Devil Stick Notation (DSN)

This is my system for concisely describing certain kinds of devil stick moves. It was developed by me and Jason Merrill and was inspired by siteswap.



Each throw (or "hit" if you really want to think of them that way) is written as an integer representing the number of ~180 degree flips the devil stick makes before the next catch/throw. Often it won't really be 180 degrees, but it probably could be without changing the move significantly. (e.g. your tick-tock might not rotate a full 180 degrees between throws, but it could and it would really be the same move.) Positive numbers indicate rotation should continue in the same direction, negative numbers indicate a reversal.


Just like in siteswap, a sequence of these numbers indicates a sequence of throws, alternating between hands. A simple tick-tock would therefore be written as -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 and so on. It's not useful to write out an infinite series of these numbers though, and since the pattern repeats every throw, it's best to condense it down to -1.


There are lots of moves in which you use the same hand twice in a row, so we need a way to write that down. Since the sequence alternates hands, we just use a special place holder that means "don't do anything with this hand now". Siteswap uses a zero for that, but we need zeros to describe things like the Stop & Go, where we do a throw that doesn't rotate before the next throw. Instead we'll use a lowercase letter 'n' (for "null", "nil", "none", or "no, I'm not going to use this hand right now").

Neither zeros nor nulls affect the "previous direction" that the negative sign indicates.

Before the Sequence

Doing the mirror image of a trick means starting with the other hand and with the devil stick going the opposite direction. If only one of these is reversed, the specification also describes the same trick with arms crossed. While it's not always important to specify, and sometimes it could be useful to be vague, there should be some way to make the distinction.

The way to do this in DSN is to put either c (for "clockwise") or a (for anticlockwise), followed by L or R, before the sequence. That will indicate whether the "previous direction" should be clockwise or anticlockwise and whether the first element in the sequence should be done with the left or right hand. Using this extra specification is optional. If you use one, you should use both. It's not meaningful to specify a direction without a starting hand or vice versa.


When is a hit a hit? I talk about rotations between throws, but it's probably more accurate to think about rotations between catches. Usually there's no difference, but in something like a Stop & Go Rollover, it makes a big difference. The key is to think of the throws as happening right away, even if they don't happen to lift the devil stick off the handstick. A propeller isn't written differently if you don't break contact every time around.

Limitations and Extensions

There are many things this doesn't cover, such as handstick motion, body moves, using multiple devil sticks, using more than two handsticks, using both handsticks at once, or devil stick motion outside the tick-tock plane (like for a helicopter).

I think those things could be covered by similar languages and could be written in parallel with the basic system, much like music for several instruments is written in parallel staves. I won't try to invent notations for all those things, but I encourage other people to try, and to try to fit them into the framework described here so that they can extend and work with this system. I do, however, describe DSN-3D, an extension for describing all three dimensions, rather than just the two covered here.

Handstick Flips

For years I've been saying that you could annotate this basic scheme with extra symbols to indicate anything you like, as long as you made it clear what you meant. There's been enough demand for indicating handstick flips (because the few people who use the notation do a lot of handstick flipping), so this is now officially part of the notation. To indicate that the handstick is flipped, thrown, or released and grabbed, put the letter 'x' after the number (or the 'n') that the handstick throw follows.

For example, an idle in which you always flip the handstick right after it hits/throws the devil stick would be -1x. A propeller with handstick flips could be 2x n.


Here are a few selected tricks from Jim Barlow's collection along with the DSN that describes them. Keep in mind that there's usually more than one sequence to describe a move.

Stop & Go
1 0
Single stick Stop & Go
1 n 0 n (2 n 0 n is easier)
Stop & Go reversals
-1 0 -2 n
Single sticking
-2 n (or -1 n, etc)
Single stick with handoff
Single stick with horizontal balance
0 n
cL -2
Dual chops
cL -2
2 n
Mills Mess
1 1 -1
2 n
Stop & go rollover
1 1 0 n

Helicopter Style Tricks

These are not well described by plain old DSN, but the results are interesting. Imagine what you'd see if you viewed these tricks at hand-height. You'd miss out on most of the action, but it would look like something, and DSN describes the motion visible in that plane. For a better description of these kinds of moves, you'd want DSN-3D, which can describe all three axes of motion at once .

Helicopter tap
0 n
Single stick helicopter
-1 n
Seth's Mess
1 1 -1