What is A Kendama?

Feb 21, 2018
What is A Kendama?


The kendama (けん玉, "sword [and] ball") is a Japanese 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-yodiabolojuggling and dance.

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 danrankings 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] Also, in 2010 Sweets Kendamas was founded. They began to promote kendama in North America and Europe, particularly throughout the juggling and rollerblading communities. 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.[8][9]


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, where many kendama shokūgekìs (Japanese for battle) 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.[10]


The Japanese Kendama Association has held kendama contests since 1979.[11] 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.[12]

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 100 and attempt to complete tricks within a time limit. These tricks are classified according to difficulty into 10 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 10 trick is worth 10 points. This year's Kendama World Cup (KWC 2018) will take place in Hatsukaichi again, on the 21st and 22nd of July.

Gloken Kendama World Cup Winners

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

2015 - Wyatt Bray / USA / KendamaUSA

2016 - Bryson Lee / USA / Sweets Kendamas

2016 Freestyle - Nick Gallagher / USA / Sweets Kendamas

2017 - So Kanada / Japan / 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

The Minnesota Kendama Open[edit]

The Minnesota Kendama Open[13] 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 USA 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. 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

Minnesota Kendama Open Freestyle Winners

2015 - Jake Fischer / USA / KROM Kendama

2016 - Bonz Atron / USA / KROM Kendama

2017 - Nick Gallagher / USA / Sweets Kendamas

Battle at the Border[edit]

Battle at the Border is an annual kendama event 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 was held in Nashville, TN on January 3 at Rocketown. This was the year that Sol Kendamas officially took over the event coordination. Battle at the Border 2017 was held on January 7, 2017 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 / Kendama Co

2015 - William Penniman / USA / Sweets Kendamas

2016 - Kevin DeSoto / USA / Sol Kendamas

2017 - Liam Rauter / USA / Pineapple Kendama

Kendama tricks[edit]


  • Big cup
  • Small cup
  • Base cup
  • Spike

Simple Tricks[edit]

  • Orbit
  • Moshi-kame
  • Candlestick
  • Clack
  • Airplane
  • Bungie
  • Lighthouse
  • Ladybug
  • Penguin Catch

Basic Combinations[edit]

  • Around Perfecture (Base Cup, Spike)
  • Around Japan (Small Cup, Big Cup, Spike)
  • Around The World (Small Cup, Big Cup, Base Cup, Spike)
  • Around Europe (Small Cup, Spike, Big Cup, Spike, Base Cup, Spike)
  • Around USA (Small Cup, Spike, Earthturn, Big Cup, Spike, Earthturn, Base Cup, Spike Earthturn)

Other Tricks[edit]

  • Swing Spike
  • Flying V
  • Slipstick
  • Wrap it up B
  • Bird
  • Nightengale
  • Under Bird
  • Ken Flip
  • Earthturn
  • J-Stick
  • Around the Europe
  • Juggle
  • Stuntplane
  • Downspike
  • Bird over the Valley
  • Hand-Roll
  • Finger-Roll
  • Spacewalk
  • Arm Bounce
  • Knee Bounce
  • Handlestall
  • Trade Spike
  • Lazy Lighthouse
  • Cold Pizza
  • One turn Lighthouse
  • One turn Airplane
  • Tornado
  • Air Whip
  • Drop Step
  • Swirl
  • Lunar
  • Mooncircle
  • Super Flamingo
  • Butterfly
  • Around USA
  • Turntable
  • Gunslinger
  • Stilt
  • Cliffhanger
  • Slip Grip Special
  • Wing
  • Bird flip
  • Lighthouse Flip
  • Lunar Flip
  • Barrel Roll
  • The Backstreets
  • Lunar Tre
  • Funhouse
  • Root Canal
  • Whirlwind
  • Whirlslinger
  • Hand Wrap
  • Din's fire
  • Dragon Dance
  • Morphin's Time
  • Inward Lunar
  • Inward Stilt
  • Swap Spike
  • Axe
  • Ghost Lighthouse
  • Carousel
  • Leanhouse
  • Boarders Balance
  • Tightrope



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