Tony Dottino founded the USA Memory Championship in 1998 after working with World Memory Championship founder Tony Buzan on writing memory training books. With the creation of that memory training tournament, a sub culture has been created in the United States of ‘Mental Athletes’, as we call ourselves, who talk in a different language. While some pick up the hobby of church softball leagues, chess, working out, solving crossword puzzles or wood working – a select few in the United States have picked up the sport of memory training. And yes, we call it a sport.
Observing a memory training may seem to have all the excitement of watching a high school algebra class during finals but in reality the images in our brains could not be more vivid, bizarre or unusual. 2006 USA Memory Champion Joshua Foer titled his book, Moonwalking With Einstein. This is a reference to his picture for a series of playing cards. Most of all the Mental Athletes have created images that represent different numbers or pictures.
For me the number, 2545876 is Neil Armstrong scanning (like at a grocery store scanner) a vacation. Why? Well 25 represents Neil Armstrong for me, 45 is scanning and 876 is a vacation. To explain the method to the madness here would on how to memorize numbers would take up 5 pages. Instead, if you are interested in learning my memory training system or what to know how to memorize numbers check out my numbers memory training.
We are a small band of people who practice the sport of memory, especially in the United States. The world records in memory tend to be much more impressive than the US record but I believe we will catch them as our scores are getting better and better every year.
What does it take to be a memory champion? I certainly don’t think anyone could win a national memory championship anymore without at least an hour a day practice in the 3-4 months prior to the tournament and I know USA Memory Champions in recent years (me being two of those years) have put in a minimum of one hour per day and sometimes 3-8 hours per day looking at sheets of numbers and cards. It is a peculiar way to pass the time.
Not long ago, I was sitting at the bar of a restaurant I frequent often (Cantina Laredo in downtown Fort Worth, stop by if you are in the area and you might catch me) and I was memorizing random numbers. I heard the girl next to me whisper to her friends, I would NEVER sit at the bar doing that….’ And the truth is most won’t. That is good news for me because it means less competition but unfortunate for her that she is more aware of what others think than doing what it takes to reach goals. For me, training in bar environments distracts me and forces me to focus under pressure. It is a tool I chose to use.
This underground culture of memorizers who love to learn new ways on how to memorize or discover the latest memory training technique range in age from high school kids to those 50 plus years of age. Myself at the age of 37 refuse to accept that my days are numbered in this sport. I hope to be relevant for the next 10 years and beyond. But there is only one way to insure that and that is to keep training.
The USA Memory Championship has given me a circle of friends who like a challenge and speak the same language as myself. It isn’t often you can turn to someone and say, ‘do you recall the 82nd digit on that last string of numbers?’ and they reply, ‘humm let me think, almost got it…oh yeah…it was 7!’ For us mental athletes, that is just a normal conversation and we don’t give much thought to how amazing it must sound to the outside world.
Chester Santos, Ram Kolli and myself were out in New York City after a USA Memory Championship. We spotted a group of ladies we wanted to talk with and I got the introduction going by memorizing one of the girls credit card numbers. The bar tender sat her card on the bar after he scanned it, I looked at it for about 5 seconds and then looked at her and repeated 5466 1600…..she wrinkled her brow and said, ‘What is that?’ Your credit card number’, I proudly replied! She was astounded and the conversation and fun for the night commenced. At the conclusion when it came time for everyone to exchange numbers Chester, Ram and myself (all former USA Memory Champions) refused to write the numbers down and instead just memorized them. Were the ladies impressed? Perhaps. Did it lead to any second dates? Nope. We learned a long time ago our skills are great ice breakers or good for a few minutes of amazement but more will be required to get and keep a lady of almost any substance.
Speaking of females in the high school ranks we have some very sharp girls competitng and I hope they stick with it because as the women get older they seem to lose interest in this mental sport or perhaps life just pulls them in different directions.
Regardless, the clan of folks that make up the USA Memory Championship competitors is a rag tag group from ages of 15 to 50+, all academic levels and economic levels. But we all have a mutual respect for each other because we know what it takes to compete at this level, we all have a love for learning and getting better and we all have a love for the game of memory.
If you don’t have a hobby or more importantly a worthwhile one that challenges you, I humbly submit to you that you learn a memory training system and learn how to memorize quickly. It will become a quirky habit for you memorizing numbers and cards but also bring you hours of fun and excitement. Yes, I said excitement. Watching Josh Hamilton hit a ball 450 feet is exciting but you will be amazed at the adrenaline rush you get after memorizing a deck of cards in under 2 minutes.
So there you have it, oh by the way…..Do you recall the 82nd digit in that last string of numbers?