This last weekend I got a chance to meet and hang out with the incredibly infectious Jake Wiens. Jake’s energy and dedication to his sport immediately attracts people to try the Kendama. Upon our first hand shake, he had pulled me into his world.
So Jake, tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into Kendamas.
29, Tennessee born and raised, living in San Francisco, I can’t sit still.
I got into Kendama though freestyle inline skating. A skating friend of mine Matt Rice had one and would play after skate sessions. I resisted picking up the new hobby for about a month until I gave in. I decided to try it out. I’m a freelance video editor so kendama filled the rendering downtime time perfectly. Before I knew it I was shooting videos and uploading them to YouTube.
The rest, after the jump
The first thing I want to know about is the lingo. YoYoers have a long list of common terms and phrases that only other yoyoers would really understand. What are the common staples of speaking Kendama.
The lingo for kendama is interesting since most of the tricks are translations from the Japanese names. One thing I have found is that we shorten almost everything. For instance a Lunar Lander will just shorten to lune, a jumping stick becomes J Stick, and the best is Single Double Triple anything becomes Sing Dub Trip. =) When you get a good trick you “stomped it”. Also if you almost spike it and it falls off the term is “tip wet”. When you get in your zone and your jamming hard you are “honed”. When your filming a trick you’re in “vid mode”.
YoYoers are more and more adding Kendamas to their list of carry around skill toys. What are the basics of the Kendama itself? Does wood choice matter when it comes to Ken and Tama construction?
I love the minimalism of a kendama. Its 3 pieces of wood attached by a string with a little bead. Like anything minimal, the fewer pieces you have the greater the importance of each individual piece. I also just love the shape. A kendama looks good on a shelf or table.
Traditionally the kendama is a beach wood ken (handle) and a Cherry wood tama (ball). More and more people are experimenting with different woods. Terra Kendama has gone as far as to hand turn kendamas from pure ebony and mahogany. These are pure baller status Kendamas. Kendama USA made all cherry wood pro models that were heavy and loud. When you stomped a trick you heard it. Love the cherry mods.
At Cal States, I heard someone talk about how sticky your tama was. What was he talking about?
Each Tama (ball) has a cretin level of tack to it. With the classic Japanese kendamas the stickiness of the tama came with months of play and all the grime and oil from your hand working itself into the paint and wood. Now paint has progressed to a point where you can just order your preferred stick level. I have heard some yoyo peeps compare it to when yoyos adapted the bearing. Some called it cheating some called it progression.
Why is the regulation string size 16 inches?
In Japan the JKA (Japan Kendama Association) has regulations on everything from the colors brands can make to the wood they use to make the kendamas. The entire sport is very strict. The regulation on string length didn’t come over to America when the kendama did. Peeps have 4 finger deep strings. (this is how we measure the length. With the ball on the spike you put your fingers in the string and pull it below the bottom cup. A normal string will be around 2 fingers. Pretty much anywhere outside of Japan string length is preference.
In yo-yoing, there are special yoyos that assist you returning the yo-yo to your hand. This is popular with beginners because it teaches them how to throw correctly first. Is there an equivalent?
I wouldn’t say we have a trainer kendama but we do have training methods. If you can’t spike it you simply spin the tama to create some centrifugal force. This keeps the hole faced down. You can bring the tama up any way spike it. I love this method. People get super pumped after their first spike. It never gets old teaching this to people.
When you get to lighthouse tricks it’s nice to have a kendama that is a bit more tacky to help you balance the lighthouse. (holding the tama and balancing the ken on top of the tama with the bottom cup) The artist Sourmash pretty much revolutionized the sticky tama.
When a yoyoer is seen in public, they are almost always asked to “Walk the Dog”. What would you consider to be the most requested trick a Kendama player is asked to perform?
No lie. Its either Walk the dog or “hey! Ball in a cup! You catch the ball in the cup….”. People either think it is a yoyo or they recite the entire Family Guy Ball In A Cup commercial. Both make me facepalm.
In yo-yoing, there are five primary play styles based on what kind of yoyos are used and how many are used. Are there different play styles in Kendama?
Space Walkers (Astronauts) – Players that do crazy long space walk combos and end it with a quick spike.
Hammers – These guys only try the hardest of hardest tricks. These players will spend an entire day for one trick and you best believe it will be on camera.
Flowstyle – Players that do tricks with rhythm and focus on style.
Stringless – No one really exclusively plays stringless. It is more of a thing that happens when your string breaks so you go nutty with it.
How do contests work? What elements are you judged on and is it a freestyle environment?
Most contests operate with 2 events. Ladder battle and freestyle. The way a ladder battle works is a series of tricks are announced prior to the contest and players have to learn the tricks and be able to perform them as fast as possible. During the ladder battle players line up and try to jam through the ladder faster than anyone else. Players are eliminated until there is one left. Nerves and remaining zen are the real challenges in this style of battle.
A freestyle battle is just as open as the kendama play. Sometimes it’s judged by a group of people sometimes it’s judged by the crowd. Players get around 90 seconds to shred and show off their skills. Most of the players have not learned the performance factor of this yet. To be honest only a few people get it and make up for everyone else failing over and over.
Who is the current World / National Kendama Champion? (and where would someone find that info?)
There are no really serious contests anywhere else that I know of outside of Japan. In America it’s just a tool to bring people together. BUT if there were a serious contest I would put my money on Keith Matsumura. =)
What would you consider to the “Go To” instruction site to get someone started in Kendama?
Go to YouTube and start watching Colin Sander’s edits. Start at one and move up. The man has documented his entire journey with kendama. They are not instructional but this is the way we have all learned. It also really helps to learn with someone else. After you graduate from the school of Sander watch all of Shimadera’s “Shakemid”s videos on YouTube. Dude is the best in Japan. Stomps every trick you didn’t know existed and does it in 300 frames per second. These are my 2 personal bibles of kendama.
How often do Mods enter the community? What is considered a good and valid mod, and what is strictly a no-no. For example, super tacky paint, wax, oils, super long strings, ect
People will glue the tip of the spike to keep it sharp. This is fully acceptable. Artists will paint and do custom designs on the tama. Each artist has their gloss. Some are tacky and some are slick. The only time I have seen a no no mod is this one kid in Sacramento sprayed his tama with spray mount. It was horrible.
What is it about the Kendama and the Kendama Community that you love so much?
I have been into skill related sports and toys my entire life. Kendama was the perfect blending of sport and toy. Kendama involves your entire body. You will break a sweat and get sore from a long session. What I love about the community is that the people you meet have the same desire to take what ever it is and get really good at it. I have lots of older friends that play Kendama. I find it to be a very important characteristic in a person to have the ability to play with a toy like kendama and let go of their day to day work and activities and do something new. If you turn away a kendama you’re probably not the personality I would kick it with anyways.
With the crossover we are seeing, what has surprised you the most in the yoyo world?
I’m super stoked on the entire yoyo community! I’m impressed with how well established and mature the yoyo world is. Your companies are prime, your contests are super legit, and your players have dope style. Each player I saw at Cal States had a dope individual style. I am very big on style and presentation. Yoyo has this one figured out very well.
ALSO! Yoyo players are inventing new kendama tricks left and right! This also gets me super stoked!
I also see that you are a fellow enthusiast obsessed enough to run a blog. What got you into starting TheKenGarden.com?
The Kengarden started as a party / contest in my garden. I would have friends over and we would drink, dance, grill, and dama. It was so much fun the first time I continued to have these parties every month for about 6 months. I started the blog to keep people posted on events and show people what we were doing. When the crowd got too big for my little garden we moved to friends back yards. We would meet in the middle of the month and have a gardening party where we would trick out the yards of the houses. At the end of the month we would have the party and throw down the kendama battle. When we ran out of yards to flip we moved to public spaces where our crowds reached around 50 or 60 people. Now we do tours. The Kengarden has been growing for a while.
And how about Kendama USA, How did you get involved with them?
I got involved with Kendama USA through the Kengarden Battles. When I had the idea to throw the contest I emailed Kendama USA asking if they would like to sponsor the contest with prizes. Jeremy from Ken USA was more than happy to. They have sponsored every battle with prizes since the first battle in 2010. In 2012 I was invited to be a part of the Tribute Kendama Team. This was an amazing moment for me. Since then we have been working together on events, tours, and tons of media. Kendama USA was the first to promote kendama in America and we are still going strong.