A brief history lesson…
It’s the 1700’s, we’re in France and the nobles need something to pass the time so they invent “bilboquet” . Typically made with one handle which had a cup on one end and a spike on the other. A ball with a hole drilled in it was attached to the handle with string.
Fast forward to early 20th century Japan and suddenly the bilboquet has had two extra cups added and the difficulty and addictiveness of this once modest French past-time takes a huge leap forward with the new potential for tricks, combos, balances and other moves.
Kendama, written けん玉 in Japanese and meaning 'sword ball', was born.
From there, the toy’s popularity in Japan grew. Kids were becoming obsessed with kendama and increasingly, adults would find themselves playing for fun on their lunch hour, or after the kids had gone to bed. There was no question in the minds of the fans, kendama needed to be made into something more official in order to progress.
In the 1970’s, the Japanese Kendama Association (JKA) was invented with the goal of making the game more official and creating a structured format in which players from around Japan could compete against each other as well as achieve Kendama DAN gradings – similar to other martial arts such as Judo and Karate. For the next 30-40 years kendama largely stayed within Japan until eventually, around the turn of the millennium, a single kendama was brought back to the States and the scene in the West has been growing rapidly ever since.
Thanks to the internet and social media, kendama was able to spread as new tricks were being invented daily and then immediately shared online. Communities, events, gatherings, kendama stores (yes, they actually exist) began to pop-up all over the world and as the game evolved, so did the demand for further advancements and innovations in kendama shape design and competition formats.
Kendamas these days are fully-fledged pieces of sports equipment, optimized for beginners to find their feet quickly or for professionals to hit the most insanely difficult tricks imaginable.