Sophomore advances in art of Kendama

Upcoming national competition creates excitement, anticipation


Stuart Monicatti

Sophomore Ethan Hoeschen attempts speed Kendama. During speed Kendama competitions, competitors try to complete as many tricks as fluently as possible within an amount of time.

Nicole Sanford

What is Kendama and how do you play?

It’s a wooden Japanese game that has three cups, one on the bottom and then two that are separate. One’s smaller than the other and then there’s a spike. Then there’s a ball connected to the spike with a string and that ball has a hole in it so you can get it on the spike and you can get it on the cups.

Do you know where it originated?

It’s most popular in Japan but it’s increasing in popularity in the United States, China and Taiwan. It was made in Japan originally as a drinking game for sailors in the 1800s, but then they started marketing it as a kids game in the 1900s.

How much time do you spend practicing

Right now, I spend an hour or more a day because I have a competition coming up, but normally at least an hour a day — whenever I get the time.

Do you think Kendama is a sport or a hobby?

It depends on what you consider to be a sport. It can be if you consider a sport to be anything that has competition but I think of it more as a hobby because I don’t really want to get judged by anyone in Kendama. For me, it’s more of a hobby but once you get sponsored it can become more of a sport I guess.

When did you first start playing Kendama?

I started about two years ago, maybe a bit more.

How did get interested in Kendama?

My neighbors had (a Kendama toy) and I just sort of picked up and started playing with it. I later saw the toys at the State Fair that summer, and I decided to pick one up. I didn’t play with it for a while, but then I found it again, and when I started I didn’t really stop.

What is the biggest challenge with playing?

Finding the time, balancing it with school and stuff. If you want to get really good you have to put in a fair amount of time so that’s mostly the biggest struggle.

Is it easy to learn new tricks?

Yes, as long as you practice it’s pretty easy it just takes time.

Have you ever been in any competitions?

I have, I’m actually going to one in October and I went to that one last year and the year before.

Do you like competing?

It stresses me out a little bit but in a good way.

What do you get out of competing in Kendama tournaments?

I enjoy it because you can win stuff and win money, but I also just enjoy the competition aspect of it.

Are there different kinds of Kendamas? How many do you have?

There are different kinds. They make some that are painted and some that aren’t painted. I have maybe 30 or more.

What kind of tricks can you do?

A lot of different ones. It would take me a while to name all of them, but I can do all of the basic ones, like I can do all of the cut tricks like big cut, low cut and spike.

What is your favorite trick?

I like taps and juggles.

What competition is coming up for you? When is it?

The Minnesota Kendama Open. It’s the biggest U.S. competition, the second or third biggest competition in the world. It is Oct. 28-30.