Kendama has come a long way in recent years. What was once a "simple toy" is now a high-end piece of craftsmanship, designed to look sexy and engineered to take your play to the next level. Players care more and more about their gear, so companies are creating products to keep up with this evolution of Kendama. One of the biggest trends we've seen come up within the last few years is the obsession with weights. In this blog we're going to be talking all about Kendama weights.
Why do they matter? Should you care?Is a certain weight better than others?
There's no easy answer to these questions, but we'll do our best to drop some knowledge and let you decide whether or not weights are a big deal to you! So, what are we talking about when we're referring to weights?
Generally, people are referring to the weights of the Ken and Tama respectively. Having a "balanced" setup would mean that the tama and ken weigh pretty much the same. A "Dead-On" setup is exactly the same or within 1-2 grams between the Ken and Tama (some kitchen/postage scales are only accurate within 1-2 grams, so we count anything that close). For individual Tamas and/or Kens, we consider pieces that are under 70 grams to be “light:, pieces that are between 70-80 grams are considered “mid”, and pieces that are over 80 grams are considered heavy. You might also consider the weight of the complete setup. For completes, we could consider anything under 140 grams total to be “light”, anything from 140-160 grams to be “mid”, and anything over 160 grams to be “heavy”.
Kendama weights are largely a preference. Some people prefer to play setups in a certain weight range, some prefer their tama to be a little heavier than the ken, and some just don't care. When we first started playing Kendama back in 2010, having a scale was definitely not considered a prerequisite to being a Kendama enthusiast. We would have to credit Kendama Co with being the first company to address weights by offering a choice of light, mid, or heavy on their Kendamas when checking out in their online shop.
In the infancy of the modern Kendama scene we know, the tricks being done were pretty basic compared to some of the crazy stuff we see now. As tricks progressed, the need for a Kendama that would spin, turn, and balance exactly the way you wanted it to, became a very desirable thing. As players manipulated their Kendamas in new ways, the physics of the game, and how the weight of the Kendama affected the game, became much more apparent. Having a Ken and Tama that weigh close to the same, you will find they will rotate more evenly on the string's axis vs a Ken and Tama that are very different in weight which would create an unbalanced rotation.
For the most part, weights only matter for the more advanced tricks. If you’re just learning, you can master the basics with the right techniques on just about any Kendama. To take the weight situation a step further, you can also compare the weights of the individual Sarado and Spike pieces of the Ken. If you think of the different ways you might toss, flip, or balance the Ken, you'll realize that the distribution of weight can affect these different motions. Having more weight towards the base cup makes the Ken rotate faster for ken flips, whirlwinds, gunslingers, etc.
Having more weight in the Sarado allows your Ken to more easily balance when landing Lunar. A well-designed Ken can overcome these differences in weight and still perform well for all types of tricks. Now you might be thinking to yourself that with the advantages listed above, why don't companies ensure that every Kendama sent out is balanced? Let us break it down for you. Kendama manufacturers strive to be as precise as possible when cutting/drilling/finishing Kendamas, and advances in technology and processes have definitely improved the overall quality of the Kendamas we see today. Tamas are expected to be perfectly spherical, cup edges are even, and Sarados fit snugly into place on the spike.
The main variable that manufacturers can't control is the weight and density of the wood. Wood is an imperfect material. Each tree is different, each cut of wood is different, and so on. You can establish a general weight range for a specific-sized cut of a specific species of wood, but there will always be outliers. This brings up a very important point: The mass of the Tama is greater than the mass of the Ken in almost all modern Kendama designs. Statistically, Tamas are always going to be heavier than the Ken when cutting them from the same species of wood.
In addition, Tamas need to be cut from a larger blank than a Ken, so the bigger cuts of wood are more likely to contain dense heartwood (the center of the tree). Heartwood is more porous and carries water up the trunk which increases the weight. Another thing to keep in mind: the process of weighing and sorting entire batches of Kens and Tamas is time-consuming and costly, regardless of whether you're selling them by the tens, hundreds, or thousands.
If a manufacturer has taken the time to weight-match Kendamas, it's reasonable to expect a slightly higher price tag to offset the additional time and/or unusable product that is a result. So, does weight matter? What we believe you should take away from this is that weight in a Kendama isn't everything, but it's also not a bogus thing that you should write off. If you’re an advanced player looking to add more juggles or string variations to your freestyle lines, then you might find that a more balanced setup helps. Don't be afraid to switch around Kens and Tamas from other Kendamas you have bought. There's no rule that you need to keep your setups how you bought them.
Have fun and experiment! Most importantly though is to give it a try before you decide that it's not going to work for you. The placebo effect is a very real thing. If you go into playing a Kendama with the mindset that it's unbalanced and therefore won't perform, it's probably not going to perform. If you go into playing with the mindset of "this is a new Kendama that I'm excited to get a feel for" you are more likely to feel a connection to that Kendama and realize its potential regardless of the weights. All Kendamas have potential, but it's up to you to unlock it.
by Matthew Jorgenson