What are these things called Kendamas?
Before I bought BC Playthings in 2014, my family was visiting Oahu and saw gaggles after gaggles of these kids with these weird looking yo-yos. After watching these maestros perform some very funky tricks with these balls attached with a string to an ominous looking spiked stick, we kind of got it! It was a moment where a child could show off their tricks after practicing and practicing again, failing and then conquering! These children were focused, performing small movement (fine-motor skills) and sequences (brain exercises). They had to know where their body was in space and time (proprioceptive) and they were filling their hearts with their abilities that they could demonstrate. Even when a better skilled Kendama user came along, they were smiling and nodding like an audience at a Miles Davis concert. The riffs, the nuances, and the dance of the Kendama is something that adults and children alike can take up and the portability of these simple toys enable the user to go, well, anywhere!
So now for some facts! The Kendama was documented in Japan in 1777 and has been attributed to the Japanese culture ever since. In many ways Kendamas resemble the traditional “cup-in-ball game” that kids would be given at Christmas time (also know as “billoquet” in French). It was made from natural woods and to this day Kendamas are used for hand-eye coordination, reflex, and balance. Hand-eye coordination can be strengthened as the user finds more difficult moves and their reflexes become honed as they attempt harder moves. As the Kendama user shifts their weight (balance) from foot to foot, bends knees at different levels and pivots, different tricks and angles become available.
Even more facts! The Kendama consists of the “Ken” or handle and the “Tama” or ball. The Kendama user practices various moves to manipulate the “Tama” tethered to the “Ken” into the large and small cups on the side of the ”Ken” and also onto the spike also known as the “Kensaki”.
Large cup, small cup, Sarado, and base cup are all parts of the kendama that the ball can be flipped into. The “Kensaki” is where the Kendama user spikes the Tama through a hole in the base. Big cup edge, smallcup edge and base cup are the parts of the Kendama where you can bump the ball using small movements and making more advanced tricks. The string or “ito” connects the “tama” to the “Ken”; however, that is not the end of it! Use the string to grab and flick the Kendama in the air for gravity defying tricks and incorporate into your sequences to bridge between moves.
And the moves are endless! From the basic “Big Cup” to the advanced “UFO”, there are some fascinating tricks that you can learn. When the Kendama user pays attention to angles, distance, and levels, they map out new moves and form funky sequences. An advanced Kendama user plays all the parts of the Kendama and throws in some dance moves or skateboard moves as well!
So, why is it so compelling in our cute little North Shore neighbourhood? I am not sure, but I love it! It is a simple, no buttons, batteries or USB cord needed toy that these kids have mastered! In groups and alone, kids practice their moves and learn new ones to show their friends and family. If their parents are lucky, they can practice at home with a Kendama that was forgotten on the coffee table or purloined from a backpack. And the tricks, oh the tricks! There are some amazingly cool tricks and a multiple of websites showing moves from beginner to advanced; and even if you are not inclined to learn how to do Kendama, you will be able to appreciate the skill that these children and adults are showing and sharing!