The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

Kendama craze: UVM’s newest obsession

Olivia Miller
Students play with kendamas on the Andrew Harris green.

While the frisbee has long been king in the sprawling lawns of UVM, an unlikely competitor has emerged this fall to challenge its grasp as the go-to activity between classes: the kendama.

Kendamas are a toy with a few interconnected parts: a central stick called a ken, three cups varying in size placed along the ken, and a string-attached ball with a hole on one end called a tama. 

Famous worldwide, though predominantly in Japan, this deceptively simple configuration offers players a nearly endless repertoire of possible tricks. Seemingly out of the blue, waves of UVM students of all varying kendama skill levels have taken to campus this year to hone their craft.

Sophomore Dan Schiefen noted the uptick in kendamas this year. 

“They are everywhere. It suddenly has become hard to walk past Davis without seeing one,” Schiefen said.

All tracks lead back to the aptly-named UVM Kendama Club.

Sophomore Caleb Mitchell is one of the three co-chairs of the club. He describes the group’s origins as being largely casual.

“Yeah, basically, we were all just playing at the beginning of this year and realized people were interested to know more about it, so we started writing people’s names down. When we got past 30, we were like, ‘Okay, we could actually get this going,’” Mitchell said.

From these beginnings, the club has snowballed in popularity. Sophomore Robbie Simpson is another co-chair who was introduced to kendamas last semester by Mitchell and has been hooked ever since.

“At the end of last semester, it was like four or five of us just playing in public. Right now, at this meeting, we have like 30 people. Also, we have 90 people on the email list and have had about 40 people buy new kendamas,” Simpson said.

The club, which is currently in the process of becoming a Recognized Student Organization, has not only increased the visibility of kendamas, but has also made it easier than ever for students to get into the hobby. 

“We reached out to a bunch of kendama retailers and said, ‘We’re just starting this club, do you guys think you can help us get kendamas to new people?’ and one sent us ten free kendamas, which we gave out,” Simpson said.

Even though these free kendamas were all quickly claimed, the club is still a cheap outlet to buy kendamas through. 

“We emailed some other places and they gave us wholesale pricing,” Simpson said. “They were like ‘You can get 50% off anything’ so we just put in big orders and buy for everyone.”

While these deals have significantly increased the accessibility of kendamas at UVM, not everyone is happy with their sudden growth in popularity. One UVM junior is a staunch kendama hater.

“It’s an infectious disease taking over the UVM campus,” he said. “I’ve started carrying scissors with me to cut kendamas.” 

Despite the hater’s firm opposition, the damage of Kendama Club has seemingly been done. 

“From what I’ve seen, it looks fun,” Schiefen said. “I’ve been thinking about actually buying one myself.”

A driving force behind the kendama obsession that has struck so many UVM students is learning tricks of increasing difficulty and complexity. One way the club fosters this is through “Tricks of the Week,” where one member demonstrates a trick that everyone else attempts to replicate.

As players become more advanced, they become known for specific tricks, Mitchell said. 

“I’d say my go-to is called ‘lunar,’” Mitchell said. “You hold the tama, and you balance the ken at a kind of a 45-degree angle, and it just perches right on top.”

Simpson’s signature trick is called a “handle stall.” 

“It’s about balancing the tama on the end of the handle. It’s a very delicate trick that needs a very light touch,” he said.“It also might require licking the inside of the ball to make it a little stickier, but they don’t see that,” Mitchell said.

Simpson is in awe of the club’s massive popularity.  

“It’s kinda just, like, incredible. I mean, it really is just a stupid little toy, but it spreads so much. Everyone loves it,” Simpson said.

Kendama Club meets weekly on a rotating schedule between Wednesdays and Thursdays and can be found through their Instagram: @uvmkendama.


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