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A review of the kendama week at the EJC, 2011

Wow, what a week.

I arrived on Saturday to be greetd by Basti as I approached the hall. I registered, and managed a quick hello to the JKA players while they were having a jam. After setting up my tent, and having dinner, the rest of the day was spent saying hellos to people, and getting to know the EJC site.

The next day I was able to have a general jam session with the three Japanese players. That in itself was a revelation. Seeing tricks performed in the flesh, and being able to ask questions about technique was fantastic. Sometimes the most minor thing can make such a difference.
On Monday there was an unexpected hall closure, so another informal jam took place just outside the hall, which also became the location for 2 scheduled beginners workshops. The attendance grew throughout, as people either saw the clicking crowd, or found their way to us. Beside the workshop, Jeffrey, Alex, Nicolas, Thomas, Daniella, Sebastian and Basti jammed away at the hard stuff.
On Tuesday there was an advanced workshop, where the specific rules of each trick in the comp were run through, and then a little later the qualifying trials for the STC were held at the Kendama Europe stall. No-one was told their time, to build the suspense for the following day. (Matt Nix phoned up to book his qualifying slot the next morning, as he was arriving late).

Wednesday was competition day. A separate review is here.

On Thursday, there were examinations held for people to try to gain their official JKA beginners ranking. Several people came away with Kyu 1 certificates, and one or two with Pre-Dan grade. After a short break for refreshment, a charity auction was held, to raise funds for the victims of the recent Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan. The JKA players had brought several very nice or rare kendama pieces with them, and eager eyes gazed across the table as Basti laid them out for a sneak peak. Basti took the mic as auctioneer, and many a bid was made, almost every bidder coming away with something. There were even a couple of proxy bidders who had placed a "sealed bid" with their representatives. 5 Mugens (one custom "wine-green"), 4 custom painted Ozoras, a custom painted Large Taiyo, and some autographed Ozoras amongst other goodies all found their way in to eager hands. I went away with an autograohed Ozora and a "ninja" all-black custom Ozora for my mantelpiece. Special mention should go to the generous bidding of Colin, Nicolas and Marc, all of which went on to raise ~€1800 for a very good cause.
On Friday, Shimadera-san, Akimoto-san and Mukai-san were kind enough to give a few of us the opportunity to try to go further in our examinations, with the exalted rank of Dan on offer. Basti Jeff, Alex and I all spent the afternoon frantically practising the compulsory tricks and moshikame. When the time came, I went first, and remembering to breathe and relax my shoulders, I managed to rack up 795 catches of Moshi kame in the one attempt allowed. This meant that I could potentially qualify as high as 3rd Dan. But there was still a lot of work to be done, as there were the compulsory tricks to work through. The system was that I would use my 10 attempts per trick to gain as many hits as possible, up to the maximum for 3rd Dan. If I did not achieve the required number for one trick for 3rd Dan, then I would continue as for 2nd Dan, etc. Around the World and Lighthouse were fine, but then the odd miss started to creep in. Simadera-san encouraged me each time with "Oh, okay, okay, please take it easy, relax, no problem!". 3 misses in a row on Bird was unnerving, but I got back on track with Hanging Spike. Jumping stick came to haunt me with 4 misses after the first hit, but I got the 2 more needed to take me though to the last two tricks. A couple of misses on swing to Lighthouse were followed by a hit, which left only Speed Trick B to negotiate in 120 seconds.
Having been practising for a while now for the Dan rankings, I was reasonably sure I could do this in the 2 attempts allowed, so I went for a "slow and steady" pace, not rushing. Taking the "arounds" at a sedate speed, and not rushing my transitions, I hit my stride, and when I finished, Shimadera-san told me my time was.... 84 seconds! I'd done it! As the certificate was filled in, and my kendama crew cheered for me, I felt myself starting to shake. And when I tried to say thank you to Shimadera-san as he handed me my certificate, I actually started crying. I was shocked at how much it meant to me, and to be told that I was the first European to achieve this was something even more special. I sloped off to semi-coherently call my girlfriend, and came back to support the other guys in their tests. Basti and Marc both got their "Pre-dan" gradings, with Marc being reasonably pleased, and Basti being rather disappointed to have Around The Cosmos get the better of him and deny him Dan status. Next time, Basti! Alex went last, and with over 200 on his moshi kame, was going for 1st Dan. The practice session had served him well, and as the tricks all passed by, the final Jumping stick saw him triumph, joining me in an elite club. I was pleased to see that Alex had exactly the same reaction as me, and I'm not just a big softee! Of course it sounds very silly, but only the people who were there will really know how big an occasion it felt.

The week had flown by, and it was now time for Shimadera-san, Akimoto-san and Mukai-san to pack their bags after a few photos, and head off to the airport. I would like to say a big thank you to them on behalf of all the European players, for coming all the way from Japan to join us, and sharing their skills and information with us. We will all miss you, guys..... until next time!

For me Friday evening and Saturday were a slow come-down, and I'd like to apologise to anyone who I bored with my 3rd Dan story. Sorry, but I was a bit hyper!

Even without the competition, it was the kendama-week of my life, and one I'll never forget. Thank you to all the kendama players, at all skill levels, who made this such a fun week.

The Void
-Aug 2011

Void's pictures from Munich are here.