In only one year the young Swedish memory athlete Jonas von Essen wiped the memory sports scene clean, winning eight memory championships and shooting himself up the world rankings to number four. The sportive Swede is prepairing himself now for the World Memory Championship 2013 in London. Memory-Sports.com spoke to the ambitious student who became a role model to other memory athletes in less than 14 months.
Memory-Sports: What was your first experience with memory techniques?
Jonas: When I was about 13 years old I was at a magic seminar with a famous Swedish magician. In one of the tricks that he explained he had memorized a deck of cards. He told us that he converted the cards to people and placed them on a journey but I didn’t understand much of it and thought that it sounded very complicated and almost stupid. Many years later I came across a book at the library about how to get an amazing memory. It sounded like a great thing to get so I read it and did the exercises and immediately noticed that I could memorize things that I wouldn’t even have tried to memorize before, also it was a lot of fun! Then I finally realized that the method of the Swedish magician had not been so stupid after all…
Memory-Sports: Do you think that memory techniques would have been useful in school for you?
Jonas: I am 100 percent sure it would. Oh, how I would have amazed my teachers on every exam had I known about them earlier! But now I am amazing my university professors instead.
Memory-Sports: When did you decide to compete at your first competition, the Swedish Memory Championship 2012 and how much did you train for it?
Jonas: I took the decision just before the summer holidays last year. Previously I had then used memory techniques sporadically for small tasks since some months back but had no systems at all. I started the summer with creating a Person-Action-Object (PAO) system for cards, numbers and binary and then practiced for about two hours a day for three months before the championship.
Memory-Sports: Tell us more about your memory systems and the images you are using.
Jonas: I am using a PAO system with 100 people/actions/objects. The people are a mix between famous people, cartoon characters and people I know. After all the training I have done I have come to know my characters so well that every image becomes really strong and meaningful which has made the system very effective.
Memory-Sports: You are ranking number #4 in the world after only one year of memory championships. What is your secret? How did you get so fast so quickly?
Jonas: I believe that one key is that I always had great motivation to train more. At the beginning of last summer I aimed for the Swedish records by the time held by the former Swedish champion Mattias Ribbing. They were quite good but not of world class and after two months of training I had beaten all of them and I thought that my chances of winning the Swedish Memory Championship were high. But then I heard rumors about another young Swede – Marwin Wallonius – who were also to compete for the first time and who claimed to have beaten at least a couple of world records in training. Since I had already done two months of training I didn’t liked the idea of giving up so I started to aim for crazy scores which I thought was my only possibility of winning. That last month before the competition I improved a lot and got closer and closer to those crazy goals. I was not quite there yet when the competition was due but it was enough to win! I think that aiming high and practicing above your comfort level is very important. If you aim low you will land low. If you go fast and forget a lot you will gradually adapt to the higher tempo and forget less and less. It made all the difference to me. Actually I think that it was Marwin who gave me this tip when we had some friendly mail contact before the event. Maybe he regretted it later.
Memory-Sports: The next World Memory Championship is coming up soon. How do you see your chances to beat Johannes Mallow and Simon Reinhard, the two reigning champions above you in the rankings (Wang Feng is not competing any more)? How about the other competitors closely behind you like Ben Pridmore, Boris Konrad, Christian Schäfer or Ola Kåre Risa?
Jonas von Essen: I think that Johannes is probably still out of reach, although of course you never know what happens. If I have some great days I think that I might stand a chance against Simon so he is the one I am aiming for this time. Also it would be sweet to win at least one of the disciplines! Regarding the others I think that my biggest threat “from below” is Ola Kåre Risa, who has been improving a lot this year and I think still has lots of potential left, but I will do my best to remain the “champion of the north”. It’s a pity that we can’t compete as team Scandinavia!
Memory-Sports: Where do you see Memory Sports within the next twenty years? And would you change anything?
Jonas: I think that a lot will change. Many people – including myself – seem eager to try out new competition formats and Nelson Dellis’ Extreme Memory Tournament next year might be a start of something big. Of course I hope that the sport will grow and that we will have a lot more competitors (and sponsors!) in the future. Whether it will happen or not remains to be seen.
Memory-Sports: You created a very funny video where you were memorizing 100 spoken numbers in a bathtub under water holding your breath. Have you any other of these stunts planned for the future?
Jonas: Definitely! I might do something like “Binaries on skis” this winter. I began skydiving this summer so that’s also something I would like to involve. My dream is to jump out of an airplane, memorize a deck of cards in freefall while throwing the cards away one at a time, pull my parachute (important!), sort another deck under the canopy on my way down and then do check the result immediately when I get to the ground. That would be something!
Memory-Sports: Freefall memorizing? Amazing! What are you using memory techniques for besides memory championships and training? Can you give us a few examples?
Jonas: I am using it all the time. Sometimes I use it because I need it and sometimes just because it’s fun to remember a lot. I like having small memory projects like memorizing world geography or difficult English vocabulary (like “supercilious” and “idiosyncrasy”). Memory techniques make it so easy! Also I use it a lot in school, whenever I am learning something new.
Memory-Sports: Some critics say that the techniques used by memory athletes are not really adoptable for a daily use and general learning. What do you think about that?
Jonas: I think that they should try it out for themselves, which will probably make them change their minds! If nothing else it makes learning a lot more fun, in my case even addictive, which inevitably makes life an even better experience!
Memory-Sports: Thank you for your time, Jonas.