Inked AU/NZ – Authentink Article – March 2015
by Kian ‘Horisumi’ Forreal
Apprentices and apprenticeships. That’s a big topic these days all around the world due to the mass explosion of tattooing, amateur tattoo artists, scratchers, and a tattoo shop on every corner. It is a topic that causes a lot of debate and condemnation from some circles while from my point now is an absolute necessity to carry on proper tattoo tradition. I myself have railed against it in this very column… but now that I own a shop, I have a tradition and legacy to upkeep and carry one, an honored tattoo name to pass on, I see it as the only way to keep real tattooing alive.
I currently have 2 Deshi (apprentices), serious ones that have committed their lives and souls to my shop, the tattoo gods and myself. And a minimum of 5 years under me to learn the trade, with the expectation to stay with myself and the shop and build the Horisumi tattoo family. That is the only way I can have it, it is certainly not for everyone, and I’ve already had the experience with a prior applicant unable to make the commitment and leaving.
For me this is a very emotional subject, a subject that no one here but myself really understands it seems as it’s a structure that exists only in Japan and even then I have my own skew on it. Not even my very supportive partner fully understands the complexities of it but she definitely puts up with it most of the time even though I drive her nuts. My work mates certainly don’t fully grasp the enormity of what I am trying to do and of course I can’t expect them to, it is my journey on this road but with great hope for the future.
The Sensei – Deshi relationship for me is one that exists apart from other relationships and dwells in its own parallel tattoo universe, once committed to it’s a bond that cannot and should not be broken for anything. I deal with them and they deal with me, forever, once we get past a certain point.
I will try to explain to you my dear readers, my fellow artists and friends and anyone else that gives a shit to read it, how I see things. My tattoo career was not given to me, I clawed and scraped and sacrificed and sold my soul to achieve what I have. I gave up everything I was, everything I loved, everything I knew and had, including my home country, to get where I am today. Whilst I did teach myself how to tattoo initially, I soon put myself under a well known and seasoned master tattooer, after that I travelled and I studied and was mentored by some of the greatest (in my opinion) living and deceased tattoo artists of today. And I ate a lot of shit, mountains of it, to get here. I was humiliated, was broke, was tired, spent all my money on flights and hotels and lived in shitholes, and then ate more shit, all the while making money for other people. I did that for 20 years.
Now ask yourself, why the hell would I just give that away for nothing? Well I wouldn’t. Not a chance. Not even close. There are rumors that I am tough on my Deshi, those rumors are true and the truth probably worse than the rumors. I make them do knuckle push-ups on hardwood floors when they fuck up, I make them stand in positions that are uncomfortable for periods of time when they fuck up and I am constantly harassing them and belittling them. They are at my beck and call, they stay at work until I leave, if I go eat, they go eat with me, if I I go drink they go drink with me, whatever I am doing they are doing it with me. I am trying to weed out the weak, I am trying to break them down so I can build them back up in my image and make them strong so they not only survive the tattoo world, they survive life, and excel in it and thrive and carry on my tattoo tradition. I try to instill my values and lifestyle in them as much as I can and I do try to generally control their lives, for better or worse, it does work in the end.
If anyone thinks that’s too much… well then don’t come be my apprentice, simple as that. Both of them are here by choice, they came to me. I am not going to just give away a lifetime of secrets and knowledge to someone unworthy or ungrateful that cannot commit as I have to this life. Giving someone tattooing is giving them LIFE in a matchbox as my old friend used to say, its not just a job or a craft or a career.. it’s a way of life until you die situation. Hence, my Deshi must commit their lives and souls to me as I have done to my masters’ prior to gain this knowledge.
There is no such thing as a typical or normal tattoo apprenticeship anywhere, the western structure is different from the eastern structure and then there is my way. The relationship I have with each Deshi is different and each apprenticeship will play out different. I am not normal by any stretch of the imagination so normalcy can’t be expected.
This is my life and what I am committed to, this is who I am, and to do this with me they need to give me their all. Its not a 9-5 job or Monday to Friday gig. Its 24/7 365 forever.
The mentors that were the toughest on me, that I hated with a passion at the time are the ones I most revere and love the most now, they were tough for a reason, it was love, its not easy being hard on someone, I don’t enjoy it, I love my people, but they must learn the right way and I suffer with them when I teach them and are hard on them.
Time will prove me right, as neither of my Deshi are tattooing yet, one is just getting ready to start learning after a year of being shop assistant and the other is only 3 months in and still on probation. Touchy feely doesn’t make good teaching, hard and tough does and the ones that stick with me, stay the course and do as I say will be great tattoo artists in their own right and belong to something bigger than themselves and have a great future ahead!
All or nothing is the only way to success.