When to ignore the rules?

Hey folks.

What view do you all take with regards to how religiously you follow the rules? I mean there are “rules” laid down that should be followed when designing or building a tree from scratch, when you have full control over the trees design. But what do you do with yamadori?

I mean, if you get a tree - like a pine or larch or cedar - that has only been touched by nature, branches are going to be all over the place - or maybe there’ll be just a few - in all the wrong places. Like inside curves. What approach do you take with this? Do you strive after the ideal - like cutting out growth in the wrong places? And grafting branches (or scions) into place?

Or do you accept the flaws and try and hide them? If so how do you do this? By pulling branches about with guy wires?

Thanks all


Let the tree lead the dance, and apply the rules where you can. One issue I’ve come across is the desire to apply a specific style to a tree that can’t accommodate it, e.g. the “alpine” style to a spruce without acute main branch angles at the trunk that can’t be changed. The Doug fir that Ryan worked on recently is a good example. You might have to adjust your concept of what type of design rules to follow.

I have found guy wires effective with old, brittle yamadori where standard wiring doesn’t work.

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Ahum… I didn’t learn the religiously rule. :disappointed:
Yes, yamadori have special rules. Break them, too. Embrace the flaws. Follow your heart. If YOU like it, that’s the rule.
HOWEVER, other people follow the rules… and have more aesthetically beautiful trees. (Untill you look close and see they did not follow the rules…)
Things I have learned along the way:

  1. Memorize the rules.
  2. Follow the rules.
  3. Teach the rules.
  4. Learn there will ALWAYS be more rules; and, you will
    ALWAYS be criticized for not following the rules, so
    follow your heart, and dont follow the rules… but know
  5. Learn when to break the rules, and know why it is OK.
    Watch Marai. Follow the path to enlightenment…
    Build on the rules, expand on the rules, stretch the rules, break the rules. Throw the rules out. Scream and pull your hair out because the rules are usually there for a reason.
    Learn that the rules are a good base for beginners to start. Advanced practioners keep the rules in their back pocket and break them anyway, usually on a whim.
    The best trees break ALL of the rules. Learn there is beauty in nature’s rules that WE cant improve on.
    Also, learn the rules of esthetics, color, design; know how important empty space is…
    Somewhere along the way, learn the rules to keep trees alive. Rule: It’s more esthetic to HAVE a live tree.
    Learn the repotting rules, including collecting rules.(See the live tree rule.)
    Learn the rules to water properly. (Ditto…)
    Learn to enjoy bugs and dead trees.
    Did I mention there are rules?
    EMBRACE the rules for the microbiom, organic fertilizer, and akadama.
    Oh ya, there are rules for SHOWING trees, follow them.
    Learn to compromise on the rules.
    Learn to never settle. Strive for excellence.
    New rule (oldest rule)… relax and have a beer.
    “There is so little time left for a beginning.”
    Bonsai On!
    I have too much time on my hands, learn the rules for when it’s best to just stop…

There are rules? Nobody told me… :wink: :joy:

Great thread - interested to hear other thoughts on this, but here’s my take, and I’ll use an example of this hinoki below.

It’s not a piece of ‘yamadori’ - it has been grown, presumably, from nursery material. It did however present some of the challenges that collected material comes with. That being minimal branching and a couple awkward placements. It has more “flaws” than what I mention below.

The rule I had to break was in deciding what to keep and what to cut to get a staggered branch/pad placement, and to that point, I cut off no major branches when styling this tree. Instead I relied on some sound advice from Bjorn (not specifically about this tree, but another) about how to utilize illusion in styling.

The illusion here is that the entire upper right part of the tree originates from a more vertical branch below (marked yellow). The right upper pad and rear pad were created from this. My takeaway from a lot of books, or from being on forums, seems to be an obsession with perfection. I spent almost 10 years fumbling through this before someone threw the idea of illusion at me and, it changed everything.

Rules would have said to cut this branch off, maybe graft something, maybe would have eliminated the tree from consideration as a bonsai? But I’m glad I didn’t do any of that. This tree isn’t perfect, and most are not. Sometimes you’ve got to learn to use what’s there and see it for more than it appears.

If you have the means, ask Bjorn, Ryan or any other professional that has worked in Japan about doing a skype styling session - or even better - an in-person one (I still have not unfortunately). It’s worth the cost of admission.

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