Javin Knisely is no stranger to Kendama; he's been a part of the Community and has been an Ambassador for the game throughout his years of playing for different teams. Not only that, but Kendama helped him work through an extremely difficult moment in his life, so we asked him to tell us what Kendama means to him. Read it below!
Man, it's hard to imagine life back before kendama. I remember playing Call of Duty in my room, my brother had walked in holding a blue Ozora. "Check this toy out bro, it's really fun," he said. I specifically remember telling him to get out of my room (hahaha). Well, when he wasn't looking, I picked up that Ozora and messed around with it.
Do you remember how foreign a kendama felt the first time you touched one? I didn't know WHAT to do with it. So I tried big cup... missed it. I tried again, no luck. Time after time again, I just couldn't figure out why this toy existed, so I put it down. The next day I picked it up again and attempted a big cup... *Clack* I had done it. I remember thinking... "okay.. so now what?" I went and I asked Cain (my little brother) what to do after this. He said, "Spike it!"
I attempted it but failed. However, this time compared to the previous day, there was a silver lining in the toy because I knew I could get it up on the cup. Eventually, I hit the spike, and that *SLAP* of the Cherry Wood Ozora Tama on the beechwood ken paired with that satisfactory feeling of accomplishing what felt like the impossible echoed in my head for what felt like hours. I was hooked.
Ended up being a part of something called KendamaDrama, which was a blog where Brandon Yoder would repost kendama clips from all over the world. He and Christian Meese decided they wanted to make kendamas, Logan Laizure and I helped them create "AVID Kendamas". It was the first time a bigger Sarado was ever applied to a kendama, so paired with that oh so gummy paint, it was game on. I played kendama every day and worked hard to accomplish the tricks I would see in all these videos on YouTube and IG. It was the Jedi toy I always wanted but never had. I had met countless people and been to countless events in just a few years' time.
However, things took a turn for the worse in 2016 though when my mom had passed. I didn't touch a kendama for a while... I just didn't feel that spark anymore. Nothing made sense. Eventually, I had realized that my mom would not have wanted me to stop my passion. That thought got me out of that cocoon and I started shredding again, but this time, I was on full blast.
I was able to make an even larger name for myself as an east coast kendama player. I was noticed by Kendamaco shortly before they closed shop, and from the ashes of that company rose PNW. PNW Kendamas gave me full access to customize my own pro model, and to mess around with, what seemed like, an infinite amount of wood types. The pro models were released online and because of that, I was extremely fortunate to be able to fly to Hatsukaichi, Japan to compete in the Kendama World Cup in 2017.
I placed 148th overall that year, which may not seem too impressive, but when you give it your absolute all, and you hit all your Tricks, THAT'S what winning is. I'm not sponsored anymore, and a lot of people think that kendama is all about getting sponsored and getting to make money. Yes, that's an option, people are blessed to be able to go Full Dama, but the TRUE purpose of kendama is to just forget about everything going on in your life and just play with this toy, to find your balance, to find your style, to find your trick, to find your brothers and sisters and help them overcome their insecurities and make them feel at home and safe in the community.
I guess what I'm really trying to say here, is everyone wants someone to relate to. In the kendama community, you have hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people worldwide watching each other in person and online just becoming a better version of themselves by expressing tricks that fit their style. You take the discipline and patience you've learned from playing kendama and apply it to every other aspect of your life. It's almost like writing poetry, there are so many different styles and formats of tricks and when you're able to add those play styles to your arsenal, it's extremely empowering and enlightening.
Kendama didn't just change my life for the better, kendama players changed my life for the better. I love you all.
Has Kendama changed your life for the better? We are looking for impactful, meaningful stories from players of all walks of life who would like to share the life-changing experiences they've gained through Kendama. Fill out our Submission Form HERE with your Kendama Story for a chance to be featured here on our blog!