The significance of the Seien Ryu for the student
This style is the ideal starting point for the novice as well as a clean-slate for the initiated. It has little ornamentation and is played with a powerful breath called bou-buki or, “wooden-staff-breathing”. Beginners will build a solid foundation free from many habits while experienced players can work toward a more minimalist playing style.
History of the Seien Ryu – The original honkyoku of Fudai-ji
The origins of the original Fudai-ji honkyoku are traced back to two Komuso monks named Gyokudo and Baizan who passed down the pieces to Kanetomo Seien I (1819-1895). The home of the Seien Ryu is currently in Nagoya which is not far from the original Fudai-ji which was in Hamamatsu, however, it was destroyed during the Buddhist persecution of the Meiji Restoration.
In recent times the Seien Ryu was only available outside of Japan via my teacher Justin Senryu Williams. Even in Japan this style is seldom heard outside of its current home in Nagoya. The reason for this is because other versions of the Seien Ryu honykoku by Higuchi Taizan (Myoan), Jin Nyodo, and Watazumi, eclipsed the originals. This is due in part to their schools being located in major cities while Seien Ryu was based in rural Japan.
The Seien Ryu is also comparatively much more simple and rustic which historically hasn’t seemed to grab listeners as much, at least immediately. However, with a bit of time I have found that most who play it come to respect, appreciate, and enjoy it. Many of my students tell me that it’s their favorite and that they find it the most conducive to a meditative practice. I think one can certainly see how it came to inspire the creation of Taizan’s Myoan which further inspired Watazumi and Jin Nyodo, among many others.
About the notation
I learned the Seien Ryu honkyoku in some of the oldest available notation which was written by a Zen Buddhist monk named Tanase Ritsudo. Tanase Ritsudo used a rare and unique way to write the length of a note called Takoashi-fu or “octopus leg breath”. These sideways-slanting breath-lines denote the length of a note, as apposed to beat marks or vertical lines. I have redone all of the Seien Ryu notation in Ritsudo’s style using my calligraphy for higher resolution and posterity.