By David W. Fukumoto, president and founder, Fuku-Bonsai Inc.
I've been teaching bonsai almost as long as I've been growing bonsai! I began with a pair of volunteer Brassaia seedlings from my dad's orchid house. In my haste to finish my chores, I had the water pressure on high and the pot tipped on its side. In time the trunks developed a bend, the plants were rock-planted, and our first "houseplant bonsai" graced our spartan newlywed Honolulu apartment in 1962.
STARTING WITH MY NEIGHBORS
The economy was great just after Hawaiian Statehood and I had three jobs. Within a year with the help of a second mortgage we saved our down payment and purchased a home in Kaneohe. We had a great neighborhood and three of us grew bonsai in three different ways. Larry liked a form of potted topiary. Warren did a Hawaiian form of Japanese bonsai. I was doing a bit of everything including houseplant rock plantings and Hawaiian free-form penjing.
When we heard that the coral mountain above Lanikai was going to be bulldozed into leveled lots for subdivision houses we got permission to collect the stunted Ironwood (Casuarina equistifolia) trees. The seedlings had sprouted on dense coral and the taproot went down just an inch. There were long surface roots and nice stout trunks. We had only a day and just yanked them out, coiled the long roots around the trunk, and tossed them into Warren's cargo van. We collected several hundred and miraculously over half survived and provided enough material for each of us to conduct a lot of experiments.
A HAWAIIAN FORM OF JAPANESE BONSAI
A year or two later I joined the Honolulu Bonsai Kenkyu Club. It was made up of mostly older Japanese men who wouldn't share their "secrets." But some did and Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro took me under his wing and invited a few of us to visit his home. Dr. Horace Clay was a horticulturist whose popular "Green and Growing" radio program and weekly newspaper column made him a prominent member of the community. Ted Tsukiyama was the founder of the Arbitrating Attorneys of Hawaii.
Unlike the older Japanese men, these younger bonsai hobbyists were well respected outside of bonsai. Roger Takamori agreed to teach bonsai at adult evening non-credit classes at Aiea High School but the first time the course was offered, there was insufficient enrollment. When they hit the minimum, Roger's son tragically passed away and I was asked to substitute as a teacher.
At that time, I was the field superintendent for a 120-man construction painting company, I was also an instructor with the Painting Industry of Hawaii Apprenticeship Program and a food service instructor for the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Reserve. So I knew a bit about teaching.
Stepping in without preparation was very difficult! There were no training aids and students struggled to find suitable plants in the garden shops. But after I wrote a handbook and provided prepared bonsai stock, enthusiasm and success soared! Fuku-Bonsai began as a part-time backyard nursery to supply prepared bonsai stock for my classes!
The success of the early bonsai classes resulted in forming the non-profit Hawaii Bonsai Association with Dr. Horace Clay as the president and Ted Tsukiyama as the secretary-treasurer. As the education committee chair, I designed the 10-week team teaching "ABC's of Bonsai" course with military-style lesson plans for each night. It included objectives, training aids to be available, subject matter, time allowance for each subject with key points. It left out details and each instructor filled in the method that they used as there was agreement that there was no one "correct" way.
TEACHING THE TEACHERS & CREATING A BONSAI COMMUNITY!
The course was really set up to train teachers. Each class had a primary instructor and two assistant instructors that had smaller complimentary roles. As they stepped in, the lead instructor could take a break and be coached on the next section of the lesson plan. With a different teaching team each week, the students got to know the more knowledgeable hobbyists who were willing to teach and share. Each course was different as each teachers taught the subjects with their technique and students often took multiple courses to learn different ways.
The "teachers" learned the most because in preparing for the classes, they made sure they understood what they were going to teach! Assistant instructors graduated to lead instructors on another subject. No one was allowed to teach the same class twice. Each 10-week course had a new coordinator and each coordination tried to improve on the course. Over time, over 1,000 students have gone through the Hawaii Bonsai Association course.
I had an opportunity to repeat after moving to the Big Island and co-founding the Big Island Bonsai Association. We embarked on a 3-year program: "Revitalization of bonsai on the Big Island!" For 10 weeks, we gave a team-teaching class in Hilo on Friday night, at Kamuela on Saturday afternoon, and in Keauhou-Kona on Saturday night. I served as the course coordinator and asked my Hawaii Bonsai Association friends to fly over to be the lead instructor.
I picked them up at Hilo Airport, and after a quick dinner went straight to the Hilo class where they met the two Big Island assistant instructors and jumped right into the class. Some classes went well but we struggled on others. After class we discussed ways to improve. On Saturday on the way to Kamuela, the team got to know each other and roughed out some team-teaching ideas and the second class was a great improvement! There was more discussion enroute to the Kona class which was usually the best.
We slept over in Kona, dropped off the Honolulu guest instructor at the Kona Airport and made our way back to Hilo. We did this for 10 weeks and the project received a VIP (Volunteers in Paradise) statewide award presented by the first lady of Hawaii. The Big Island instructor group jelled and got to know the Oahu instructor group. This extreme effort helps account for the vibrancy of the Big Island bonsai community.
THE LESSONS I LEARNED ABOUT TEACHING
I started teaching to help out a friend and ended up learning the most! Teaching fuels a larger interest. In sharing knowledge, you earn special friends! There's a certain camaraderie between friends teaching friends and I've always asked not to be called "sensei" (a formal Japanese teacher title). In spite of some forms of bonsai being more of a craft, we taught principles and encouraged creativity. The course really was a mixture of Japanese, Chinese, and Hawaiian bonsai and while it created some confusion, we stressed there were many ways to do things. In the years since, I learned the following:
● THERE ARE MANY KINDS OF BONSAI. The three major types of artistic pot plants are Japanese bonsai, Chinese penjing, and tropical bonsai. Japanese bonsai is extensively codified with cultural practices and there are detailed styles and "rules." The Japanese have a preference to create copies rather than bonsai be a creative art. In contrast the Chinese tend to favor strong individual creativity with few rules. Tropical bonsai have some aspects of both but have different tree structural shapes! Fuku-Bonsai's True Indoor Bonsai are the most shade tolerant of the tropical bonsai. Rather than try to teach all forms of bonsai, Fuku-Bonsai should focus only on DWARF SCHEFFLERA TRUE INDOOR BONSAI!
● THE SPECIFIC PLANT DICTATES THE CULTURAL REQUIREMENTS FOR SPECIFIC GROWING ENVIRONMENTS. Whether you grow Japanese bonsai, Chinese penjing, or tropical bonsai (or True Indoor Bonsai), the plant dictates the required care. Learn to produce optimum Dwarf Schefflera growth as healthy plants develop into beautiful bonsai!
● TRAINING TECHNIQUES ARE BASICALLY THE SAME WHETHER JAPANESE, CHINESE, OR HAWAIIAN. Training techniques are deemed the least important at early stages where establishing good growth is the priority. The next challenge is to recognize the uniqueness of each specific plant and to visualize its future shape. Training is a matter of going from where the plant is to the vision of the future and is relatively easy.
● THE PRIMARY DIFFERENCE IS IN STYLING CONCEPTS. Dwarf Schefflera lends itself to a full range of banyan shapes that generally have a luxurious rounded crown, multiple apex arched branched structures. Stock plants that already have good character will suggest a final shape.
|CONCEPTS FOR SUCCESSFUL TEACHING!|
|19__: "CONVERSION KITS" INTRODUCED|
PREMIUM KEIKI BONSAI WORKSHOP PACKAGE
2000: 1st Edition; TRUE INDOOR BONSAI BEGINNERS HANDBOOK
2002: 2nd Edition; TRUE INDOOR BONSAI BEGINNERS HANDBOOK
|2003: LIVING LOVABLES INTRODUCED IN THREE STYLING CONCEPTS!|
|2005: #8LS8 EXPANDED INTO THREE STYLING CONCEPTS!|
|THE CHALLENGE OF PRODUCING QUALITY AND QUANTITY!|
|2006: FUKU-BONSAI MAKES MagAmp AVAILABLE!|
|2007: TRUE INDOOR BONSAI INTRODUCTORY WORKSHOP PACKAGE|
|2007: 3rd Edition, TRUE INDOOR BONSAI WORKSHOP HANDBOOK|
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