“I say it clearly as it is — to understand or not to understand, both are mistaken (views).”

The Teachings of Rinzai

Kumiko Unfolding – Part 1: I Want This


For the past few years I’ve been trying to make myself available to initiatives and projects that felt meaningful and that resonated with me. I’ve tried to merge skills from my past (software design) with my skills in the present … peaceful, gradual, sensitive unfolding!? These efforts, for the most part, have not worked out well. So I have been embracing even deeper my natural tendency to retreat. But this creates a practical challenge, especially in winter (when outdoor work is mostly put on hold): what to do with my free time?

My workshop at Bhudeva has been a place of mixed experience for me for almost 8 years. It has been an empowering place … allowing me to make so much of the physical world I inhabit. The priority has been making as much as possible with as little as possible. As a result the workshop has become a utilitarian place – a place where I go to create things I need. It has not been a place I have enjoyed being in. It is not equipped for quality work. It is equipped with minimal and efficient tools to get affordable, practical but mediocre results. I like that I can create the things that I want, but I don’t enjoy making them because quality is absent.

Almost a year ago I stumbled across a Japanese art called Kumiko in which small pieces of wood are used to create intricate patterns:

Sidenote: I have since discovered a sibling/complementary Japanese art called Hakone that explores similar patterns in which the spaces in between are also “filled”:

I decided to look into Kumiko and to revisit my relationship with the workshop. I wondered if it would be possible for me to transform the workshop from a utilitarian space into a space that can support a quality and meditative experience of making physical things in the world – things like Kumiko. I have been on this journey for a few months now … and to be honest answer is still “I don’t know”. But I did decide to explore this in action (and not just as a mental exercise).

My experience of scarcity (limited resources – materials, tools, money) acts as an inhibiting force on me. Allowing myself to pursue something that is not “really needed” has been challenging. It brings up much doubt and insecurity. I meet that by taking small gradual steps that feel accessible and safe for me. That itself, has become an interesting and engaging process. Wondering what is a good next step for me – and acting that out:

  • What is next?
  • Can I just go there directly or are there preparations I need to make first?
  • What is good preparation and what is excessive preparation?
  • How do I stay in touch with what motivates me?
  • How to meet uncertainty and insecurity?
  • When am I over-reaching and what is driving me to over-reach?
  • What tools do I need?
  • How to balance quality and price?
  • How can I gift myself an experience of quality within a sense of constricting scarcity?

This journey is an interesting process of unfolding. In a way, Kumiko is going to be a setting, a back-drop for the real “play”: how do I approach this kind of exploration into what is for me unchartered territory?

To get started I watched some online videos of other Kumiko travelers. I felt attracted and confident that I want to give it a try. But the videos were not detailed enough to be instructional  – they left more questions than answers. So I did a search and discovered Desmond King who has published a series of books about Kumiko. I ordered the first two books and cuddled with them during winter. I wanted to get a sense of what I would need to make Kumiko. What I found was both informative and annoying and I’ll get into that in the next post(s).


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  • By Japanese Toolmakers on April 16, 2019 at 12:39 pm

    […] I stand at the entrance to the space of Japanese Kumiko woodworking, I find myself also getting acquainted with the tools associated with the culture. And one of the […]

  • […] did not want Kumiko to become another such project. Yes, preparations would be required, but I didn’t want them […]

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