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A traditional Kendama

The kendama (けん玉, "sword [and] ball") is a traditional Japanese skill toy. The ken has three cups and a spike which fits into the hole in the ball. The kendama is a variant of the classic cup-and-ball game, and the Hispanic world toy known as boliche or balero. The principle of these toys are the same: catching one object with another, where both are joined by a string. However the modern kendama style takes influences from a diverse range of skills including yo-yo, diabolo, and juggling.

Structure and terminology[edit]

The kendama

The kendama comprises the following parts:

  1. Main body ken ().
  2. Spike kensaki (剣先).
  3. big cup ōzara (大皿).
  4. bottom cup chūzara (中皿).
  5. Small cup kozara (小皿).
  6. Ball tama ().
  7. Hole ana ().
  8. String ito ().
  9. Cup body saradō (皿胴).
  10. Small cup edge kozara no fuchi (小皿のふち).
  11. Big cup for lunars ōzara no fuchi (大皿のふち).
  12. Slip-stop or slip grip suberidome (すべり止め).
  13. Back end kenjiri (けんじり).
  14. String attachment hole ito toritsuke ana (糸取り付け穴).
  15. Bead (not pictured)


Origins, precursors, and parallels[edit]

A French bilboquet, a relative of the kendama known in France from the 16th century

The origins of the game are disputed. It has been described as a variation of the French ball-and-cup game bilboquet, which dates to the 16th century. It is generally agreed that Kendama dates to the late 17th or early 18th century.[1]

In Japan[edit]

The kendama arrived in Japan from the West in around 1777, at which point Nagasaki was the only port open to foreign trade.[2] Reportedly, kendama was initially a sort of adult's drinking game — a player who made a mistake was forced to drink more.[2] The game gained popularity during the Edo period (1600–1868).[3]

In the early 20th century, the toy had two side cups and was called a jitsugetsu ball (日月ボール). This translates to "sun and moon ball", named so because of the ball's representation of the sun and the cups' likeness to the crescent moon.[4]

In 1919, Hamaji Egusa applied for a patent on the "ball and cup" style toy and it was awarded in 1920. The size and proportions of the toy were later altered. Hatsukaichi City in Hiroshima Prefecture is considered to be the birthplace of the modern Japanese Kendama.[5] The current competition design descends from Issei Fujiwara's model, which featured string holes in the crosspiece. Little deviation has been made from his basic design, with the exception of the ken becoming more rounded to reduce wood chipping. It was also Fujiwara who established the Japan Kendama Association, which established the rules for play, the grading system now in use, and organised competition. To ensure that the toy was suitable for use in competition, the JKA also standardised kendama itself.

Contemporary culture[edit]

Today, kendama is popular in many parts of the world. Kendama is particularly well loved in Japan, where national tournaments are held and Japanese employers recognise applicants who have attained the higher dan rankings as "persistent, patient and determined potential employees".[citation needed]

During the 2000s, kendama surged in popularity outside Japan. In 2006 KendamaUSA and the British Kendama Association were founded.[6][7] They began to promote kendama in North America and Europe, particularly throughout the juggling and rollerblading communities.[8][9][10][11] Also, in 2010 Sweets Kendamas was founded. Sweets Kendamas, KendamaUSA and another company named Kendama CO. began to sponsor certain players, typically young men, who using their creativity began to set a standard for the many ways kendama could be used. These players included Zach Yourd, Collin Sander, Jake Wiens, Keith Matsumara, Cristian Fraser, William penman, Max Norcross, Bonz Atron and Jake Fisher. As players worldwide began to put videos online, kendama continued to grow and has branched out forming its own global community. Many of those videos can be seen on Downspike, a forum and media hub for international kendama play.


Kendama play has also been used as a measure of accuracy, agility, and learning ability in robotic arms.[12][13]


To play with a kendama, one holds the toy, and pulls the ball upward so that it may either be caught in one of the cups or land with the hole on the spike. More advanced tricks include sequential balances, juggles, and catches. There are eleven prescribed moves on the kendama trick list for achieving a kyu ranking and several more for a dan ranking. A 10-kyu rating (the lowest beginner grade) is attained by simply catching the ball in the largest cup. A book published by the Japan Kendama Association lists 101 different tricks for the toy and there are supposedly tens of thousands of trick variations. Different stances and grips are required to perform different tricks.

While most people play with kendamas for personal satisfaction, competitions do take place, especially in Japan and North America where many kendama matches are held. Participation in such competitions entails performing lists of tricks in sequence or completing particular tricks repeatedly for as long as possible. Additionally, tricks may be performed head to head with a rival to determine a winner. The first competitor to fail a trick loses.

In the trick moshikame (もしかめ), the ball is juggled between the big cup and the smallest cup at the bottom repeatedly. A Japanese children's song of the same name is often sung to help with timing.[14]


The Japanese Kendama Association has held kendama contests since 1979.[15] The British Kendama Association was the first group to hold a formal kendama contest outside Japan in 2008 at the British Juggling Convention in Doncaster and has been staging a British Kendama Open and European Kendama Open every year since. These contests have taken a variety of formats including trick ladders, speed battles, freestyle, and the head-to-head world championship style.[16]

Kendama World Cup[edit]

The Global Kendama Network (Gloken) held the first Kendama World Cup in 2014 in Hatsukaichi, Japan, utilizing a new format whereby players choose 5 tricks from a list of 120 and attempt to complete tricks within a time limit. These tricks are classified according to difficulty into 12 different levels and the player receives points corresponding to the level of the completed trick i.e. a level 7 trick is worth 7 points and but a more difficult level 12 trick is worth 12 points. This year's Kendama World Cup (KWC 2018) will take place in Hatsukaichi again, on 21 and 22 July.

Gloken Kendama World Cup Winners

2014 - Bonz Atron / USA / Kendama Co (at the time)

2015 - Wyatt Bray / USA / Kendama USA

2016 - Bryson Lee / USA / Sweets Kendamas

2017 - So Kanada / Japan / Sweets Kendamas

2018 - Nick Gallagher / USA / Sweets Kendamas

Catch & Flow[edit]

Catch & Flow, Freestyle World Championship was first held in September 2014 in downtown Tokyo, Japan. Using a new format to determine the best freestyle skills in the world, the Catch & Flow defined a new way to perform freestyle kendama and to judge such style. Players from around the world apply to participate listing their achievements. The top approx. 60 players are selected to perform for 90 seconds one by one. Judges determine 16 finalist who will go head to head with 2 x 45sec for each player in 1 on 1 battles towards the final.

Catch & Flow - World Freestyle Winners

2014 - Thorkild May / DENMARK / KROM Kendama

2015 - Bonz Atron / USA / KROM Kendama

2016 - Jake Fischer / USA / KROM Kendama

2017 - Bonz Atron / USA / KROM Kendama

2018 - Bonz Atron / USA / KROM Kendama

Dama Fest[edit]

Dama Fest is North Americas original and first large scale Kendama competition,[17] hosted by Kendama USA. The first Dama Fest was in 2011, and the second was in 2013. Kendama players traveled from all over the North America, Europe, and Japan. Players competed in a single elimination head to head bracketed format.

2011 / Sebastian Orrego / USA / Unsponsored

2013 / Keith Matsumura [18] / USA / Kendama USA

The Minnesota Kendama Open[edit]

The Minnesota Kendama Open[19] is put on every Fall since 2013 by MN based Sweets Kendamas. MKO is the largest Kendama competition in N. America with many players traveling in from around the US and the rest of the world. MKO utilizes a few different types of competition to make sure everyone can get involved. Beginner and Intermediate players race through "speed ladders" where a predetermined set of tricks must be completed in order in the fastest time. Advanced/Pro players can compete head-to-head in the Open division where trick cards are pulled at random and players must prove how consistently they can land the tricks. If one players makes the trick and the second misses, the first player gets a point. Rounds are played to 3 points, except for the final round which is played to 5. MKO also showcases a freestyle competition.

Minnesota Kendama Open Winners

2013 - Max Norcross / USA / Sweets Kendamas

2014 - Lukas Funk / USA / Sweets Kendamas

2015 - Zack Gallagher / USA / Sweets Kendamas

2016 - Nick Gallagher / USA / Sweets Kendamas

2017 - So Kanada / Japan / Sweets Kendamas

2018 - So Kanada / Japan / Sweets Kendamas

Minnesota Kendama Open Freestyle Winners

2015 - Jake Fischer / USA / KROM Kendama

2016 - Bonz Atron / USA / KROM Kendama

2017 - Nick Gallagher / USA / Sweets Kendamas

2018 - Bryson Lee / USA / Sweets Kendamas

Battle at the Border[edit]

Battle at the Border is the longest running annual kendama event in the United States held by Kentucky-based kendama company, Sol Kendamas. The very first event was held in Clarksville, TN by a group of players that went by the name The Kendama Squad consisted of three players; Chad Covington, Nicholas Bellamy, and John Ross Rudolph alongside The Kensession Stand (Tyler Marshall). While the competition continued to occur annually, the name Battle at the Border wasn't implemented until the 2014 competition. In 2015, the competition reached its largest attendance with over 150 people. Battle at the Border 2015-2016 was held in Nashville, TN on the first weekend of the year at Rocketown. 2015 was the year that Sol Kendamas officially took over the event coordination. Battle at the Border 2017-2018 was also held on the first weekend of the year at The Foundry in Nashville, TN.

Battle at the Border Open Winners

2012 - Christian Fraser / USA / Sweets Kendamas

2013 - William Penniman / USA / Sweets Kendamas

2014 - Jake Fischer / USA / Krom Kendama

2015 - William Penniman / USA / Sweets Kendamas

2016 - Kevin DeSoto / USA / Sol Kendamas

2017 - Liam Rauter / USA / Sol Kendamas

2018 - Bonz Atron / USA / Krom Kendama

2019 - Liam Rauter / USA / Sol Kendamas

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ballester, Leeta-Rose (29 April 2015). "San Jose: Wooden toy is such a hit it's prompting kids to take a timeout from video games". San Jose Mercury New. Retrieved 12 December 2015.
  2. ^ a b "History - Kendama - Virtual Culture - Kids Web Japan - Web Japan".
  3. ^ Dorothy Perkins (1991). Encyclopedia of Japan: Japanese History and Culture, from Abacus to Zori. Facts on File. p. 109. ISBN 978-0-8160-1934-2.
  4. ^ "What Is Kendama? - Kendama - Virtual Culture - Kids Web Japan - Web Japan".
  5. ^ "Kendama". HIroshima Interpretation Guide Association. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
  6. ^ "What is a Kendama?". Kendama USA.
  7. ^ "Profile of BKA".
  8. ^ "Product Launch Platform, The Grommet, Works with Atlanta-Based Entrepreneur to Feature Kendama, Japanese Skill Toy". PRWeb. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  9. ^ "意外なキャンバス:『What the Dama!?』のけん玉アート". Red Bull (in Japanese). Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  10. ^ "【GLOKEN】5月14日は「けん玉の日」!ギネス世界記録®に挑戦!けん玉の技「大皿」連続成功115人以上を目指す!「KENDAMA FESTIVAL」を開催!5月14日(日)10時~@亀戸梅..." プレスリリース・ニュースリリース配信シェアNo.1|PR TIMES. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  11. ^ "Kendama contagious". Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  12. ^ Olivier Sigaud; Jan Peters (4 January 2010). From Motor Learning to Interaction Learning in Robots. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 219–. ISBN 978-3-642-05180-7.
  13. ^ Biswa N. Datta (28 July 1999). Applied and Computational Control, Signals, and Circuits. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 177–. ISBN 978-0-8176-3954-9.
  14. ^ Look Japan. Look Japan, Limited. 1987. p. 33.
  15. ^ "けん玉協会の沿革".
  16. ^ "Kendama World Cup".
  17. ^, Kim. "Dama Fest:Exhibition for popular Japanese hand-held game rising in popularity set for Saturday at Galleria". Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  18. ^ World, The Wenatchee. "Matsumura wins first at Dama Fest in Atlanta". Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  19. ^ "Minnesota Kendama Open". Retrieved August 12, 2017.

External links[edit]