He died with a deck of cards in his hands.

By Jim Krenz

The bad news arrived from three different sources, in three different ways: a phone message, a fax and a e-mail. Ironically, they all carried the same statement: Ascanio had died. With a deck of cards in his hands.

About Arturo de Ascanio y Navas, I can only share with you the deepest of regrets. Magic in general, and cardmagic in particular, has lost one of its true greats.

He was born in 1929 at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. He passed away being only 68 years old. He was married to Enriqueta, and did not have any children.

He died very suddenly (of a heart attack) on Sunday, April 6th, 1997 at about seven thirty in the evening. He was at home speaking about cardmagic with Wolf Keyserling, a magician visiting from Germany. He died after performing one of his beloved routines.

In life, Arturo was a lawyer and he did some law consulting on the side. For the past several years, he was retired, and devoted his time to magic.

He wrote several detailed books and manuscripts on his magic and theories. Jon Racherbaumer published an all too brief monograph on the Ascanio Spread. The only text to see some translation into English has been Ascanio's World of Knives. This booklet has gained quite a lot of notoriety, considering that it is just a fraction of the original spanish book, Navajas y Daltonismo [Pocket Knives and Color Blindness].

He was one of the founders of the Escuela Magica De Madrid—a group dedicated to improve cardmagic. The group then started Las Jornadas de El Escorial. The focus of the group is to share, analyze and create new ideas, techniques and theories of cardmagic. The group has its own magazine, which is available only to members who contribute.

You could always find Arturo at the club meetings, and he never failed to participate in Las Jornadas. If you had a question about one of his techniques or theories, he would spend as much time as you wished, in order to help you understand.

And questions were necessary. The outright miracles that took place in his hands were unfathomable, even to the trained eye.

I would swear that he was handling single cards, until he explained his techniques to me. His movements appeared to be so carefree and fluid, that they were beyond suspicion. When he performed the Ascanio Spread, the cards openly wiggled around like the dance of a snake. This makes complete sense, when you realize that the original move (which is called Culebreo in Spanish) translates into English as the word slither. Every time I saw him place doubles (as singles) onto the table, or gently swish them around in his open hands, I believed!

Arturo was concerned with fine detail in card magic. Every detail was accounted for. His construction of routines was painstakingly thorough. He constantly fooled me with his ingenuity.

The Ascanio Spread is one of the most often used sleights in card magic, outside of the Elmsley Count and a double lift. And his Floating Double is being used by more and more card experts every day.

Arturo achieved a carefree appearance honed through countless hours of rehearsal. His hands were a better home for a deck of cards than a card case could ever be.

—Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say:

He lived with a deck of cards in his hands.

One of Arturo's real talents was his ability to communicate his theories about magic. Unfortunately, most non-europeans are unfamiliar with them. Roberto Giobbi has expounded on some of Arturo's concepts in his excellent Card College series. In an attempt to reach a slightly wider audience, I will take a few moments to share my interpretation of a few of Arturo's more important ideas.

Paréntesis de Olvido

(Interlude of Forgetfulness)

This is the insertion of time between a move and the revelation of the effect caused by the move. If a short break (or interlude) is placed between the cause and effect, then the audience will forget about the cause. When the effect is revealed, they will be unable to backtrack to the method.

For example, in an Ambitious Card routine, instead of doing a pass (the cause), and immediately showing the selection on top (the effect), you should separate the two events. Perhaps, after the pass, you pick up a magic wand, tap the deck, and place the wand back onto the table. Then you reveal the selection to have risen to the top. Aside from being slightly more dramatic, it allows a little bit of time to pass, and therefore the spectator is unlikely to remember anything suspicious happening (in this case—the slight movement of your hands during your pass would be forgotten). This brief interlude assists the spectator in stopping their analysis of your actions, since they cannot remember the pertinent clue that might help them achieve a solution.

Americans might be familiar with this theory by the Harry Lorayne term: Time Misdirection.

Paréntesis Anti-Contrastante

(Moment of Distraction)

This is something that we should eliminate from our routines. It is a moment that distracts from the effect, and makes the spectator forget things that we want them to remember. This can destroy an effect.

For example, I'll use our Ambitious Card routine again: As you place the selection into the center of the deck, you tell a small joke. The spectators laugh. And the clarity of the situation is lost. When the card is later shown to be on top, they don't clearly remember it being in the center—the effect is ruined. The moment was obscured in the spectator's memory by the distraction of the joke. The distraction doesn't need to be verbal. If too many actions take place between the important points of the effect and the climax, you risk loosing everything as well.

Conversely, you can use these moments to conceal your secret methods. A small joke just before a pass will make it vanish from the spectator's consciousness.

Study your routines, and use such moments carefully—leave nothing to chance.

Soltura Despistante

(Deceptive Facility)

I use the term Facility to mean: "doing something without evidence of effort."

This works on the spectator's senses more than their mind. The handling of the props should be so smooth and open, so natural and relaxed, that it is inconceivable that the magician is doing anything tricky. If you tense up or make an unnatural or hurried movement, you will immediately draw suspicion. The idea is to give an appearance that every action is clear, unhurried and clean.

By doing this, the secrets are not only hidden, they are not even suspected.

Acciones In-Tránsito

(Transition Actions)

In (well designed)sequences of actions, there is a main action (an objective), and a series of minor actions necessary to achieve the main action. Often, in magic, we can hide our secrets, our sleights within minor actions. If a sleight is well hidden inside of a minor action, and the minor action is ignored by the viewer as inconsequential, the sleight is utterly invisible.

For example: You have a (double) card in your right hand. The deck is in your left hand. Your intention (the main action) is to place the card face-down onto the table. As you start to do that, you notice a small piece of lint on the table (which you have secretly placed there previously) where you wish to place the card. The double is placed momentarily onto the deck (in order to free the right hand), and the lint is removed. The right hand then takes the (single) card from the deck, and places it onto the table.

The action of removing the lint is innocent, and is not highlighted in any way—it is just something that you do without comment. If done properly, the audience will barely notice the action at the moment you do it, and they will completely forget it a few moments later. And if they forget this minor, trivial action, they will not remember that the card was ever near the deck—thus strengthening the revelation of its change. An innocent, forgettable minor action helps to bury the secret action.

One other brief example: Arturo would palm a card as he was shuffling a deck. Not only did the movement of the shuffle conceal the minute action of the palm, but the overt action of shuffling filters out the thought of other (simultaneous) actions. At most, they might wonder how honest the shuffle is, but palming isn't even a consideration in their thoughts. Transitions of any type provide excellent cover for any action that you wish to conceal. Used sparingly, they are invisible.

Idea Obnubilante

(Idea Jamming)

Idea Jamming is a technique of interfering with the normal manner in which the spectator thinks. Its like jamming a radio signal—the original broadcast is never heard. It is replaced with another signal, one more appropriate for the magician's success.

If we use the second example in the previous topic (palming a card during a shuffle), here is how it would work: As you finish the shuffle (and thus the secret palm), you ask, Good enough? If they say yes, you move on in the routine. If they say no, you continue to shuffle a little more. The shuffling is unimportant technically. But it gives the spectator something innocent to think about. It stops other, possibly dangerous ideas from entering into their thought processes. Their mind is occupied for the moment, and thus your secrets remain unthought of.

If you incorporate these theories into your own magic, they will help to make you into a better magician.

Of course, upon inspection, you might rightfully assess that the correct application of the above theories might take weeks, months or even years of dedication to put them into action. And you would be correct. In my experience, nothing that is really good ever comes easily. To make the theories a little more accessible, you might start with one idea in one of your routines. Add a little as time goes on. Analyze your routines, find their weak, dirty spots, and use Arturo's theories to polish the spots until they disappear. If you persevere, you'll have created a real work of art that you and your audiences will love!

I only wish that you could spend time with the maestro, so you could see him put these ideas into action. If you could see how well they worked, how they made the cards seem to have a life of their own (the magic just seemed to happen!), then I'm sure that you would be as inspired as I am.

—Perhaps it would be even more appropriate to say:

A deck of cards came alive in his hands….

There is an internet web page for La Sociedad Española de Ilusionismo. Some comments about Ascanio (from magicians all around the world) are there. You might wish to visit it.

The internet web address (URL) is: http://www.dirac.es/sei/

Arturo's thoughts and ideas have ingrained themselves into my consciousness. He shared his life with Magic, and then shared that experience with us. I will deeply miss not being able share new experiences with him. But as Ramón and Juan have pointed out: His magic will live on through our magic. And Magic, as a whole, will be the better for it.

—In closing, perhaps it would be most appropriate to say:

Magic came alivein his hands….

That is how I'll remember Arturo.

¡Adiós, mi querido amigo!

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