Updated: Nov 21, 2020
My name is Max Angel. I’m 22 years old from Ottawa, Canada, and this is a bit about how I've mostly stuck with kendama for 10 years while primarily playing alone.
My life with kendama started in September of 2010. A family friend who had found it through freestyle skiing videos on Newschoolers showed it to me and within a week I was on Kendama USA buying a blue TK-16.
2010 was a big time to start playing kendama in North America. These were the formative years for modern kendama as we know it today. KUSA was about to start making their own kendamas, WKT was going strong, and I even have Facebook messages from Matt "Sweets" when he was about to start Sweets Kendamas.
At the time, no one near me played kendama. Some friends picked it up temporarily, but it was basically just my older brother Sam and I who kept with it.
When you play alone, you rely heavily on videos and creativity, and back then the videos were somewhat limited. I learned the cheat lunar pull up with the string hooked under the cup because I saw Void from the BKO do it, and my brother did rat tail because he saw Matt Rice do it. Every new trick seemed impossible, because we hadn't seen anyone else do it yet.
Our introduction to the community was through creating edits. My brother was already getting into videography and editing, so together we started making quite a few videos and putting them up on Vimeo. Going back and watching some of these videos, they’re actually really nice and not unlike other edits being put out now, 10 years later.
At the time, the WKT crew or Colin Sander were known for their edits. In our case, we were just two kids in Ottawa who didn’t know anyone else playing. I still remember Jake Wiens putting up our edit 1 or 2 on the KenGarden forum naming us “the Super Kendama Brothers” or something, and that was huge for us.
Getting Sponsored: Folken
We kept making edits and started submitting some in early video competitions. It was after I placed (3rd maybe?) in the Terra Two-Year video competition and won a few of the old Kendama Co amateur nights that I got contacted by Folken Kendama, a small company from Taiwan
In 2013, Folken sponsored me.
I always knew I was a pretty good kendama player but I didn’t have much reference since I still hadn't met another player, so this really meant a lot to me. My teammates, Chris and Li Ho placing at Kendama World Cup (KWC) 2014 showed me that I was close to, if not at, that level of competitive play.
Unfortunately, I began losing my love for it.
Around this time, my brother Sam was going off to University, so I was really alone in my kendama play. My only legitimate game of K.E.N. was once over skype with Chris, and this would be my only game for years.
A year after getting sponsored, I started playing less and gave up my sponsorship in the Summer of 2014. Filming tricks became a chore rather than a love. Juggles were taking off and I was salty about this new style. Maybe the community was just progressing without me, but for whatever reason, I lost my love for the game. I'm really grateful for everything Jiaziu and the Folken team did for me. They were incredibly supportive, and it took me a while to build up the courage to drop the sponsorship.
From then on, I only really played occasionally. I didn't fully give up Kendama, because no one really does, but I just stopped trying to progress or get better and only picked it up now and then.
This 3 to 4-year hiatus is a regret of mine. I often think of how I could’ve progressed and met people earlier if not for that break.
The Great Return
Jump to 2018 and I’m doing a semester in Munich, Germany.
I got into a conversation with Marc Wibbels, the owner of Kendama Europe, and he lets me know about a skate competition where they were going to have a booth.
So, there I am with my Terra painted Ozora from 2012 with a 2-3 finger string, 8 years into dama, to meet other players for the very first time.
I had really never felt so hyped…
It’s a bit like that feeling, I imagine, I hear so many players talk about when going to their first NAKO or BATB or something like that. I’m just buzzing as I meet and sesh with Marc, the Koffi brothers, and the Kendama Europe crew. In the end, they gave me a Kendama Europe "Record" kendama. This was a turning point.
New-Generation Same Motivation
Now I didn’t really know about new-gen damas or 7 finger strings, but once I got my hands on it and played with others I was instantly brought back to why I love this game.
Just like that, it was as though I was back in 2010 in my parents’ basement with my blue TK-16 all over again.
Finding Community Back Home
Keegan and I seshed every week, and he drove me to start filming again and get more involved in the community. Finally having a friend to play with and push each other made me all the difference. Keegan is a huge reason why I’m back in the game and I’m extremely grateful that we met and became good friends.
I often heard people say they don't know if they'd still be playing if not for their friends. I always scoffed at this, thinking you should love kendama for itself, but now I realize how much of kendama is just playing with friends.
That leads to today where I’m super active with kendama on social media, seeing almost all the same faces that I remember seeing years ago.
The eastern Canadian scene is growing fast, with a Sweets Canada team, an East-Coast community growing with Keegan and Citadel, and an amazing crew in the Toronto area.
I love Kendama, and I played for 7 or 8 years without even meeting another actual player in person. I was just watching all the fun from the outside, still to this day never having attended a live competition, with only my kendama to really keep me going through it all until recently.
Kendama is great to play alone, but it's far easier, and more fun, to progress with others. You meet people you would never have met otherwise, and grow because of it. It’s crazy how much kendama has shaped me and how 10 years later I still go to bed at night thinking of tricks I want to try the next day.
I’m hoping for some live events soon so I can meet all my friends that I’ve known for a decade, but haven't met me yet.