What’s the first image that pops into your head when you hear the word “Professor”? Probably some old, crotchety white dude with huge glasses. Gray hair combed over a balding head. Some ancient textbook tucked under his arm on a subject you don’t care about. And a monotone voice that knocks you out faster than a sleeping pill.
Fortunately, the unofficial professor of tricking does not fit the mold. Daniel “The Professor” Perez is a 30-year-old tricking vet, proudly wearing jet-black earrings and dark hair styled upward in a tight swish. A Chinese Fu Lion tattoo growls from his right shoulder, a symbol of the strength and wisdom to which he aspires. His left arm features an Aztec earth deity, a nod to both his Mexican heritage and a similar tattoo worn by his older brother.
So why is he called “The Professor”? A glance at Dan’s résumé is, simply put, staggering. He’s a 3rd Degree Black Belt in Kenpo Karate. He’s been tricking for over 15 years. He was appointed the Head Tricking Coach at JAM, one of the world’s premier facilities for extreme movement. He’s the inventor of True Kick Terminology, or TKT. And oh yeah, he can trick just as well on both sides of his body.
So if you’re looking for someone who knows tricking inside and out… It’s this guy.
In fact, Dan is one of the only people in the world who has successfully transformed himself into a full-time tricking coach, working with Hyper to train both students and instructors all around the country. Since he’s been quietly molding our sport and its practitioners for years, I figured we all needed an official lesson from The Professor. Skyping me from his place in Lakewood, Colorado, Dan opened up to me in our latest Invincible Interview.
It all started back in 1999, before tricking was even called “tricking.” Dan had seen the killer footage from Bilang.com, and he decided to start mixing in tricks with his martial arts training. His first sampler was born in 2005, and a year later tricking displaced martial arts as Dan’s main focus. It’s a transition familiar to many of us, and he thinks it’s a logical step. When you start off as a martial artist, “a lot of people become fighters, or they become flippers” he explains.
Some people think Dan was just born ambidextrous, able to perform all his tricks on both sides of his body. He was just lucky, right? Actually, it’s quite the opposite. He doesn’t have an inborn glitch in his brain. “I’ve just got too much time on my hands,” Dan says with a laugh. Back when he first started, his kicks went left and his twists went right. To make matters worse, he had major consistency issues, losing tricks as soon as he acquired them. So eventually, he got fed up and made the decision that he was going to learn everything twice. Through sheer force of will (and sure, maybe some natural talent), Dan made it true that whenever he learns a trick on one side of his body, he can learn it on the other.
From 2006 to 2010, Dan was busy honing his skills and attending all kinds of gatherings, both in the US and in countries like Norway and France. But in 2011, Dan started a new chapter by setting his sights on a new goal. He wanted to add structure to tricking in order to intelligently guide the success of its practitioners, and with that aim in mind, he opened a martial arts school in the Seattle area. It was the beginning of something great.
Until he had to close down. Like, immediately. Turns out that his property managing group straight-up lied to him, and the building was not zoned properly for him to operate. (Confused about the legal stuff there? Me too, just roll with it.) So he had to shut his doors before he even got off the ground. Yikes.
But blessings come in many forms, my friends. At that same time, the now-legendary Los Angeles gym Joining All Movement, better known as JAM, was starting to emerge from its previous identity as the White Lotus Martial Arts Center. And thanks to Dan’s LA connections with Daniel Graham, current JAM owner Travis Wong, and more, he was asked to become JAM’s new Head Tricking Coach. The timing was perfect, and Dan moved with his wife from Seattle to LA.
I don’t know if it’s fair to crown any one gym the official Mecca of tricking… But JAM makes a case for itself. This Los Angeles facility trains the top talent from the Hollywood entertainment industry. And that means that not only trickers and martial artists, but also traceurs, breakers, and dancers are practicing there. So if you’ve seen any good action movies lately, JAM probably had a hand in training those fighting, flying, flipping bodies.
“You feel like you’re at a gathering every day,” says Dan. The legendary 3 Amigos, Anis Cheurfa, Jeremy Marinas, and Daniel Graham, train at JAM on the regular, plus a bunch of European, Korean, and Australian guests that tend to casually join the party. JAM also hosts all kinds of events, from gatherings to the famous Trickstar Battles. Dan tells a story of when he and Travis Wong were just hanging out inside, having finished classes for the day. They were watching some of the best trickers and power breakers in the country throw down, with a DJ in the background and colorful lights flying around the walls. “And it wasn’t even an event,” says Dan. “It was just Friday night.”
So what’s Dan’s curriculum like at JAM? One thing that he focuses on is True Kick Terminology, or TKT, a new system of tricking nomenclature that Dan invented himself. He explains that years ago, there used to be all kinds of online debates over how to count rotations. Like with a cheat 720… How do you count those 720 degrees? Do you look at the head? Shoulders? Chest? Toes? It’s easy to see that when it comes to those 720 degrees, they’re, well, not easy to see. In fact, that’s because they’re simply not all there.
That’s why Dan decided that tricking deserved better than a bunch of inconsistent, misleading terminology. So with TKT, it’s all about naming tricks based off more than just the spin. In fact, TKT trick names involve the takeoff, rotation, and the kick itself. But it can still seem kinda weird to the uninitiated, so as an example, let’s keep talking about that cheat 720. What’s the takeoff type? Cheat. Okay, Step 1 is done. How much actual rotation is there? Well before the jump, the cheat setup makes you shift from frontside to backside (right foot in front to left foot in front for most of us), so that’s only 180 degrees. Then you jump, and in the air, you’re really only doing one full spin, or 360 degrees. 180 + 360 = 540. Step 2, check. And finally, what kind of kick is it? A hook. So cheat 720 = cheat 540 hook. That wasn’t so bad.
But when all is said and done, Dan isn’t preoccupied with the trick names themselves. “I don’t care if you call it a corkscrew or a Tyrannosaurus Rex, it just needs to be distinguishable from other tricks,” he says emphatically. In hindsight, he admits that he and Nick Vail were a little over-aggressive in the way they first tried to convert trickers to speaking TKT. Had they been more chill about it in the beginning, Dan thinks that TKT “wouldn’t have become the religious affiliation it is now.” The truth is he really doesn’t mind people using mainstream terminology, as long as they have the understanding of the tricks that TKT provides.
Aside from his time at JAM, Dan also works frequently with Hyper to spread tricking around the country. Hyper Trick School, otherwise known as Cinematic Martial Arts, is a program that creates consistent challenges for trickers, suggesting progressions for both tricks and combos throughout their development. And for those of you who want to teach tricking, Hyper Trick University is Dan’s instructor certification course. He’ll give you the terminology and the methodology to teach tricking from the ground up. And even if you can’t do a certain trick yourself, Dan is confident that you can learn how to teach it. You just need to know the trick and the sport exceptionally well, and Hyper Trick University is a great step in the right direction. (If you’re feeling particularly inspired, the next instructor certification course is happening at the end of this month in Atlanta, so pick up your tickets here!)
But something wasn’t making sense to me. If Dan and Hyper are working so hard to spread the sport we love, why isn’t Hyper a part of the mainstream tricking conversation? After all, the company rarely if ever makes appearances at gatherings, and founder Roland Osborn is all but absent from direct involvement with the community. What gives? “Hyper was initially our enemy!” says Dan. Starting in 2009, Hyper started advertising itself as a company that was all about tricking… But it wasn’t connected to any actual trickers. “We [trickers] were very standoffish,” remembers Dan. “We were like, ‘How can you rep us when you aren’t a part of what we do?’” It felt like Hyper was swooping in to take credit for the skills of the tricking community, and trickers were understandably bitter. But then Roland reached out to Dan, asking him to work with Hyper to represent real tricking. So now, whenever the company gains access to a new market of martial artists, Roland and his partners step aside to let Dan teach and promote true tricking. Whether or not Hyper has atoned for its sins remains up for debate, but according to Dan at least, “Hyper isn’t the enemy; it’s an opportunity.” He thinks the community will still take a while warming up to the company, but he encourages an open-minded approach. “People miss opportunities all the time because they aren’t willing to talk to each other.”
Next I asked Dan about his thoughts on the direction tricking is going. Culturally speaking, he wishes tricking could show a bit more maturity. He emphasizes that not all trickers are immature, mind you, but many of his peers actively stay out of the mainstream community because of the immaturity. As an example, he mentions the beef between Camp Adrenaline and Team Loopkicks, two groups that can’t seem to get along after they scheduled their summer events for the same few days. As Dan points out, that kind of negativity only slows the growth of the sport we love, and he hopes that tricking can move toward greater maturity in the future.
From a physical standpoint, Dan feels that trickers are relying too heavily on power and not enough on style. Sure power is impressive, but if all you do is doubles and triples, you’re boxing yourself into a very small corner of the sport. Like if you go to school and take only one class for eight hours a day, of course you’ll do well in it. But there are so many other cool classes to take, and they’ll ultimately make you a much more well-rounded tricker. “Versatility is what makes power appreciable,” Dan says. He likes how Guthrie, Ott, and Vellu, for example, all have power at their disposal, but they also explore their own style and unique transitions. Then they can use an intelligent, tailor-made combination of power and style to build interesting combos and come out on top in battles.
To close out the interview, I asked Dan to provide some advice for our readers. The biggest thing he suggested was to take responsibility for your injuries. When you get hurt, it’s tempting to blame fate or a lack of athleticism, because we don’t like to admit that we did anything wrong. But if you don’t take an honest look at yourself and your behavior, you won’t be able to learn from your mistakes and avoid similar damage in the future. And the problem isn’t necessarily the big, dramatic injuries. In the long-term, it’s all the little injuries that really take their toll on your body.
So if you do get hurt, but don’t have the cash to visit a physical therapist, do some in-depth research on how to recuperate properly. But honestly, you can avoid most injuries if you take your time with your own progress. So many people get hurt, Dan says, because they attempt tricks before they have the body control to execute it safely. But if you focus on the basics, the more high-level stuff will be cake when you finally do go for them. So don’t fight the journey, or try to rush through it. Slow down. Enjoy yourself. And at the end of the day, Dan reminds us, “The guys who are the best at tricking, they’re the best because they had the most fun getting there.”