by Graham Potter
Life is a game. Like all games it requires
rules for the guidance of the players and for adjudication in the
event of disputes thus preventing fights. The game requires
intelligent thought and planning and a sound strategy will ensure
success. Every move we make today determines the path we will tread
tomorrow. However, one thing that sets the game of life apart from
other games of skill or chance is the fact that this game cannot be
won. It may be a slightly Eeyoreian view of things but life will end
for us all at some time regardless of what we do.
I see great parallels between the world of bonsai and the game of
life. In its purest form bonsai is a process we use to guide and
sculpt the life force within a tree in order to enable it to show its
true beauty to the world. Horticulturally speaking there may well be a
‘best way’ to get things done even though a great many regimens will
produce passable results.
As far as the aesthetics of bonsai are concerned the waters are a
little muddy. Whilst it is possible to judge the health of a tree by
scientific observation judging the artistic
value of a bonsai
is entirely subjective. It is very easy to look at a bonsai and judge
the quality of the work that has been carried out upon it. The wiring,
the pruning, the daily care and feeding as well as the preparation and
presentation all depend upon the skill of the trees owner. This will
bring you some way down the road of weeding out poor quality bonsai
from amongst the better value specimens but it will not answer the
question faced by many a poor fellow charged with the job of selecting
the ‘best’ bonsai from among a bench load of specimens.
At a club level it is not particularly difficult to rise to the
surface. On a national stage success is within reach of most folk that
are willing to make it happen. International fame is somewhat more
allusive but still achievable at a price. A great many people enjoy
their bonsai for years on end without worrying about the vagaries of
fickle competition. That is the way it should be. Looking for success
in a competitive sense focuses ones mind solely on the finished result
and whilst a bonsai is never strictly ‘finished’ there is a point at
which it reaches its best form at the hands of its caretaker. Once
this form is achieved only time and diligent work will add beauty to
One of the things that disturb me about bonsai here in the U.K is the
way in which many of us focus solely on the goal of a ‘finished’ tree.
We all know that a bonsai is never finished, after all that is the
true beauty of the art; the trees just keep getting older and better.
However it does seem that we have missed the mark a little. Owning
another show quality specimen bonsai that impresses our mates is not
the goal. Owning ‘finished’ bonsai is nice for our pride and may make
others a little envious but it reduces our noble art to a very
In today’s society the things that ‘seem’ to matter are having two
nice cars, taking exotic holidays, owning the latest home
entertainment system and wearing the very latest fashions and designer
labels. These are the things that folk work long, long hours to
obtain, often ignoring their family commitments in favour of their
careers and the money they can earn. Enough money will get you
anything you want today but ‘things’ are just a distraction and owning
lots of things offers no satisfaction or happiness long term.
Mr Teruhiko Ota, one of Japans last surviving Khumoso monks played
sakuhachi all of his life. Even into his late eighties he played and
studied diligently forever pushing the boundaries of his own technique
and skill forwards through disciplined practice and creative thinking.
Mr Ota never sought or found commercial success he simply enjoyed his
music and made it his life’s work to be the best that he could.
Towards the end of his life he said,
“ Practice for its own sake, let progress take care of itself. Do not
corrupt the beauty of learning by becoming attached to an end goal”.