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01-27-2012, 12:08 PM
bamboo bamboo sword bamboo by niall

Out of the ground a straight thing grows,
out of the ground a blue-green pointed thing grows,
piercing the frozen winter,
glimmering green in the morning's empty road
bringing tears to the eyes,
tears falling even now
from above shoulders swollen with regret,
hazy, the bamboo roots spreading, spreading,
as out of the ground a blue-green blade comes up.
Sakutaro Hagiwara, Bamboo

The concept of offence and defense lies in adapting each of one's action to one's enemy, much in the way a sailor will raise the sail when the wind rises, or a hunter will release the hawk on sighting a rabbit.
Tadashige Watanabe Sensei, Shinkage Ryu Marobashikai

With the imagination of having a sword, you can defeat an opponent. The sword is not vital. It is just a tool.
Yasushi Kajitsuka Sensei, Yagyu Shingan Ryu

Shadows and bent bamboos will never straighten
Arabic proverb

Sometimes you hear something that leaves you speechless. A few days ago someone I know told me about a neighbour in his home town in western Japan who had to destroy more than ten thousand bamboo trees on his land. It cost less to destroy them than to try to use them productively. Ten thousand bamboo trees.

Bamboo is very important in Japanese culture. I wrote briefly about how it is used in new year decorations in ever green (http://www.aikiweb.com/blogs/moon-in-the-water-19051/ever-green-4092/). Kadomatsu are arrangements of pine and bamboo and plum. They are placed in front of doors for the new year. Bamboo can mean resilience because of its flexibility. Or it can signify honesty. When bamboo is cut it is hollow and hides nothing.

In Japan bamboo was used in the construction of traditional houses to give flexibility and strength to the walls. But there is no demand any more.

Bamboo shoots taste even better when you dig them up yourself. But now they are mostly imported from China.

The networks of roots of bamboo groves were supposed to give stability to the earth to protect against earthquakes.

Children play on stilts called takéuma (竹馬) bamboo horses. A friend you have known from childhood is called a chikubanotomo (竹馬の友) a bamboo horse friend.

In the martial arts bamboo is used to make the swords for kendo and kenjutsu. Bamboo swords are called shinai but the word is written with the kanji for bamboo and sword. The pronunciation is irregular. Some styles of kenjutsu use fukuro shinai (袋竹刀). Bamboo swords in leather covers. These can also be called hikihada shinai (蟇肌). The exotically named toad-skin bamboo swords.

Sometimes today you can still hear the traditional cries of travelling bamboo pole sellers: "Takéya! Saodaké!" But now the cries are recorded and come from speakers and the poles they sell for hanging your washing are aluminium.

And how many swords could have been made from ten thousand bamboo trees?


Shinkageryu Hyoho US Marobashikai

Interesting interview with Kajitsuka Sensei

articles on bamboo and kenjutsu

Nice blog post with two poems about bamboo by Sakutaro Hagiwara translated by Dave Bonta
Sakutaro Hagiwara on poemhunter
Sakutaro Hagiwara on allpoetry

my blog on aikiweb (http://www.aikiweb.com/blogs/moon-in-the-water-19051/)

my blog on wordpress (http://mooninthewater.net/aikido/)

© niall matthews 2012

Niall Matthews lives with his family in Japan. He teaches aikibudo and community self-defence courses and has taught budo for twenty-five years. He was the senior deshi of Kinjo Asoh Sensei, 7 dan Aikikai. He was the exclusive uke of Sadateru Arikawa Sensei, 9 dan Aikikai, at the hombu dojo in Tokyo for thirteen years until Arikawa Sensei's death in 2003. He has trained in several other martial arts to complement his aikido training, including judo (he has 4 dan from the Kodokan in Tokyo), kenjutsu (for about ten years) and karate (for about three years). He originally went to Japan as a staff member of the EU almost thirty years ago. He received 5 dan from Arikawa Sensei in 1995. This 5 dan is the last aikido dan he will receive in his life. His dojo is called Aikibudo Kokkijuku 合気武道克輝塾. Arikawa Sensei personally gave him the character for ki in kokki. It is the same character as teru in Sadateru - not the normal spelling of kokki 克己. It means you make your life shining and clear yourself.

Cady Goldfield
01-27-2012, 06:42 PM
Always a pleasure to read about bamboo, especially in its cultural context. Thanks, Niall.

Removing 10,000 bamboo culms (the "technical" name for a bamboo cane) is a lot of work, especially if you're talking about removing the vast underground network of rhizomes (underground runners) and roots. Nothing less than dynamite and a fleet of backhoes will eradicate a mature bamboo grove that has fully established itself. If one simply cuts or burns down the grove, it will reshoot and replenish itself from that extensive system of underground runners.

Bamboo is not a tree, but a member of the grass family, and one enormous grove many acres in size may be the shoots from only one plant. The entire grove is one entity, with each culm being genetically identical to its neighbors. Next time you stroll through a big, tranquil grove of 'Henon' bamboo (P. nigra 'Henon') or Narihira (Semiarundinaria fastuosa) in a temple or shrine garden, it's something to keep in mind. One living, breathing invidual covering acres!

My (Japanese) boyfriend used to maintain a 2-acre grove of Moso bamboo (Phyllostacus edulus syn. pubescens) in South Carolina, and every December it would shoot. Thousands of shoots. He would camp in the grove, painstakingly harvesting shoots, thinning out dead culms and keeping things within bounds and tidy. When he got the hankering, he'd dig a hole around one of the shoots just emerging from the soil, fill it with coals, and cook the shoot right there in its own earthen "pot." Moso shoots are a delicacy, but the rhizomes are also allowed to dry and then used to make vases for ikebana, or for other crafts. I have several beauties he made, and they represent minimal human intervention; that is, they are beautiful in their own right. All he did was add a dark stain to bring out their natural grain.

I grow about 35 species of bamboo on a 116'X60' piece of land in a small-city neighborhood; well, actually, the house takes up valuable space that could be devoted to bamboo, but wherever my house doesn't obstruct bamboo cultivation, I've managed to cram in bamboo. I guess it's addictive! I bought my first specimen, a Himalayan species, in 1997, and it kind of snowballed from there. Last year, I harvested about 400 bamboo shoots for eating from one patch of Phyllostachys nuda in front of the house. Most of the species I keep are shrub-sized or ground cover bamboos, and some do not run but stay in neat clumps as is their nature. But some are the classic tall, willowy grove-making types we envision when we think "bamboo." It takes careful management to keep it all in bounds, but in the 15 years I've been cultivating this remarkable group of plants, it has never crept into the neighbors' yards. :) I just eat any renegade shoots. :)

Every spring, I have to diligently maintain the plants, keep them in bounds, harvest old culms to use for garden stakes and craft material. It's a lot of work, sometimes very physical and sweaty, but whenever I stop to hear the gentle rustle of bamboo leaves, watch the winter snow gather on the bowed heads of the plants, and see and hear the small birds nesting and roosting in the heart of the grove, it is so worth the effort.

One more note: As sad as it may be that your friend had to destroy a bamboo plant (I'm guessing that those 10,000 culms are one or a few individual plants), bamboo is one of the most resilient, sustainable and fastest-growing plants on this green Earth! Where his grove is gone (and again, I'll be tentative about that, for the reasons given above!), others are sprouting up elsewhere. A grove of bamboo can establish itself in a fraction of the time it takes a forest to mature. That's why someone with a 116'X60' lot has to be on their toes. :)

Diana Frese
01-27-2012, 09:34 PM
Fascinating. Thanks, Niall and Cady. When I was visiting Florida in the mid or late 1970's Robert Moller, a young student of Saotome Sensei showed us the storehouse where they had bamboo canes stored on racks. You could pick a couple of them out yourself and he would make three sizes of shinai out of each so you had three pairs when he covered them with leather. I think they were Yagyu style, shorter and quite different from the kendo shinai I had seen in New York and Japan. Really great to work with in paired practice... (hurt a lot less than when accidentally hit with jo or bokken!)

Diana Frese
01-27-2012, 09:49 PM
As always, thanks for the quotes and links. I enjoy returning again and again whenever I have a chance to learn something new:) Right now I'm reading the Yagyu link...

Diana Frese
01-27-2012, 10:08 PM
As I look over in the corner here in my Dad's old library, now my husband's office there is one of the Florida shinai. With all the family stuff, including that of my brothers, I have to hunt to find how many of the other shinai are still around. Even the very small ones were useful, especially teaching defense against yokomen uchi, when I brought them back to my own little YMCA dojo. A tap at the collarbone on one side and the elbow of the other served to catch the attacker's momentum and then go on to do any of the usual techniques. Sometimes I talked about cat's whiskers, to sense where the attacker was to stay always out of reach, as it is said cats use their whiskers to measure how to go thru narrow spaces.... I did love teaching in my home town, hope I did it right!

01-28-2012, 06:21 AM
Thank you Cady. That's really interesting and informative. The omote and ura of bamboo...

01-28-2012, 06:29 AM
Thanks Diane. That's a Shinkage Ryu fukuro shinai in the photo covered with red leather. That cat's whiskers idea is very cool.

02-20-2012, 10:49 AM
This is a good article from the Daily Yomiuri of 19 February 2012 about bamboo (http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/features/culture/T120215003971.htm) in Kyoto including a museum.

Cady Goldfield
02-20-2012, 01:14 PM
That was a nice little article. The Bamboo Museum and gardens @ Rakusai Bamboo Park -- what a gem! Alas, I have seen only photos, not having visited that place yet. Next time I'm in Japan...

Here in the West, interest in bamboo has been piqued over the past 20 years, especially in its use as a landscape plant. But the use of bamboo wood for craft and practical use goes back much further. Edison's bamboo filament (mentioned in the article) is one example. Bamboo charcoal has been used for water filters and even gas mask filters.

If I recall correctly, the Japanese have two general terms for the two main categories of bamboo. Take(dake) is for the tall, tree-like bamboos such as Moso. (For some strange reason, Moso is often called "Moso-chiku" even though it's a "take/dake." Oh well.) Remember the scene in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" where the characters engage in "kungfu fighting" atop an enormous forest of bamboo? That was Moso, and in fact the entire forest may have been one individual bamboo plant!

Chiku is the term used for the smaller kinds of bamboos -- those that are shrub-like, or which grow close to the ground. Some chiku have enormous leaves. I have an Indocalamus tesselatus with leaves that get almost 24" long. http://www.bamboogarden.com/Indocalamus%20tessellatus.htm In Asian cuisines they are sometimes used to wrap food before steaming or cooking. Bamboo leaves have a mildly antiseptic quality to them, so the large-leaf species such as Indocalamus were (and perhaps still are) used to wrap food for storage as well, when refrigeration is not available. I confess that I haven't used my bamboos' leaves for wrapping food, but I have experimented with them for food-steaming.

For anyone who has either a botanical or garden/horticultural curiosity about bamboo, or is a "crafty" type who'd like to get their hands on some bamboo wood for projects (besides making shinai! ;) ), here are some books that I have found useful:

The Bamboos by F.A. McClure. Since Mr. McClure wrote this guide, the taxonomic classifications have changed quite a bit -- especially what is and is not included under the former umbrella coverage of the genus Arundinaria -- thanks to DNA research and the ever-clashing opinions of botanical taxonomists, but it is still a very nice intro to the botany of bamboo.

Bamboo for Gardens, by Ted Jordan Meredith. This is a well-illustrated, practical guide to growing and using bamboos in your own garden, or even in a pot. Ted Meredith was a self-professed rank amateur who fell into the cultivation of bamboos after a housing development sprouted up next door and he was desperate to restore his privacy. You will feel his pain as you also come to appreciate how he got hooked on bamboos for their aesthetic pleasures.

Japanese Gardening in Small Spaces: Tsuboniwa, by Isao Yoshikawa
Don't let the title mislead you. This absolutely wonderful little book by the absolutely wonderful master gardener-landscaper Yoshikawa, is a great introduction to working with bamboo, both as a living garden plant and as timber for building traditional Japanese fences. He provides soup-to-nuts, richly illustrated instructions that include curing and splitting bamboo culms, using bamboo as support stakes for trees, re-creating some of the most popular fence designs, and even traditional knot-tying to assemble the fencing. And, of course, he introduces the other main components of a small Japanese garden, providing clear instructions for those as well.

Some years ago, I was given some traditional metal bamboo splitters by my Japanese-gardener gentlemanfriend, and quickly became addicted to quarter-splitting the timber bamboo culms he trailered up from his Southern grove. Mr. Yoshikawa's book (along with my mentor's input) provided some guidance for how to use all those split culms! This book, in part, helped fan the flames of "bamboo geekdom" for me. and perhaps it might do the same for others.