We hit up the boys across the pond over at Kendama London to hear about how they got the UK kendama scene popping off! We specifically talked to Ben Austin, who not only plays kendama but also hosts jams and events in and around London. As you will see, he is super passionate about the game and even has an ecological approach to giving back to the environment through a tree planting initiative. To learn more, we chatted via email about everything kendama in the UK!
What’s the London kendama scene like?
Kendama London HQ is about an hour and a half drive from central London. So we’re actually further into the countryside than we are the city. But the few times we have stormed the city, it’s gone off. One notable memory is from the 2019 Japan Matsuri festival in Trafalgar Square, this is a free festival celebrating Japanese culture that we just so happened to stumble upon that day. We couldn’t find anything celebrating kendama so we took on that responsibility ourselves by demoing tricks and letting people play. We gathered a crowd pretty quickly, many people actually thought we were a part of the festivities, a few even asked which stall was ours and where they could purchase a kendama! It even got to a point where the event organisers noticed and politely asked us to stop playing as we were pulling too many people away from the main stage performances. They went on to say they’d love to include us into their program but couldn't add any more acts into the day's schedule, so asked us to get in touch officially next year as they’d love to include kendama moving forward!
In terms of everyday London jams, Sean is our boy for that. But personally, I’d say the UK kendama scene in general is amazing, we have smaller concentrated pockets of players scattered about the country, but when a jam or event happens, it’s not uncommon for people to travel and get together as a whole unit. Plus kendama has seen tremendous growth during lockdown and we can’t wait to see what event numbers look like when we can get together again. We’re actually planning a large scale event in August - so watch this space!
Can you tell us a little more about your tree planting initiative?
For sure! With global CO2 emissions increasing year on year, one of our main business objectives from the start has always been to operate as greenly as possible - the earth is important, so we feel responsible and do what we can to negate our own impact. One of the ways we go about offsetting carbon emissions is by planting trees and funding other climate positive initiatives via a company called Ecologi. Sales are directly linked to our website and a donation is made for every £30 spent online.
We feel tree planting presents a ‘circle of life’ opportunity. Players have reassurance that the kendama they’re about to destroy will have a little tree planted in it’s honour, which also helps to support and protect ecosystems around the world.
If you would like to read more about the projects we've funded, where our trees are planted, or if you wished to plant a tree with your own donation, you can check it out here - https://ecologi.com/kendamalondon
How did you link up with Sol Kendamas to bring them to the UK?
When we were launching in early 2018, we started with just over £1000 and had great intentions to stock Sol from the beginning, but ultimately settled on other brands in order to provide a wider variety within our limited budget. In 2019 Kendama London and Sol Kendamas sponsored EKC and I met Chad and Kevin in Copenhagen for the freestyle event. We hung out at the KROM shop and talked about when the timing would be right to stock, but it wasn’t until later that year when we could finally start connecting seriously. However, covid then pushed everyone back, so we couldn’t launch Sol until summer 2020. On the lead up to the announcement we had UK slayers DM’ing us daily about pro mods and 1Up Ken Only and we pretty much sold out during the weekend drop! The demand for Sol has been crazy, but it’s clear why, they’re so playable! It's one of my favourite shapes too.
Who are the main Kendama London team members?
Kendama London was started by 3 friends, Matt, Justin and Ben. Born from a shared passion of quality kendamas, which at the time wasn’t so easy to get hold of in the UK. Matt & Justin are currently stepped back while they concentrate on family life, and the operational side of things are completed by me, I do everything from ordering stock, writing product descriptions and boxing up our orders on the daily.
When it comes to our players, we currently sponsor 6 people - Ben, Sean, Rhys, Tom, Peachy and Jack. I’ll pop their instagram handles below so you can drop them a follow. They’re such a great bunch and we couldn’t ask for a better family of slayers. Peachy joined us in January, and Jack has just literally dropped his announcement video.
The full team hasn’t been together since BKO 2019 though, we’re very spread out and live a good few hours from one another, plus covid has made things more challenging with the current restrictions, but it is starting to ease up in the UK now, so fingers crossed we can get together soon and perhaps make a well overdue team edit! To see more, check out our team members on Instagram!