Introduction to Begleri

Begleri Basics

Begleri (Greek: μπεγλέρι) is a small skill toy consisting of one or more beads at either end of a short string. The toy can be flipped and twirled around the fingers to perform tricks. Begleri originated in Greece, and originally derived from the Greek rosary or komboloi, which serve the function of worry beads, and are often flipped around to pass the time or keep the hands busy. While komboloi have beads forming a closed circle, begleri beads are threaded on an open strand, usually in a symmetrical formation, with equal weighting at either end. Begleri come in many forms, consisting of semi-precious stone or metal beads. 

Historically, begleri was associated with the Greek mangas subculture, and the rebetiko style of music, popular from the 1960s onwards. In recent years, begleri has grown in popularity outside of Greece, as a skill toy and everyday carry item. This has led to a proliferation of begleri designs and styles, using all manner of modern materials.  

Begleri Beads

A playable set of begleri can be made from a wide range of materials, in an assortment of shapes and sizes. Traditional begleri from Greece are often made from semi-precious stones, or materials such as animal bone or horn, which can be carved. However, these materials tend to be somewhat delicate and do not stand up well to hard play. The most common modern begleri in Greece, are made from small cylindrical metal beads, often aluminum, which are partially hollowed or recessed, which encloses the knot.  

Such beads are not readily available outside of Greece, leading players to experiment with other alternatives. A perfectly serviceable set can be made by stringing a handful of hex nuts (usually two to six, depending on the size and weight) together on a piece of paracord or braided string. Metal beads tend to be preferred due to their weight and durability. While the size, shape, and weight of begleri are generally a player preference, most sets tend to be within a conventional range of shapes (round or partially rounded without protrusions), sizes (from 15mm to 25mm in diameter), and weights (between XXg and XXg per bead). Beads outside of these ranges may be awkward for average players to handle. Light materials such as most plastics and woods can be used to make begleri, but are often given a metal core, since they are too light for the preference of many players on their own.

String Length

String length is a personal preference, and begleri players use a variety of lengths. However, different lengths of string tend to make certain tricks, transitions, or styles of play either easier or harder because of the amount of string required to wrap around the fingers, or to span the with of different numbers of fingers. Some tricks may be impossible with a string that is too long or too short. There appear to be two emerging "standards" in string length, which players have been referring to as the "short game" and the "long game". Historically, the longer version of begleri was very popular in Greece during the 1960s; however, these were outlawed as potentially dangerous during the military junta of 1967-1974, and subsequently, the shorter version of play became popularized. Sample video on string length

Short Game

The shorter of the two common string lengths is measured against the width of the hand, with most players preferring a string length of about 2cm wider than their hand width. The short game is associated with quick tricks where the begleri snap between positions. 

Long Game

The longer of the two common string lengths is measured against the span of the fingers, roughly corresponding to the distance between the tip of the index finger and the tip of the pinkie finger if the fingers are spread wide. The long game is associated with tricks that involve partially wrapping the string around the fingers during play. 

Grips and Positions

The begleri can be held in a variety of ways. In general, the begleri is held between fingers, usually between the first and second knuckles (rather than towards the base of the fingers), as this provides more range of motion during tricks. 

Basic Grips

Basic grips involve grasping one bead, or the string adjacent to one bead, while the other bead is free to move. All basic grips except the bottom grip can be done in a standard (bead on the palm side of the hand) or fakie (bead on the back side of the hand) position. Sample video on basic grips

  • Top Grip: Bead or adjacent string is grasped between the thumb and index finger
  • High Grip: Bead or adjacent string is grasped between the index finger and middle finger
  • Mid Grip: Bead or adjacent string is grasped between the middle finger and ring finger
  • Low Grip: Bead or adjacent string is grasped between the ring finger and pinkie finger. Sample video on low grip basics
  • Bottom Grip: Bead or adjacent string is grasped by the pinkie finger

Tension Grips

Tension grips involve grasping two beads simultaneously, usually with the string partially wrapped or stretched, in such a way that there is tension created on the string. In this way, when one bead is released it will move quickly from its position.

Tension grips allow the player to go from a static position into a dynamic move without physically swinging the begleri. Examples of tricks that involve tension grips include: 

  • The Gunslinger, which uses a tension grip referred to as a "trigger grip"
  • The Spring, which uses a unique tension grip where only one bead is grasped, and the other bead is wrapped and hanging to counter the tension on the other end

Tricks and Types of Movements

Transitions

Basic begleri play involves swinging and flipping the beads to move between grips, and these movements between grips are referred to as transitions. Simple transitions involve, essentially, holding the begleri in one grip, swinging the other bead so that it can be caught in another grip, and releasing the first bead so that it is free to swing. In many cases, transitions can be done either **static** (slower, with an optional pause between catching the moving bead and releasing the first bead), or **dynamic** (with continuous momentum, often releasing or partially releasing the first bead before the moving bead is caught). Sample video of basic transitions

Rebounds

Rebounds are the term used to describe what happens when the moving bead comes into contact with the hand or fingers and is bounced or rebounded back in the opposite direction. Sample video on basic rebounds

Wraps 

Wraps involve holding one bead, and allowing the moving bead to wind around one or more fingers. If the first bead remains held, the moving bead will wrap until there is no more free string, resulting in a stall or rebound. If the first bead is, instead, released partway through the wrap, it will tend to follow the movement of the moving bead, resulting in a roll. Sample videos (1) two finger wraps; and (2) one finger wraps

Rolls

Rolls involve having both begleri beads circle around one or more fingers. Rolls can be carried out in a partially wrapped position (sometimes referred to as a closed roll), or in an open position (with the string straight or almost straight during the roll). Depending on the string length, it is possible to roll around one or more fingers. An open string position (not wrapped) will allow the begleri to roll around more fingers than a closed string position. Sample videos on (1) outside rolls; (2) inside rolls; and (3) two finger rolls

Gap Transfers

Gap transfers involve releasing one bead from a grip, and catching the other bead in the same grip posiiton. This is done by swinging the begleri so that it partially wraps around the outside of two fingers. As the moving bead completes its circular path, the fingers are spread appart creating a gap, and sending the first bead out in a motion that follows the path of the moving bead. Closing the gap again (pinching the fingers together) allows the player to capture the moving bead.

Aerials

Aerials refer to tricks in which the begleri are released from the hands and are airborne momentarily before resuming play. Players have developed many different ways to launch into an aerial, and to catch the begleri, without breaking the flow of movement. One of the common techniques involves catching the begleri on one finger in a rolling motion, rather than an open handed catch that would break the flow. 

Combinations

The real fun in begleri play comes when a player is able to start linking different moves together into combos. Combos are only limited by the creativity and skill of the player. Sample videos (1) easy low top combo; (2) inside roll combo

Two-Handed Play

As begleri play becomes more sophisticated, players are increasingly involving their off hand in play. A wide range of transitions are possible between hands, including continuous rolls where a roll is initiated on one hand, and transferred to the other hand. 

Planes and Directions

As with other swinging toys, begleri can be played in any orientation. This can be described most easily in terms of three planes of space: 

  • Bike plane: The begleri is played vertically, in the up/ down/ forward/ backward plane, similar to the plane on which a bike is pedalled.

  • Wall plane: The begleri is played vertically, in the up/ down/ left/ right plane--the plane of a wall if the player had their back against it. 
  • Floor plane: The begleri is played horizontally, in the left/ right/ forward/ backward plane--the plane of the floor. 

Because begleri is played in different planes, common terms like clockwise and counter-clockwise can create confusion about the direction of movement. Plain language such as upward/ downward work fine for most swinging/ flipping movements, but rolls are a special case because at any given moment, the two beads are travelling in opposite directions. Therefore, the terms inside and outside are more suitable: 

  • Inside roll/ movement: The direction of movement when the bead is farthest away from the body is upwards, towards the head/ body/ thumb. 
  • Outside roll/ movement: The direction of movement when the bead is farthest away from the body is downwards, away from the head/ body/ thumb.

Named Tricks

The terms used above for grips and types of movement can be used to describe most tricks and combinations of tricks. However, amongst players, some tricks and combos have been given names, which makes them easier to discuss. Some examples are below: 

Aroundsquare and Begleri

Aroundsquare was incorporated as a company in 2007, shortly after the patenting of our first skill toy, Monkey Knuckles. AO2 was first introduced to begleri in 2014, and immediately took an interest. After becoming convinced of the potential of begleri as a skill toy, we undertook hands on research to figure it out for ourselves. At the time, there were no standards, no shared vocabulary, and no consensus on any of the main variables such as string length or bead specs. What existed, were a small assortment of individual experiments and short clips with one or two moves, posted across the internet. Through our involvement in other communities, we understood the importance of standards, and especially, a shared vocabulary, to enable players to share ideas and tricks with one another. While begleri looks simple, it is remarkably hard to talk about tricks without some basic agreements on terms. We identified several dimensions that needed naming, including the various positions for holding the begleri, the directions of motion, the planes of motion, as well as some basic "verbs" or terms to describe the types of motion. Language, we know, provides a kind of cognitive scaffolding that allows us to think abstractly, and in so doing, enables us to quickly move beyond the basic frustrations that come with each person having to figure things out for themselves. While we are very proud of our begleri, especially the Titans and the Hydras which themselves have become standards in the community, we are equally proud to see that this basic vocabulary took root, caught on, and has now taken on a life of its own as play continues to develop to increasing levels of sophistication that we could not have imagined even two years ago. 

Aroundsquare remains very active in the begleri community, helping to promote the toy as a pastime, creative outlet, and healthy or even therapeutic activity. AO2 and members of the AO2 Crew are highly active across all social media platforms, working hard to spread begleri love.  In 2016, we organized the first ever worldwide online begleri contest, the 2016 Single Grip Open. We maintain the most comprehensive and viewed set of free begleri tutorials on the internet. And we work hard to advance the toy itself with innovative designs, and an increasingly wide range of models available for players at every skill level and almost every budget. If you have found your way to this page and want to get involved, or have suggestions on content, please contact us with your ideas!