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He’s a Web pioneer. He’s also a helluva lot of fun to watch.
When a hulking, blond, curly-haired, 230-pound, 5-foot-11-inch white man introduces himself as “Jujimufu,” you’ll have some questions. Perhaps you’ll muse “What does that name mean?” or “What is the origin?” Maybe you’ll even wonder “Is that some sort of cultural appropriation?” The answers are not as exotic as you might imagine, but just as amusing. And they bely the social media fitness stars’ not-so-serious approach to a serious business.
Jon Call is Jujimufu’s real name and he lives in Alabama where he was born and raised. On the phone, he is jovial and friendly, with a gentleness to the way he speaks about his life’s work. You’d never guess that he was the same guy from the viral video showing him bench pressing 100 pounds while doing a mid-air split between two chairs. When the video went viral approximately six months ago, Digg dubbed him “Possible Son Of Macho Man Randy Savage.” In conversation, he’s more Fred Savage.
While he may not hail from one of the early tech epicenters, the 29-year-old was something of an Internet pioneer. Back in 2002, Call became big into acrobatic tricks (better known as “tricking”) and describes the obsession as “an underground sport born online.” As he began his research, he noticed a dearth of step-by-step tutorials for people just getting into the tricking game. So at the age of 16, he made the decision to fill that void. “I’m gonna be the guy who creates the tutorials for these moves,” he recalls telling himself.
#thepumpisthecure 💪 #flexfriday shot by @just_made_you_look at @ironaddictsgym #ironaddicts #isymfs #strengthproject @strengthproject // WELCOME TO MY WORLD #vascular #vascularity #veins #bodybuilding #biceps #longhairmen #longhairdontcare #ripped #flex #lifeisgoodtoday @antoinev87
A photo posted by Jon Call (@jujimufu) on
He got to work in his backyard, dismantling the tricks into digestible steps to teach them to himself, and laying the foundation for his future “Acrobolix” brand. Once he felt comfortable enough with a trick, he’d film a video tutorial, and from there, he’d share the tutorial on his website and forum TricksTutorials.com.
“I was the guy that created the original [tricking] forum that really took off,” he says of the site, which he managed until 2010. This was before the pervasiveness of YouTube, where uploading a video is as simple as one, two, click. Sharing his videos required the time-consuming process of loading them onto an FTP server so that they could then be loaded into his website. It’s something the Vine generation couldn’t possibly understand, and is something that Call seems to take great pride in.
Call describes running out of server space two or three weeks into each month because he exceeded the hosting service’s 100 gigabyte transfer bandwidth. Sometimes a random forum commenter would offer up server space, and Call would transfer the videos. If not, he’d have to cut video for a week or so just so the website could remain operational through the end of the month. “This was the kind of stuff we had to go through to share these videos and spread things around and share what we had,” he says. “YouTube is a miracle compared to that.”
Despite the pains of manually uploading, Call was hesitant to join YouTube. “You never know,” he says of the ephemeral nature of social platforms. But by 2008, he saw that it was here to stay. After graduating college in 2010 and taking a little Internet hiatus, he began cultivating an audience there, as well as on other social media. Groups of his fans from the early days (who lovingly refer to him as “Juji”) formed Facebook groups to discuss his latest tips and tricks and share their love for the acrobat, strength trainer, and bodybuilder.
A few years ago, while at the gym, it occurred to him that it was time to form a cohesive brand. That’s when he came up with Acrobolix, a fusion of acrobatics and anabolics.
That’s when he typed in a bunch of random letters, and Jujimufu was born.
With Acrobolix, he developed increased credibility as a respected voice in the online fitness community. By the time he joined Instagram in 2014, the network embraced him. He has more than 170,000 followers on the platform, and his posts rack up thousands of likes. A recent video he shared showed him using one of his students as a weedwacker while others lept over him. It’s landed more than 30,000 likes.
pat + weedwacker = patwacker. Pt2 of (@ramenfood) pat weapon series. #tricking #martialartstricking #landscape #geterdone #jumprope #lethalweapon #childsplay #bodybuilding #crossfit #weightlifting #bodyweighttraining #functionaltraining #wwe #wrestlemania #leapfrog #plyometrics #speedtraining Jukin Media Verified (Original) * For licensing / permission to use: Contact – licensing(at)jukinmediadotcom
A video posted by Jon Call (@jujimufu) on
Even though he sees the enormous reach of Instagram, Call still has mixed feelings about it. “I find that YouTube is actually better for connecting with people and getting them to get to know you. They get a sense of who you are and trust you more,” he says. “Whereas with Instagram, I feel more like it’s an animal in a zoo where a bunch of people are like ‘hey, look at this!’ Both platforms are really useful in their own ways.”
He admits that the anonymity afforded by YouTube has left him exposed to nasty comments, and actually sees Facebook as the platform for having the most open, honest, and respectful discussion of his work. “If you read any YouTube comments, there’s a lot of trolls and haters. it’s just a rough place,” he says.
As for the original question of his name, much like his entire career, it also would not have been possible without the Internet. When Call was a kid signing up for America Online, he tried to make a screenname that was uniquely his. He tried every combination of of words and letters he could think of, but all of them were already in use. That’s when he typed in a bunch of random letters, and Jujimufu was born. “That was something no one had thought of,” he says. “So I started using it on Web forums and bulletin boards online. People started to get to know me by that name and I never changed it. It helps me not take myself too seriously.”
While he’s forever indebted to the early fans of TricksTutorials.com, and all the people he’s met along the way via Instagram, Facebook, and live events, perhaps he is most grateful for the Internet, in general. When asked where he’d be without it, he’s transparent. “I wouldn’t be anything [without it.] The Internet is the reason I am what I am,” he says.
He adds: “I wouldn’t have gotten exposed to any of this stuff without the Internet, especially in a place like Alabama. I depend on it. There’s nothing here. I’m the only person who does anything like this in my entire area. I had to live and work through the Internet to keep my interest in this and build on this.”
Photo via Acrobolix
Marisa Kabas is a lifestyle reporter and activist. Her work has been published by Fusion, Fast Company, and Today. She’s also served as an editorial campaigns director for Purpose PBC, a social movement incubator.