Shakuhachi and Self-Cultivation

2009 June 3

Fishing for Kami


Just completed a retreat with Bruno Deschenes from Montreal. Every summer I open my home to students who want to do intensive practice of shakuhachi. Teaching is learning more about shakuahchi for me. It is part of my shakuhachi life. Although I am teaching a student, I am also learning lots from them and the process as well. In the west, there is a saying in the arts: “Those who can’t do, teach!” In Japanese (and other eastern cultures), the perception is different. Teaching is an ubiquitous part in the life of the artist. Teachers are highly respected and consequently have a high level of responsibility in the spiritual and artistic development of the student. 

I feel incredibly fortunate to live in an incredibly beautiful place to offer shakuhachi retreats. I feel it’s important to have a place amongst beautiful natural setting far from the city to have a good retreat. Walking and training amongst the ancient trees, the ocean, lakes, hills is so wonderful to connect and communicate with nature’s beauty and intelligence. In Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan, there is a belief in Kami, or nature spirits that inhabit all natural phenomenon from rocks to the sky, storms, animals, plants, and humans. Although zen Buddhism was a major influence in shakuhachi practice, so was Shinto to shakuhachi. The idea of Misogi Shugyo, constant daily training, is very important in esoteric Shinto. “Rise early in the morning to greet the sun. Inhale and let yourself soar to the ends of the universe; breathe out and let the cosmos inside. Next breathe up the fecundity and vibrance of the earth. Blend the breath of earth with your own and become the breath of life itself. Your mind and body will be gladdened, depression and heartache will dissipate and you will be filled with gratitude (kansha).” Every morning we walked to the ocean and warmed our bodies up with 200 strokes of the wooden staff or sword. Then blew 100 long tones on shakuhachi then played honkyoku. It’s a wonderful way to start the day! One of the mornings while walking back home from our misogi, carrying our staffs and shakuhachi, a local lady passed us and smile, asking us if we  had a good time and if had caught anything in the ocean. I just smiled at her and said, “Yes, we had a great catch!” Bruno and and I just smiled silently at each other and I thought, “Yes, we are certainly caught a big Kami!” 

Bruno spent 4 days and nights here and I pushed him to his limit. Here was the daily schedule:


7:00  Rise

7:30  Walk; staff/ken training;RO Buki by the ocean

9:00 Breakfast, rest, free time

10:00 Shakuhachi Lesson


12:00  Lunch, rest, free time, practice

1:00 Shakuhachi making

4:00  Shakuhachi Lesson

6:00  Supper, free time, rest, practice

7:30 Shakuhachi lesson

9:30 Sitting meditation

10:30  Retire

It’s great to be on a steady schedule of shugyou, shakuhachi practice, contemplation, and wonderful meals every day.  Sandra  cooked all around the clock making sure that Bruno was well-fed.


5 days Retreat Menu

Day 1


BBQ chicken

Grilled vegetables

Chocolate almond souffle


Day 2






Lentil soup

Rosemary bread






BBQ salmon


Brown rice

Ice cream and fruits


Day 3


Blueberry muffins




Spinach pie





Sushi wraps

Miso soup

Pie w/ ice cream


Day 4







Squash soup




Seafood pasta

Salad w/ goat cheese and cranberries

Banana bread


Day 5









banana bread



Hot pot

Brown rice

Banana soufflé


It’s really moving to see him put all his heart into studying shakuhachi. That’s the proper way to approach shakuhachi! Even though I push him to his limit, he never gets discouraged and finds the beauty and love in the experience. He’s been taking internet lessons with me for the last couple of years, so it is such a relief to actually have concentrated lessons face to face. So much more is imparted. Most importantly is hearing and feeling the actual sound and expression, which is very limited over the internet. Interestingly, I have more internet students now than actual face to face students!

I only offer retreats for one person at a time as I think this is the best way for a student to get concentrated attention. My intention is to teach people how to play shakuhachi to the best of their ability. Much of my teaching is giving the student a strong foundation in basic technique. If the student has enough faith in me, I guarantee that I will teach the student how to play properly and to maximize their enjoyment of the shakuhachi. Along with strong technique, I also emphasize spirituality in the experience of shakuhachi as I believe how one imagines one’s life, and their relationship with the universe, nature, spirit is the most important thing in life. Shakuhachi is merely a tool to express one’s spirit, and to train the mind and body for unifying with the cosmos in a deeper way. I want to teach the student how to play honkyoku wonderfully; but I also teach how to play ensemble music (with koto and shamisen); modern music, and improvisation if the students chooses to do so. But the emphasis is always on growing the root in honkyoku as this is the sound that should influence all other types of music one plays.

There are many teachers and styles of shakuhachi in Japan and more teachers outside of Japan are increasing. I encourage students to experience as many dimensions of shakuhachi as they can and that means having the freedom to train with more than one teacher. No one teacher can give a student all she or he needs. But I think that studying with one teacher for at least the first few years (especially if the teacher is a good one) is very beneficial for the student as one can form a strong foundation in playing and understanding the shakuhachi.  

The rest of the summer retreat schedule is booked full. If there is anyone interested in coming for a retreat next year please contact me: You can see more information about Bamboo-In Shakuhachi Retreat Centre here:

Yoroshiku onegaishimasu (thank you in advance for accepting be in your group and your time)



5 Comments leave one →
2009 June 3
Rick McDaniel / Lewisville, TX permalink

Alcvin, just wanted to say that your retreats sound quite wonderful, and I will keep them in mind for the future.

The photos of your retreat place are quite wonderful, and the menu sounds so healthy, there is a chance I might enjoy it too much.

2009 June 3

Hi Rick! Thanks for the kind comments. Hope to see you at Bamboo-In sometime in the future!


2009 June 8
Wanbli WiWohpe permalink

Hau! I appreciate your Blog and am hungry for more of your Words. Toksa Ake’

2009 June 8

I have seen, heard, felt Al’s deep connection with shakuhachi and honkyoku.. with the greatest gratitude. Highest recommendations for his recordings as well. As a student of his, I was blessed with a few lessons that deeply enhanced my playing and connection w/ the NA flute, as well as the shakuhachi.
Wonderful to have you here on the forum, Al! I’ll make it up there one of these days! Thank you for sharing the experience.. stirred the hunger in my soul and stomach..

2009 June 9

Emilio! So wonderful to see you here! Thanks so much for the kind words!

Great blessings my brother of flutes and winds!


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