Kendama battle tops expectations

KOLOA — After the success of Saturday’s event, there will be another kendama tournament June 9 in Koloa, said Jaeda Dabin Saturday.

“We didn’t know what to expect for this (first) tournament,” Dabin said. “Then we saw it in the newspaper and Jason Fujinaka of FM97 called to find out more and we kind of got nervous.”

Twenty-four kendama practitioners turned out to compete in the Beginner, Intermediate and Advaned classes at the first tournament of its type Saturday in the lot across from Sueoka’s Store in Koloa and in the shade of the Kaua‘i Food Truck.

“This is more than we expected, but we were able to get eight in each category,” Dabin said. “Competitors go through an advancing round, and by completing the ladder, a winner of each category will be determined. Additionally, a prize will be given for the Best Trick.”

Daniel Leonard had just bought his kendama two days ago and was determined to enter the tournament, working through the elimination round.

“I won the beginners’ category and will move on,” the young player said, obliging visitors who constantly stopped to see what the excitement was about and asking to take photos of the wooden stick handle (ken) with a ball (tama, or dama) attached with a length of string.

“You going Crazy Glue yours?” a competitor asked, to which the answer was, “No! If you glue the stick, you won’t be able to change the string. You need to get the head off to replace the string.”

Lopaka Iida, getting bumped in the beginner class, did not let that deter him from learning new tricks by watching the intermediate and advanced players, his grandmother noting they made the trip from Hanama‘ulu because Lopaka was determined to get to the contest.

The tournament format is similar to “H-O-R-S-E” played on the basketball court with the exception of the name “Dama” being applied to the kendama tournament.

A player performs a trick and the opponent, drawn by random slips for pairing, tries to duplicate the feat and outdo his opponent. A failure earns a letter and four failures means elimination.

Play begins when the two opponents jan ken po, the winner having the option of starting and play continuing until one is eliminated. Play starts when the judge signals, “Dama!”

“The kids could be doing worse,” one of the judges said during the lunch break. “This is really good because it improves hand-eye coordination and concentration.”

When it came out, Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School, usually banning all new fads and trends by students, did not ban this. Instead, they supported it, holding their own tournament.”

The judge said on Friday nights when a lot of the young people flock to Kukui Grove Center, there are a lot of kendama, referring to the contraption as “dama” for short, and the most common question asked by the young students is “Can you spacewalk?”

Spacewalk Handrole Peg is one of the tricks listed on the Advanced Ladder, along with 1 Turn Lighthouse, Lighthouse Flip, Jumping Stick (lunar), Airplane, UFO and Around the Universe. Tricks listed on the Intermediate Ladder included Big Cup, Peg, Around the World, Dry Peg, Earth, Kenflip, Peg and Lighthouse. The Beginner Ladder included Frying Pan, Big Cup Orbit, Candlestick and Dry Peg.

Dabin said results of this first tournament will be forthcoming and for information on the June 9 tournament, people can call 634-1663.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@


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