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Kendama Meets Streetwear: Sweets x Piff + Exclusive Interview with Matt Sweets

Posted by Ben Alberts at


Kendama Professional: Cooper Eddy

Exclusive Interview with Matt Sweets 

Ben- Kendama is a sport that some of our readers may be unfamiliar with. How would you describe the sport to an individual trying kendama for the first time?

Matt- Kendama is a sport that literally anyone can get into with minimal practice and money spent. Kendama is a hand eye coordination skill toy that originated in Japan a few hundred years ago. There is a handle that has 3 different sized cups on it, there is a spike on the end of the handle, there is also a ball attached by a string that has a hole in it as well. You can do hundreds of tricks by manipulating the pieces in different ways. Kendama is what you make it, some people like to concentrate on getting the cups and perfecting stalls. Other people like to practice freestyle tricks, these are tricks people make up on the spot utilizing the string a lot. The best way to experience kendama is by trying. You can never be a master of kendama, only a student learning to get better every time you play.  

 Ben- Do you recall your first experience with kendama? What originally encouraged your interest in the sport?

Matt- I saw my first kendama in a ski movie called "Ski Porn". My cousin had one at his house and I was immediately hooked. I would go to his house just to play kendama and he lived an hour away from me. I was interested in it originally because I saw the potential it had to be something more than just a toy. I saw an opportunity to bring something truly unique to the US. I was a snowboarder and a skater with dreams of always being sponsored by a crew. I saw a lot of the same things in kendama that I did in those extreme sports. There are tons of tricks and room for new tricks to be created. 

Ben - Your company Sweets Kendamas has been a pioneer force in the sport. Could you tell us more about what inspired you to turn your hobby of kendama into a business and way of life?

Matt- The more I introduced kendama to my friends who were all around 21 years of age the more i realized kendama was addicting no matter what age you were.  I was just finishing my Communications degree at the University of Minnesota when I found the kendama. I figured if a bunch of 21 year old college students like this ball and cup toy a bunch of 12 year olds should like it just as much, if not more. Once I had that thought the game was over. All I could think about was how am I going to get a serious amount of these here and how much is it going to cost. I was able to order 500 of them and sold them if less than a few months. From there it has been a blur of rapid growth and expansion. 

Ben- Sweets sponsors many of the best internationally ranked professional Kendama players in the game. Could you elaborate on how your team competes and represents the brand globally?

Matt- We have been working on building one of the biggest and best squads in Kendama from the beginning. Players get onto the team by submitting sponsor me videos, or by just making an impression on the kendama community and getting noticed by us. As a sponsored kendama player you are required to comepete at as many kendama events as you can in a year. They are also responsible for creating content showing off new styles of kendamas and new styles of tricks. There are players that focus on competitions and others that focus on creating high quality videos. We send lots of team members to Japan every year to compete in the Kendama World Championships ( KWC ) . This is the largest kendama comp in the world and crowns the unanimous best player in the world at the end. Sweets Players have never took first but have been very close. Last year we had 8 players make it to the top 32 with Lukas Funk comin in 2nd and George Marshall being tied for 4th. This years comp is coming up in July and we will be sending 16 players to compete for the title.

Ben- I have much respect for the collaboration efforts you pursue. My favorite is the Vans x 430 x Sweets Kendamas collaboration. Could you share more about this collaboration along with how it developed?

Matt- This is the coolest collab we have done by far. We have a really good friend Nobu that owns a BMX apparel company in Shibuya Japan. He is a Red Bull MC and has lots of connections with clothing/lifestyle brand companies. He got really into kendama and now has his own line that he produces in Japan. Vans came to him with the idea that they wanted to put a kendama in a box with a pair of vans. Nobu was put in charge of finding the right kendama company to help make the special kendama for the project. Vans and Nobu decided they liked our brand the most so they proposed the idea to us. We were honored that out of all the companies they could work with they chose us. 

430 x Vans x Sweets

Ben- I was super astonished after seeing the Kendama Museum at the Sweets HQ. It is pretty amazing you have one of the most exclusive collections in world right here in Minnesota. If you had to choose a favorite which would it be?

Matt- Asking me to chose one favorite kendama is like asking me to choose my favorite child! If the shop was burning down I would take three kendamas with me. 

1.) my first kendama ever ( black tk-16 ) 

- This is the kendama that started my life journey. I have a lot of sentimental kendamas lying around but this one holds the most important memories. 

Black TK-16

2.) Star Road Mugen 

- Arguably the most expensive kendama in the collection. I never though we would own this piece. I figured it would be the last one we got if we ever found it.  

Blacked Out Mugen

3.) Blacked out Mugen

- There are only 2 of these in the world. I won this at a competition in the north woods of Japan in 2014. I don't win many comps so this is special because I shared the win with a good friend Shimadara - san and got this 2 of a kind kendama. 

 

Ben- It is fascinating to me that Kendamas have a similar resale market as sneakers. You mentioned collection of Mugen brand Kendamas in the museum is 1/3 sets in the world. Why are Mugen brand Kendamas so sought after?

Matt- Mugens are so rare because they were only made from 2008 - 2010. Kazuma Iwata is the man that creates each mugen by hand. He is a master painter and that is what got him kicked out of the JKA. He made paint that was too sticky so the association kicked him out for not changing the formula. They believe that the paint gave the players an unfair advantage. Kazuma thought this was ridiculous so he quit making kendamas. Kendama started to become popular in the USA around 2010 and kids starting wanting mugens because they heard the paint was the best in the world. There were only a few hundred of each color made so they are not easy to find. Brand new, in package Mugens retail now a days from 500 - 1000 dollars a piece depending on the color and condition. We have all but 2 of the painted mugens he ever created. We are still missing the Ying Yang Mugen and the Emerald Mugen. We hope to complete the collection someday! 

Ben- Thanks Matt for enlightening us with your expertise in the sport of Kendama. I am super excited to see Sweets Kendama brand and the sport as a whole.


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