Sakura Classic is the annual kendama competition held in Japantown, San Francisco during the National Cherry Blossom Festival in April. It is always a weekend filled with friends, fun and kendama, and this year was no exception.
This year’s Sakura Classic tried out a new contest format: double elimination. Don’t quite understand how double elimination works? Check the example below (you can skip this next section and go to DAY 1 if you already understand the concept):
I’ll use my situation as the example. My first match was against a young slayer named Connor LeSeur (Svlty Bois). I won the match, meaning I advanced in the winners bracket while Connor was moved into the losers bracket. Unlike past events, Connor isn’t fully eliminated from the competition after this. He still has one more chance to keep advancing in the competition, provided that he doesn’t lose a second time. Same goes for anyone else who loses their first match. Because I advanced in the winner’s bracket, I would be facing against the winner of whoever won the match that was occurring at the same time as mine. Some of the pro/sponsored players had a bye for the first round because of an uneven number of competitors.
Unfortunately, the player that I would end up facing would be Wyatt Bray. Yeah that’s right, 2015 Kendama World Champion Wyatt Bray; I felt pretty confident in my competition abilities this year, but this guy definitely knows his way around a trick list. I ended up losing the match, so I was moved into the losers bracket while Wyatt advanced in the winner’s. My loser’s bracket match was against a cool dude named Alex Guzman (Rogue Dama). We had an awesome back and forth match, 2-2, neck and neck. He ended up winning on the hanging 1 turn inward lunar trick. We both missed it twice, but he managed to snag it on his 3rd and final attempt, and snagged the falling in from out of the ground. It was a well deserved win in my eyes. Double elimination is a great concept because it gives you that second chance if you mess up in a match. One of the only downsides is that it takes a lot of time to get through the matches, especially if you’re in the loser’s bracket and staying alive.
Anyways, moving on. If you want to take a look at how your favorite player did this year for the open division, check out this link https://challonge.com/Sakuraclassic. FYI, the scores aren’t accurate, so while some people did get 3-0’d, not everyone did.
Day 1 of the event was pretty jam packed. We did the first round of open, speed ladders, and then the freestyle. It was a warm, sunny day as the dama fam jammed on Post St. A bunch of people stopped by the booth and asked about kendama. A lot of people actually ended up buying some kendamas as well!
The day started off with the open division. We only got through one round before realizing that we were getting pressed for time, so we moved onto the speed ladders. Once we narrowed down to the top 6 players, we moved into the freestyle. Freestyle is probably my favorite event of Sakura Classic because it generates the most traffic, since everyone crowds onto the middle of the street and makes the typical freestyle circle. It draws a lot of spectators and shows what kendama is all about: having fun.
Around 5 or 6pm, everybody migrated over to the main stage next to the pagoda. When it was time to shine on stage, the finals of speed ladders as well as the rest of the freestyle rounds that hadn’t gone yet all went down. Long story short, Nick Gallagher actually ended up winning both the freestyle and speed ladders (typical). Major shout out to Jake for emceeing the stage as well as Eli for running the freestyle/speed ladder rounds.
After the stage performances, everybody went their separate ways to go get some grub or chill at their hotel for a little bit before the midway party at the Hatch.
DAY 1: MIDWAY PARTY
Just like last year, there was a special midway party at The Hatch in Oakland. The Hatch is a bar in Oakland that Jake Wiens frequented back when he lived in Oakland. Because of the person Jake is, all of the people that work there know about kendama and are always willing to let Jake host kendama events there like the GT vs JPN party. Kendama edits are played on the wall of the bar, which is kind enough to let all ages in until 11. Another parallel to last year was that there was a special announcement from the GT squad. If you didn’t already know, during the midway party of Sakura Classic 2017, Kristian Aynedter and Ben Herald were both announced as Grain Theory Professionals. Their announcement edit played on the wall of the bar as people cheered from above and below (oh yeah the Hatch has two levels, I forgot to mention that - so cool). This year, another GT member was promoted, this time from Flow to Prospect: Steph Lussier, check out her edit here:
Jake also came correct with some new new for the announcement as well: the Steph Lussier prospect mod. Her mod is a blue and pink GT-1.5 with a San tama. There were only 10 of them there and they sold out on the spot. After that, everybody kind of chillaxed. It was a pretty mellow night since everyone knew that Day 2 was going to be a long one.
Day 2 was pretty much just one long day of open division. There were no other competitions to worry about, so it was all a game of waiting until your match was up. We had only gotten through one round of open the day before, specifically the first round of the winner’s bracket. There were still a ton of games that had to be played so all of the effort was put into the Open. There were 3 games going on at a time all next to the GT booth. I was a card holder for the majority of the day, so I can tell you that some matches were neck and neck. The battles were heated and many of them were 2-2 all the way until the end. For example, Nic Stodd and Kevin DeSoto’s match had 11 nulled tricks. The level of consistency was unreal.
Unfortunately, it started to rain towards the last quarter of the rounds. The streets of Japantown cleared as many of the people here for the actual festival went home, but not the kendama players. We all huddled underneath the GT tent as the rain poured down on us. The finals of open division were originally supposed to be held on stage like they were last year, so that the spectators could see what kendama is all about. However, since most of the vendors decided to leave because of the rain, the tent across from ours was vacated. The Open division finals that were supposed to be on stage got moved to the tent across the street as everyone huddled underneath and watched the remaining players battle it out.
I actually only caught the last matchup because I was sort of encompassed in what Josh Grove was doing in the rain.
When Josh eventually decided to move on from his trick, I decided to go watch the finals. Much to no one’s surprise, Nick Gallagher actually ended up winning against Bonz to become the 2018 Sakura Classic champion. The amazing thing was that Nick had to win against Bonz twice because he was coming from the loser’s bracket. To cap that off, it was also his and Zack’s 18th birthday, so everyone sang both the Gallaghers happy birthday after Nick won the comp. One cool addition to this year was that the winners of the Open division were presented with official certificates from the Consulate General of Japan.
Speed Ladder Podium:
1st: Nick Gallagher
2nd: Keilan Cancino
1st: Nick Gallagher
2nd: Bonz Atron
3rd: Kevin DeSoto
1st: Nick Gallagher
2nd: Bonz Atron
3rd: George Marshall
After the comp finished and the rain managed to die down, everyone said their last goodbyes as we all parted ways. The Sweets crew went off on their own while the GT squad and a smattering of other people went inside the Japan Center to grub on some KBBQ. And we GRUBBED.
Sakura Classic 2018 was one for the books! Jake always manages to throw a great event every year. Special thanks to Jake, Grain Theory, everyone who helped out, and the Consulate General of Japan for giving us the opportunity to spread kendama on stage and at the booth. Another thanks to everyone who came out this year, because it truly wouldn’t be anything without the players who travel from all over the country. Can’t wait for next year’s!
By Nick Lectura on May 18, 2018 at 12:39 AM