Stop What You’re Doing: This Kendama Pro’s Skills are Mesmerizing

TJ Kolesnik Shows Us What Tricks He Has Under His Sleeves

Written By: Will Lange TJ Kolesnik
Photographed By: Damian Noble Andrews TJ Kolesnik


Ten thousand hours is a very long time. But according to professional Kendama player TJ Kolesnik, that’s what it takes to truly master something. He acquired this philosophy from one of his favorite books, “Outliers”  by Malcolm Gladwell. In it, the author studied the best in the world from a variety of disciplines and found it took that many hours of practice to become world-class.

After eight solid years, TJ has far surpassed that number.

Kendama is a Japanese skill toy that involves a wooden Tama (a ball connected with a string) and a Ken (a stick with three cups and a spike). Although it’s an ancient game, it’s current form borrows heavily from B-Boy culture and freestyle sports. The best players, (like TJ) have unique styles that feel like well-choreographed street performances.

TJ grew up in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. His early love was for the snow, and he became a competitive skier traveling around the US. During that time, he cultivated his love for the ability to improvise, a central talent in the world of Kendama. Introduced to the game by a friend, TJ didn’t immediately take to it. It was only months later when he ran into it a second time that he finally became hooked. “The cool thing about Kendama is that it’s such a creative toy. You can create your own style,” says TJ.

So what exactly does it mean to be a professional Kendama player? It means having a deep love for a deceptively challenging game. It means having a profound appreciation for a small, but uniquely passionate culture. In less-abstract terms, it means that like any athlete it requires an enormous amount of hours. TJ must put in the work, often a frustrating and slow process, in order to master the movement and flow needed to outperform his competitors. With such a high-level of skill in the circuit, this is no small task.

For TJ, though, it’s about much more than that. He strives to “be a good role model, advocate and ambassador for the sport.” During his 2016 “Make Waves” world tour, he traveled throughout Japan, Singapore, Sweden, Canada and the United States. It was the realization of a lifelong dream that started when he learned the definition of the phrase: “to make a significant impact.”

More than a typical promotional tour, TJ wanted to personally touch the players who had been supporting him and his career. While he loved every place he visited, he left his heart in Japan due to a love for the unique culture and food.  Kendama is huge in the country, and although he was far from home, the community made him feel as if he had never left.

Kolesnik also has other passions including modeling, which he hopes to continue pursuing as his career as a public figure grows. To-date, he’s worked on several high-profile campaigns including Volkswagen and various clothing brands. “I’ve always liked to be in front of the camera,” he said, unapologetically.

What’s unique is that this simple game is surging in popularity now, while young people are losing their attention spans faster each day. Kendama is forced to compete with the digital noise of video games and reality television that pervade our society. But that makes this return to a simpler form of entertainment both welcome and unexpected. Maybe it’s a sign that at our core, we all desire those quieter moments. The ones where we can work towards a goal for no one but ourselves.

So what does the future hold for TJ? “I feel like I have a lot of opportunity on my plate right now. I’m just waiting to see where life takes me,” he said. It seems to be a vague answer, but the way the 24-year-old says it, he sounds excited, but focused—the same way one of Gladwell’s Outliers might say it.

No matter what comes his way, we’re certain he’ll put in the time it takes to master it.

Global Phenomenon: Almost every culture has a version of Kendama, including the Spanish-Portuguese “Boliche” or “Balero” and the English “Bilbo Catcher.”

Teach ‘em Young: At various times throughout history, Kendama has been taught in Japanese schools to teach children hand-eye coordination and patience.

TJ Kolsenik | @teejkolesnik

Photoshoot Location:
Harbor Drive Pedestrian Bridge
111 Harbor Dr
San Diego, CA 92101

See This San Diego Native Trick Master Compete at the Highest Level of Kendama

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