Aside from being incredibly fun and entertaining, the Japanese skill toy kendama has a variety of benefits to anyone who plays it. Whether it be physically, mentally, or emotionally, practicing kendama can play a role in maximizing these attributes to the human body. I know for me it has cured my insistent need to constantly be occupied doing something, as I’m pretty sure I have a small amount of ADHD in me somewhere. But that’s how kendama became more than a ball and cup game to me – it helped me in ways that other occupational things like social media, app games, and especially medication couldn’t. Because of this, I find that playing kendama is in fact quite a healthy hobby to have. I always tell people about the three P’s: Practice, Patience, and Persistence. That’s how you not only get better at the game itself but at just about anything in life. So here are a few other ways playing kendama can be helpful to your mind, body and soul.
First of all, even though kendama is a game you play standing still, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to. By bending your knee’s and cushioning the tama on the way down to cups, birds, or just the spike, you’re already getting those much needed squats in. It smoothens your mobility, and increases your awareness as you focus on the ken and tama throughout whatever trick or combo you may be grinding at the moment. If you have been practicing for a while, I’m sure you’re aware of the cardio that goes into jamming all day. Living in florida I break a sweat almost instantly every time I start playing outside, but that doesn’t stop me. Sometimes I do like to think of playing kendama as a workout, developing not only my leg muscles and ramping up my heart rate, but building my endurance and stamina as well.
This leads us into another muscle that is worth using, your brain! Kendama can enhance one’s focus and hand eye coordination to extreme levels. Working with this toy and getting good at it is all about learning the tricks right? Well, let’s think about what that means. Essentially, the way kendama is meant to played is all about problem solving. The goal is to get the tama into different positions of the ken. Through practice, your brain and arm muscles are working together trying to make the connection of getting the tama where it needs to go and how much force needs to be applied in order to make that happen. Kendama is a pretty simple concept. Immediately one can see how the game is played with the obvious rendition that the ball goes into the cups and the spike goes in the hole. At first glance, this makes a lot of us think, “that’s easy,” because our brain has simply put together how it is supposed to work. But when you actually get your hands on it, your brain is suddenly confused by the amount of balance, force, and coordination that is actually required to achieve what looked like a simple big cup. This is a vital part of playing kendama as we don’t really realize how much brain power is actually used in developing our skills as players, and how our cognitive abilities begin to expand beyond what we once previously thought. Makes you think, huh?
Now on a emotional level, playing kendama can give you many different feelings. Of course, the satisfaction element of playing is really the sole reason why I play in the first place. In my case, I feel like I must constantly be achieving something every day. And it doesn’t have to be life changing or necessarily monumental in my career, but the simple act of landing a new trick puts me in a much more happy and content state of mind. On days where I am stressing about my bigger goals in life I usually decide to take a break and head outside to get some fresh air to decompress with my kendama. It puts me back together when I feel like things are starting to fall apart. I take the time to meditate on what I am doing with this toy, how I am able to manipulate it to my own satisfaction by again, using the three P’s, and it reminds me of how I just need to apply those same rules to other aspects of my life and career. If I can achieve my level of play with those three simple rules, I can achieve anything. But it isn’t almost just about me either. I love to encourage new players because it builds a self confidence in them that they never knew they had. I get a kick when people see me playing in the street and say, “Oh I could never do that,”. These are the people who need it most, as when I demonstrate the different techniques of how to achieve the goal of landing a big cup and they do it first try, their eyes light up with amazement and happiness thinking that yes, they can achieve anything too if they just simply try. And their happiness with themselves reflects back on to me, making me feel good about making another person feel good.
In all, kendama is more than just a toy. It’s a tool that can be used to enlighten one’s life by using the techniques involved to their own advantage and by applying those techniques to other areas of their life. It trains you to focus on what’s important, giving you clarity and a higher level of perception while also working muscles beyond just one’s legs but also the heart and brain. It’s no surprise skill games appear throughout history in all sorts of different cultures around the world. Human beings as a whole strive to be the best they can be, and kendama reminds us of that on a much smaller, more playful level.