Finger Fitness by Lorraine C. & Gregory G. Irwin

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii August, 1994)

Gregory Irwin is identified within this book as an "entrepreneur, educator, and entertainer." His wife, Lorraine, "is the Operations Manager of their ever expanding company..." This volume seems to me to be first and foremost an extension of the Irwin's inventive entrepreneurial skills. And not unlike many entrepreneurial inventors, they have created an answer to a question which they now must convince you that you meant to ask. I wonder.

The authors propose that the exercise program they describe offers potential benefits including "the increase of skill level by the development of strength, dexterity, coordination and finger and hand independence. Also, one will gain confidence and trust in the ability of the hands through the repeated exercises and by what I call the finger-thought connection (tuning the brain in with the movements of the hands)." And they go on to suggest that "these exercises have been found to be beneficial in the rehabilitation of certain injuries and ailments of the hand."

In other justifications, the authors claim that "Humankind could not have evolved without some awareness of the necessity of increasing the agility and coordination of the hands. This awareness allowed us to develop tools necessary to enhance our abilities to survive, build, and create in our surroundings." Huh? I confess that kind of sloppy language, unsubstantiated claims, and pseudo-scientific terminology wears thin on me very quickly. Are the authors suggesting that Neanderthal Man's "awareness of the necessity of increasing the agility and coordination of the hands" is what led him to invent stone tools and weapons? I suspect that the Irwins could stand a bit of an anthropology lesson.

Just as Neanderthal Man did not require these exercises in order to master and transform his world, I believe that magicians will not require this book in order to master sleight of hand. An added supplement at the back of the volume, written by magician Kevin King, attempts to convince us that various exercises will benefit certain specific conjuring techniques. In an exercise specifically created for developing the classic palm of a coin or other small object, Mr. King seems to think that only one muscle is used, at the thenar (the mound on the thumb side of the palm). He has apparently forgotten the hypothenar: the mound of muscle on the fourth finger side, which must grip the other side of the coin. Overall, Mr. King's case is a weak and disorderly one (not to mention the fact that he desperately requires the services of a grammarian and a proofreader). He claims that certain exercises will enable magicians to "increase the natural look of the hands" while performing stage manipulation. He claims that "the rolling of a coin across the fingers becomes faster..." He even claims that "in really building up the muscles of the finger .... [a] good strong handshake could increase your business." The quality of this kind of marketing advice is about on par with his case for improving your sleight of hand.

Frankly, I believe that the best way to improve your sleight of hand is to practice your sleight of hand. Considering the countless hours it would take to master these exercises, without putting you one iota closer to mastering any particular sleight, you would probably be far better served by investing such time in the study of specific sleights.

I will allow that the photographic illustrations are thorough and clear (unlike the remarkably primitive and poorly labeled diagrams of the hand's muscular groups early in the book), and that if one wishes to take up the hobby of entertaining one's self—and perhaps others—with dexterous, rapid, and varied motions of the fingers, then this is the book for you. No doubt a masterful display of these sequences would be entertaining to some. However, speaking for myself, when I read the final item on a list of 23 "good times for finger fitness" practicing listed in the back of the book, namely "When you have nothing else to do," all I could think of was that I had many better things to do, including practicing my sleight of hand, or reading another, better book.

Spiral bound; 85 pages + 4 page illustrated "Magician's Supplement" by Kevin King; 190 photos.