Photo by Theo Daniels
A crowd of hundreds gathered on a cool, Sunday evening at the Double Tree Hotel in Alsip, Ill., for the 3rd WAHL National Cutting Competition this fall, to witness barbers, cosmetologists, and highly skilled hair stylist compete for the title of the best.
The well-light room was filled with young barbers, veterans, and rising stars, the contestants came from states as far away as Milwaukee, WI and Nicholasville, KY to showcase their skills. That day there were five competitions scheduled for the evening: the Student Competition, Best Graphics, Best Woman’s Haircut, Best Fade, and Men’s Total Look.
The atmosphere was filled with the sounds of Slick Rick’s Children’s Story, clippers humming and the voice of the announcer G. Whizz, explaining to the audience the history of barbers in America and telling the crowd about the upcoming competitions and raffle prizes. The audience had the opportunity to bid on various barber equipment such as the latest WAHL clippers, a brand new leather barber chair, and a TV set.
At the shop. Photo by Theo Daniels.
Among the competition was John “J.Ruff” Ruff an award-winning barber who’s known for his skillful graphic designs. Ruff was competing in two events that evening Best Graphics and Best Fade. That evening Ruff took second place in the Best Graphics competition and won first place in Best Fade.
Currently he is preparing for the final WAHL competition which will be held in New York in two weeks.
Ruff’s been cutting professionally for four years now and has won several awards as a barber. He took first place in this years Bronner Brother Hair Show competition in Atlanta.
Unlike some barbers who begin to lose sight of what’s truly important, due to their recent accomplishments, Ruff has remained undeterred by his accomplishments. He attributes his success to those within his inner circle and prefers to focus on his clients. “I never think that I’m ‘the man’. I think off all of them as ‘the man or the woman to me,” Ruff said.
When Ruff first started cutting hair he would watch YouTube videos and try out different designs on his brother. “I remember begging him for three weeks to let me experiment on him with with a regular haircut,” he said. After his brother refused, Ruff decided that he was going to give him a hair cut one day, whether he wanted one or not.
“I remember the clippers touched his head and he jumped out the chair,” Ruff said. “He felt the clippers go deep into his head. He jumped in the chair, like, ‘Wait a minute! Whatchu doing?!’ you said, ‘You said I could give you design right? ‘Aw. Hell naw,’ replied his brother. He said, ‘Let me see the mirror.’ When he saw there was a big line in his head. He said, ‘You know I didn’t tell you that. You did it on purpose.'”
“Come, on man, I got to get good one day,’ Ruff said. “It’s fine to look stupid,” replied his brother. “It really might not look that good, but one day they are going to. And you’re going to get the most attention of ‘em,” Ruff said.
It took Ruff’s brother a lengthy amount of time before he would allow him to even cut his hair. Even after a trial and error cut, his brother still refused to allow him to cut his hair.
Recently Ruff had the opportunity to participate in the WAHL competition finals in New York. He won 2nd place in the competition. Ruff was disappointed with not being able to take home 1st place in both competitions he competed in. He recalled how close he was to wining first place in the competition for his design.
“I ended up getting 2nd place in one. In another one man, I had it in the bag. I was fin’ to win it. And I was fin’ to win by five points actually. And I did a Mountain Dew concept and I just made a mental era man, and I misspelled Mountain Dew,” Ruff said. As a result of the typo in the design he lost the competition. “They [the judges] docked me by nine points. And that knocked me out of the competition right there,” Ruff said. “I had it in the bag.”
Although he didn’t win the competition in New York like he wanted to he takes solace in the fact that this year was one of his best years. When he finally accomplished his main goal for the year, which was to take first place in the Bronner Brother Competition.
“It was so much weight off my shoulders. For me every barber that I look up to they won that competition,” Ruff said. “For me to be in there company of mention, then to see a name like [Bronner], I feel that I had to get better. And that had to be one that I had on my shelf. I got it. I’m not leaving without it. I was satisfied with getting it. I feel it was a blessing to me. But I’ll never forget that.”