Begleri History, and the Development of Modern Begleri Play

Introduction to Aroundsquare Begleri

Begleri originated as an adaptation of the Greek rosary, which evolved over time to become increasingly playable. This simple toy consists of beads secured at either end of a cord, which can be flipped around the fingers to perform tricks. Traditional begleri were cherished items, and were often made from materials such as semi-precious stones. Aroundsquare respects this history, and continues the tradition, with innovative designs, precision machined from top grade materials.

Aroundsquare has been instrumental in the development of modern begleri, through groundbreaking advances in the styles of play, innovative design work, and the development of community infrastructure to support the proliferation and evolution of this remarkable toy. Our recent work seeks to bring modern begleri back around full circle to its traditional roots as an elegant accessory and lifestyle item, promoting creativity, relaxation, and manual dexterity for players of all ages.

Our begleri are available in dozens of configurations, with designs and materials to suit players of any age, style, and budget.  

Begleri History

Begleri (Greek: μπεγλέρι) originated in Greece, as an adaptation of traditional Greek worry beads, or "komboloi". Like other rosary-style worry beads, komboloi consist of a string of beads joined into a closed loop, often with a larger ornamental bead or tassels at the end. In Greece, there is a long tradition of flipping the komboloi around and between the fingers, to pass the time and keep the hands busy and the mind at ease. Skilled komboloi players are able to perform tricks and patterns as the beads pass rhythmically between the fingers. 

While the structure of the komboloi is well suited to idle play, the cord can become tangled, and the beads can shift around during play, making it difficult to perform sophisticated tricks. In this context, begleri emerged as a much simpler, and ultimately more versatile variation on the theme--a single open strand, with weighted beads at either end. Begleri beads are usually threaded in symmetrical configuration, with equal weighting at either end. Traditional begleri, like komboloi, were often made from semi-precious stones, animal horn, or other valuable materials, and threaded with several beads at either end. 

The history of begleri is not well documented, and much of the available information is speculative. Some sources suggest that the open-strand form of begleri may have been influenced by Slavic prayer beads, which are sometimes configured as a single strand as well. Others suggest begleri may simply reflect a more streamlined and playable evolution from komboloi. It is interesting to note that the Russian "chotki" or "chetki", although structurally very different from begleri, can be played in many of the same ways. 

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 Configurations

Begleri Beads

A playable set of begleri can be made from a wide range of materials, in an assortment of shapes and sizes. Traditional Greek begleri are often made from semi-precious stones, or materials such as animal bone or horn, which can be carved. It is quite common to see traditional sets with two or more large beads at either end, interspaced by smaller decorative metal beads. However, these materials tend to be somewhat delicate and do not stand up well to hard play. 

Modern style begleri tend to be made from metal, or other robust materials. The earliest of what can be called "modern begleri" also developed in Greece. The most common design, affectionately referred to as "standard issue" begleri, are small cylindrical metal beads, often aluminum, hollowed out to enclose the knots at either end of the set. 

Until recently, such beads were not readily available outside of Greece, leading players to experiment with other "DIY" alternatives. A perfectly serviceable set of begleri can be made by stringing together small hex nuts (usually two to six, depending on the size and weight) on a piece of paracord or braided string. Other players have made playable sets from small sockets, fishing weights, and other hardware. 

For the most part, metal beads tend to be preferred due to their weight and durability. While the size, shape, and weight of begleri are generally up to player preference, most sets tend to be within a conventional range of shapes (round or partially rounded without significant protrusions), sizes (generally from 12mm to 22mm in diameter), and weights (generally between 8 and 18 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 or end weight, since they are too light for the preference of many players on their own.

Since 2015, Aroundsquare has brought Canadian design to the this incredible little toy. We are proud to have emerged as a leader in the design and production of begleri beads, offering dozens of different styles and configurations to suit any player preference. Aroundsquare has pioneered the development and evolution of modern begleri design, both fuelling, and feeding off of the the preferences of the very best players around the world. Our refined minimalist aesthetic is evident across our entire range, and makes no compromises for the performance of our products. 

Our bead design chronology in brief: 

  • Lil' Boss begleri - 2015
  • Wukong begleri (collab with MFD) - 2015
  • Titan begleri - 2015
  • Hydra begleri - 2016
  • Everyman begleri and introduction of the "Hardcore Gut System" - 2017
  • Modern and Mini Standard begleri - 2017
  • Mini Titan begleri - 2017
  • Curio begleri (collab with Terra Kendama) - 2017
  • Hyperion begleri (collab with Bullseye Blades) - 2017
  • Mini Hydra begleri - 2018
  • Hybrid begleri - 2018
  • Boss begleri - 2018
  • Herc begleri - 2018
  • Newton begleri - 2019
  • Micro Boss and Tradcore Micro Boss begleri - 2019

Joiner types

Player preference dictates what kind of joiner is used to connect their begleri beads. Traditional Greek begleri are often joined together by a smooth, thin cord. However, modern players generally prefer thicker cords, which tend to play smoother and with less friction than thinner cords. As modern begleri developed, there was a lot of experimentation with different types of cords, as well as various types of chains and other materials. Through the experimentation, paracord became the most widely used joiner material, with most players showing preference for the relative thick and cushiony feel of 550 paracord over the thinner 425, 275, or 95 varieties. Cotton cord has also gained traction with players wanting a more natural look and feel, and Japanese kumihimo braiding has become popular among players wanting to customize sets with their own colourful braiding patterns.  

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. Over time, two distinct styles of play have emerged, referred to by players as "short game" and "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. In modern times, many players still play short game; however, the shorter string limits what is possible with the toy, and as such, long game play has become the dominant play style among players interested in learning a broad range of tricks. 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, simple 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. 

Begleri Manipulation

Grips and Positions

The begleri can be held in a variety of ways, and thinking in terms of grips and positions is useful for understanding how to manipulate (and talk about manipulating) the toy. 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
    • Mic drop, which uses a two finger tension grip to launch the beads into motion

      Grip Notations

      As begleri play has developed, many advanced players have found it increasingly hard and cumbersome to describe their tricks using basic grip names. In response, many experienced players use the following notation: T (thumb); 1 (index finger); 2 (middle finger); 3 (ring finger); 4 (pinkie finger); and P (palm). This notation allows for a more concise and flexible way of naming grips by referencing the digits involved, in any combination. The apostrophe is used to denote “fakie” grips. For example, high grip (with the string between the index and middle fingers) would be described as 23 in this notation, and 23’ would be high fakie. Gripping a bead with the ring finger (3) against the palm (P) would be described as 3P. This system extends the ability of players to transcribe their tricks, but the preferred method of communicating tricks and grips is through video and photos, as this notation has its own limitations. For example, tension grips and other complex grips involving multiple fingers, and sometimes also incorporating full or partial wraps around fingers, remain difficult to communicate in any succinct way. 

      Tricks and Types of Movements

      Transitions/ Transfers

      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. The term "caged rebounds" is used to refer to rebounds which are carried out while part of the string beyond the anchor bead is held in a grip, resulting in a shorter string for the swinging and rebounding motion of the other bead. 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

      Slips

      Slips involve allowing the swinging bead to pass freely on the opposite side of the hand on which the anchor bead is being held. This is commonly done by holding the anchor bead in any standard grip, and closing a fist during its motion, which allows it to pass on the back side of the hand past the knuckles, rather than rebounding. 

      Slides

      Slides involve shifting the grip, either from standard to fakie, or from fakie to standard, by letting the string pass through the same two fingers. Slides can be seen in tricks like the Slip and Slide, Mic Drop, and Cascade. 

      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 or just "gaps" involve releasing one bead from a grip, and catching the other bead in the same grip position. 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 apart 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. Sample video of gap transfers.

      Bead Rolls and Half Cabs

      Bead rolls are closely related to rolls and transfers, but involve manipulating the position of the bead one position at a time, from the back to the front of the hand (standard to fakie grip), or vice versa. Full bead rolls will start in either a high grip or a low grip, and will progress through two half steps, switching first to mid grip on the opposite side of the hand from the starting position, and then continuing through the motion to the following grip, ending on the same start of the hand where the move began. The term "half cab" refers to one of the half steps in the bead roll (i.e., from standard high grip to fakie mid grip, for example). Half cabs can be performed on their own. 

      Aerials/ Release Moves

      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/ Wheel 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. In addition, the plane of rotation affects the perceived direction of the beads. 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 and Tutorials

          The terms used above for grips and types of movement can be used to describe most tricks and combinations of tricks. However, this can become cumbersome, and many tricks and combinations have been named as a kind of shorthand, as well as giving creative players an opportunity to claim and name a trick that they have developed and mastered. The largest catalogue of trick tutorials can be found on Aroundsquare's YouTube channel. Players may also be interested in the depth and detail provided by Musclebones and Begleri n00btorials

          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, begleri had next to no online presence, and what little information there was, was inconsistent. There were no standards, no shared vocabulary, and no consensus on any of the main variables relevant to begleri design or begleri play, such as string length or bead specifications. What existed, was a very 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, 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 back in 2015. 

          In 2016, Aroundsquare had the opportunity to work with Kuma Films to create what has become the most widely viewed begleri film on the internet. The film, 2 Beads 1 String featured members of the AO2 Crew, and the release of the film in 2016 became a defining moment for the begleri community--a point at which the toy not only gained the attention of a wide audience, but also, established its legitimacy as a serious skill toy with incredible potential. 

          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. You'll find us almost everywhere using the handle @aroundsquare, and similar hashtags. In 2016, we organized the first ever worldwide online begleri contest, the Single Grip Open, which has been held annually every year since. In 2019 we added a second annual contest, Sling Slam, which is an open freestyle event, also held online. We maintain the most comprehensive and viewed set of begleri tutorials on the internet. Aroundsquare's pro team, the AO2 Crew, has become synonymous with the very top levels of play, and includes legendary players that helped make this game what it is today. 

          And we work hard to advance the toy itself with innovative designs, and an ever growing range of models 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!

          Begleri Communities Online

          Common Begleri Hashtags

          • #begleri
          • #komboloi
          • #BERETR: short for "BEgleri REpeater TRick" 
          • #15sfreestyle: short form freestyle segments (carryover from when Instagram only allowed 15s videos)
          • #nevernotslinging
          • #ao2crew
          • Product specific: #ao2titans #ao2hydras #ao2everymen etc.