Matt Hiebert is the designer of Monkey Knuckls, a skill toy licenced to Yomega in 2013. He has been developing toys for over a decade, and started Aroundsquare in 2007. His first successful design was a set of unusual wooden building blocks called TwigI. In addition to his passion for begleri, he is working on a few other skill toy projects, including a bold, high-contrast cardistry deck. He founded his company Aroundsquare in 2007.
You can follow Matt on Instagram: @aroundsquare
Matt is currently making and promoting a very old but mostly unknown skill toy called Begleri. Below is our inverview with Matt.
- What is Begleri?
Begleri is a small skill toy made from two or more weighted beads on a short string, which can be flipped around between the fingers to perform tricks. Although begleri looks like a miniature version of meteor hammer or monkey knuckles, the tricks have much more resemblance to balisong flipping and pen spinning.
- What is the history of Begleri?
Begleri originated in Greece, as a variation of the Greek rosary or “komboloi”. The komboloi were often flipped around to keep the hands busy or pass the time, and begleri developed as a simplified version that would be more suitable for tricks. From what I understand, historically, begleri were associated with a tough, working-class subculture called manga, and with a distinctive style of music called rebetiko. In modern times, komboloi and begleri both remain extremely popular in Greece, and are growing in popularity worldwide as a fun and simple “every day carry” item. With this proliferation, and the infusion of begleri into other skill toy communities, new and complex styles of play are being developed, referred to as “hard play”.
- Are there different kind of Begleri?
A playable set of begleri can be made from almost anything, so there is a lot of variety out there. Traditional begleri were often made from semi-precious stones like amber, or from other valuable or distinctive materials including things like nutmeg, horn, and even camel bone. However, while these materials are reasonably durable, they do not hold up to the hard play style of modern players, and frequent drops on concrete. Modern begleri are being made from a variety of different metals, and other durable materials like those used in knife handles. Another common style of modern begleri is the monkey fist style, made by knotting thick cord around small weights like marbles at either end.
- Where is it popular?
Begleri are very popluar in Greece, and have been for decades. Over the past few years they have been growing in popularity outside Greece as well. There is a lot of interest especially in the States, and in Singapore at the moment, but we are filling orders across North America, Europe, Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East.
- Is there a Begleri community?
There is, and it is growing quickly. The community is mostly active online, and particuarly on Instagram at the moment. There is a very engaged group of players and sellers that regularly exchange tricks, share their collections, sell and trade, and help each other with tutorials. The community is a really interesting mix that includes a lot of very talented balisong flippers, kendama players, cardists, and magicians, as well as people who have never played other skill toys before.
- Why do you like BEGLERI? What is the appeal?
I’ve always been into skill toys, but for playing most toys, it’s better to be standing up, and to have both hands free. Some are cumbersome to carry around, and some require a fair bit of space. I immediately took to begleri because I found I could play it pretty much anywhere, sitting or standing, carrying groceries, on the train, etc. And although the toy seems so simple, the skill progression and the complexity of tricks and different styles really drew me in. It’s easy to start and stop playing, there’s no reset when you mess up, and they’re small enough to stick in a coin pocket.
- Do you think it will catch on?
I think the fuse is lit. It is already catching on, and the community is growing fast. When you get a set going, it looks pretty cool, and I always have people asking me what it is, and where they can get a set. People are always looking for something fresh, and enthusiasts from other communities are taking an interest. For example, it’s catching on with balisong flippers who want something they can play in public without scaring people, and with kendama players who sometimes want something a bit more portable and discrete. And it’s not either/ or.. It’s easy to just tuck a set in the pocket along with whatever else you are carrying. It’s a great way to pass the time, and lots of us find it helps to settle the nerves and concentrate as well.
- Where can someone get it?
Although I’m selling begleri myself, I often recommend people to just string up a few hex nuts and make their own set to begin with. Beyond that, there are lots of individual sellers out there already, mainly on Etsy and Ebay. Some of them are selling traditional Greek begleri, and others are individual makers, turning beautiful sets from fantastic materials on their lathes. The begleri I design and sell are tailored to the skill toy market, and for technical players who want a durable and high performing set. They are available on my site http://www.aroundsquare.com/shop
Connect to the Begleri community through facebook, Reddit and instagram
Facebook: Begleri Enthusiasts Hangout <https://www.facebook.com/groups/begleri.enthusiast.hangout/>
Reddit: Begleri https://www.reddit.com/r/begleri/
Matt has also put together a collection of really nice Begleri tutorials. Check them out here.