February 2, 2018

The Great Chain of Flinging -- some musings on tribalism in the sport we love.

I have a daughter who loves to watch Downton Abbey. She's intrigued with Edwardian England and how it's portrayed with the upstairs people (lords and ladies) and the downstairs people (servants). I've had to remind her that if we lived at that time, and in that kind of society, she would likely be a downstairs person, not an upstairs one. She doesn't like the thought of that.

This whole upstairs and downstairs stuff comes from the medieval concept of the great chain of being.  From Wikipedia: "The great chain of being is a strict hierarchical structure of all matter and life, thought in medieval Christianity to have been decreed by God. The chain starts with God and progresses downward to angels, demons (fallen/renegade angels), stars, moon, kings, princes, nobles, commoners, wild animals, domesticated animals, trees, other plants, precious stones, precious metals and other minerals".  This "chain of being" still exists today, but (thankfully) in a much more diluted form.

Lately I've been reading some posts on FB regarding people being banned from certain FB groups because they didn't tow the party line (of that group). That got me thinking. Do we have a great chain of being, or in the case of tenkara, a great chain of flinging? What do you think? Well, I think we do.

Person 1 says to person 2, "Do you like to fish?"
Person 2 replies, "yes, I'm a lure fisherman. I only use ABC gear! It's the best!"
Person 1 walks away feeling less of a fisherman as he only fishes with bait.

Person 2 says to person 3, "Look at the great ABC gear I just got. I can't wait to go fishing!"
Person 3 replies, "Oh, that's nice if you're into that kind of fishing. I fly fish only."
Person 2 walks away feeing less of a fishermen because he never learned to fly fish.

Person 3 says to person 4, "I just had a great day on the river using a Mop fly. Have you ever fished one before?"
Person 4 replies, "That's not a fly or fly fishing! That's a lure! I only use dry flies that I tie myself! And, I fish them with my handmade bamboo rod!"
Person 3 leaves feeling less of a fly fisherman because he sort of likes the Mop fly (and heaven forbid, streamers too).  Also, he can't afford a handmade bamboo rod.

Person 4 says to person 5, "Do you fly fish? I can double haul seventy feet without breaking a sweat!"
Person 5 replies, "Use a reel and PVC line? Heaven's no! I only fish tenkara, an ancient Japanese form of fly fishing! It's a superior form of fly fishing!"
Person 4 walks away feeling less of a fly fisherman because he doesn't know what tenkara is and knows he's just been insulted.

Stolen from Mike!
Person 5 types on Facebook, "I love fishing tenkara for bluegills. It's the bomb!"
Person 6 types, "That's not tenkara! Tenkara is fishing for trout in mountain streams."
Person 5 feels trolled because he doesn't live anywhere trout live and all he's got to fish are ponds and low gradient streams for warm water species. Person 5 leaves the FB group.

Person 6 types on a different FB group, "I caught 24 fish with my secret beadhead XXX fly. It's my one fly for tenkara."
Person 7 (a moderator for the FB group) types, "Bead head! That's not tenkara! Tenkara is fishing with soft hackled kebari patterned after authentic Japanese historical flies!"
Person 6 answers, "I've been fishing tenkara for 3 years and fish bead heads all the time. It's one of the "ten colors" of tenkara. It's American tenkara."
Person 7 replies, "Well, you don't know what you're talking about! I was an early adopter, only fish a level line, and have been to Japan, not once but X times! I have fished with tenkara masters X, Y, and Z! I've got pictures with all the tenkara legends. And, I only use the same rod, line and fly as tenkara master Z! So, I know more about tenkara than you do!"
Person 6 types. "Just because you've been to Japan doesn't make you any better at tenkara than me! And I'm an American, so no one's my master!"
Person 7 bans person 6 from the FB group.

I know I've over exaggerated the example somewhat, but this type of dialog happens all the time (BTW, person 7 is fictional and doesn't represent any actual offensive, arrogant American tenkara angler, just sayin'). Personally, I think it's sad that tenkara in America has come to this. That said, I see tribalism in a lot of my other hobbies as well. For example, in bushcraft there's the hatchet tribe versus the knife batoning tribe. In backpacking, there's the hammock tribe versus the tent tribe. In off-roading, there's the Jeep tribe versus everyone else!

Still, it's sad that tenkara, and all the variations therein, has become tribal. I guess I shouldn't say tenkara has become tribal, rather the people who fish it have become tribal. In the Twitter speak of He Who Must Not be Named -- SAD!

I would have liked to see person 7 educate and not belittle person 6. He could have said, "Here's what I've learned from my experience fishing tenkara over the years and from my journeys. There are many different styles of flies or kebari that can be used to effectiveness. Here are links to some websites showing the kebari of different Japanese regions. That is the way I prefer to fish tenkara, but I understand your own individual approach. I'm going to still try to follow traditional Japanese methods, but that doesn't mean you have to."  That's what I would have liked to have seen, but alas, no. Instead, pride and ego take over and the "one-upsmanship" monster rears its ugly head.

I for one welcome variation in fishing, as well as in tenkara. If we were all the same and fished exactly the same way how boring would that be! You want to follow the traditional Japanese tenkara path, great! You use tenkara techniques to fish for bluegills in ponds, super! You use a tenkara rod to go after salmon in Alaska, cool! To each their own. Let's just try to be a little more civil. That's what I'm hoping for -- break the chain!


  1. Eloquent as always Tom. Very nice (said the guy with the flip phone). I can still use my SRWs then?

  2. Quite an essay. Enjoyed reading it. I retired a few yrs ago and took up fishing. Tenkara, Fly and Spin. Variety of styles and equipment to enjoy in different environments and moods. And your videos have brought me pleasure watching and learning more. Thank you.

  3. Nice isnsight...
    As you know i fish the beach and occasional baby tarpon and other "not tenkara" species. But i never did that meaning to begin a war with the more traditionalist ones... Is just a question of adaptation and tenkara (or fixed line) fishing is just great on that matter.

  4. Good read. It’s been this way for a long time that people have dictated that Tenkara is whatever people want it to be. I stood up against that idea, and so have many others. In many of the pages we have been attacked and ostracized for wanting to simply teach Tenkara as it was taught to us by the Japanese Tenkara anglers.

    In attempting to share knowledge of what we learned, we were yelled-at, called names, blamed for dividing the community, blamed for causing arguments and hurting feelings... and more.

    We then created other groups to remove ourselves from the situation, and some of those people followed us around telling us to shut up and that they were more “right” and that Tenkara fishing is for all species etc.

    Finally just this year we are reaching a healthy place in which the natural division of the Tenkara mentalities is creating a better Tenkara community.

    The way I see it, the best way to prevent the hierarchy is to let people do their own thing.

    For years all I’ve wanted is for people who want to learn about Tenkara as it is properly taught, to have a place to do so without being ostracized by defensive and angry bluegill anglers who feel that by simply sharing the facts and the lessons, we have somehow attacked them.

    Now personally, I feel that this idea of the hierarchy is actually a separate piece of the issue entirely.

    That discussion pertains to rod companies and the people behind them in the business. It gets complicated when people are invested in the business and have an interest in censoring or controlling the image of Tenkara, like Tenkara USA.

    It gets even worse when those people hire incendiary, bullying and severely mentally unstable individuals who then go and stir the pot intentionally.

    As I see it, the splitting of the factions in Tenkara is natural, healthy, and necessary for a positive and friendly future.

    The more that the Americara people have their own group where people like me never post about what Tenkara is, and the more that the Japanese Tenkara contingent has their own group, the more formerly everyone can be.

    The discussions about what defines Tenkara will continue.

    What will change is how people react and which groups they choose to be in.

    Those that want to learn the definition of Tenkara and learn from the Centuries of Japanese knowledge have their groups and sources.

    The Americara guys who want to ignore the definitions and fish for whatever species with whatever tackle also have their own safe space now too.

    But the Tenkara USA page is not defined at all.

    And it is PRECISELY THIS LACK OF DEFINITIONS that cause all the hate and arguing there.

    I’m no fool, I understand human psyche and business extremely well. I approve of the natural divisions and I know they are leading our community to a healthier place where hierarchy is different and more natural, where it isn’t about judging others but is about learning things correctly for those that choose to do so.

    1. I am at a loss to understand why anyone gets out the pitchforks and torches about a hobby.

  5. Tom don’t you start inon hammocks versus tents. We all know the ground is a dirty place. ;)

  6. Sad but true state. This sort of thing always reminds me of a story I read about a museum that commissioned an Inuit Elder to build a traditional kayak for their museum. The Elder's idea of a traditional kayak was to build it from the best materials he could find in the local village environment and construct it to a time proven local functional design. That is how he had built them all his life. And that is how he built the kayak.

    The museum was not pleased. In their view it was only a traditional Inuit kayak if the kayak was built only using natural materials available to the Inuit in the 19th century or earlier before contact with Europeans or modern material culture.

    The Inuit Elder believed polypropylene sheet and spectra fishing line were traditional - being the best materials he could find in the village. The museum only saw parts fashioned from walrus bone and stitched together with natural sinew as traditional.

    To the elder adaption & innovation was the most important traditional kayak building skill to preserve and pass on to later generations. To the museum staff only the use of natural materials was the most important thing to preserve. Overlooking the importance of the traditional attitude of seeking to find and use the best materials available locally. The first was a dynamic perspective. The second a static view. My choice is to go with the wisdom of the village elder.

  7. Everyone wants to be an authority in some aspect of there favorite pastime.

    There are some who are competitive and want to be the alpha.

    Chest beating and a pecking order are part of any social system, regardless if it is an animal or human.

    I am not sure to call American fixed line fishing. I have no problem not calling it tenkara. I am not an authority on the tenkara subject, but I freely mix and match techniques from different disciplines within and outside of fly fishing. I am having fun, and that is my only objective.

    If one is to keep everything in separated compartments and only operate within the bounds of precise definitions, it is impossible to innovate and learn. Those who judge others and close off avenues are stunting their own growth.

    I have had traditional fly fisherman go from civil to hostile when they learned I fished with a fixed line. Hahahahhaha. Talk about tightly wound up peeps....

    Like in any discipline, talking technique is like talking about politics or religion. You have to be aware of the audience before you open a conversation.


  8. The whole thing is completely ridiculous.

  9. I know the guy you are talking about and he's a complete tool. I think he's either voluntary left different groups or has been kicked out. To bad he uses his knowledge to rub it in other peoples face or argues that his way is the only way. He could teach from his experience and share info and experiences other people will never get the opportunity to partake in. But he won't. He's too focused on letting everybody know his opinion is more important.


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