Snarkle Talks: Episode 5 (The Episode About the European Kendama Championship)




In this episode of Snarkle Talks, host Kellie Kawahara-Niimi sits down with Teodore Fiorina, the brilliant mind behind the European Kendama Championship (EKC). Together, they explore Teo's journey from kendama enthusiast to event organizer, discuss the intricacies of the kendama community, and share valuable insights for both players and organizers. Don't miss out on this engaging conversation filled with kendama tricks, laughter, and a whole lot of snark!


EKC Instagram Page

EKC YouTube

Sweets Kendama Twitch Stream 

Teo's Instagram Page

Snarkle Rocks Instagram Page

Snarkle Rocks YouTube

Episode 05 Transcript: 

*funny mouth sounds that are like saying words backwards* 


Hi there, welcome back to another fabulous episode of Snarkle Talks! It's me, your favorite host, Kellie Kawahara-Niimi, excited to bring you some awesome kendama content, with some animal facts and hot takes on the side.

Today, I'm super excited to introduce you to the one and only Teodore Fiorina. Teo is not only the genius behind the European Kendama Championship (EKC), he's also a brilliant kendama player. His journey from being a player to an event organizer has been an interesting journey and I can’t wait to share it with you!

In this exciting episode, we're going to explore Teo’s kendama journey, his love for the game, and the unforgettable experience of organizing the EKC. .As we dive into his kendama story, we'll also discover interesting aspects of the European kendama scene, the hurdles of event organization, and the significance of fostering a strong community within the kendama world.

And remember to keep your schedule free, as this is only part one of our fascinating chat with Teo. Make sure to join us next Friday for the exciting conclusion of our conversation, where we'll dive even further into event organizing, growing the kendama community and what it’s like to grow and maintain a kendama business.

So, get comfy with your preferred cup of snarkuccino, sit back, and prepare for a kendama-focused chat that will definitely make your day. It's time to tune in to Snarkle Talks with Teodore Fiorina!

*upbeat intro music* 

orget that sometimes a spike in your bevel is all you need to turn that frown upside down.

*Upbeat transition music*

Kellie Kawahara-Niimi (00:01.262)

Hi, thanks for joining us on another Snarkle Talks. I have a friend here. I would love for you to introduce yourself, say your pronouns and are hot dogs a sandwich? 


Okay, so my name is Teodore Fiorina. I am the organizer of the EKC. My pronouns are he, him and hot dogs are a sandwich.


I think so too. I have the unpopular opinion of pizza also sometimes being a sandwich and sometimes being a pie depending on where you get your pizza from. Yeah. Cause I am a pizza folder. 


Yeah. And an calzone is literally a folded pizza. It is. 


They're so handy to take with you on places that you can't take regular pizzas. Absolutely. Hot take. 


And they're easier to deliver.


They are! Okay, I would love to jump in because we have a ton to talk about. Could you please introduce a little bit about your background of how you came into kendama and then also about playing for Grain Theory before we move into EKC stuff? 


Yeah, absolutely. I got into kendama through a friend in high school. He brought it all the way to France and through that, I basically discovered kendama. And that was nine years ago. Oh, wow. And then for Grain Theory, that was three years after I started. So 2018. And I met Jake and the crew in Paris because they came to hold a booth at the Japan Expo. And I came as an interpreter. I was a French canal player who could speak English. And so I came to translate what Jake was saying on stage and teach people kendama That's how I met GT.


Oh my god, that is so cool. Okay, I have so many questions. When you first picked up a kendama, were you one of those people who immediately was like, oh, this is a puzzle I have to figure out? Like, I am now so attached to the dopamine rush of what landing a trick does. Yeah, no, absolutely. I was like that. And then I was also the manic what's next kind of guy. Are you still that way? 

Teo (02:29.134)

Yeah, absolutely. I think so. I'm still always microfixating on one little thing. I also got to a point where I was like, this is comfortable. I love this. And I would just do this trick over and over again. You know, like I was just doing the same trick over and over and over. 


Is that fun? Does it feel very serious or does it feel very playful when you're doing that? 


It was absolutely playful, just satisfaction. And yeah, I think I understood really fast consistency had a big place in how I was enjoying kendama, being consistent and having control was one of the factors that I preferred to pay attention to. I don't know, I feel like the beginning of my journey was a bit different because I've been around a lot of players who started out. I've seen a lot of journeys and just felt a little bit different. I had this obsession with repetition. 


Yeah, this is a small segue, but I played golf growing up and my favorite drills to do were repetition. So I would get a bucket of balls, just dump them by the green and just the same chip over and over again for like an hour just to see how many I could sink. How many shots could I make that were perfect? And that was my comfort zone. So when I found kendama, I kind of have that same feeling of doing the thing and being precise about it. And it looks serious from the outside, but I'm thrilled with the process just in general. There's something about the zen -ness that translates from golf to kendama for me. Yeah, that sounds familiar. When I tell people golf and kendama are really similar to me, it's a, I think a trip, but the amount that you have to train your brain to think and to process and to visualize. Because when you're on the stage and you're competing, you have to land the trick and you only get the one shot. And so you practice as much as you can, but when time comes, you got to do the thing. And so the way that they overlap or the Venn diagram of them is really, really neat to me. Small tangent. 


I think it's important to make parallels between sports and kendama. And it's implicit that kendama is a sport because of the parallels to other sports. And I think that's just a great way of demonstrating that. 


I think that's actually a great segue into talking about EKC as a sports competition. Can you talk a little bit about the origins of EKC and then when you took over and where you want to go? 


All right, so the origins of EKC, there was something called the EKO. before the EKC, which was the main competition in Europe and which we are the spiritual continuation of. And I don't even know really what the first year of EKO was. All I know is that it was held at the EJC, which is a European juggling convention. And every year the EJC would happen, there would be an EKO that was run by European canal players slash jugglers. And then in 2018, they held the last EKO. So the people who were running that stopped, which happens.

And then Krom kendama took over and named it EKC, European Kendama Championship, which was Krom's interpretation of catch and flow. And they held that in Copenhagen in 2019 as a freestyle only Kendama event. And that was actually my first big European Kendama event. I'd never been to an EKO. So that was 2019. And then COVID happened. So 2020, no EKC. 2021, they announced EKC, but never happens.

2022, we're getting to the crux of the situation. So I'm talking to Jake, Jake Wiens, and we were talking about Battle of the Border. And then he mentions EKC. And I remember just, ah, shit, I haven't seen anything mentioning it. So I reach out to Krom Kendama and I ask them, hey guys, what's going on? Are you guys planning to do this? And they say, no. And then I talked to Jake again and he says, what if you do it? Cause I was wondering about doing my own Kendama event anyway. And then.

After a few minutes, I was just already off the phone with Jake and I texted Krom and they said, yeah, sure. Nothing more. It was just a tiny little yes. Like that's it. Next, you know, like they are huge corporation in kendama terms. And so they had a lot of other stuff on their minds. So that was, I believe that was mid -March and I announced the event April and it was happening in July. And so that's how I got to running EKC just by asking, essentially.

Kellie Kawahara-Niimi (07:06.446)

I love that sometimes the universe does that for us, where you're just cruising and then all of a sudden something falls into your lap unexpectedly and you're like, well, I guess I'm doing this now. I can't believe that this door opened. It just creaked, you know? And you're like, ooh. 


Yeah, that was exactly it. And then from then on, it snowballed into me having to run my first intercontinental Kendama event from essentially nothing. Just a will to do it. And I was just a professional player and coach for Grain Theory I was not like no real idea of all the ins and outs. It was really a crazy project to just throw myself into, but I'm really happy I was brazen enough to just do it without any kind of second thought. 


Yeah. I think sometimes the scariest things that are the most rewarding requires just a little bit of jumping before thinking. Like we'll figure it out.

Our Snarkle Rocks event, Malama Dama, we just announced it and it kind of happened in a really similar way where right after Battle at the Border somebody said, hey, do you want to do a thing? And I was like, oh my God, I guess so. And it's so comforting to hear you say that because you had done so much already, right? You had been in the community for a long time. You had been a kendama player for a long time.

And so my thought was you had gone into this being like, oh yeah, this is now my torch to bear. And to hear you say, I kind of just jumped really makes me have a big sigh of relief. 


Yeah. I mean, all our heroes and all our figures that we admire all have these moments for sure. And you have to remind yourself that no matter how sure a person looks, that person has had that jumping moment and the second guessing and all of it is part of the experience. So yeah, that's just how I saw it. Yeah. And it did feel like a spiritual calling. I was like, I have been wearing Europe on my chest for so many years. And this was my way of spearheading a movement or taking everything that I love and putting it all into one place. So that was just exactly what I needed. Mm -hmm.

Kellie Kawahara-Niimi (09:27.054)

Yeah, the clouds parted, the sun rays came down and the angels sung. This is your moment. Yeah. The EKC that you put on was something really, really special. Can you talk about some of the challenges that went into putting together that first event for you? I know that there's time differences, continents, flights. How did you manage all of that? 


So organization wise, it was sort of like an obsession and going into this, I have no structure to my timetable. You know, my calendar is blank. I have no idea how I need to structure my time around this. So whatever I'm doing, I always had it on my mind and it was very crazy. And it just integrated every single part of my life for those first two and a half months. And then the ensuing years, until today in a way. And then the logistical stuff like, oh, wow. Most of the people I'm talking to live across the oceans. So that means I exist in a different time zone. For example, right now we're doing this interview and it's 9 PM on a Monday. And it's just, that's become my normal. I have been on calls 10 to 15 hours a week the past three months or something. And it's always in the evenings. And that's just the reality of it. And then, um,

How do you manage it also at the event? How do you manage the language barriers and all of that? So I think the best way for a Kendama event to manage that and in Europe, it's more true than many other places because we have so many countries and so many languages so close to each other. It's just such small countries. So even someone who's coming from a few hundred kilometers away, it's going to be speaking a different language. And I think the most important part for Kendama events is to showcase our common language, which is...kendama. And so for EKC, that's one of my main focuses. And I really work to keep that on my mind. Like what parts of the kendama language do I need to showcase next? What happening is going to stimulate this kind of exchange between people. And it's all about just thinking that way. And then, for example, I showcased it in 2022. The first thing we did at that event was I had the welcoming ceremony and then I'd given like different color armbands to everyone.


And there was like a hundred people had this color, a hundred people this color. And then I said, look around you, there's people with different armband colors and just everyone in the room started playing kendama together and it was all out of the color of your armband. So they were all meeting new people immediately. 


That's a beautiful way of doing an icebreaker that isn't awkward or strange. It gives purpose to the reason on why you're interacting with these other people. And everyone's already excited to do that. I love and wanted to touch a little bit on the friendships and connections that you've made through this event. When you talk about the connections that you're building for the attendees together, how do you approach that essence of community in your event building? 


So the sense of community is always inherently there, right? Everyone already has that thing in common. And then something really special about Europe is that before the event even starts, there's our jam days that we call our social day. And we have two of those at EKC. So the event is on Friday and Saturday. And on Wednesday and Thursday, you have social days. And what I love about the European scene and that's different from anywhere in the world is that you can give them a park and all the Europeans come. They just sit down, lay out their blankets. And some of them are playing chess. Some of them are smoking. Some of them are just hanging out. Some of them are swimming.

There's just this immediate hangout, like, yo, this spot is ours for the next eight hours. It's just something so unique and it immediately puts everyone at ease and you'll see it this year. And then on the event days, I think ways of doing it is bringing something new to the table and really stimulating people's sense of wonder. So players that are years in, pros that have seen everything, EKC is something they haven't seen. So bringing that sense of wonder and amazement, I feel like that' of the best ways of bringing people together and knocking down barriers in the community. And I saw it a lot last year, the emotion and the happiness, the yelling, it's like a catharsis for kendama players. Yeah, I love what you said about the idea of building wonder and curiosity. 


Not my favorite company, but one of my favorite places to people watch is Disneyland. And it's because adults lose that sense of adultness. Right? They become that childlike person again, where they're open to the idea that these characters are real or whatever. And I do notice that at kendama events where we lose our adultness and we just play. Like we just get to play and have fun and hang out with our friends. And that it's a really hard mindset to step into.

as a tightly wound American person, I am always constantly like, what is next? And that was actually my question on our thing was, can you tell me about the schedule? And I love that you told me about the vibe as you talked about what the days kind of look like. It is such a different mindset. 


It's a mindset that I invite everyone to visit. And the place to visit it is Europe. It just feels different from any other scene or community in the world for Kendama . It just has that sheen to it without trying at all. And that's the whole appeal. Yeah. It's just days of talking and chilling. And then the event days are literally the highest energy Kendama events I've ever been to. But the off days are the highest relaxation mode I've ever seen at a Kendama event. Even though there's like 400 people, it just feels so relaxed and it's really something to witness.


The thing is that these are also the best players in the world. Your competition and skill level at EKC is very high. How do you think that chill vibe and the sense of calm lends itself to the actual competition, not style, but skill level? Like, you know, like the performance. 


Yeah, the performance. The players show up and there's a different air when they step on that stage, even through the screen, you can feel it. Can you talk a little bit about what you think that is? Maybe it is the downtime because also at EKC, I've talked to players and they're like, I got enough sleep or it's like, I don't know, like you don't have to get in a car for six days. You don't have to go through a lot of the hassles and moments of stress of other kendama events. That's EKC. It's just a really relaxing environment.

Teo (16:48.174)

Maybe that's what has these Kendama players feeling another level of comfortable. On the off days, there's such low intensity that the on days they're really well rested and ready to go. And then of course you have the environment of the EKC. It's a big club. The stage is not huge. You have some of the best DJs in the Kendama community, great music and great environment. And then, yeah, they feel this sense of comfort, maybe of familiarity.

And then they just go for it. It's actually crazy how high the performance level is at EKC. Not just the very big players, even the beginners and the intermediates. I think it's just a catalyst for high level Kendama play in. 


I love that, that idea of not competing to beat each other, but vibing so that everybody does their best. 


Yeah. And the amount of support between the players is fantastic. And the support from the crowd is the biggest thing. The crowd just wants to see cool shit. That's what it is. And it's just the players can feel that. And they're like, I have to make this crowd happy. And I want to be happy with this crowd. And I want to celebrate with this crowd. Yeah. Of course it's a high level competition and the players are competitive, but I've never seen like an ounce of toxicity. Everyone is just really supporting each other. And then the crowd is just so involved and so loud and so immediate– pressed up against the stage. Everyone just bunched together really close. Yeah. In this tiny island. Because it's really a small stage compared to all the big Kendama events around the world. So it's just that much more intimate and that much more of a focal point. Yeah. 


It feels like you're a part of the thing as opposed to just watching it. 


Yeah, absolutely. There's no spectating at EKC. Everyone's an actor. That's what makes EKC different is that everyone comes up to the event with that idea of let's pull up and get loud, get excited, support the homies. And the Europeans really understand the assignment. They leave all their inhibitions at the door and they come in and they're all just unleashed. 


Which is fun! You don't have to wear the mask. No. Right? You just get to be you and you just enjoy yourself.

*Upbeat transition music* 

Thanks for tuning in to another fabulous episode of Snarkle Talks! We hope you enjoyed diving into the world of kendama with our incredible guest, Teodore Fiorina.

Don't forget, the European Kendama Championship (EKC) is just around the corner, taking place on May 31st and June 1st, 2024. While tickets for the live event are sold out, you can still catch all the action by tuning in to the live stream on Sweets' Twitch channel. Be sure to follow EKC on Instagram for more information and updates, with links conveniently provided in the episode description.

Teo, thank you so much for sharing your kendama journey and insights with us today. Your passion and dedication to the kendama community are truly inspiring.

Bringing it all the way back around to “hot” dogs— believe it or not, dogs have sweat glands in their paws. These sweat glands produce a watery sweat that helps to regulate their body temperature. When this sweat combines with the bacteria and yeast on the dog's paws, it can produce an aroma similar to that of Fritos. Just in case you ever wanted to think about that when you eat Fritos. Or sniff dog feet. (Honestly, it’s one of my favorite smells…)

Anywho, to our amazing listeners, we appreciate you joining us on this kendama-filled adventure! If you enjoyed today's episode, don't forget to rate, review, and share with your friends. Your support means the world to us!

As a special bonus, if you share this episode on your socials and tag us, we'll shout out a lucky winner on next week's episode.

Until then, thanks for listening to Snarkle Talks! Don't forget that sometimes a spike in your bevel is all you need to turn that frown upside down.

Snarkle Talks is brought to you by Kellie Kawahara Niimi, generally in charge of things and speaker of many words, Seth Niimi, producer and probably not imaginary co -host, and Rae Maxwell Ross, producer, sound editor, and goblin. Music for Snarkle Talks is R .S .P. by Pow Music.

Kellie Kawahara-Niimi (23:51.15)

You know, I have to think hard now about the noises that I make at the beginning of these because I'm never sure what you're going to use and what you're not going to use. And I'm like, well, I can't sing the same thing every time. Um, so I got to now come up with different tunes for my meows, which is hard because also I don't remember what the other one sounded like. Um, so there's that just so you know.

It's there.