Half-Breaking with God

By Bastian Florian Rohr
March 18, 2023

In Japanese Flower Arrangement, the great ikebana headmasters hold formal sessions about once or twice per season. In these, they aim to teach advanced practitioners and masters of their school new techniques. I was honored to attend such a “iemoto kenkyukai” again the other day.

This time our headmaster, whom I regard as a god in the literal sense, taught us how to bend the Japanese cornelian cherry into shape. Contrary to the Sakura branches that unforgivingly break at the slightest mistake, the Cornus Officinalis’ wood is much easier to work with.

Because it allows what I call “half-breaking.”

Even if you firmly twist a cornelian cherry branch with your hands, it will not separate into two pieces immediately. It will retain part of its integrity instead, allowing for a much faster workflow. That is why I believe this plant to be perfect for teaching kakubana to first-timers. They will not get desperate by breaking too many branches.

However, the Cornus presents a significant difficulty when choosing the various branches required by the signature triangular shape of kakubana. If your selection is wrong, they will not stand on the little Y-shaped bamboo support called matagi.

This tiny wooden piece needs to be carefully cut into shape with ikebana scissors until it perfectly fits two centimeters below the upper border of the cylindric vase used in kakubana.

All of the procedures required by this devilishly complex form used to take me much time to complete. Now, after years of training, my hands move almost without thought. I have finally “remembered with my body,” just as my mistress said I would.

And yet, mounting a kakubana arrangement still takes me about sixty minutes when it takes only twenty to my headmaster. But that difference, I guess, is the ocean’s width separating men from the gods.