Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Over the weekend we took the kids to Honmoku Park and the adjoining Sankeien. Sankeien is a great walk around with a lot of historic buildings beautifully restored. It will be especially beautiful when the leaves change.

We were fortunate to go there when there was an exhibition of bonsai, the little trees. The bonsai is in many ways symbolic of Japan and the Japanese mentality, closely interlinked with Zen Buddhism and martial arts. So much so, that Mr. Miyagi even prunes his bonsai and they play a role in the plot.

To the unititiated, bonsai are simply that, little miniature trees.
To the Japanese, they can be so much more. Some of those little trees are literally hundreds of years old, carefully pruned and kept for several generations. They are small, yes, but mature trees nonetheless.

The bonsai allow Japanese to express their own culture and lifestyle, which is often kept in claustrophobic close quarters, but which can yield beauty and elegance, just in the way a bonsai survives being kept in it's small pot year after year.

Bonsai ENDURE - much as the Japanese do. Many bonsai even flower or yield tiny fruit, which is a reminder to the Japanese of their seasonality.

Bonsai are cared for very carefully, kept neatly pruned, and watched over someones like a pet of sorts. Owners lavish attention on their plants, talking to them, playing music for them, and so on. Their design can be very precise and intended to create the wabisabi - the random pattern of nature - which Japanese find to be the ultimate in aesthetic beauty.

As martial artists, bonsai represent control. Control of self. Precision. Endurance. Adaptability. They teach us that we must have careful attention to detail, and prune our lives and our training regularly to keep them elegant and beautiful. They teach us to always remain in harmony with nature. Bonsai require service, commitment, and dedication to live - so do we. So does our practice.

I love bonsai trees and what they represent. I love how they make me feel, and what they make me think about. It calls me back to a gentler time, when we could appreciate the simple things in life more fully.

Maybe all our lives could use some cultivation.

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