The Ronin wielding dual swords represents the feeling that I have when I look at plant #12.   A scene is from a famous Japanese story of the Forty-seven Ronin. The loyal supporters seemingly disbanded after their master was unfairly forced to commit suicide. They plotted until they could come up with a plan to avenge their master and found an opportunity a number of years later to attack.  Shimizu Ikkaku fought bravely and died in the garden during the raid on Kira Kozuki-no-suke Yoshinaka's mansion. They were successful and this story is a celebration of loyalty.   Postcard artwork circa 1920s; New York Public Library Picture Collection -- unknown Japanese artist;   This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired (Wikimedia Commons) 
   "LOYAL RONIN;" and creating advanced bonsai stock
                               By Ryan Chang,  Journal contributing writer (Waipahu, Oahu, Hawaii)

              Developing a story for this plant was difficult to establish as I kept searching for an image, a story, anything that would generate the essence of the plant.   When I thought I had found an answer, it didn’t seem quite good enough.  Until, one night it hit me, looking at the title of the article, a few key words popped out; "advanced,"  "stock," and "style." 

             "SAMURAI"  exploded in my mind as I envisioned the plant. The trunk is strong like the master swordsman’s poetic stance.  Roots emerge from the surface, suffocating the ground it thrives in, giving life or taking life, like the aurora surrounding the swordsman in the heat of battle, he can inspire or expire those around him.  The swordsman’s arms swaying about with a style like the plant’s branches and leaves.  This photo perfectly resembles the image of the plant and the position it is planted in!   

             This plant was raised from seed by a true master.  It was a harmonious relationship as the master would treat the plant as its only friend.  The master was also a traveler who had the miraculous ability to transfer his life energy, was the lone survivor of the battle for survival of earth. The master fought to protect everything he could save, but in the end it was all lost except for a few seeds.  He saved the seeds from the fires and floods that covered every inch of land. It took him days to find a suitable area to plant the seeds. Out of all the seeds, one plant grew and when it was strong enough, he carried the plant over mountains, across rivers, through thickest and thinnest air from hot to cold. 

             Yet, the plant thrived and the master kept treating it like his best friend, sharing stories with it, talking to it like the plant could hear and see everything the master heard and saw.  He would meditate and transfer his life energy into the plant.  By doing this, the plant took the energy and instilled them within itself and together with the profound connection with its master their bond grew stronger and the plant grew bigger.  It wasn’t long before the master perished.  He was old and weak, but, his spirit lived on in his little friend.

            The little plant was as strong as ever, taking on a new form.  "Ronin" is a swordsman without a master, the plant posed in a stylish stance. The leaves and branches swayed about in a perfect capture of the essence of his master.  The little Ronin was left at the very spot his master had taken his last breath, upon the highest mountain the master could travel.  There the little Ronin grew and grew.  It became so magnificent, that everyone could see the tree from anywhere in the land. The little Ronin now watches over the earth from the highest mountain top.   

            The photo I chose shows the spirit of the plant. When I look at it; it is a fighting spirit.  My plan for shaping the tree will have the top flow like “hair flowing in the wind.” The branches already suggest the direction it will flow.  It won’t be totally flat but cloud like.  For the trunk and branches, I’ll try to keep the "Ronin look,"  of many swords with a strong base!



        The photo of plant with samurai spirit.  I had toyed with other ideas, but wasn’t really satisfied.  I was beginning to get frustrated as I couldn’t think of anything that I really felt motivated about.  Then one day, and it was like, here I am.  It looked like a dual wielding swordsman that I felt an heightened awareness like, yeah, that’s what you are. 

       David recommended 17"x2" square nursery flats but I couldn't find any in Honolulu. I found clear 17" diameter x 2" deep saucers and drilled many drain holes. I painted white to easily see the patterns.  I drew out the pattern beforehand to make drilling easier and painted over the white with different color to prevent unwanted moss build up. 

          The items used for this workshop; bindwire, 17” wide x 2”deep round plastic saucer with drain holes, course bottom media, body media, shade cloth, Nutrient Granules, and plant #12. Bind wire set in “X” form. 

         The course media hill is about 2 ˝” high.  This was covered with ˝”-1” of body media and nutrient granules. Not visible is the 7”x7” square plastic separator to send root growth outwards.

         (Note by David:  This is a class on "CONTROLLED ACCELERATED GROWTH"  to more quickly build large trunks and shallow roots systems that can easily be repotted back into shallow smaller pots.  I recommend that a plastic separator be between 1/3 or 1/2 the longest length of the training pot and in the same shape as the container. In this case it could be round between 5.5" to 8.5" in diameter.  It will create a shallow root system with larger surface roots and make it easy to repot into small shallow containers later.)

           Plant 12 showing a little root growth already. Roots are teased to untangle the main roots by using a single root hook with a from top to bottom motion.  Keeping most of the fine roots around the inner area, I then spread the roots in all directions and tied down the plant. 
           I used garden shade cloth instead of weed mat that David recommended as  I had extra lying around and thought the larger holes would allow more water to penetrate the material and also allow it to breathe easier.  An “X” was cut where the plant is and the material is trimmed around the pot and covered with rock mulch.
           After mulching the area with the rocks and watering for the first time.  I watered making sure it was soaked well through.  The plant will be placed in full sun. 

            I hope readers will find my articles useful and inspiring.  Like when I read the stories on Fuku Bonsai’s website prior to contacting David, they were all inspiring --- leaving me with the feeling that this is something I can do. It seemed remarkable that David was willing to lend his assistance. What was even more awesome was that Fuku Bonsai sells incredible advanced starter stock.  I think every plant even the young cuttings have more potential for exciting bonsai than other regular bonsai nursery stock around in the country. 

           I’m not sure how the other countries compare in starter stock, but in America its hard to beat Fuku- Bonsai’s Dwarf Schefflera.  I started out buying plants from local nurseries like Walmart, Lowes, and Home Depot and although they have a few plants that can be trained into bonsai, it really didn’t scratch that itch.  Then I started the online search, I was intrigued by some mainland companies who sold varieties of bonsai that were not bad and pretty decent.  They all pretty much looked the same and not much excitement from the base to the branches because all the trunks were the same either straight up and down or some had a few curves clearly trained by bonsai wire. But when I came across Fuku Bonsai’s website, I was sold.  The website and its vast information led me to believe that they were trustworthy, and being local I couldn’t ask for more.  And so the fun began! 

            David likes to stress that he is not sensei which is good because I feel everyone should develop their own way too.  In the first few months I was pretty much clueless, so I looked to David.  What do I do next? How do I do it?  Now, I look back and see that David was trying to get me to think for myself; think, plan, execute, adjust and if must, redo. 

            I struggled to understand the basic horticultural needs of the plant because I was unclear of what really was over-watering and under-watering.  Well, I experienced both with the same plant.  I eventually concluded that my 1:10 Roots plant was initially overwatered because I left it in the rain then left in the direct sun with lots of wind didn’t give the chance to build humidity and quickly dried out everything above the soil and left beneath the soil holding too much moisture. 

            With advice from David and some ideas from a few others on the Mid-Pacific Team,  I was able to solve the drying out problem.  I basically created an area that would generate humidity to hold moisture in the right places.  It seems to be working as I’ve been noticing good growth from all my plants.  Thanks everybody for reading, and I look forward to seeing new people and their stories.  And any updates that my new Bonsai friends want to share; you know how to contact me. 

               Here are some of the plants that I’ve potted and in training.  This is my rack where I keep the plants that get the most direct sun and already holds moisture well enough in high winds.  I've added the back plastic as a little wind breaker.  If you have read the article on my IWPs, they are the three on the bottom right next to the fly trap.  They are growing well. 

                LOYAL RONIN is on the bottom shelf in what David calls "accelerated growth training."  The plant naturally lends itself into a strong character with nice elegant flowing foliage.  In time, it will fill out nicely and quickly considering how well the other plants are growing.  So, my job is to manage the nice spacing in the foliage to keep it looking like a cloud or hair flowing in the wind.  The plant is positioned straight up and will be a high potential sumo with time.   The main branch along the apex has a nice bend that sets the elegant flow.  While, the long secondary branch grows vertically with a few leaves growing starting to slightly bend the other direction gives a great chance that the foliage will look cloud like at different heights and sizes, the branches themselves look like swords being wielded just like the lead photo. 

               The plant is taking to the full sun well and has begun to sprout new growth on every branch.  It gets watered every other day.  Not allowing to full dry out between watering.  This is the first of Advanced Prepared Bonsai Stock attempt and am quite intrigued as to how it will all turn out in a few years. 

                Aloha!      - - - Ryan Chang, Journal contributing writer (Hawaii)



           COMMENTS BY DAVID:  Ryan Chang is one of our most active study group members and I need to stress that he is not my student and I am not his teacher.  I've always refused to accept the title "sensei" as it carries a lot of formal Japanese traditions and obligations that I do not support.  There, students can never question or deviate from their teacher.  It becomes increasingly silly when the natural skills and ability of the "student" greatly surpasses his teacher. 

           I was privileged to be assisted by extraordinary mentors including  Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro and Ted Tsukiyama (Hawaii),  Japan's Saburo Kato, Hong Kong's Yee-sun Wu, and California's John Naka.  Each of them shared their visions, philosophy, and skills with me  --- but outside a formal teacher-student relationship.  Papa especially urged each of us to follow our own path and this has become a major dominant characteristic of "Hawaiian Bonsai"  which is based up friendships and mutual assistance.

           Ryan is the first study group member who can grow our plants outdoors throughout the year.  He has enough space,  interest and energy.  In sharing information with him on how to grow large number of trees efficiently, he'll have enough plants to allow him to continuously run experiments to find the best growing procedures and training techniques.  I hope he follows some of my path and goes on to teaching others and forming bonsai organizations.  And when he does,  he'll have a lot of advanced prepared bonsai stock to use as teaching and demonstration materials.  If beginners start with Fuku-Bonsai plants, they can avoid the first three to 5 years that are the most difficult. They can start at higher level,  be more successful, and enjoy the more satisfying  bonsai training aspects. 

           Just as I started on the shoulders of Kaneshiro, Tsukiyama, Kato, Wu, and Naka,  I hope many others can start on my shoulders and go on to advance the art and culture of TROPICAL AND TRUE INDOOR BONSAI!  This is the form of bonsai that many throughout the nation can grow.  But like Chinese penjing,  this form of bonsai is not well known and the JOURNAL OF TROPICAL & TRUE INDOOR BONSAI was created specifically to teach and to create a community in these areas. 

           Ryan and a few others are getting a lot of special personalized assistance.  But they have pledged to contribute and help others in the future.  Ryan has visited Fuku-Bonsai and plans to be here at the next Bonsai Day (held on the second Saturday of each month).  He has established a pre-paid account so we can bulk purchase and set some aside items for him that are available primarily to industry professionals.  Each study group member has different skills, experiences and objectives.  Each sets his own level of activity and challengers.  I invite others who share our values and direction to join us! 

             ~~~David  (


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