Blowing Zen – 尺八 May/June – 2015

Blowing Zen – May
I am three months into this training. It is interesting and difficult. I think Kyudo is more difficult than learning the Shakuhachi. Maybe not quite though, thinking more on it. I am only three months into the Shakuhachi class, years into Kyudo. I thought Kyudo was fairly easy at first. More so when I did not have to concern myself with hitting.

I am just scratching the surface with the Shakuhachi, just making note correctly and reading (western scales) and applying a few techniques. I have not even started with the Japanese words, written or spoken, that is a whole other thing later to wrap my mind around. The present is filled with making the smooth perfect note. Like each Ya shot is a music note, one wants it perfect, a hit. Making this note, this perfect tone seems simple but is complex. Holding the lips, a balance between tension and relaxed, maintaining a little air supply at the lips, but all that is supported by the Tan-tein breath, long, deep and slow. There is a maintained pressure of support at the Hara for distribution of Air and Ki to produce a sound, from a second device. This said device must come alive via the sharing of your Ki to breathe and sing.
I have learned that one does not shake the shakuhachi or use the breath to add vibrato. That is done by the head shaking of the player. It helps the player become more a part of the music, part of this quality tone, note experience.
Another thing that Kyudo and Shakuhachi have in common is they both use Bamboo “tools” to do the art. Shakuhachi made from Bamboo are like Yumi both of which are made from certain chosen uncommon Bamboo. Shakuhachi are to fewer limited by the type of Bamboo the high quality traditional Shakuhachi are made. The Bamboo groves for this Tree have been reduced, both by nature and man.

I tried an experiment the other day. It was raining it is quite peaceful to listen to it. Having spent most of the day working on my garden projects, now with the rain and doing my homework practice on the shakuhachi I was feeling quite in the Zen space. I tried playing some basic programmed cord changes on the keyboard then jamming along with myself playing the Shakuhachi. It was bad, there was the potential for something awesome. However not yet, the tone are off, I figured out I could do some basic fills and the like. The problem everything had to be played sharp or flat, not easy.The finger work is not simple, add that to making a smooth sound is major challenge. I figured out later in the next home session I can adjust the Sound also by my aperture. not easy but doable, perhaps more so. That comparison is for another time.
Sensei showed me later that my idea was correct the Shakuhachi by nature is mot a 100% accurate tuning. It can be “adjusted”. Sensei gave me a demo of him playing several pitches an note just by shifting his mouth angle.
Sensei’s Daughter made me a Shakuhachi cleaning cloth. It is a longish piece of cloth, tied with a long cord and that is tied with some type of heavy ceramic item, like a small figurine. The print is a Buddhist Sutra. Another reminder of the Shakuhachi 尺八 as a Zen Instrument.
Sensei is joining the next gathering of my peeps at the next Sanfkin Session coming up on the 20th. He will play his Shakuhachi and also bring his metal flute. It will give me a live idea of the Shakuhachi sound with a non-traditional accompaniment. We will do a few songs and jams with those of us there that night.
I often encounter Sensei at the train station as we will in the same hood. The last encounter I was explaining what a “Groove” was in music. That was interesting, he knew the text book meaning but not the Musician sense understanding of the “Groove”, or being in it. this was all brought on by Victor Wooten’s Book concerning Music and Spiritually . Victor’s use of a lot of slag American makes it a challenging read for Sensei.

One thought on “Blowing Zen – 尺八 May/June – 2015

  1. Cooooool. I’ve always wanted to learn to play the shakuhachi. Love the connections between kyudo and shakuhachi with bamboo. I remember before using a bamboo bow I just thought the bamboo made it look cool and was super expensive, now after a year of using the bamboo bow, I tried my old carbon one and WOW, never want to go back. I think about what makes kyudo particularly Japanese, and the one I can’t find a way around is the bamboo. Beautiful stuff.

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