The photographers who attended the Catch & Flow tournament in September would have been well advised to keep an eye on their equipment, as some of the tricks performed during the freestyle competition were so outrageous that balls flew dangerously close to their lenses.

“It’s called bounce; some people call it pizza toss,” says Danish player Philip Eldridge to The Japan Times, putting a name on a trick he describes as one of his favorites.

Held on Sept. 13, Catch & Flow was the first freestyle kendama tournament to be organized in Japan.

According to reigning European freestyle champion Eldridge, who has traveled around the world more than eight times in the past 18 months, the charm of this new style of kendama lies in its flexibility.

“I have played (kendama) for five years and even today while practicing for this tournament, I came up with 10 new tricks,” Eldridge says.

“When you learn a trick, it opens a new world of kendama,” he says. “Then you can start expanding your trick list and do different stuff. That way, everyone can develop their own style.”

Eldridge’s style of kendama resembles dancing. He moves his entire body — occasionally even jumping over the strings — rather than concentrating on the hand that’s guiding the toy.

To encourage such performances, the tournament almost ripped up the rulebook. Restrictions were placed on the size of the kendama and the length of the string, but players were given relative freedom on anything else.

The tournament consisted of 90-second elimination rounds of freestyle until two players were left to compete in a one-on-one final.

Held just outside Takashimaya Department Store in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, dozens of passers-by stopped and watched in amazement at the breathless action on display.

Thumping beats from the DJ helped liven up the carnival atmosphere. It was a moment like this that first attracted Eldridge’s Krom Kendama teammate, Thorkild May, to the sport.

“I was at a music festival and I saw one guy playing kendama. It looked really cool,” May says. “I liked the look and aesthetics of Kendama. I’ve been skateboarding and BMX riding, and I can see some similarities. I just wanted to join the fun.”

May’s performance in September was enough to give him the Catch & Flow trophy for 2014. Using a special kendama that had been given to him on his birthday, he blew the competition away.

“I’m happy (everyone) has got to know about kendama,” he said before his mind-blowing performance. “Keep playing and challenging yourself. Have fun, play some music, dance, feel the rhythm and do your thing.”

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