One of the most fascinating and perplexing
qualities of the shakuhachi is that there are so many ways to
experience it. This simple instrument satisfies approaches from the
most scientific to the most spiritually esoteric.
Just as there are many approaches to playing this instrument, there are
also many ways to make it. One way is to fill the bore of the
instrument to predetermined measurements (addition). Another method is
to use the natural bore of the bamboo and remove material where needed
(subtraction). Sometimes dabs of material (ji-paste) are used in the
bore to refine the tone.
I prefer working with the natural bore of the bamboo (ji-nashi method)
for a number of reasons. I enjoy the warm, resonant depth of tone found
in this style. I also enjoy the individuality of each flute as well as
the method of construction.
I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to play and study many fine
vintage ji-nashi flutes from the ever changing collections
of John Singer and Brian Tairaku Ritchie. These
flutes, as well as John and Brian's comments and suggestions
regarding my own work, continue to inspire me.
Translated, Mujitsu alludes to the contrast/connection between
emptiness (mu) and form (jitsu). The term is especially relative to
these particular flutes because of the nature of their construction.
The emptiness (bore) and the form (bamboo) are equal, interdependent
Mujitsu Shakuhachi are made using a hand adjusted bore technique. Bore
adjustment is the most important stage of shakuhachi construction. A
shakuhachi maker slowly develops this technique over the years
primarily through the heightened intuitiveness of experience. This
method begins with the natural shape of the bore of the bamboo. Left in
this form, a shakuhachi may play with a pleasing, natural, warm tone.
However, it will most likely lack tone balance throughout the
instrument. There may also be some tuning problems between the octaves.
In order to solve these problems, the flute usually needs meticulous
adjustment by adding and/or subtracting space (preferably as little as
possible) at key areas along the length of the bore. The adjustment
continues until the tuning is corrected and the tone quality is
balanced. I've found some of the best flutes often appear by working
entirely by subtraction. (without adding any ji paste to the bore) The
challenge is to produce a technically sound flute which retains it's
original, individual voice.
For me, this technique satisfies aesthetic and philosophical concerns
regarding my idea of what the shakhachi is and what makes flutemaking
an enjoyable discipline to be involved in.
Aesthetically, I enjoy the sound of these flutes. There is a warm,
natural resonance and soul found in these flutes which is satisfying. I
appreciate the unique, individual voice that each piece immediately
reveals. Some soft, sweet, delicate; some full, windy or bright. It's
become clear that my job is to help each voice along rather than force
a predetermined voice into the bamboo.
Philosophicaly, I'm pleased that, by using this method, the bamboo
matters. The bamboo is entirely functional, and not primarily a vessel
used to contain a pre-determined set of measurements. Each piece is
different, and must be approached individually. No two flutes made in
this way have the same bore measurements. Basically, this flutemaking
approach comes down to doing as little as possible to each piece, thus
allowing it to reach its individual potential. Although the best flutes
usually have very little bore adjustment, it often takes weeks or
months to achieve. It is a slow and tedious process which I enjoy.
Taking a long time to make a shakuhachi means it is handled more,
played more, and hopefully understood more.
There are many ways to make shakuhachi. This is the particular mindset
I enjoy working within. The bamboo and the emptiness are clearly the
teachers here, and this method simply facilitates in persuading one
this is the case.
Mujitsu shakuhachi are made from excellent quality, 35 year old Madake
bamboo, harvested in Japan. They are very well cured and highly
resistant to splitting. Bamboo of this quality is very rare. First,
each piece must exhibit superior exterior characteristics such as
roundness of culm, proper node placement, rich color and beauty of
rootend. In addition to meeting these exterior criteria, the size of
the natural bore is critical. The natural bore size must be such that
only the smallest possible additions (if any) are necessary to improve