Pen spinning

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A combination of pen spinning tricks.

Pen spinning (also known as pen twirling, pen mawashi, and pen tricks) is a form of object manipulation that involves the deft manipulation of a writing instrument with one's hands. Although it is often considered a form of self-entertainment (usually in a school/office setting), multinational competitions and meetings are sometimes held.[1] It is a form of contact juggling. It can also be classified as a sport. Pen spinning is known as "pen mawashi" (compare for example mawashi-geri, "round-kick") or, more disparagingly, "rōnin mawashi" ("college student spinning") in Japan, where the pastime has been popular since at least the 1970s, and where the Pen Spinning Association Japan is now dedicated to promoting the aspiring art form. While its origins remain unclear, pen spinning has quickly gained international popularity through online video sharing and forums. According to Masaki Tsukada, chairman of the Japanese pen spinners, pen spinning now has dedicated movements in South Korea and the United States.[2][3]


The earliest record of pen spinning comes from a student in pre-World War II in Japan (Asahi Shimbun January 31, 2008, 37th page). Some in Asian countries pen spun in the 1990s; however, the tricks performed were only basic ones, such as the ThumbAround, FingerPass, Charge, and Sonic. Hideaki Kondoh was considered the first pen spinning pioneer in Japan. Kondoh spent 13 years spinning a pen back in the late 1900s and was able to do 24 tricks, many of which he invented. Today, most people can learn those 24 tricks in a few months. The number and variations of tricks has since grown into at least the hundreds, with tricks such as the Shadow, the Korean BackAround (Bak), the Twisted Sonic Bust, and the PalmSpin. Since the early 2000s, video hosting websites, such as YouTube, have been used to share tutorials and collaborations, which has contributed to a rise in popularity of pen spinning.

The number of pen spinning websites and forums have increased since 2006, with more regional boards opening from France, Germany, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia; however, some of these boards are no longer active. To solve this problem, the Universal Pen Spinning Board, abbreviated as UPSB, has been created. The language of this pen spinning forum is English to make it accessible to many people, thus making it the largest pen spinning community. Tournaments are organized on the Internet and live tournaments are occasionally held in China, Japan, and Korea. The biggest competitions held are the World Tournament and World Cup. As international competitions, anyone associated with a board can request to join, and spots are usually given to the pen spinner deemed most skillful. Judging systems for the competitions have not been completely standardized, and bias is often present within the judges. Due to pen spinning being considered a highly subjective activity to judge, scores and comments concerning a single video can vary greatly.

Finger Slots, Notations and Breakdowns[edit]

Spinners use a variety of systems, symbols, and abbreviations to help them express how the pen is spun.

Finger slot system[edit]

Finger Slots

For convenience pen spinners have adopted a common numbering to represent the fingers and the spaces between them, called finger slots. The fingers are numbered sequentially from "1" for the index finger, to "4" for the little finger, and the letter "T" is used for the thumb. Finger slots are represented by placing any two or more of these together. For example, the space between the index and middle fingers is called "12." A pen held between the thumb and ring finger is in slot "T3." Symbols and slots can be expanded to include other parts of the hand, body, and surrounding atmosphere. The webbing at the base of the thumb and index finger is called "TF," for thumb flap, and the palm is usually notated as "P." The "*" symbol is used to refer to the absence of a second body part or object holding the pen (e.g., a pen resting on the surface of the palm is in slot P*, or more literally, PAir). Other slot systems have been invented in order to describe complicated positions, but these are usually only used when necessary to avoid ambiguity.


A notation system often consists of a combination of names for tricks, their direction, and the slot system in order to convey in what way a pen was spun. Notation systems range from formal with high detail to informal with almost no detail. More complicated ways of spinning, such as using two hands and one pen (called 1p2h), have amplified the ambiguity of some notation systems and have generated the need for using more descriptive and technical systems. The following system is often used for its relative simplicity and effectiveness in describing the tricks used.[4]

  • Modifier: A modifier adds additional aspects to the base trick not done by default. Modifiers may not need to be added depending on what trick is performed. Modifiers are often abbreviated (e.g., Fingerless to FL).
  • Trick Name: This is the base trick. While the Trick Name may not be omitted, it can be abbreviated for certain tricks (e.g., ThumbAround to TA).
  • Direction: This is the direction of rotation of the pen during a trick. If the direction is omitted, it is assumed to be "Normal." If the direction is "Reverse," it can be shortened to "Rev." It is important to note that outside of notations, the direction is often omitted to refer to an entire family of tricks, and the omission does not automatically imply Normal.
  • number of spins: This is the total amount of revolutions of the pen throughout the entire trick. If omitted, it is assumed to be the default amount for the individual trick stated.
  • starting position: This is the finger slot, or other position on the hand/body, of the pen when the trick starts. If omitted, it is assumed to be the default position for the individual trick.
  • ending position: This is the finger slot, or other position on the hand/body, of the pen when the trick ends. If omitted, it is assumed to be the default position for the individual trick. When notating a trick, a "-" is placed between the starting and ending positions.


Breakdowns are annotations of hybrids (a mix of a few "interrupted" tricks) and combos (combinations of tricks) which are used to define how a hybrid or combo is performed.[5] The simplest breakdowns often only have a ">" between tricks to show that they are connected. More formal breakdowns use other symbols to show different aspects of the connections between tricks.[6] No one format is used every time, and formats are often deviated from when certain pen spinners write out breakdowns.

Fundamental tricks[edit]

Pen Spinning

In pen spinning there are four main fundamental tricks spinners often learn first. They are as follows.


Photograph of a ThumbAround.

The ThumbAround Normal (previously known as "360 Degrees Normal") is performed by pushing a pen using any finger (usually the middle finger) except the thumb to initiate the pen to spin around one's thumb one time, then catching it in between the thumb and a finger.[7]


The Pass involves rotating a pen 0.5 times from one finger slot to another. When performing a Pass Normal on the palm-side of hand, the pen goes downward. When performing a Pass Normal on the other side of the hand, the pen goes upward. A small combination of Passes involving the pen rotating fully around the hand, starting and ending at the 12 slot, is called a FingerPass.[8] The FingerPass was used in the James Bond film GoldenEye by Boris Grishenko, in a variation using only three fingers instead of the usual four.[citation needed]


Photograph of a Sonic.

The idea behind the Sonic is to move the pen from one finger position to another finger position in as little time as possible. In the Sonic Normal, a pen is held in a finger slot not involving the thumb and is spun in a conic-like motion behind a finger (or fingers) to another finger slot further up the hand. The pen makes one revolution. Hideaki Kondoh is generally credited with giving the Sonic its name, because of the way the pen would blur in his fingers.[9]


The Charge Normal does not involve spinning the pen over any fingers or any body parts, rather, the pen is spun conically in a single finger slot.[10] In the right hand, the pen spins clockwise; in the left hand, it spins counter-clockwise. This trick is often performed by drummers using drumsticks rather than pens.

Advanced tricks[edit]

In addition to the four fundamentals, more tricks have been invented and used successfully in combos. All tricks other than than the fundamentals are usually grouped under the term "advanced tricks"; however, this is somewhat a misnomer due to most spinners considering many of these tricks rather simple.[citation needed] Most advanced tricks are hybrids, which is a pen movement that consists of at least two tricks, and one or more of the tricks is "interrupted," that is, not completed fully before the next trick is executed.[11] A more complex hybrid can also involve another hybrid within itself (e.g., the Devil's Sonic Normal consists of a Twisted Sonic interrupted by a Shadow). As more hybrids have been invented over time, individual names for each one have become increasingly uncommon. This is because breakdowns of the hybrid showing the tricks out of which it is made are preferred over a unique name for the hybrid. The following common advanced tricks are ones often considered low-difficulty.[citation needed]


Whether it is grouped under advanced tricks or not, the Wiper is considered to be one of simplest tricks because it consists of a single movement. In the Wiper Normal, the pen, held from one of the ends, rotates (often upward) toward the thumb in the shape of an arc. A type of Wiper Harmonic ("Harmonic" means that the Normal and Reverse of a trick are performed consecutively) that involves the rotation of the hand and wrist, or simply the appropriate movement of the fingers, in order to create a smooth motion is called a Figure 8.

Infinity and variations[edit]

Appearing similar to the Figure 8, the Infinity group of tricks are made of Wiper and Pass tricks performed one after another. For example, the Infinity Normal is made of a Wiper Reverse, Pass Normal, Wiper Reverse, and Pass Reverse. The Double, Triple, and Quadruple Infinity are made by adding more Pass and Wiper tricks after the initial movement, and the Infinity Extended is made by adding a Charge motion between the Wiper and Pass tricks, thus increasing the revolutions of the pen. These additions may be combined to form the Double Infinity Extended, et cetera.


Arounds are tricks in which the pen rotates around one or more body parts and are named after the body parts the pen rotates around. As an example, in a default MiddleIndexAround Normal, the pen begins in the 23 slot, goes around the middle and index fingers from the palm-side to the knuckle-side, and ends in the 23 slot. The ThumbAround, as a fundamental, is usually the first Around a pen spinner learns.


A Spin refers the motion of a pen circularly spinning on the surface of one or more of the finger or other body parts without being physically held in a slot. Spins done on the knuckle-side of the fingers are called "topspins." The are many versions of the Spin, and the names usually involve the body parts the pen spins on (e.g., in the ThumbSpin the pen spins on the thumb). Spins are mostly performed as a part of a larger trick, such as a Shadow. One of the most notable spins is the SpiderSpin, which in the original sense refers to a pen spinning on the knuckle-side of the middle and ring fingers but on the palm-side of the hand, accomplished by bending the fingers in a similar shape to that of the Devil's horn.


The Shadow is often used to move the pen from one finger slot to another, although it can be performed without a slot transfer (this is called a Shadow Still). The Shadow is classified as a topspin trick due to the presence of a topspin within it. The Shadow consists of a Charge interrupted by any FingerSpin, followed by a return to a finger slot with a final Charge motion.

A common variation of the Shadow is the Inverse Shadow, which, like all Inverse tricks, modifies the trick to have the pen spin on the side opposite to the default side of hand. This means that during an Inverse Shadow, the pen spins on the palm-side of the hand instead of the default knuckle-side, forcing the hand to be oriented with the palm facing upward.

Korean BackAround and Bust[edit]

The Korean BackAround, or simply "Bak," is a popular trick where the pen goes around one or more of the four fingers that are not the thumb. It can be alternatively classified as a Fingerless FingerAround Reverse that follows a diagonal motion initiated by the turning of the hand and wrist. Similar to other tricks, Baks are named after the fingers the pen rotates around (e.g., the RingBak uses the ring finger). A type of Bak Reverse executed with an upward motion of the finger adjacent to the finger(s) that the pen spins around is referred to as a Bust.

The Bak has several variations. A popular miniature combo executed by pen spinners is called the BakFall, which is done by performing successive single-finger Baks one after another from the index finger to the little finger with a Pass Normal in between each Bak. The BakRise is essentially a BakFall Reverse, and it involves Bak Reverses and Pass Reverses from the little finger going to the index finger. Another common extension of the basic Bak is the Bak 1.5, in which the pen makes a total of 1.5 revolutions by making an extra half rotation as a topspin on a finger or fingers before being caught, unlike the normal Bak which only has one revolution.

Sonic variations[edit]

The Sonic hybrids and variations are different ways of transferring the pen from one slot to another, the main goal of the basic Sonic. The most popular variations are:

  • the Twisted Sonic, which consists of a charge motion and a pass,
  • the Sonic Clip, which consists of a Charge Normal embedded within a Sonic Normal and executed when the pen is held with nonadjacent fingers,
  • the Sonic Rise, a simple extension, which is made of two Sonic Normals done in a connected fluid motion from slot 34 to 12,
  • the Sonic Fall, which is the Reverse of the Sonic Rise. It consists of two Sonic Reverses executed one after the other from slot 12 to 34.

Power tricks[edit]

Power tricks encompass a specific type of advanced tricks and combos. The definition of what qualifies as a "power trick" varies between different pen spinners. Power tricks are usually said to be Fingerless, Aerial, and/or Continuous in nature, thus greatly reliant on the momentum of the pen. French spinners often define power tricks as many difficult tricks linked together.[citation needed] The use of power tricks in combos varies between spinners, but often times power tricks are used at the end of the combo as a "finisher." The term "power tricker" is applied to a spinner who uses power tricks very often and perhaps creates combos comprised entirely out of power tricks ("power combos"). Pen spinner Spinnerpeem greatly popularized the use of power tricks in combos and is said to be one of the first power trickers.[citation needed] The following are some of the most common power tricks.

Continuous Fingerless ThumbAround[edit]

The Continuous Fingerless ThumbAround is usually abbreviated to simply "Cont. FL TA," and refers to the repeated non-interrupted motion of the pen moving around the thumb without the push of a finger. This trick can be executed in different ways, such as with an upward movement of the side of a folded index finger or with an upward movement of the webbing between the index finger and thumb.

PalmSpin to Fingerless ThumbAround[edit]

In the default version of the PalmSpin > FL TA the pen spins 0.5 times on the palm, then goes around the thumb without the push of a finger. This can be performed multiple times in a row as a Continuous trick.

Pun New[edit]

The Pun New consists of a PalmSpin followed by a Fingerless FingerAround that does not solely go around the thumb, making it similar to the PalmSpin > FL TA.

SpiderSpin to Fingerless ThumbAround[edit]

The default version of the SpiderSpin > FL TA is performed with the hand held in a similar shape to that of the Devil's horn. The pen spins on the knuckle-side of the bent ring and middle fingers and then goes around the thumb without the push of a finger. The trick has evolved to include variations in which, during the SpiderSpin, the pen may spin on any finger(s). These specialized types of the SpiderSpin are sometimes described by naming the finger(s) the pen spins on (e.g., the RingSpiderSpin involves the pen spinning only on the ring finger). The current record for the Continuous [SpiderSpin > FL TA] is 51 repetitions, set by Japanese pen spinner Menowa*.[citation needed]

Hai Tua[edit]

Spinnerpeem and several other spinners (including Eriror of UPSB) invented this trick. This is a common trick seen with powertrickers. It is very hard to do continuously and link smoothly. Most spinners who use this trick are powertrickers.

Continuous Bust[edit]

The Continuous Bust, sometimes referred to as Multiple Bust, is a very common power trick, especially at the end of a combo. To be "Continuous," the Busts are executed without stopping and without any other trick between each Bust. The momentum is usually maintained by an upward movement of the finger adjacent to the finger(s) the pen is set to rotate around. Continuous Busts are most often done around the index finger with a upward motion of the middle finger. The record is set by pen spinner MKSFT at over 1000 repetitions.[citation needed]

Pun Kan[edit]

Essentially an ArmAround, the Pun Kan involves the pen rotating around an arm. This trick was invented by pen spinner Pyralux and popularized by Spinnerpeem, who also gave it the name "Pun Kan."[citation needed]


This trick can be best described as palms up powerpass to air 1.0. Or palms up around to air 1.0.

Pen Modifications[edit]

Pen spinners often modify pens, or make pen mods, to construct a more desirable spinning pen. Pen mods are usually made from more than one pen with different pieces from separate pens. While any pen that has been modified is technically a pen mod, mods are often longer, heavier, balanced, and more unique in appearance than non-modded pens. There are hundreds of pen mods, and some common ones include the BICtory, Metallic Comssa, RSVP MX, Waterfall, Dr. KT, and Buster CYL. There is some speculation that using a heavier mod when beginning to learn tricks will lead to worse execution of the tricks due to excessive reliance on the mod's own momentum.

In addition to modified pens, mass-produced spinning pens also exist. These pens are usually heavier than many pen mods, but ones with adjustable weights are available. Preferring the greater customization ability of modified pens, pen spinners generally avoid these spinning pens.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pen spinning world cup launched". 2007-02-14. Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  2. ^ Hongo, Jun (January 2008). "Finessing the pen-twirl becomes a fine science". The Japan Times. Retrieved January 2010. 
  3. ^ Novak, Asami (January 2008). "Mastering the Art of Pen Spinning". Retrieved January 2010. 
  4. ^ "Full Trick Name Convention". Universal Pen Spinning Board. Retrieved 2014-12-11. 
  5. ^ "Combo". Universal Pen Spinning Board. Retrieved 2014-12-11. 
  6. ^ "Interrupted Trick Notation". Universal Pen Spinning Board. Retrieved 2014-12-11. 
  7. ^ "ThumbAround Normal". Archived from the original on 2009-03-12. 
  8. ^ "FingerPass Normal". Archived from the original on 2009-12-09. 
  9. ^ "Sonic Normal". Archived from the original on 2010-01-23. 
  10. ^ "Charge Normal". Archived from the original on 2009-02-22. 
  11. ^ "Hybrid". Universal Pen Spinning Board. Retrieved 2014-12-09. 

External links[edit]