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 things such as 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 the 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 real flutes before and after struggling to make some I quickly realized that I would need to purchase some professionally made ones.
I bought some 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 was around 16 years old at the time and little did I know that I would spend the years to come completely immersed in bamboo flutes, specifically the shakuhachi.
I mostly made sideways flutes back then but 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 2004 at age 18 I went ahead and purchased the only real shakuhachi that I could afford which was the plastic shakuhachi YUU. 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 decided to move there when I saw that a shakuhachi teacher named Ronnie Seldin would be within walking distance of our apartment on The Lower East Side.
At this point in my life I had never held a steady job but I had been selling a fair amount of bamboo flutes over the Internet, mostly sideways flutes. During my time in New York City I was fortunate enough to completely support my self by continuing to sell my flutes online which enabled me to study shakuhachi full-time. I studied under Ronnie Nyogetsu Reishin Seldin and periodically under Kurahashi Yodo II, both masters of the Jin Nyodo style. 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).
In the spring of 2008 I was fortunate enough to be able to go on a trip to Japan with my teacher Ronnie. Part of the objective was to try and secure an apprenticeship with a Kinko Ryu jiari shakuhachi maker, however, the maker was too busy with family to take me on. It was all for the best though because life had some other things in store. At the end of 2008 I had to leave New York City and my lessons due to a family emergency. I was very close to completing the Jin Nyodo repertoire and receiving my official license. However, by the time I was able to resume formal study I had decided to branch out from the Jin Nyodo style. I was drawn to the unique regional styles of Edo period honkyoku music that a teacher named Justin Senryu Williams was making available for the first time to the Western world. I was fortunate enough to begin studying these older Edo period styles from Justin beginning in 2011. I now teach these regional styles to people around the world and I continue to study them with Justin regularly.
In short, 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.
If you would like further guidance I invite you to contact me at email@example.com and I look forward to hearing from you. Jon~
Madake bamboo growing in America
In 2010 I met with Jim Mortensen (pictured right) who has identified possibly the largest concentration of old, established Japanese madake groves in America. Jim does not grow much madake at his nursery, probably because there is so much in the area.
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.
I’ve also found and identified two madake groves on my own elsewhere on the East Coast. If you are interested in harvesting madake let me know and I can point you in the right direction!