When I was a kid, my father shared the Japanese art of bonsai with me and his love of plants. In my teens I became interested in the martial arts which eventually led to me learning about mushin or “no mind”. That’s when I began reading about Taoism and Buddhism. This combination of interests seems to have put me on a collision course with bamboo flutes and the shakuhachi.
Around the age of sixteen I had a chance encounter with a Buddhist refugee which nudged me further on the path of meditation and making bamboo flutes. I spotted this monk at the beach one day and after spying on him for a while he called me over, sticking out his hand for me to grasp. I put mine in his and I instantly started asking him questions. But he didn’t answer a single one. He just nodded his head smiling and all the while rubbing my knuckles together pretty hard as he shook my hand fiercely up and down. It took me a good amount of unanswered questions before I looked down to see what was happening to my hand. When I stopped talking and just focused on our hands he became more and more gentle. As soon as all movement stopped, he tossed my hand away and told me good luck.
After that, I gradually stopped practicing martial arts and focused more on meditation. I also returned to the art of bonsai. One day, the individual that I bought bonsai supplies from offered me a bunch of bamboo that he had cut down so I took some. I learned that I could make flutes from the bamboo which made me remember that, when I was a kid, I really enjoyed playing simple melodies on recorder flute I had. Despite not having played a flute since then, I decided to try and make my own bamboo flutes.
At first, I made sideways/transverse style bamboo flutes. I quickly became enthralled by harvesting bamboo and discovering the sounds each piece would create. One evening, while playing a large bass bamboo flute, I felt that this newfound hobby was actually running much deeper. I was around seventeen at the time and little did I know that I would spend the years to come completely immersed in bamboo flutes, specifically the shakuhachi.
In the summer of 2005, at the age of nineteen, I was fortunate enough to be able to move to New York City (Lower East Side of Manhattan) in order to study shakuhachi. I began lessons with Ronnie Nyogetsu Reishin Seldin and Kurahashi Yodo II in the Jin Nyodo style. I had never taken a music a lesson before and I had no idea what New York City would be like either. It was also a totally self-supported effort for the nearly three years I spent there from ’06 to ’08. I took three lessons with Ronnie per week in addition to intensives with Kurahashi. While there, I also began experimenting with copying both jiari and jinashi shakuhachi bores which would lead to the Bell shakuhachi about ten years later.
In late 2010 I became the student of Justin Senryu Williams. Justin’s more hands-on teaching approach shaped me into a better player than I could have ever thought possible, which of course enabled me to craft shakuhachi at a higher level as well. I don’t know what I would’ve done without his guidance. Justin also taught me unique regional styles of honkyoku which were previously unavailable outside of Japan.
Adversity with physical health, harvesting madaké bamboo, and the Bell shakuhachi
All the flute playing and making had taken a physical toll on me in the form of ever worsening repetitive stress injuries (RSI) in the tendons and nerves of my forearms. I tried many forms of alternative medicine but eventually got CT scans and saw a specialist who could only offer surgeries which I refused after researching them.
Despite the RSI I persisted with the shakuhachi as best I could. In 2009 I learned that there were large quantities of madaké or Japanese timber bamboo growing in the United States. I harvested hundreds of pieces of bamboo and crafted jinashi shakuhachi from them in addition to pieces I could periodically acquire from Japan. With both domestic and Japanese grown madaké I found that high quality jinashi shakuhachi were rarer than I thought they would be, especially 1.8’s and shorter lengths in general.
Besides being rare, most people could not afford them. So I returned to my idea of copying a jinashi shakuhachi, only this time I decided to try and copy the entire instrument inside and out. In 2013 after much hard work I released the first iteration which I called The Bell Shakuhachi. This was the first ever copy of a jinashi shakuhachi. However, I stopped making them within the year because I wanted to improve the process and craft an even better jinashi shakuhachi to copy. Unfortunately, my repetitive stress injuries were also at their worst at this time and I could barely function normally.
What was perplexing regarding my RSI was that I could lift heavy things, such as my tools, with little or no pain while activities like typing or playing shakuhachi could leave me unable to hold a fork. Eventually, and somewhat out of desperation, this lead to me looking into weight training which I began in 2015. I was completely unsure if it would help or leave me in even worse condition.
To my amazement, I never had any pain or numbness from lifting weights in the gym. Not only that, I made a complete recovery in about six months after years of struggling with RSI. I later learned that lifting heavy objects induced what’s called tendon remodeling, essentially causing my tendons to heal. I was very careful to train in the most sound and ergonomic ways and provide my body with the necessary nutrients to heal.
After my health was restored from weight training it took me four more years, and over a decade all together, to finally re-release the new Bell Shakuhachi in Novemeber of 2018. The Bell has since been embraced by all levels of shakuhachi players from around the world.
In short, this is the path that I am treading 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 as deeply rewarding as mine has been, and continues to be…Timeline
12/31/85 – Born
2002 age 16 – Started playing and making bamboo flutes
2003 age 17 or 18 – Made my first “shakuhachi”
2004 age 18 – Began selling my simple bamboo flutes online
2005 age 19 – Moved to New York City to study shakuhachi music under Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin and Kurahashi Yodo II in the Jin Nyodo school
2007 age 21 – Began working to copy a jinashi shakuhachi bore
2009 age 23 – Found and harvested from my first Japanese Madake bamboo grove growing in America (positive ID with help of The American Bamboo Society SEC)
2010 age 24 – Began studying with Justin Senryu Williams
2012 age 26 – Completed the world’s first jinashi shakuhachi replica by copying a shakuhachi I made, inside and out
2013 age 27 – Briefly released first jinashi replicas for sale as The Bell Shakuhachi, however, had to stop production to improve process
2015 age 29 – Wrote and released my first book Your Shakuhachi Journey
2018 age 32 – Released the new/latest and vastly improved Bell Shakuhachi copied from a new jinashi shakuhachi I made
2019-2020 age 33-34 – Went on my first solo madake bamboo harvest in Japan, just before COVID 19 outbreak (made possible by funds earned from Bell shakuhachi sales)