My wife and I recently returned from another terrific vacation in Japan, where thanks to our friends Jerry and Hiromi Schmick, we had the great fortune to meet Gyokusui III, the third generation shakuhachi maker of the Gyokusui family, and to buy an incredible shakuhachi from him.
I’ve written about the shakuhachi, a Japanese flute created by ex-samurai monks as a meditation device and musical instrument that could double as a weapon, at least twice previously. And as I’ve also written before, the more I practice it the more I realize how great it is as a compliment to self defense/martial arts training. Not only is it a great counter balance to hard and violent physical practice, a doorway into the optimal mental state for action, and a tool for both self expression and clearing the mind, but the traditional one-piece shakuhachi, as it was originally made, is also an amazing weapon that can be carried anywhere.
Although the shakuhachi was a one-piece instrument for centuries, the modern version being made by most Japanese makers today is made in two sections, with a joint in the middle of the flute. This makes it much smaller for transport but nearly useless as a weapon. Of course, the vast majority of shakuhachi players today don’t look at the flute as a weapon. Last year I visited Kitahara, a famous shakuhachi maker in Kyoto, and bought a modern two-piece flute from him. But as a self defense practitioner and teacher, the traditional one-piece version is much more appealing to me.
Fortunately, in addition to being a famous and highly respected maker, Gyokusui III makes shakuhachi both in the traditional and modern styles. The most common shakuhachi size is a 1.8, which is 54.5 cm/21.5 inches, but I was looking for a longer flute with deeper tones. So I went to Gyokusui’s place looking for a traditional one-piece in a 2.4 size, which is 75 cm / 29.5 inches. Here is my 2.4 next to a kali stick:
The shakuhachi I chose is thicker and heavier than the kali sticks I typically use (which are thicker and heavier than most kali sticks).
For traveling with a flute, Jerry recommended Japanese sword and shinai bags, which I found to be perfect, and you can get them with or without a shoulder strap. Here are two that I’m using for my 2.4:
Gyokusui was a fantastic host, and Jerry and his wife Hiromi were great guides and translators. We spent more than 2 hours trying numerous flutes, all incredibly beautiful instruments in both sound and appearance.
Our friend Jerry is a practicing Komuso monk, living with his wife Hiromi in Nara, and is sponsored by Gyokusui, who lives and works in Osaka. If you’re visiting Japan and interested in an incredible shakuhachi, in either the traditional or modern style, I highly recommend Gyokusui’s instruments.
As for the sound, I’ll end this post with a recording of myself playing one of my favorite honkyoku (Zen meditation compositions), the Jin Nyodo version of Kyorei, which I played on my new shakuhachi:
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