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The Long & Short of It: Kendama String Length Explained

November 16, 2020

Feature Image - The Long & Short of It - Sol Kendamas - Blog

Once upon a time, strings on kendama were pretty standard across the community. Just five years ago, the Japanese Kendama Association's standard length was commonly used among kendama players. Although there are purists, things change; string length was one of the first to do so. If you've played any amount of time, you might recall Sol Kendamas' Kris Bosch responding to the "haters" by posting a video to his YouTube channel. Landing each trick debated, he showed the camera that the length of the string used was JKA standard, strengthening his point that string length does not impede your ability to land tricks.

Over the past decade, we have seen an incredible amount of crossover from Yoyo and other skill toys as players like Daniel Robinson and Adrian Esteban have paved the way for a new genre of kendama play. Even by Gloken's standards, there is no set requirement for string length. So what's the deal; why are strings getting longer and longer? Why do all players mess around with the length of their strings these days?

Finger Measurements

There are some people who do specifically measure their string to an exact length, but most people measure their string by the "finger" scale. To measure your string using this scale, you would put tama on the spike, slide your fingertips between the loop of string, and pull taut below the bottom cup. We measure the string relative to how many of your fingers fit in the string before the top of your index finger touches the bottom cup. This method is a simple and easy way to get the string to a length that feels good for the player without getting too in depth with cutting and measuring the string against a yard or meter stick. For the sake of ease, I will refer to lengths by this scale from now on, given that it is the most commonly used among the community.
 

2 Finger

KD Mod; 2 Finger String Length

The "standard" length for most of kendama's modern history. Very few players use this length regularly these days; it's mostly used during February, also known as "JKA Month", wherein you play a JKA certified kendama for the entirety. If you aren't getting ready to Dan test, you most likely won't be using this length. It is fun to go back to sometimes, though!

 

(Edit: 2 finger length is widely misconceived, and was actually the “minimum length”; there is no rule on how long string should be. Cr. Adrian Esteban)

 

Pros:

  • Ken or Tama won't hit the ground when you bend the knees, which can hinder play
  • Rotations and Flow tricks rotate at a faster rate because of centripetal force
  • Less force needed to pull up
  • JKA Preferred

Cons:

  • Little room to maneuver ken or tama can cause the string to tug if they move too far apart
  • Tricks can be more difficult to master due to the little room for error
  • New-gen style & string tricks are much harder or not possible at all

3-6 Finger

KD Mod; 3 Finger String   KD Mod; 5 Finger String

This is much more of the widely used standard you will find today. Most all companies sell kendamas with at least 3 finger strings already set up, some pushing the length even further out of the box. These lengths all play pretty similarly, which is why they are together here. Most kendama players these days play within this range. It's a nice middle ground, not too long as to hinder aerial tricks, not too short as to limit your mobility during play.

Pros:

  • More room for movement without tugging of the string
  • String tricks are more attainable
  • Juggle and Kenflip tricks become easier

Cons:

  • More opportunity for tangles/knots
  • Aerial & Flow tricks rotate slower with the same amount of force applied
  • More force needed to pull up
  • Not allowed for JKA

7+ Finger

KD Mod; 7+ Finger

Very popular among players who are higher-level play who do new-gen tricks, such as juggles, late kenflips, and others. In order to maximize the time they have between movements, they push the string length to the extreme. By doing this, they can toss ken or tama higher in the air, allowing them to accomplish more tricks or transitions before it falls back down. Very few companies ship their kendamas with strings this long, but it's becoming increasingly more common. It may be very tempting to jump to this length of string, but it also has a couple drawbacks.

Pros:

  • A lot of room for separation without tugging the string
  • Best for new generation style of play
  • Longer string = heavier string, heavier string = easier to manipulate, making many string tricks much easier

Cons:

  • Based on player height, tama or ken may hit the ground if the knees are bent.
  • Aerial & Flow tricks rotate much slower
  • Much more force needed to cause rotations
  • Not allowed for JKA

You Choose!

I only meant this to inform you of what you might expect when you string up that new kendama. All string lengths are great and preference varies from player to player. I recommend trying out several lengths and seeing what you like best! Start with something long and try it out, then shorten it little by little. Eventually, you'll find a length that feels great to play; tie your knot there. Keep in mind, depending on the length, some tricks get easier and some get harder. The glorious thing about it; it's so easy to swap it out later if you change your mind!

Thanks for reading this short dive into string theory! In theme, here's a video from our friends over at Kendertainment where they try a game of KEN with an INSANELY long string!
Cody Booth is a kendama player of 5 years from Huntington, WV who helps with multiple organizations pushing kendama forward. Cody's Instagram.



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