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The hardest kendama trick ever...

Started by The Void, 14 October, 2017, 11:56:19

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The Void

...for me, at least, is passing 6th Dan.

Well, today I did it. Not in practice, for real.


The short version:

Here's a twitter thread:
QuoteToday I became the first non-Japanese player to pass the highest grade of 6th Dan in kendama. It's the hardest thing I've ever done. 1/-

If you don't know what kendama is, think something like "yo-yo x juggling x cup and ball". Or watch . 2/- ← Please go to JTV for HD/download
And yes, there really are skill level gradings in a silly wooden toy. Well, why not? (It's fun, challenging, and good exercise, FYI.) 3/-
Today's exam was my 8th attempt. Keep following your dreams, ESPECIALLY if someone else thinks they're stupid. 4/-
I'm ill & exhausted, but this feels like (I imagine) winning an Olympic gold medal. So there you go, GB. And especially for fakoriginal
Big thanks to kendamakyokai , Nakanishi-san, Maruishi-san, Yano-san, Matsunaga-san, shakemid akirakendama Akimoto-san, jugglesensei 6/-
...for inspiration and help along the way. Also more inspiration from TheYarnold jennyjonessnow ScaramangaSix - Thanks cats! 7/-
And to the guys on my heels, come on matt_sweets_ & KendAlex , you can do it too! #NeverGiveUp (although I've been bloody tempted) 8/-
And lastly, thanks to all my kendama & non-kendama friends who've been cheering me on for the last 5 years. Appreciated. 9/9 ...probably.
Oh, and feel free to buy my books from your local stockist, or order them at your library. 10/9 😋

QT 11/9
Royal Kendama "If you don't know what this means..."

The Very Long version:

A chance remark at Spikedama turned into a conversation, and then, with the generosity of Nakanishi-san, a trip to Japan...

I flew in on the Thursday morning, and headed from the airport to my hotel. 500m from the door, the sole of my shoe fell off completely. An omen? I was right by the 7-11, so I brought some superglue, hobbled to check in, glued the shoe and crashed out for 3 hours sleep. Woke up, and with shoe seemingly intact, headed to meet Nakanishi-san and Manami-san. We went to a vegetarian restaurant called Bon, and had a really nice multi-course meal. Food! Energy! Starting to feel better after the long travel now. We chatted about the weekend plans - travel to Nagai city for the JKA All-Japan event. My exam was scheduled for 17:00 on Saturday, I heard. Got told the tricks for the Sunday tournament, and since they were heavily Dan-based, I thought I may as well think about entering. We said our goodbyes and I went to try to engage Project Sleep again.

Next day, I woke up well-slept and refreshed. Great, I was worried about jetlag. Okay, so what to do... A visit to Su Lab seems just the ticket. I hadn't been to the new shop before, so I looked it up on the map, and headed off to Kawagoe. Got there, and... the shop wasn't there. Hmmm. I know Japanese addresses can be in "blocks", so I walked in a square path, and eventually found it on the main street - about five steps further than where I'd turned into the side alley to look for it!

Su looked up from the fish tank he was cleaning. "VOID?!" He he, it's nice to surprise some people sometimes.

On that note, I hadn't actually told anyone I was coming to Japan. It's great that so many people have encouraged me along the way to getting 6th Dan, but I felt that I didn't want the weight of expectation on my back, so I kept quiet about it. Sorry if that was a bit selfish. Anyway...

It was great to see Su-san and Ayaka-san again. I met Karin, who was in the shop too. Well, let's play some kendama, hey? Ayaka got a 1-2-3 Js, and then she and Karin both got a Stilts>Fast Hand Penguin Spike. Blimey. Got a Su Lab tee. Michael, a Tokyo resident, arrived after a while, and we played some more. I showed Su Cotton Reel Aeroplane. Iced coffee was good. Showed off the Plush and SuperNatural to Su, who seemed interested... Got myself a Keyaki Su Lab ken with an Ash/Purpleheart stripe tama. Nice. But no logo on the ken... Please Sharpie one on, Su! He did a great job.

Later in the afternoon, some kids showed up. I noticed at one point that there were 4 schoolgirls in the shop, and no boys. Ayaka's influence? She's really improved since I last saw her, and just to show it, she nailed me, Su and Michael to the floor in a game of "Shadow" (another name for "Follow", apparently). :-)
Hmmm... It's dark at 5pm in Japan at this time of year. Oh.

Okay, I was getting a bit tired, so time to head off and get some more sleep, since we were going to be leaving at 6am. Back at the hotel, I felt a sore throat coming on. Hmmm, I know how this story goes.

Jim Morrison recorded "Woke up this morning and found myself dead". Well, I wasn't that bad, but I got no sleep that night, and the sore throat was worse. This is how I get a cold, so I knew I was going to feel worse soon. *sniff* Oh great, that's just really great. So, the jetlag skipped a day, then. Can I get a redeal please...?

Nakanishi-san picked me up at my hotel, and started the long drive North to Nagai city. 5 hours away! I told Nakanishi-san that I was worried about the light, and hoped that I might be able to take my exam earlier. I always practice outside, and it's soooooo much better than in artificial light. He told me that it was scheduled for after the seminar for examiners that was happening at the venue.
"When does that finish?"
"About 4.30. Is that okay?"
I guess it would have to be. I wasn't feeling optimistic. And I was starting to feel snotty[nb]literally, not figuratively[/nb]. Hey ho.

Eventually, we got there, and went to the hotel. Too early to check in. Damn, I was hoping for a snooze before the first item on the agenda. When I could check in, I managed a 30 minute rest, but still no sleep.

Okay, we were off to visit Yamagata Koubou. That the factory/workshop where Ozora kendamas are made, in case you didn't know. Saturday wasn't a full working day, but a party of about 30 of us were met by several members of staff, including Umetsu-san, the boss. Photo opps were limited, but a tour was given (all in Japanese - I got translations here & there from Manami & Nakanishi) , showing us the lathes (not running), the wood store of various types, the stringing room, and the office/museum. Then we went into Umetsu-san's house, saw his awesome display collection, heard a short talk from Umetsu-san's father, and watched a couple of videos about the history of Yamagata-koubou. As we left, I was nearly corpsing at the fact that Nakanishi-san didn't know which pair of shoes were his own!

Back to the hotel/conference site. I'm tired and snotty. I took a sneak look into the room where the seminar was ongoing, and although it had windows, the light didn't look so amazing. Take it on the chin. Then.... "If we can use this other room, maybe we can do the exam now...". What? This other room... with a wall full of large windows letting in loads of lovely LIGHT? Yes please!

Right then, here we go...

A short digression first. A couple of months ago, I was driving back from a gig with my friend Marky Jay. He was asking me about kendama and Dan exams etc, and I was explaining how hard it was. "Have you tried any sports psychology stuff? Like visualisations?" he asked. I said that I hadn't really looked at it like that, but tried to follow Yano-san's advice of "make every trick attempt exactly the same [in method of execution]". A couple of weeks later, the conversation popped back into my head, and I was thinking "I *know* I can pass the tricks in my garden, so why can't I in the exam?".

Cut back to the exam...
Paging Doctor Stage.
Breathe, relax, SMILE (top tip from Tajima-san), and go. Take your time. Just be. Be Nothing.
The 'Cosmos went okay (1 missed spike). Then Bird. Missed the first one. Was that a hand shaking? Breathe. Missed the next one too. Okay.

Okay. I've been here before. In my garden: Missed the first two, but pulled it back on the next eight. Breathe, picture the garden, standing on the decking. The cats meandering about. There's a slight breeze in the branches of the bird cherry tree over there. Breathe. Take it slow. Towel. Water. Smile.

Got them. Everyone in the room is relieved. Oh, by the way, it was really nice to have my friends Nakanishi-san and Manami-san on the examiner panel. Plus, I had met Sakai-san and Hondo-san before at EJCs. I don't know if that made it any the less intimidating though. Anyway...
The next two Eighters went perfectly.

A few misses on the Sixers, and Slip Grip Special should have been cleaner, but I'll take it. [Oh look, Apollo is chasing Artemis across the flower beds...] Towel. Missed the first 'Valley, but got 5 of the next 6, so all good. (What do you mean, "what about those two sloppy swerve-saves on the hop?" Shut up.)

Hanging 1-Turn Aeroplane hadn't been much of a problem in my practices, until a couple of weeks ago when it started to get messy. Time to focus again. Got my third one on my 5th attempt, when the spike landed half in the hole, angled sharply, started sliding... spiralling... and in. Phew. "Good catch" said Nakanishi-san. I had to laugh, and say "No, it was a terrible catch!" , but, acceptable. Missed the next two. Breathe, towel, water. Focus. Get the swing right, and the dip... there we go, done.

My previous best in a 6D exam was getting to the last trick, but only 1/10. I'm going to do better this time. Yes I am. I've practiced more now. I can do it. Yes I can. Smile.
I do have a little "trick" that I've developed for 2-Turn Lighthouse. I found that it was important to get the same position each time to start. So I focused and pictured Imada-san. Some people tease him for his repeated refrain of "basic". Damn those people, Imada-san is 8th Dan, and if he says Basic, you do the damned Basics. Get the stance right, hand positions right, arm positions right, string angle just so, and just *that* much twist in the string, *that* much knee dip, and *that* much tug. So, let's go.

Yes. No. No (string!). Yes. No............. Yes!!

Wait. Breathe. A little applause from the panel. Wait. Not done yet.
Freestyle tricks. You have to demonstrate two original moves, of high enough level, each at 1/10. First I explain what (first) trick I want to do. Then the panel decides if that's okay. I'd been practicing my two chosen moves for a while, as Cima had previously told me he thought that they would be acceptable. Hope so, let's see....

I start with Half-Swirl Aeroplane, explaining that Dave invented Swirl Aeroplane, but that I had invented/discovered the faster-switch Half-Swirl version whilst trying to learn it. It's approved.

I try it, and get it, first shot.

Second one is C-Whip>Aeroplane>Centrifuge>Fast Hand Base Cup.

Nailed it.

Oh, oh oh oh OH!

Smiles and applause from the panel. "Congratulations, you have passed sixth Dan".

*actual jump for joy*

It goes a bit blurry there, people coming in, shaking hands, Tsutsumi-san, Hatanaka-san, I'm not crying, just got something in my eye. Face in towel. Text to Alice (what time is it in England? Is she awake?)

Back in focus, Nakanishi-san tells me that although I have "passed the exam", the Dan is not finalised until I pay the fee, and the Dan committee makes its final judgement to award the 6th Dan to me. Yep, I knew that. Would I like to pay the fee?

Yes, yes I would, please, very much.  Can someone take me to a cashpoint please? Yes, but... the seminar is finishing, and I get called in to be presented to the audience. Yano-san, Matsunaga-san and Maruishi-san are all there. Warm handshakes from all of them. I said something,... Happy... Eighth time lucky... got smiles and applause. A text back from Alice. Wish she was here. Starting to lose recall of what happened next, but lots of really nice comments from people. Voice cracked a few times. Cashpoint trip. Still feeling ill, so, no, I don't think I'll join the drinking party, thanks. Off for a quiet meal nearby with Manami and Nakanishi. Soba, tempura, wasabi. Yes. There's a large clock slowly ticking on the wall behind me. Somehow it's comforting. I remember something I told Nakanishi-san on my last trip to Japan... Whilst there are many obvious reasons for wanting to pass 6th Dan, one that had occurred to me was that it would mean I.... wouldn't have to practice the 6th Dan exam anymore!

Back to the hotel. I make a Twitter thread. Now, please, please, pleeeasee can I get some sleeeeeep?


Yes. Four and a half hours is how long my ravelled sleeve of care was knitted up. I'll take it. Still ill, but more alive: breakfast in the hotel cafe, with a tinkling muzak toy piano version of Radiohead's No Surprises playing on the speakers. Sure, why not? Why the hell not?

The All Japan Competition started at 10 with a presentation, then everyone competed in pairs through the compulsories list. How far you got determined which Class you were then entered into. F being lowest, up to A, and then SA above that.

I saw lots of faces to say hello to, Akimoto, Tajima, Sakai (Tensui and Mie), Mukai-san, many more. "Are you entering?"
"Byounin desu!"
I mostly sat around and watched the comp, and chatted to people. I bought a couple of kendama, was given a JKA tee as a gift (thank you Manami-san!), had my Haneda Ozora signed by my examiners and Umetsu-san. Mr Maruishi showed me his photo albums - one of historic kendamas/precursors, and one of custom variants that he had himself made. Some crazy and funny ideas in there. "Creative" is one of Maruishi-san's favourite words, I think. I got to have a play with one too... Double-ended cup stick, with a block as the "tama". I managed Big Cup after several goes!

Before the finals of all the Classes were held, there was the Performance division, and I was asked to be a judge. Front row seat for me and my camera? Don't mind if I do, thanks. Quite a lot of juggle-style stuff in here, which was fine. One guy used Tempei's music! (One for the jugglers, there.) The standout for me was Satoru Kubota (who, incidentally, knocked me out of the WKO in 2012. I forgive him. ;) ), many of whose juggle variations were new to me, and just nutso hard! The panel obviously agreed overall, as he won.

The final of the SA class was Sakai-san against Mukai-san. Not Tomoya Mukai who won 3 EKOs, but a teen girl, who I'd noticed as being very solid-looking in her skills earlier. Actually, damn, there are so many really strong young girl players out here - it's fantastic to see. Sakai-san won the battle, Miss Mukai leaving with a few tears - although I was pleased to see she was smiling again later when the awards were given. The emotion of the moment.

Awards were handed out, and closing presentations were being made, when Yano-san says my name. I get called up, and my 6th Dan was announced. Said a few words, then a few more with a translator. Afterwards, I asked Nakanishi-san "Did Yano-san just tell me that I *have* passed 6th Dan final approval?"
"Ah, Mr Yano is head of the Dan committee, so I think it's okay."
Not that I was really worried, but it's nice to hear an (almost) final confirmation. Oh, and will I write something for a JKA newsletter, please? Sure!

Time to say goodbyes, as we had another 5 hour drive ahead of us. Coo, what a weekend. I'm afraid I wasn't much company on the journey back. Snotbag! Ugh.

Woke up Monday feeling pretty bad, so mostly stayed in my hotel and mooched. Wrote a lot of this. Nice messages of congratulations trickle through to me through the day. Thank you, everyone.

Tuesday morning, and with a good 7 hours, I'm feeling a bit better. Well enough to go and visit Su Lab again. Su, Ayaka and Karin were there again, and I had a nice gentle afternoon just swapping tricks, filming a few clips, and sipping coffee. Suddenly felt very low energy at the end though. Maybe it was a click too far. Tuesday night is Kyantamabu night at Su Lab, but as I have a morning flight, I have to say my goodbyes and slope off before it begins.

Back at hotel. Wrote the rest of this. Japan, it's been a high-low-ill-rainy-unbelievable blast. But I'm knackered, and quite ready to fly back to my girlfriend.
If you don't want to BUY MY BOOKS 😉, then why not ask your local library to order them in, and read them for free? That would help too. Cheers!

donald grant

Well done, Void, many congratulations!!

The Void

Quote from: donald grant on 14 October, 2017, 15:47:10
Well done, Void, many congratulations!!
Oh crap, how the HELL did I not tag you in there too? You're awesome, mate.
And thank you. :)
If you don't want to BUY MY BOOKS 😉, then why not ask your local library to order them in, and read them for free? That would help too. Cheers!


Congrats @The Void (I thought I saw you in Ayaka's insta story today!). I thought 2nd Dan was pressure enough, 6th must be crazy and with three(?) examiners scrutinizing you too.

Well done that man!
3rd place @ BKO 2016 Adv. Division. :-)


3rd place @ BKO 2016 Adv. Division. :-)

The Void

@KenSan Thank you. Yeah, it was a bit nerve-jangly. </litotes>
Guess you're not seeing the pic in the first tweet, as it shows my five examiners. So nice to have had Nakanishi-san and Manami-san amongst them.

Profile updated, thanks for the prompt! Come to think of it, there's the matter of the box of a certain brand of kendama that'll need tweaking too...  :)
If you don't want to BUY MY BOOKS 😉, then why not ask your local library to order them in, and read them for free? That would help too. Cheers!

Lionel Graaf

Congratulations man. damn what an achievement 💪💪 much respect to you Mr. Void


Ah, I thought that was your entourage!
3rd place @ BKO 2016 Adv. Division. :-)


I had no idea you were even in Japan, let alone going for your dan. I guess the quest is over, super well done!

(Only 3 more years for me to even try...)
Shameless Self-Promotion:


Already said it on twitter, but I'll repeat it here: Congratulations! Really well deserved. I'm very happy for you.

So, next of the 3 word tittle edits should be something like "Dan Done Diligently" :-)
Spanish Kendama Champion 2010, 2012, 2014-16
Depth Perception is Overrated.

The Void

Thanks Lionel, Rob & Raul.
Don't think there'll be a vid this time - it's pretty rainy here, and I'm ill.

Yeah, I was a bit sneaky jetting off without telling anyone I was going. Sorry about that, just felt I didn't fancy the weight of expectation from people talking about 6D. (I guess it worked!)

But like I said, thanks to everyone who's been egging me on over the years.

I really thought you were in with a chance of beating me to it, Rob. (Sounds pessimistic, but... damn it's hard! :) )
Well, you can't beat me, but you can join me in a while. I know you will.
If you don't want to BUY MY BOOKS 😉, then why not ask your local library to order them in, and read them for free? That would help too. Cheers!

The Void

If you don't want to BUY MY BOOKS 😉, then why not ask your local library to order them in, and read them for free? That would help too. Cheers!


Blimey! Brilliant! Well done man. Well deserved and certainly well worked for! Frankly heroic!

The Void

Thank you, Kev.

I'm quite fond of this kendama now:
If you don't want to BUY MY BOOKS 😉, then why not ask your local library to order them in, and read them for free? That would help too. Cheers!


Huge congratulations Void, well deserved

Sent from my F3111 using Tapatalk

Dont practice what you can do, practice what you can't! :)