Origin of Kendama Institute

The founding of Kendama Institute was very serendipitous. A lot of small things, an incredible amount of work, and a team of passionate people made it all possible.

In the spring of 2017, I was completing my student teaching assignment and considering my next steps. To be honest, it was clear teaching high school biology was not for me. It wasn’t the subject, or the hard work, or the students. It was the lack of opportunity to create the impact I was looking for. Every day I became more convinced that I could have a larger positive impact on more students outside of the classroom.

I had already started teaching kendama in after school programs in Minneapolis, and was becoming more convinced that Kendama could be used as a tool to address some of the issues I saw in the classroom. It seemed like the biggest  systemic problem was the level of learned helplessness, a fear and avoidance of failure so extreme students wouldn’t try tests or assignments. I saw Kendama as a way to help students learn the coping skills necessary to learn from failure and develop a growth mindset, a thought process that challenging yourself is a way to achieve personal growth, in a fun, interactive, and supportive environment. I just needed some help.

Meanwhile, 1,800 miles away in Oregon, Joshua Grove was on his own kendama education path.

Josh was teaching mindfulness through play full time with Camp Fire Columbia, a non-profit based in Portland. But his journey actually began 3 years prior, while living in San Diego. It was here where that Josh was first invited in to present mindfulness and compassion to local schools. While on this path he joined up with an organization called Peace Sticks, where he began using kendama to teach growth mindset. It was traveling throughout California teaching and talking, where Josh fostered his passion for teaching.

Serendipity took over at the inaugural Camp Kendama where Josh was in town as a counselor and I was a sponsor with Kendama MPLS when our shared desire to use kendama as an impactful educational tool came to light. We developed a strong connection over the weekend and decided to work together however we could before separating ways for the summer.

The Minneapolis education scene continued to  grown and Josh came back for MKO2017. We wanted to brainstorm the best way to bring kendama education in to the main stream; by the end of Josh’s week in Minnesota, we had built the framework for Kendama Institute. But there was so much more that needed to be done. There was so much potential in our vision it became clear a big move was needed. We had so much faith and support in our dream that Josh decided to make the move to Minneapolis a few months later.

It’s been about six months and in that time we’ve toured schools in multiple states and presented our curriculum to teachers from around the country. Educators are beginning to see the value and impact kendama can have on their students, their community, and the entire education system. KI is constantly growing, constantly innovating to give as much support to the community as possible.

As much work as Josh and I have put in to this non-profit, it’s not a task we could tackle on our own. Many amazing people from both the kendama community and education system have both directly and indirectly influenced the formation of Kendama Institute. We would especially like to thank Sweets Kendamas- without people like Gabe Klemm, Matt “Sweets” Jorgenson, and the rest of the Sweets family we would not be here. Special thanks also to Ryan Walker, Zack Seiger, Brandi Alyce, and Shine Rilling who have also contributed to the growth of KI in so many ways. And finally, thank YOU, the kendama community. Without you none of us would be trying to change the world with this amazing toy.

Written by: Tyler Abrahamson