Teens exchange video-game controllers for Kendama toy |
Local News

Teens exchange video-game controllers for Kendama toy

Things are, quite literally, clicking for Anthony Paladino, 18, these days.

Spring break is less than a month away, and he was told recently he’d be playing third base for Mt. Lebanon High School’s baseball team.

And that’s not all that has him and scores of other kids in the neighborhood cranked.

Mt. Lebo is going crazy for kendama.

Whenever you see Paladino and Reese Eckenrode, both seniors, in the hallways between classes, chances are, a chorus of “clicks” and “clacks” is echoing in the background. At bus stops, on street corners, in parks, they’re “Airplaning,” “Lighthousing” and “UFOing,” all wrist-bending kendama tricks.

“It’s basically a healthier version of PlayStation,” says Eckenrode, 17, effortlessly flicking a wooden lime-green ball into the air and balancing it atop a spike not much wider than a pencil.

Kendama builds on the old cup-and-ball game kids played generations ago, featuring a ball tethered to a wooden shaft. But that’s where the aesthetic similarities end.

The kendama stick is fitted with three different-size-cups, upon which players try to flip and land the ball.

Theories abound as to how and where the game started, although most people believe its roots are traced to Japan. Others say it was developed in 16th-century France, influenced by bilboquet.

Still, there are those who think it originated in Greece, China, Peru or even the Canadian Arctic. And, at least one Native American tribe, the Mojave, is said to have used a similar object during courtship rituals.

Today’s kendama has evolved as a competitive game, one that has spawned scores of funky videos of players kicking kendama tricks, often to sick high-tempo beats.

“I swear I used it three hours a day when I first started,” Paladino says.

While it’s not likely adolescents will put down their video-game controllers anytime soon, more of them apparently are switching to kendama wood, particularly in the Pittsburgh suburbs, says Jeremy Stephenson of Kendama USA, the governing body of the game in America.

Several kendama devices have been confiscated at Jefferson Middle School in Mt. Lebanon in recent weeks, but Cissy Bowman, a spokeswoman for the school district, says they are not the subject of districtwide bans. But, like any other noneducational device, they can be confiscated if a teacher finds them disruptive or inappropriate for class, she says.

Mt. Lebanon High School hosted a tournament on a Saturday last month.

Competitions often are played in bracket-style tournaments. Competitors receive a list of predetermined maneuvers or tricks to do in a set amount of time. The one to complete the tricks without a mistake in the shortest amount of time wins.

Zack Yourd was a ninth-grader when his brother’s friend, Colin Sander, introduced him to kendama. At the time, few people in Pittsburgh had heard of it.

Today, Yourd, 18, is a kendama pro.

“With this, you’re learning how to balance, dexterity and hand-eye coordination,” says Yourd, a freshman at Penn State. “It’s so much better than having a kid sitting in front of a screen playing video games all day.

“There’s way worse stuff out there for kids to be addicted to.”

Kendamas can be purchased online at and in area Learning Express stores.

Popular kendama tricks

Around the World: Landing the ball on the big cup, then onto the little cup, then onto the tower, then onto the spike

Around Japan: Landing the ball on the big cup, then on the little cup, then onto the spike

Earth Spin: Planting the ball on the spike, flipping it back onto the spike

Lighthouse: Balancing the tower on top of the ball

Airplane: Swinging the kendama stick to land on the spike while holding the ball


TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.