My shakuhachi journey
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. In my teens I practiced various martial arts which led to me discovering 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 a some of bamboo that he had cut down. When I was a kid I really enjoyed climbing up trees and playing simple melodies on a recorder flute that I had. Now I was presented with a chance to make my own flutes with this bamboo. I had never played bamboo flutes 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 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 so that I could study shakuhachi under Ronnie Seldin. During my time in New York City I was fortunate enough to support my self completely by continuing to sell my flutes online which enabled me to study shakuhachi full-time. However, all of the flute playing and making I was doing at the time 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 in that as well. 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. Back in my home town of Norfolk Virginia, I heard someone talking about a bamboo grove 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. This discovery of Japanese Madake in America led me to seek out more groves.
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 there for over 30 years.
Later in 2011 I was able to resume formal study and I had decided to branch out from the Jin Nyodo style. I was drawn to the unique regional styles of honkyoku music that a teacher named Justin Senryu Williams was making available for the first time to the Western world. I now primarily teach these regional honkyoku pieces to my students and have re-notated a large number of them for higher resolution.
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.