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Perform Kendama Like A Pro

December 07, 2020

Perform Kendama Like A Pro

Whether you are new to kendama or have been playing for years, almost every player has had an experience with landing a trick for someone. Occasionally, that someone is just a passerby on the street who's interested in what you're doing. Other times, you might get a lucky opportunity to perform kendama for a group. No matter who you're performing for, there aren't many worse feelings than missing a trick when you are trying to portray yourself as knowledgeable or skilled with kendama. Not only that, you may have had an experience where you've performed an incredibly tough trick, even by your own standards, just for a much simpler trick to impress the spectator. These situations have led me to question: what tricks are best to show people when introducing them to kendama, in order to reach our best-case scenario; making a kendama player out of them, too! This is meant to be for players who want to start making a show, as well as experienced players who might want to reassess their current act and change things.

Gauge Your Audience

  • Who are you performing for?
  • Is it a single individual who doesn't know about kendama?
  • Is it a group of people watching you on stage?

These are all questions you can ask yourself in order to gain some insight on what would be best in each scenario. In my personal experience, laypeople (someone without knowledge or experience) are more likely to impressed by simpler concepts and large movements, whereas they are more often intimidated by high-level play.

In the example of meeting one person who asks you what kendama is, I find it's much more likely you'll make a lover of kendama out of them if you show them easier tricks. People are much more likely to enjoy something they feel is possible to them. If a person only sees the seemingly impossible tricks rather than more attainable tricks, they are much less likely to even bother trying from the first place. For these more intimate one-on-one interactions, I like to stick with showing them the basics, starting with the cup combinations and also showing them the ability to land on spike. By providing them with an attainable window of success along with some coaching along the way, we have a higher chance of them accomplishing a trick if they were to try it out later.

For a group of laypeople, whether it be a stage performance or just an impromptu performance somewhere, I try to have a set choreographed for it. By set, I'm referring to a sequence or group of tricks. I choose tricks for this set based on my comfort level and my success rate; the less comfortable and lower my success rate, the lesser the chance of me including that trick in my regular performances for groups. Also, it's sometimes nice to keep in mind that the spike is often what the non-initiated see as the pinnacle of success, so I like to connect tricks together that end with a spike of some sort by the end of the combination. In this way, we are building tension towards a climactic moment that everyone expects. When we finally reach that peak and cross the finish line with a nice clean spike, the audience is ideally just as thrilled as you are with the perfect cap to the end of a combo of tricks, often inciting applause!

This is a wonderful opportunity to show you a community beloved video! Takahiro Maeda effortlessly performs kendama for a group during a New Year's Sportster meeting in 2010. Note how he builds upwards in difficulty throughout his demonstration and how he also uses comedy here and there to keep the performance entertaining, lighthearted, and funny. This keeps the audience engaged with the performance, who then want to see more and more.

You can see an incredible example of a kendama performance hereHiroshi Shigeki tearing it up for a surrounding crowd in what appears to be a street busking show. Even if you don't speak the language of the performer, you can see that he builds his act in a way that builds upon itself throughout the show. When he misses a trick, he quickly and effortlessly inserts comedy to diffuse the situation, engaging the audience even more in the show.

We always want to have as close to 100% success rate as possible when we choose the last trick. The worst feeling in that situation is landing each trick consecutively, only to miss the last spike. With that in mind, we can opt for an easier finish based upon our own skill level to further guarantee our success. It's totally okay to finish a combo with a big cup to spike if it means that your audience won't also share the negative feeling you might feel when missing a trick. I won't lie to you, I do it often! 

Filming Your Practice

I also highly recommend filming yourself! Set up a camera, set a timer for yourself, and just play. Play as if you cannot stop to reset. This pushes your brain to think on the fly with kendama, forcing you to come up with connections and transitions between tricks. When you're done, watch the footage back and take notes. Observe what tricks mess up your flow of play and either work more on incorporating that idea, omit the trick entirely, or come up with a different trick that would connect well in that same spot. You can also make note here of any ideas you may have done in practice that surprised yourself, either in your own ability or how cool the trick looks. This will help you remember to do new tricks you like in the future, rather than forget about the new cool idea you tried. After assessing your work, film again, but this time, play with the help of these mental notes you've created for yourself. Over time, you'll dial into a set of tricks that come naturally to you, relative to your skill level, and have a premeditated idea of what tricks would be good for you to use when completing a set of tricks for a performance.

 

When you're performing, the most important thing to keep in mind is your audience and their experience. It's not just about showing off your best tricks, but showing people what kendama is to you. I implore you to do tricks that you really enjoy doing for your performances; tricks you do all the time. They are your go-to ideas and you'll be more likely to land them on command and in stressful situations. Try to throw a myriad of concepts you can do into your set to diversify your play style and keep the show interesting. If you miss or drop, just try your best to let that slide off your back mentally; you can always knock it out of the park on the next trick. Keep it lighthearted, and most importantly, have fun! Show your audience the full scope of what kendama can be!

Enjoy another example of a great kendama performance to learn from! Here we see Yusuke Ito blending elements of flow skills from Poi, kendama, and juggling to wow his audience with every catch and spike.

 

Cody Booth is a kendama player of 5 years from Huntington, WV who helps with multiple organizations pushing kendama forward. Cody's Instagram.