29 April 2018
The KWC Tricklist -
Behind the scenes.
As April rolls by every year, kendama players find their eyes invariably glued on the Global Kendamas Network YouTube channel, eagerly awaiting a series of 12 videos to be released over a span of two weeks.
And these videos are none other than that of the infamous Kendama World Cup tricklist. But, what is it? Why is it so special? And why are people paying so much attention to it every year, even though only 3-5% of the world's kendama population attend KWC?
To attempt to answer that, let's first enter a crash course in the KWC tricklist history, and inevitably, KWC history as a whole.
Despite its perceived beginnings in 2014, KWC actually had its roots in the year prior to that. It was Tamotsu Kubota's vision of seeing players from around the world gather in the birthplace of kendama, and enter fierce competition to seek the title of "World Champion".
And to that end, Tamotsu and Hajime Ishibashi, decked out in full ninja gear, armed with Mugens (not Musous, mind you), and with the help of a young Zoomdanke and a Handicam, set out to film a series of 70 tricks for the 2013 GLOKEN Cup.
As you may have guessed, these were then arranged into 7 levels of 10 tricks each, in ascending levels of difficulty. Not long after, about 50 people, and amongst them some of the biggest names in kendama (at the time), including Alex Smith, Keith Matsumura (who was then Dama Fest 2013 champion), Matt DeCoteau, Trevor Starnes, Matthew Ballard, Thorkild May, Rodney Ansell, and Kristin Olinyk gathered at the Uchi Gymnasium, at Tamotsu’s hometown of Nara, Japan on the 15th of July 2013, and duked it out, in what those in attendance agree to be the best kendama event, of all time.
(2013 GLOKEN Cup attendees.)
Japan's Masatoshi Hamazaki (pictured right) went on to win the event, and Thorkild May won freestyle, and the GLOKEN Cup set in motion, what was to be the greatest kendama event for the years to come.
The following year, GLOKEN announced the Kendama World Cup, and with it, a set of 100 tricks to choose from, in of course, 10 ascending levels of difficulty. But many seem to overlook a simple question - how do they choose and sort these tricks?
It usually starts with GLOKEN showing up at competitions or events that they sponsor, such as :
2014 - Yo-Dama Hawaii
2015 - NKR
2016 - GLOKEN World Tour
2017 - MKO & Various
And GLOKEN shows up with a camera in hand, and requesting prominent and notable players and figures in kendama to perform a trick (or some tricks) for them. Pro players are usually approached first, before GLOKEN finds more players at events. GLOKEN also opens submissions to the public, beginning 2018, and prior to that, GLOKEN has been accepting email submissions (though, not a widely known fact), so long as the tricks are recorded with a good resolution (generally 1080p, 60fps and above), in focus, the kendama themselves to be recorded within the frame at all times, and unobstructed.
For this year alone, GLOKEN recorded over 450 trick videos, mostly above Level 5, and to add the cherry on top of the cake, an additional 200+ trick submissions came in from the public. Once the tricks have been recorded / submitted, players are asked not to leak tricks, either via social media or by word of mouth, and the tricks are then brought back and compiled. Hajime and Kota Kagoshima take on the arduous task of naming the 650+ video files, and organizing them to a list before they are brought to the KWC trick committee, which usually consists of Tamotsu, Hajime, and Kota, with the addition of kendama legend Katsuaki Shimadera, Zoomadanke's Hiroki Ijima, and KWC emcee, Nobuaki Komoto. GLOKEN takes pride in knowing that no KWC competitor possesses any decision making power, let alone insider knowledge on what tricks will be selected for KWC. Sure, you could find a way to get GLOKEN to receive your trick video, but there’s no real guarantee that your trick will be used.
(KWC trick planning.)
It generally takes around 2 months to decide what tricks will make the cut, and the process is nothing short of easy. Shortlisting 120 tricks among over 650 submissions (which is a meager 18%) is indeed, a daunting task, and GLOKEN hopes that players who submit tricks do not get disappointed that their tricks aren't chosen - after all, GLOKEN wants to make the best trick list every year (i mean, we are choosing a World Champion, after all).
Speaking of shortlisting, at its infancy, the GLOKEN Cup started out with 70 tricks in total. GLOKEN soon discovered several flaws in this approach, namely the scarce variety of tricks, and that it wasn’t that difficult to rack high points in the final stages, by spamming mid level tricks. The following year, GLOKEN went with 100 tricks, which remained until 2017, where the trick list was then expanded to 120. This is done to keep kendama spreading and growing, to keep up with the frighteningly fast evolutionary pace kendama tricks go through, and make KWC much more enjoyable for beginners, who simply want to experience some fun in a competitive kendama event (the Tosta family is a fantastic example of this).
(The 2018 KWC tricklist)
Okay, let’s consider the following: If there were still 100 tricks to this day, tricks from higher levels of past years trickle down a few levels, leaving no room for the very basic tricks, which might mean you’d find a trick such as juggle spike at Level 1! It’s hardly vexing for the capable, but you end up with a lot of players who just want to come by and enjoy the experience, and end up feeling marginalized. And that surely won’t fit with the “Even More Fun, Even More Global” tagline that KWC adopted this year.
As for the trick selection, GLOKEN considers several factors, such as new, creative, unique and inspiring tricks, tricks that are not lengthy and are easy for the judging panel to judge upon, and also the current trend and flow of tricks (BBs in 2015 for example, taps and cushions in 2016, ghosts and fasthands in 2017). For this year, i am told that swivel and gravity drops are the new thing, and that trends are really difficult to determine. GLOKEN always keeps an ear to the ground in making sure they don't get left behind in trends.
Once everyone has sorted the tricks out, Kota gets into action and starts editing the trick videos to be published on YouTube. Generally taking about two weeks, and done on Adobe's Premiere Pro, Kota mentions that stitching the tricks according to the assigned levels is not too difficult, but what adds to the bulk of the editing process is the addition for the trick description (which is on the top left corner of the video in both English, and Japanese), and the trick performer's name, country of origin and represented company / group on the bottom left corner, plus the country flag. The addition of the name and country began in 2016, as a way to easily identify who's performing the trick, and for which team, and country.
Kota and the GLOKEN crew replay the videos over and over again to find tiny mistakes to fix, taking extra steps to ensure the videos go up on YouTube without complications. Having taken up the position of in-house editor since 2015, Kota has been ecstatic to receive so many submissions from the public. In a way, the KWC trick list would not have been possible, if not for the overwhelming help and support kendama players give towards the creation of the trick list. He hopes that future submissions keep coming, as long as they are not filmed vertically, and enough space on the sides are given for Kota to place the trick description, name and logos.
Once the videos are complete, they are uploaded on GLOKEN's YouTube channel in mid April (with the exception of 2014, which was uploaded during the month of June). Competitors then have approximately 3 months of grinding, practice and preparation towards chasing the World Champion crown. GLOKEN also provides a trick list in PDF format, for ease of viewing.
In the earlier years (2013-2015) however, the links pointing to the PDF files were quite obscure, and is usually released within a week after the final trick level has been published, and for competitors who were a little impatient, that meant resorting to compiling tricks in their own PDF files (including yours truly), and distributing it to everyone who needed it. GLOKEN made links to their PDF files more prominent in 2016 (and with it, a revamped KWC splash page on their website), and Japanese app developer Shinya Hata released the KWC 2016 Trick Master Sheet app on Apple's App Store platform.
Thanks majorly to the hype surrounding KWC, and the immediate availability of the trick list, everyone wanted to have a crack at it, to see if they really have what it takes, or even a glimpse of what it takes to be World Champion. It helps that a huge number of prominent players are on the list, busting out difficult tricks, and others wanted to try and hit it, too. The KWC trick list became a de facto litmus paper of sorts, acting as sort of a skill level gauge for a player.
Once you manage to make the pilgrimage to Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima for KWC, you're given a swag bag, in which contains, among other items and trinkets; your player number, and two pieces of paper - the score sheets. This is where you write down the trick level, and trick description (10 tricks for each paper in Prelims) to be brought to the dama check counter to be verified by event officials, where one copy will be handed over to them. During the GLOKEN Cup, written text made it a little difficult for the event officials to inspect, as everyone had different writing, and some proved to be borderline illegible, and then there’s the bit where writing everything down takes time. Lots of time. So, for the following year, the process is improved upon and simplified even further, where players were given an adhesive, pre-cut KWC tricklist sheet, in which you are able to detach your 10 desired tricks and stick them onto the two pieces of paper.
(KWC registration counter.)
(KWC sticker trick list)
The officials will then bring a copy into the judging room - where around 4 officials work together to group every single score sheet into a cumulative level of tricks chosen, and then pair you into groups of three. This is done to ensure that you are paired with players who have roughly similar capabilities as you are, which in turn makes scoring much more efficient and easier. Once the preliminaries are over, the second score sheet is surrendered to the KWC officials, who hastily transport them to the judging room, where our 4 officials tally and ensure the points are correct, then sort out the preliminary ranking, where the names of finalists will be given to Nobu and Jake Wiens, to announce, and then the complete preliminary ranking list will be printed out, and pasted on the wall just to the right of the judging room.
(The start of Day 1, KWC 2017.)
(KWC judging room. The gentleman seated calculates scores mentally while the rest wait to sort.)
When the final round commences on Day 2, a special judging table is set up at about 10 or so feet away from the stage, and is occupied by 3 individuals; Katsuaki Shimadera as the head judge, Hajime, who writes down every single trick the players attempt, and the results of each trick attempted, and finally Kota, who figures out the trick level and number (e.g. 8-6, 4-7, 12-9), and relays this information to Hajime, while Kota himself mans a review camera, pointed at the player, where said camera is generally equipped with slow motion capabilities, should there be a need for settling disputes.
After all is said and done, and the World Champion is crowned, GLOKEN’s job doesn’t quite end there. Everyone might be outside, mingling, and having fun at the afterparty, but Hajime and his crew spend an additional 2 hours of clean up. Hajime himself has been sacrificing his own afterparty time ever since KWC began, relying only on photos and videos to catch a glimpse of what the afterparty looked like. And then of course, once everything is completely dismantled and the crew head back to GLOKEN headquarters in Nagano, there is still more work to be done, such as uploading complete finalists score sheets, updating the World Kendama Ranking list, and tons more.
Being honored guests to the world’s best kendama event, and by extension, the kendama birthplace of Japan, it’s easy for us (even myself) to overlook and take for granted the hard work GLOKEN puts in to make KWC a successful event, year after year. This article is merely a tip of the iceberg; there are things that aren’t covered in this article like planning, logistics, funding and sponsorship deals, this article alone is more than enough for one to truly understand the scale of what is necessary to ensure a smooth operation for KWC.
It’s a monumental amount of work and effort for a motley crew of 7, so whenever you see the GLOKEN crew, give them a hug, because they really worked their asses off to pull this event, and the worldwide kendama community together.
(The current GLOKEN crew, plus Zoomadanke)
Special thanks to the GLOKEN family for making this article possible. Kubota Tamotsu, Ishibashi Hajime, Kagoshima Kota, Hyuga Yuka, Matsuzawa Tomoyuki, Yoshizaki Reiko, Kamishima Kazuya, thank you all from the depths of my heart, especially to Tamotsu, Hajime and Kota, for endlessly barging you with questions, and quite possibly annoying you to a certain level along the way.
Thanks also to Shimadera Katsuaki, Matt DeCoteau, Thorkild May, Philip Eldridge, Alex Smith, Trevor Starnes, and the community at Downspike and the Facebook Kendama Community for your help in answering some queries i had.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as i had fun writing it. I also hope you learned something from it, as much as i did, and i hope to get to meet every single kendama player at KWC (i am unfortunately not going this year, though), and any kendama event in the future.
By azleonhart on Apr 29, 2018 at 7:12 AM