Eat Your Heart Out, Tommy Smothers

I recently got to interview a guy who's really good at yo-yo-ing. It was fascinating, of course, but writing the article afterward was difficult because I kept catching myself defending yo-yo-ing and dorky activities in general instead of writing about Mitch.

There's an essay coming, I'm sure, about the arbitrary nature of "coolness" and the proud, enlightened few who ignore it completely. But for now I tried to stick to the topic, and here's how the article turned out.

(This is actually a little longer than the version they published; I guess they had to edit it for space reasons. You can read that version at http://www.nuvo.net/archive/2005/04/06/takeshi_kamisato_lord_of_the_yoyo.html )


I am watching Mitchell Takeshi Thomas Kamisato (you can call him Mitch), one of the world’s foremost yo-yo players, plying his trade in the gift shop at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.

Alternately channeling a snake charmer and a gang member, he waves his hands before him in mesmerizing, mystical-looking patterns. Onlookers gape as the spinning orb flits back and forth, looping through the air in graceful arcs, then suddenly changing direction, then seeming to hover in place a few inches from his chest.

Takeshi’s expression is blank, his eyes unfocused, whole body still and calm except for his hands and arms, which move quickly and purposefully, fingertips resembling bees swarming an invisible hive. Independently, their motions look random, until you realize they’re all working together.

He’s a rock star.

Just not literally – despite his amazing dexterity and coordination, Takeshi cannot, for the life of him, play a guitar, despite many attempts by friends to explain how the strumming hand and the chord hand work simultaneously.

Give him a yo-yo, spinning top, gyro ring or just about any other “skill toy,” though, and the man goes off. Soft spoken and self-effacing, he summarizes his abilities the same way a passing dad did for his awestruck son: Lots of practice.

A few years back, the man who would become “Takeshi” was fortunate enough to land a night job at a loading dock. Each night he had a list of duties, and once those tasks were complete he was left with a few hours to kill. Nothing kills time like a yo-yo (in fact, noblemen and common folk alike are said to have played with the devices during the French Revolution to distract them from the looming guillotine), and Mitch applied these hours accordingly.

Today he’s a world-famous yo-yo player, named by Duncan as a member of their USA Crew, in which capacity he travels around the world (recent excursions have included Brazil and Finland) promoting Duncan’s products the old-fashioned way: by using them to make people’s jaws drop.

He’s also judging competitions now, starting with Saturday’s inaugural Yo-Yo Fest, taking place at Glendale Mall (near sponsor Kits & Kaboodle) and featuring demonstrations and free workshops where players of all levels (including “I just started just now”) can get tips and guidance from pros.

Tips and guidance are in ample supply throughout the yo-yo community, known for being unusually welcoming and supportive, where everyone is happy to show you his moves. Takeshi is perhaps the embodiment of this open-door policy – in addition to editing and distributing surprisingly gripping yo-yo videos, he volunteers at shows and events throughout the year and, each Saturday, strolls the carpets of the Children’s Museum teaching kids about skill toys.

Occasionally he gets recognized, but not often. Takeshi occupies a rarefied niche in the crush of humanity – those few individuals tremendously well known to a tiny segment of the population.

Online searching confirms that this slim, unassuming fellow is much revered indeed, and not just for his skills with skill toys. A recent post on a www.yoyoing.com message board, breathlessly titled “Takeshi is the MAN!” went on to gush about the generous response this fan received after requesting a yo-yo modified in his signature style. In addition to her yo-yo, Mitch included a handwritten letter, alongside assorted photos and videos, and even christened her with a nickname. Suffice it to say that “Groovygirl” will not lose interest in yo-yo-ing any time soon.

This, it seems, is Takeshi’s best trick. His rank among the top yo-yo-ers on the planet will one day go to a younger, flashier player – probably from Japan, where this is fast becoming a national sport – but as a goodwill ambassador, he is an All-Time Great. Yo-yo-ing is lucky to have him.

Mitchell Takeshi Kamisato may never be hailed as a bona fide rock star. But that’s okay with him. Besides, did Jimi Hendrix ever personally answer his fan mail? I am inclined to doubt it.

To learn more about yo-yo-ing, Mitch recommends www.howtoyoyo.com to get you started, and www.theglasslab.com once you’re hooked. You can also visit the Yo-Yo Fest this Saturday at Glendale. Admission is free.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow! I love your story! I wish I could have done an illustration for you...