A young magician shares the secrets of his sleight of hand

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A young magician shares the secrets of his sleight of hand

Ed Kwon demonstrates his magic with tarot cards. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Ed Kwon demonstrates his magic with tarot cards. [PARK SANG-MOON]

 
At the magical demonstrations of 24-year-old magician Kwon Joon-hyuk, who is more frequently referred to by his English name Ed Kwon, there is no suspenseful music or spectacular lighting. He chooses not to wear a tuxedo or a top hat. Kwon’s performances are usually made in a conversational style at a table, with only a handful of invited guests.
 
According to Kwon, the more familiar type of spectacular magic shows done on a platform or stage, are not exactly what magic used to be in the most traditional sense.
 
“Such theatrical performance of magic represents one genre of many in this art,” he says. “Magic is an art form, just like music, fine arts, and literature. There are an indefinite possible of ways to interpret it, and hence we have different styles and different philosophies. I just happen to follow a very stoic and academic school of magic. Although I do not fully agree with some of the other magicians and what they are doing, who am I to judge?”
 
Kwon’s magical career is rather obscure and he usually only performs at private events. As the youngest magician in the world to hold a ph.D in magical performance art, Kwon has been invited to perform in Las Vegas and at The Magic Castle in Hollywood, Los Angeles, a mysterious clubhouse for magicians and magic enthusiasts.  
 
The Magic Castle in Hollywood. [ED KWON]

The Magic Castle in Hollywood. [ED KWON]

Kwon performs at The Magic Castle. [ED KWON]

Kwon performs at The Magic Castle. [ED KWON]

 
As a magician who emphasizes “communication” in magic, Kwon, who has been more active in the United States, recently returned to Korea to talk about his philosophical observations in magic at this year’s Content Communications Forum (CCF) organized by the Corea Image Communication Institute (CICI).  
 
 
To hear more about Kwon and his magical worldview, the Korea JoongAng Daily sat down with the magician for an interview at the Grand Hyatt Seoul on Aug. 28, where the CCF was held.  
 
The following are edited excerpts from the interview.  
 
Can you explain more about your ph.D in magic?
 
Magic, as an art form is rather elusive to the public.

Very little is disclosed, but we have our own communities, our own schools, conventions, organizations and ceremonies. We also have certificates, awards and degrees. I do carry a ph.D in magical performance art. It was given to me from an institution known as the Fechter’s Finger Flicking Frolic. Nowadays we just call it the 4F convention.

It’s an annual convention where 200 of the world’s finest magicians gather and present their theories and new performance pieces in Buffalo, New York. 

It’s an invitation only meeting, and you have to be recognized in one form or another to be even considered. When you are invited you have to present your material and when they deem you worthy, they award you with bachelors, masters or ph.D. I consider myself very fortunate to have been invited to the 4F four years in a row.
 
 How did you get invited?


The president of that organization, Obie O’Brien, was visiting Korea in 2014 as one of the judges for the Asian preliminary competition to FISM (Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques), which is considered to be the Olympics for magicians.

I was volunteering as a translator at the event. During my off time, I was toying around with a deck of cards and he happened to catch a glimpse of me doing that. He noticed that I was doing some rather advanced sleight of hand and told me to repeat it. Eventually he pulled out a business card and said that he wants me to attend the 4F.

That was actually the first time I considered going to the United States.  
 
What’s so magical about magic? How did you get into it in the first place?  
 
My parents took me to a magic show when an American magician was doing a world tour. I was around seven years old.

During the show, I couldn’t understand what the man was saying but there was something about that performance that really struck me in a deep way. Years later, I asked my mother if she could recall the name of that magician and she said it was David Copperfield.  

Fifteen years from that day, I was in Las Vegas, shaking hands with David Copperfield at his party and even got to show him some of my numbers.  
 
You emphasize the importance of magic being performed live, and that is why you don’t like your magic demonstrations to be recorded in any way, or appear on TV shows or run a YouTube channel. Why is that?  
 
Magic has different schools and I come from a very traditional school of magic. I am one of the last magicians to be classically trained, in other words, to be formally trained by a teacher. I studied under a master who studied under another master and so forth.

So there is this sense of heritage and lineage in what I do. I, like my mentors, am very reluctant to having my performance recorded in any fashion. That’s because I embrace the fact that it is impossible to capture magic and keep it canned. Magic is special because it is perishable.

You have to be present in that moment, in that space with that person to experience it. If you experience it any other way, it’s not really the same anymore. I do not want to present anything less than what it could be so I’ve turned down what people would call great opportunities to be on TV.  

That’s one of the many reasons why people outside the magic world are less familiar with my name. I choose to remain obscure because I think there is an important element or component of mystery that is lost the moment you expose yourself too much.  
 
For you, what is magic?
 
For the longest time, magic served various purposes. It was there to heal. It was also there to sometimes intimidate or strike fear in people’s hearts when it was used in an abusive way for political and religious reasons. It was used to educate and to inspire.

I strive to practice this type of ceremonial magic. It’s just part of who I am. 'Magician' is not merely a character that I play. I’m not pretending. I don’t even like the word performing or acting because that implies that there’s some kind of deception or falsehood taking place. For me, knowing how the trick is accomplished should not take anything away from magic.   
 
You mean there are no tricks involved in your magic?
 
Magic is not the trick. It's about the idea rather than the object used to convey that idea.

For the magical effect that I demonstrated with the cups, I even tell people exactly how it’s done – how the oranges materialized under the cups for example. When I played that number during the CCF event, I told people exactly how it’s done. But why were they all so surprised that there were fruits under the cups? It’s because there is always a great discrepancy between knowing and understanding. That was the whole point of that piece.

I am just using what we call “sleight of hand” but don’t make the mistake of thinking that is magic.

The magic spell, the incantation “Abracadabra,” is archaic Hebrew, and it means “my words shall become reality.”

The Aristotelian philosophy is that your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits define your character; and your character ultimately guides your destiny. Then whenever our reality coincides or is harmonious with our intent or our will, that is an act of magic. Our words carry strength. They carry weight. But the fact that we often say things without really knowing the magnitude or the impact it will have on other people proves that we don’t know we are doing magic. But magic spells are real. We see them all the time.

For example, when an advertisement says “Just one more.” It consists of just three words but it used to encourage millions of people to voluntarily smoke lung cancer. Magazines tell you that you don’t look good enough or you are not skinny enough, or you don’t have this car so you are not living the good life. They're all an evil magic spell, and they definitely influence the way we think. Magicians are people who can see through those spells and can manipulate them responsibly.  
 
You also studied philosophy while learning magic. Why?
 
As a boy, I used to bother my parents and my teachers by asking endless questions. Where does this come from? Why does it move this way? Who named it? Why does it look like that?

My dad, a scholar whom I deeply respect, would answer almost anything that I asked, and if he didn’t know the answer he will spend all night, consulting his immense library and somehow find an answer and come back to me the next day and tell me. I never stopped asking those questions and maybe that’s why I was gravitated toward magic in the first place because it is a practice that deals with the unknown, the mysterious.

The more I did magic, the more I realized that magic was not in the tricks. It’s not about how it is done. It was more about why it is done and what it can do for people.

At one point, I joined a catholic monastery in Minnesota and stayed there for two and a half years and studied western philosophy with the monks. I really saw it as the same thing. We are asking questions that cannot be answered. But it’s the act of asking those questions that really pushes us forward.  
 
Can you explain to our readers more about The Magic Castle?  
 
Performing magic at The Magic Castle is similar to a musician playing solo at the Carnegie Hall. It was my dream to perform at The Magic Castle several times since I was in my early teens.

It’s a private clubhouse for magicians that was founded in 1963. This is a Victorian style mansion where the late Dai Vernon, the esteemed magician, resided and taught his students.

One has to be invited by a member to enter the building. A lot of Hollywood celebrities are spotted there. It’s a very exclusive and secretive night club. Wonderful, wonderful place.
 
Your wand looks quite unique.  
 
It’s unique to me. It’s the only one in the world like it. A Canadian craftsman made it for me from scratch, exact to my specifications.

It is something that is very hard to explain. If you were a magician and I told that the magic wand is probably the best kept secret in magic, you would agree.

The wand is the tool that a magician uses to focus all attention or energy towards one singular point. It’s like universal language. Think of a modern day laser pointer. It’s just like the conductor’s baton.  
 
I would think the most frequent question you are asked is, “How did you do that?” How do you respond?  
 
I usually smile and say it’s irrelevant. It’s not important how it’s done.

Who cares what kind of paint Vincent Van Gogh used to paint his “Starry Night.”

What we care about is how mesmerizing and absorbing that painting is. We become one with the scenery. We transcend time and space to dream with Vincent.

When I do magic for people, I don’t mind if you forget who I am.

I don’t mind if you forget my name or what I did for you. It doesn’t matter how I did it. I can't care less about these things.

What I do care about is that you remember how I made you feel.

Pay attention to the feeling of magic that you experienced. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can change form.

Take that feeling of magic and pass it onto someone else with sincerity and love.

That is real magic.  
 
 
BY YIM SEUNG-HYE   [sharon@joongang.co.kr] 
 

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