts under different sports’ hashtags, I got an idea of tricking’s relative popularity. I’m only polling sports within the general gymnastics and general martial arts scope.

As shown by this chart, against Olympic sports, tricking is below trampoline but above fencing; against non-Olympic sports, it’s below parkour but above Taichi. The number of posts under #tricking is just over 1 million, about one-tenth that of #gymnastics. Therefore, it’s still “niche” but not “hidden”.

How about inside China?

I searched for social media Weibo posts mentioning “tricking” versus “fencing”. In Chinese, “Tricking” translates to “极限特技”(Extreme Stunts),”极限武术”(Extreme Martial Arts), or “武术特技”(Martial Art Stunts). I picked “fencing” because the two are comparable on Instagram and neither is a native Chinese-originated sport like Taichi. Here are the monthly post counts from Jan 2018 to Feb 2019.

The spike of fencing in Jan 2019 was due to a marketing campaign of Jiaer Wang, a popular singer who also practices fencing. Even if excluding the spike, fencing is still a far more popular sport on Weibo than tricking, by two orders of magnitude.

Tricking in China is still a hidden underground sport.

Within China’s national firewall, if one wants to start following the tiny tricking community, there is only a handful of trickers or teams to watch. One Baidu search would be sufficient to find such names as Boyang Chen or his Hurricane club. Then you can find them on TikTok or Kwai, the leading short video sharing platforms. Boyang just won the Adrenaline World Champion in January at the California tricking event. Team Hurricane claimed the World Team Champion in December at Hooked 2018 tricking event in Holland. Although tricking is not yet a popular sport in China, Chinese trickers are among the strongest in the global tricking community.

Therefore, inside China, either you don’t know anything about tricking, or you would know whom to follow.

It’s different on Instagram.

As of Feb 22, 2019, more than 80,000 users posted the most recent 800,000 updates with the hashtag #tricking. Among these posters, 5639 mentioned the word “tricking” in their user self-intro.

2. If you don’t know this community well, who are you to follow? Who has the most followers and who has contributed the most tricking contents?

You could spend days on Instagram to familiarize yourself. You could ask a tricker friend. Or, you could look at some data of these 5000+ users.

These are the top 20 users with the most followers.

These are the top 20 users with the highest number of posts.

I showed these charts to Alex.

To my pleasure, the charts successfully identified Alex’s favorite trickers, including

  • Bailey “Bagels” Payne
  • Michael Guthrie
  • Shosei Iwamoto
  • Johan Kirsila

In addition, it uncovered four popular trickers that even Alex, a tricking veteran, was not aware of. They are all from outside the US including Iran, Poland, Uzbekistan, and Japan.

Of course, this narrow-down exercise is not free from False-Positive (Type I) and False-Negative (Type II) errors. It takes some double-checking to expunge false-positives, and some expert advice to discover false-negatives.

For example, flipping.universee is a broad-hashtag poster, bombarding tons of hashtags with every post, which is not always tricking relevant. dimitris_dk_kyrsanidis, brandonropestylers, autosaidamovement, and clement_spark post “tricking of” other activities, such as rope jumping, parkour, and break dance. Therefore, the rough false-positive rate is ~15% in either chart.

On the other hand, Niko Vershinin and Alex D are popular trickers. However, Niko didn’t indicate “tricking” in self-intro, and Alex didn’t use hashtag #tricking when posting. Therefore, they became false-negatives in my analysis.

The data analyses helped an outsider quickly acquire domain-specific knowledge of who is who in a niche community, it also helped an insider to discover blind spots.

At the end of the day, it’s the combination of data crunching and human knowledge that generates the most useful insights.

If you are interested in tricking, follow those Instagram users from my charts.  They are tricking like Alita, with moves of speed, power, and elegance.


For more information about Yimian Data, please contact me at zhangrong[at]yimian[dot]com[dot]cn.


(Feature image from Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash.com)

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