I found shakuhachi at the relatively young age of 17 or 18 but I suppose my story starts around age 8 when my father began sharing the Japanese art of bonsai with me. There was much that I didn’t understand about bonsai at such a young age but I developed an appreciation for the beauty of nature. I liked to climb trees and play a recorder flute I had at the time. In my teens I practiced various martial arts which led to me reading about mushin or “no mind”. Around age 16 I had a chance encounter with a Buddhist refugee which propelled me on the path of the “spiritual seeker”.
My interest in meditation quickly led me away from the martial arts and I began practicing bonsai again. One day, the individual that I bought bonsai supplies from gave me some of the bamboo that he had cut down. I recalled the recorder flute that I played as a child and decided to make my own flutes with this bamboo. I had never played an embouchure controlled or “fipple-less” flute before and after struggling to make some I quickly realized that I would need to purchase professionally made instruments.
I bought two simple sideways/transverse bamboo flutes from a well known maker. One of which was a very large base “D3” flute with four finger-holes tuned to the minor pentatonic scale which is the same as the shakuhachi. I really fell in love with this particular flute and felt deeply that bamboo flutes were the instrument for me. I would spend the years to come completely immersed in bamboo flutes, specifically the shakuhachi.
When I finally tried my hand at making an end-blown shakuhachi-like flute I immediately found that it was the direction that I wanted to go in. In the summer of 2006 I was fortunate enough to be able to move to New York City, Manhattan, to live in an apartment building with one of my older siblings. I studied shakuhachi under Ronnie Nyogetsu Reishin Seldin and Kurahashi Yodo II. During my time in New York City I was fortunate enough to support my self completely by continuing to sell my bamboo flutes online which enabled me to study shakuhachi full-time. However, all of the flute playing and making I was doing resulted in me developing near debilitating repetitive strain injuries in both of my forearms. After struggling with it for years I decide to try weight training in 2015 and it virtually eliminated my issues. This lead to me studying personal fitness training and becoming certified. Essentially, the different kind of stress involved with lifting weights promoted blood flow and healing to the damaged areas. It also restructured scar tissues that had developed on my tendons and corrected my body alignment which was kyphotic from years of “front-work”.
At the end of 2008 I had to leave New York City and my shakuhachi lessons with my teachers due to a family emergency. I was very close to completing the Jin Nyodo repertoire and receiving my official license. Later in 2011 I was able to resume formal study and I decided to branch out from the Jin Nyodo style to explore honkyoku under Justin Senryu Williams. I first completed the Seien Ryu becoming the second person outside of Japan to get permission to teach it, the other being Justin of course. We’ve since covered the complete repertoires of Kinpu Ryu, Oshu and Echigo regions, Kichiku Ryu or Shinpo Ryu, and many more honkyoku pieces from various sources.
Finding and harvesting Japanese Madake bamboo in America
When I had to leave NYC for Norfolk VA due to a family emergency I heard someone talking about a bamboo grove in a town just outside of Norfolk with “giant stalks as big around as one’s leg”. I later positively ID’d the grove with the help of the South East Chapter of the American Bamboo Society as Japanese madake Bamboo, the bamboo used to make shakuhachi. After harvesting from it I began to seek out more groves and in 2010 I met with Jim Mortensen (pictured right) who has identified possibly the largest concentration of old established Japanese madake groves in America. I harvested upwards of 500 pieces from madake groves in Alabama.
In 2011 I met with Keiji Oshima in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Mr. Oshima and his wife Stephanie have been growing madake and other bamboo species in the mountains for over 30 years.
I’ve gone on to find and ID more groves in the Hampton Roads area of VA and continue to look for more groves as I venture around the southern United States.
The Bell shakuhachi – the first jinashi shakuhachi replicas
Around 2008 I began experimenting with copying jiari and jinashi shakuhachi bores by making intricate molds of them. I began doing this after seeing the exorbitant prices of most shakuhachi while studying in NYC.
Over the years to come I also learned through my own harvesting and crafting of hundreds of jinashi shakuhachi that truly outstanding examples were so rare that even if people could afford the high prices I could only hope to produce at most a handful of 1.8’s every so many years.
In 2012 I set out to copy a jinashi shakuhachi inside and out to try and provide an outstanding instrument for a fraction of the cost. I succeeded but began again with a different jinashi and method in 2013. I sold a few of these but I discontinued them to find an even better suited jinashi shakuhachi and to improve my process. After countless hours of work in 2018 I released the Bell shakuhachi which is made from a bamboo eco-composite material.
This is the path that I’m taking through the bamboo grove and I thank you for taking the time to read about it. I hope that your journey with the shakuhachi will be a deeply rewarding one.