A string of connections: a photo essay

The rise of Kendama in Minneapolis stems from inner mindfulness learning through play.

Eddy poses for a portrait in a custom built studio he designed to promote a new pro model Kendama on Monday, Nov. 18. A video he produced,

Parker Johnson

Eddy poses for a portrait in a custom built studio he designed to promote a new pro model Kendama on Monday, Nov. 18. A video he produced, “Coop’s room,” found inspiration from how common it is for many kids to play Kendama in their own room and the vibrant, green color of his new model.

Parker Johnson

Matt Jorgenson, also known as “Sweets,” started Sweets Kendamas in 2010. Sweets took to the streets of the University of Minnesota campus and handed out Kendamas, hoping to gather a following. When he first started, he used Kendamas that had “bad” paint, but was set on creating his own company that made a better product. He experimented and created a paint that would not chip, prolonging the life of a Kendama. Ten years later, Sweets has created one of the biggest Kendama companies in the nation. 

Cooper Eddy started playing Kendama in Tacoma, Washington in 2012. He entered a contest that Sweets Kendamas hosted in 2013, and quickly displayed how good of a player he really was. He joined the Cross Ken Gang(CKG) team, a group of pros that compete across the nation. The team gave him the opportunity to showcase his skills in Kendama, but he also displayed another talent — videography. Sweets thought they could use him as a full-time employee at Sweets Kendamas, so the company took him into Minneapolis to work on videography while he became a pro. Cooper has since travelled to over a dozen countries, representing the brand at Kendama events. Now, he’s focused on the release of his pro model, a personal kendama that a player designs themselves.

Mindfulness, personal growth, and social and emotional awareness are key aspects of Joshua Grove’s classes. Josh is the founder of Kendama Institute, a nonprofit started in 2018 to teach the fundamentals of Kendama. Sweets Kendamas brought Josh in to bring the skill of Kendama to kids in Minnesota. Josh teaches the sport to elementary and middle schools, promoting the benefits Kendama can bring. Teaching hand-eye coordination skills associated with Kendama is not the only thing valuable to his students —  Josh teaches kids how to focus on one specific task, channeling their frustration into meaningful progress.