The Art and Science of Kado (華道)
Updated: Dec 8, 2022
Kado or "the way of flowers" has a history that intertwines with Zen mindfulness therapy. Arranging and appreciating a well arrange Ikebana can elicit from a person a sense of calm, clarity, compassion and creativity.
The Three Elements of Ikebana
Think of the practice of Ikebana as being akin to the practice of martial arts. There are a set of very specific techniques, rules and rituals that can take decades to master. The process itself is not difficult but to master the process, takes years. At the heart of an ikebana arrangement is the three elements: line, mass and colour. These three elements are also often denoted as heaven, humanity and earth. Therefore, traditional Ikebana arrangements require at least three distinct parts called Shin, Soe, and Hikae.
These parts are defined by height. Shin, the longest, should be at least 1 ½ times as long as it is wide. Ideally, it will be a long branch, maybe with flowers on the end.
In the following video, Sogestsu school instructor Akemi Sagawa will demonstrate a basic moribana arrangement. Angling is very important and arrangements that do not follow the rules tend to feel amateurish or unskill to those who have mastered the art of Ikebana.
The 7 Principles of Ikebana
Most of the major schools of Ikebana adhere to these 7 principles of ikebana: Silence, Minimalism, Shape and Line, Form, Humanity, Aesthetic and Structure.
Practitioners remain silent for the entire period when they are arranging the flowers. Talk is not encouraged. Practitioners of Ikebana must take their time to appreciate the branches and flowers that they have gathered for the arrangements, every movement, every breath is both a conscious and unconscious ritual. Silence is necessary for the practitioner to become one with the material that they have selected and to shape the material to conform to their design.
Ikebana arrangements often look aesthetically bare. To appreciate the arrangement you need to feel the balance of all the material and to feel the inner soul and intention of the person that created that arrangement. In the NHK video, the narrator Stuart Vamam-Atkin demonstrated the proper way to view, appreciate and admire the arrangement, and it starts with a bow to show respect to the man and to the nature that had combined to create that arrangement.
Shape and Line
There is an emphasis on shape in ikebana regardless of whether it is a rikka, moribana or a nageire arrangement, the shape and the line of the arrangement must interact with the space in a way that defines the space but at the same time allows the space to define the arrangement.
When it comes to Ikebana, you do not plan the form of the arrangement, instead, you need to focus on finding that form within you and nature (material). Your form i.e. your inner thoughts, feelings and state will all be reflected in your arrangement and your experienced teacher or mentor can immediately through your creation detect your state of mind, your sense of self and your understanding and empathy towards yourself and nature. It is for this reason that for the longest time, only men from the Samurai ranks practice Ikebana. In order to control the sword, you must first control your mind.
Japanese Ikebana is about bringing nature and humanity together. An intriguing consequence of that is that both the creator and the observer of an Ikebana arrangement are in a way part of the art. Thus, when you arrange an Ikebana piece, you become part of the work of art that you are creating and whoever observes the scene immediately becomes part of the creation. Consider the three elements of Ikebana: Heaven, Humanity and Earth... Each element exists within the other element.
Ikebana draws from Japanese aesthetics. It appears simple but is complex, it appears empty but is filled, it appears simple but it is complex, it appears perfect in its imperfection.
The Ikebana structure must consist of the three elements: heaven (shin), humanity (soe) and earth (hikae). From the basic training video, you can guess that the practice requires precision, not just in the movements of the practitioners, but also precision in the placement of the stem. You will notice for example in the NHK video the difference between the way a novice handle the material and the way a master handles the material. As simple as the movements and actions maybe it takes years of practice to make those actions appear effortless and seamlessly flowing. Thus, an Ikebana arrangement while anchored to a rigid structure, creativity and originality flows.
The Essence of Ikebana
In this candid talk with world-renowned Oshibana artist Miwako Kobayashi, who is also an Ikebana instructor, Dr Lennie Soo explains the essence of Ikebana.
If you are keen to learn Ikebana to support your cognitive, emotive and mental health, call us for information about future classes.