The Sakura Classic is a Kendama event that focuses on the original reason why we play Kendama. FUN! No fees, no pressure, all vibes. This year, the sun was shining and the players were out in full force. This Sakura Classic had the most pros yet, 28 Sponsored players came out to join the 100+ amateurs. The pros hosted workshops and gave advice to the young competitors trying to reach the main stage to become the Sakura Champ.
The speed ladders are always intense. Players were focused and honed this year, finishing the ladder within fractions of a second within each other requiring slow motion replays to determine the winner. Win or loose, everyone was smiling. At the end of a full day of speed ladder battles, we had our top 16 competitors for the next day.
Congrats to -
Matthew Stacy, Hartej Sinjh, Jordan Vargas, Keilan Cancino, Casey Cristabol, Anthoney Leary, Jack Shores, Eli Kertel, Hayden Brickman, Joshual Yanga, Mason Santos, Elmer Juen, Andrew Taldlip, Omrishi Jonnala, Jordan Petiesta &Tim Chow
The Pro / Sponsored speed ladder was a mix of a Kendama contest and a comedy show. As I looked around me, I would call out 5 pros at a time. Mixing up sponsors, friends, and rivals. During each round, I would roast each player.The crowd was laughing and the players were trying to focus while I talked about a modeling agency battle with Kristian Aynedter, Max Norcross, and Tj Kolesnik.
After day 1 in Japantown SF, everyone met at the Hatch in Oakland, a small bar and restaurant with neighborhood vibes in Oakland. Upon arrival, the place was packed with kendama players and Kendama videos were projected on the wall. Drinks, burgers, tacos, and wings were flowing like water. It was great to have everyone in one place for a party. Usually at some point during kendama events the young ones and the adults get split up due to age restrictions. Pancho, the owner of The Hatch opened his doors to all ages that Saturday night and made it a memorable event for everyone. Towards the end of the night, the music changed and a video started to play that ended up being the pro announcement for Kristian Aynedter and Ben Herald! People were cheering and applauding as waves of smiles rushed over the crowd. The goal was to create the “skate video premiere” feeling. Mission accomplished.
Day 2 of the Sakura Classic was the “hone in’ day. The day started with workshops for the top 16 ams that were in the classic. The pros helped each player tighten up their tricks and gave advice on how to stay cool and collected during the contest. While the players were warming up, the rest of the crowd watched the 9 and under and the 30 and up contest. The 9 and under featured a big cup off as well as ken drop and other fun mini games. All competitors walked away with prizes. The 30 and up class were competing for an Original Grain watch and Kendama USA kanji brush shirt. The competition was made up of dads of players and other adult players. The vibe was amazing and everyone had a blast.
The amateur contest began at 1 and players were ready. At the Sakura Classic, there is no stage, only the street. The players paired up and battled in the middle of post street in Japantown. The crowd gathered quickly to watch the young competitors face off. The battles went on until we had the top 4: Jordan Vargas, Keilan Cancino, Hartej Sinjh, and Matthew Stacy.
While the am players celebrated their victory, the pros started gathering for the pro contest. This years pro contest featured some of the most amazing players and match-ups I have ever seen. It is amazing to watch 2 of your favorite players go head to head. In the end it came down to Ben Herald and Josh Grove that would battle it out on the main stage later in the day.
Right after the pro classic, the pace switched to pro freestyle / exhibition. Music was bumpin’ and the crowd formed a circle in the middle of the street. I called 4 players into the circle and they threw down free style for 4 min. If you mess up twice you step out and some one else comes in. After 4 minutes, the crowd judges who will stay and who will go. This years freestyle had some of the most epic bangers laced and the crowd was going nuts. The highlight was when I decided to have all of COTK battle it out in the ring. Wyatt, Stodd, June, and Caleb all jumped in huddled up and then broke into one of the most legendary freestyles. Stodd hitting impossible lunar combos, while Chris June redefined the definition of bird combos, Caleb slinging his way into the next universe, and Wyatt going ham with the most vicious down spike combos. After all the smoke settled from all the rounds, it came down to Gavin Harvey and Micha Logan to battle on the main stage.
At 5:30, the entire squad mobbed up to the main stage that sat under the pagoda where we jam every Tuesday. I grabbed the mic and started to explain kendama to the people. I asked “who knows what a kendama is?” I did not expect the roar that came from the crowd. I then asked “who has never seen a kendama before?” Only a few people in the audience had never seen one!
After some tricks on a normal sized Kaizen and a KROM XXL I brought up the freestyle finals. Micha and Logan were on another level of honed. Both players landing unique tricks that are the definition of modern kendama. After both players had their runs it was judgement time. The crowd undeniably decided in favor of Gavin. Micha lifted Gavin up off the ground and Gavin’s hands when in the air with victory!
Next we went into the Pro Classic Finals. Ben Herald faced off With Josh Grove. Both Ben and Josh were landing the tricks left and right, match for match. It was match point for Ben and the card drawn was the hanging inward flip down spike. Josh came within millimeters of the lace and Ben had a chance for the win. Ben took a breath and landed the trick first try! The crowd cheered and there was a new Sakura Pro champ! Ben was awarded the custom champion Hapi Coat custom made for the contest. Going pro the night before and winning the contest the next day creates a story for the ages.
For the finale, the amateur players made their way to the stage. Round one was Hartej vs Jordan Vargas and Hartej takes the win to move onto the finals. In round two was Matthew vs Keilan and Keilan took the win. Fun fact: Keilan has placed in the top 3 every Sakura Classic!
The finals were two competitors who have trained and worked for the spot both Hartej and Keilan have dreamed of being the Sakura Champ. Just like the pros Hartej and Keilan were matching trick for tricks building the suspense. Hartej had 3 points and needed 1 more for the win. Keilan drew the infamous Handlestall hop to slip on stick. Keilan missed and it came down to Hartej. Hartej hits the handle stall and the hop over. The moment of truth is the slip on stick and he lands it perfectly. The crowd rushes in and the audience applauds the new Sakura Champion. Both players walked away with amazing prizes form Kendama USA and Grain Theory and Hartej was awarded the Sakura Champions Hapi coat.
The weekend was full of kendama, friends, an amazing contest, and all of this in the middle of a 200,000 person festival celebrating Japanese arts and culture. Kendama continues to grow in northern California and the Sakura Classic is the time when everyone comes together from all over the west coast to enjoy kendama together.
See you there next year.