The 2013 British Kendama Open
21. 5. 2013
The only really difficultly that has arisen from the weekend of the 27th and 28th of April, 2013 is deciding which was more fun, the meet and greet on Saturday or the BKO itself on Sunday.
I arrived in Bristol very tired from my journey from Crete, but excited at the prospect of the days ahead. Even if I hadn’t met Void before, I think I would’ve suspected that the man walking towards me wearing a kendama around his neck like an undone bowtie was the man I sought. Always a pleasant sight for tired eyes to see a friend. He very kindly took me where I needed to go for a shower and a much-needed rest. Afterwards, we went to a park and practiced there, drawing stares from passersby, which is what happens the moment you pull out a kendama in a public place. There are one or two other things you can pull out in a public place that will draw funny looks, but kendama generally leaves people feeling at least mildly entertained and not at all offended. My first day back in the UK had a soft landing, and one for which I am deeply grateful to Void.
The next day, Void suggested I try for a Dan grading, which as anyone who’s taken one knows is an exciting and nerve-wracking experience. Sadly, my attempt was short-lived. I was aiming for 2nd Dan, but failed to do enough Moshikame even to attain 1st Dan. Moshikame can be so cruel. I was disappointed at not even getting into the trick ladder, but I knew my time would come. Now I am training every day and am aiming at 3rd Dan. I will find out at the upcoming Scottish Kendama Open how that goes. Stay tuned.
The rest of the day was a casual affair. Void showed me the BKA headquarters, which was great. It may only be a small space, but there is really no mistaking what it is dedicated to. Entering it is like having someone walk up to you and scream, “KENDAMA!” in your face. We gave the rest of the day to just hanging around and doing some casual clicking. In the evening, I went with Void to the airport to pick up Alex Ruisch (KendAlex), one of the finest and most dedicated kendama players in Europe. Alex may have the largest single collection of kendamas anywhere, ever. I don’t know. I’ve seen the pictures and they truly are breathtaking. Virtually every shape, size and make of kendama is represented in Alex’s collection.
Naturally, Alex brought a tiny fraction of his awesome collection with him, including some Pills and bilboquets, all of which he showed us when we arrived at his hotel room. As a result I was given the opportunity to try out the Stove, which quite frankly I didn’t understand at all. I left it thinking, “Well, it’s nice, a ball just seems to work better.” I also tried one of Alex’s Pills. Now, I had already tried the Pill because Mirek had a lovely purple heart one during my stay with him for the CKO. I instantly fell in love with it. Tremendous fun. Last but not least was Alex’s very own aluminium kendama. For anyone who appreciates the sharp, crisp click of a new kendama, you have GOT to try the aluminium. The deeply satisfying clunk that accompanies every landed trick will make your ears love you for ever. A very agreeable way to round off the day
I was eagerly anticipating Saturday 27th because it was the day of the meet and greet in Bristol. I knew I’d be seeing my good friend Mirek for the first time since the CKO, plus I’d have the opportunity to make some new friends on the kendama scene. Void and I made our way into town and found Adam there. I’d never met him before, but we soon clicked (pun intended). After only a short time, Mirek, Alex, Yoko and Arthur showed up. A couple of heartbeats later, so did the Scottish lads: Matt R, Mikey and Robin, looking refreshed after the previous day’s long, long drive from Dunfermline. A clickfest ensued. Great fun and a great way for us all to get to know each other. A local player named Rich W dropped by for a short while, but promised he’d be there for the event on Sunday.
Void set up the first game of the day, which was Last Man Standing. We all stood in a line and he called out the name of a trick, which we all then had to land. Those that missed were out. The tricks were called and the group was whittled down. Soon, only Alex and I remained. It was only Alex’s skill that stood between me and the prize: a glow in the dark blue Krom kendama. Unfortunately for me, Alex’s skill is phenomenal and in the end, he proved the victor. I was pleased enough that I had come second. I thoroughly enjoyed the Last Man Standing game. We spent the next hour or so throwing out some tricks and having lunch before moving on through the city to our next stop.
We wandered a little way through the city until we came to a plaza, which seemed the ideal place to have another competition. Since Alex had won the previous one, Void said he might want to suggest the form it would take. Alex’s choice: K.E.N. I found myself swiftly eliminated this time around and so decided to snap a few pictures with my little camera. The K.E.N. game was won by Matt R and his prize was a Sweets Natty kendama). While we were at the plaza, a few other games were played and prizes dutifully handed out.
Our next location was Millennium Square, which provided the venue for the rehearsal for the Dan Jam (60 seconds to do all your best tricks and combos, judged on style, flow and hit/miss ratio). Yoko, Matt R and I volunteered to be judges for this one. Even from that perspective, it was enjoyable. Everyone just got up and did their thing for the appreciation of the crowd, which consisted not only of their fellow clickers, but also members of the public. Some even stopped to ask what we were doing and some even had a go themselves. I do love the way kendama brings people together, hifalutin as that may sound. In the event, it was Alex who came out on top and earned himself a Yomega kendama. Take a bow, Alex.
After fortifying cups of coffee, we made our way up Brandon Hill to the site of Cabot Tower. A few people were pretty breathless after the walk up the hill and dared not venture into the tower itself. I’d had plenty of practise with hills after spending so long in the town of Rethymno, Crete, so I scaled the tower and took in the view. I also got an interesting aerial shot of Void doing a spacewalk. Such a weird thing to see from above.
Void doing a spacewalk at the Cabot tower
The group moved on to the fountains by the Victoria rooms, where more casual clicks (of cameras and kendamas) took place. Everyone was starting to feel their energy ebb away by now, but we wanted to make one last stop before heading for some much needed food.
Clifton Suspension bridge, just another play. Some people having a picnic joined in and took to kendama very well. It began to rain a bit. We made our way to the Indian restaurant for dinner, where we were lately joined by Matt N (reigning champ), and Sam and Luke. Arthur won a Krom XL just sitting at the table, as he happened to be the lucky winner in a number draw that Void made. We ate and chatted and laughed. After the meal we were more than ready for some rest. Everyone said their goodnights and we settled down in preparation for the comp the next day.
Void, Adam and I arrived at the church hall at about midday and set up.
Several people who weren’t at the meet and greet the day before showed up for the comp: Mark, Rich P and Broady. Rich W returned just as he’d promised. And of course the whole gang from yesterday. We got things going by doing some gradings. Void, Matt N and I sat in as the examiners. Before my eyes, Mikey easily obtained his 1st kyu. Robin managed to leap straight to 2nd Dan, which is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp ken. Once it seemed everyone was settled into their surroundings, Void announced the first competition.
Since it was the first ever BKO to not be a part of the British Juggling Convention, Void knew that initially it would mean a smaller turnout. He was right. This year, the beginner’s competition consisted of only two players, but everyone took it in good part and just got on with it. Void and I were judges and Rich W and Luke took their places on the stage. They both acquitted themselves extremely well, with Luke only coming unstuck on the fifth trick in the ladder (spike), while Rich W made it all the way to the eighth (aeroplane). Bravo, Rich W, 2013 beginner’s champion!
The advanced competition was split up over the course of the day. Since there were not so many entrants this time around, Void decided to skip the early rounds and go straight to the quarter-finals. Robin, Mirek, Mikey and I found our road going no further, but it was no less enjoyable for how short it was. That put Matt N, Matt R, Sam and KendAlex in the semi-final.
In order to throw a bit more variety into the mix, Void had decided to instigate an intermediate competition into this year’s event. To make it ever more interesting he elected that it should be a speed trick challenge. Seven tricks, two competitors, fastest to the end of the ladder wins. I’ve been a part of this type of competition before and it really gets the adrenalin flowing when you’re up there. The instinct is to go as fast as you can, but of course that greatly increases your risk of missing the trick and having to try again. Void and I presided over this one, while Adam, Rich P, Broady and Mark assumed the stage in pairs. This one was close, folks! Adam was only one trick behind Broady when his 10th moshi kame fell into place. Void’s hand went up, accompanied by a “Yes!” and Broady was declared the winner. The intermediate champion was crowned.
In the semi-final, Matt R and Sam fought a brave battle, but when you’re pitted against the might of Matt N and KendAlex, you know it’s going to be a tough one. It was they who moved on. Still, getting to the semi-final in your first competition is not too shabby. Sam took third place and as such his prize was a Play kendama; Matt R’s fourth place prize was the Mugen kendama stand. We salute you, Matt R and Sam!
There were a number of other competitions interspersed throughout the day, and since I’d like to save the results of the final until last (even though they’re not a secret), I’ll tell you how they went. When it came time for the Dan Jam, it was KendAlex’s skill that brought him triumph, allowing him to take home £10, a Play kendama and a custom leather holster. Matt N’s second place prize was £5 and a Play kendama. Well done, chaps!
The best trick competition is always fun. Void turns up the music and everyone lines up to take to the stage and bust out a trick. If they missed, it was the next person’s turn. The line of people formed a circle, so everyone got several tries to try and impress the judge. Void let the music play for about ten minutes as everyone did their thing. It was at least five minutes before anyone was able to land anything, so exciting is it to be up there by yourself. It was Mikey’s insane spacewalk-to-nunchuku-to-falling down that took the prize, earning him £10, a Play kendama and a custom leather holster. Coming in second was Broady with his big cup-to-whirlwind big cup-to- reverse whirlwind stab. Broady earned himself a fiver for that.
Rich W won the silly game that is Unicorns (you wrap a kendama over your head so that the ball is hanging at the back and the ken is pointing from your forehead) by avoiding the precarious pawing of his opponents while knocking a few kendamas from their perch until he was the only one left. A Yomega kendama was Rich W’s to claim.
Another two rounds of Last Man Standing were organised, with Matt N winning himself a Sweets Natty in the first and a Mirek gaining a Yomega in the second. Only one more thing remained.
Matt vs. Alex
KendAlex and Matt N walked out onto the stage under the close scrutiny of Void. Owing to the balance of skill on view, it really was impossible to determine who might be the better player. They matched each other trick-for-trick for the most part and they both had their weaknesses. Matt N had professed that he hated the half-swirl aeroplane, and when it came time to actually do the trick it took a moment or two for him to realise he’d actually landed it. Perhaps it was this that acted as a spur, because once again Matt Nix took home the gold. For the third time, he became the British kendama champion. He hugged and shook hands with KendAlex and received his prizes from Void: £15, three Play kendamas, a custom leather holster and €100 in store credit with kendama.de. KendAlex, as the runner-up, received £5, a Play kendama and a custom leather holster.
British Kendama Open 2013 crew
We repaired to a local pub for a huge pizza meal and some relaxed chat. I for one felt a great warm glow from what I felt had been a truly great weekend.
And so another BKO ended, everyone tired but deeply satisfied. While it had been a small-scale event, the entire weekend was a colossal success. Void deserves a standing ovation for what he organised. It was brave of him to detach the BKO from the BJC, but it paid off. Next year’s will, I have no doubt, be bigger and better still.