Thursday, August 31, 2017

Available Books for the student of Shodo

These books were written and illustrated by myself and provide examples for the new/experienced student to utilize for practice/learning examples of the various Brush Calligraphy subjects.

These books can be found and purchased at     (4 - 8 day average delivery time)   

Monday, January 16, 2017

The “Dot” Debacle

  I recently had a (“newer”) brush calligraphy student object, if not “protest” over my critique of their use of the same “dot” (exclusively) within several different kanji, and often when utilized multiple times within a kanji that contains multiple versions of the “Dot” strokes. Knowing the individual's inclination to “short-cut” (anything) whenever they can, I wasn't surprised by their outcry, only disappointed that I had failed to convey the principle sufficiently to them with my tutelage.
  I believe this student is additionally a “victim” of the (majority of) brushed “Chinese” kanji dictionary's that I have encountered (and own). I'm aware that they have one as well (and regularly utilize it). The majority of “Chinese” kanji dictionaries that I've seen, are inclined to (only) utilize “1” type/style of “dot” in their kanji reproduction. In regards to “reading” the kanji, it makes no difference. But in regards to Shodo, (aesthetically), it does. It needs to be remembered (and was pointed out to the student), that the practice of “Shodo”, is a visual art/practice.
  The recognized Shodo master's of the past (and present) provide unique variances to their individual pieces. The style I teach is that of the Nihon Shuji (Japanese Calligraphy Association), within their style of brushing, they teach 8 (variations of) “Dot's to utilize within the Japanese kanji. It (soon) becomes apparent, that within those kanji that have “multiple” dot's, each of those utilized are different.
  The inclusion of those “different” Dot's, is what adds to the uniqueness of the individual kanji. It also aid's in maintaining the student's focus while brushing the kanji. It's easy for the student to become obsessed with the longer strokes (which do warrant attention), but the dot's can (often) “make or break” the final version of the produced kanji. Dot's can add personality to the piece and convey the desired attitude (of/for the brushed kanji), depending on “how” those dot's are brushed (thick/thin/angled/curved, etc.).
  When every “dot” is reproduced in the “same” manner, that task is more difficult (and gives the produced kanji, a “manufactured” look). The Japanese have an affinity for “Nature” (and those things that at least “appear” to be naturally occurring). “Uniformity”, is a manufactured result (it rarely occurs in nature). This could be why the Japanese (prefer?) that different dot's be used? Regardless, the utilized Tehon (clearly) example those dot's within them, a student should not make an “assumption” that the dot's utilized are all brushed in the same manner. A large part of a student's practice, is learning to recognize variations in the exampled strokes. The dot's are as important as the longer pulled strokes.
“Dot's” utilized in the Nihon Shuji style of Brush Calligraphy:

 The Mother Dot

 The Profile Dot

The Dragon's Claw (Dot)

 The Apricot Seed (Dot)

 The Plum Stone (Dot)

 The Turtle's Head (Dot)

 The Hatchi Contraction
(This is a combination of variation's for the Dragon's Claw & the Profile Dot's)

  The following combinations are not "official" Dot's, but are commonly encountered within numerous kanji.

 Radical 10 (at bottom of a kanji)

 Radical 12 (at top of a kanji)

 Radical 85 (on Left side of Kanji)

 Radical 86 (at bottom of kanji)
 As can be seen, the dot's utilized "could" have been brushed alike, but the variation adds to the kanji (which they are utilized within when used in this combination).

 These are the 2 "Whips" taught within the Nihon Shuji Strokes.
The upper one is used in one of the examples above, the lower one is seen in numerous kanji.

 This Left Sweep is also "not" (officially) a "Dot", though it is often utilized in a similar fashion to one, as seen above.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Product Review 2

Plastic Suzuri

If your looking for a non ("less")- breakable Suzuri (ink well) that can be utilized for grinding ink "sticks" as well, I and several students have been utilizing suzrui similar to one shown here. They are 2-sided, one for "bottled" ink (though either could obviously be utilized) and one for "grinding" an ink stick (as done with the "stone" versions). These are pretty inexpensive ("cheap") at $6-$10 dollars,  and seem to be working very well.
 Being that they are pretty durable, one doesn't have to be as concerned about dropping them (and then having them "break"!!!). they are the "standard" size of (approx.) 3" X 5" (+/-).

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Western (American/European) Name Conversion to Kanji Character's

Western (American/European) Name Conversion to Kanji Character's

  This collection is being presented in the expectation of making the conversion of Western names (sounds) being translated to Japanese Katakana an easier process.This is most commonly done for the purpose of creating "seal stones" (names carved upon soft-stone seals, most commonly for validation purposes and are very popular for use upon "Martial Arts" certificates). 

  Though (initially) not a particularly difficult task, if/when one wants to then match similar sounding Kanji to that task, it can become very time consuming (and often with numerous options being presented). The purpose of this blog, is to (attempt to) make that process easier (though probably not any simpler, LOL).

  It is our hope, that the user has the basic understanding that Japanese kana (the “katakana” in this case) have only “1” way/manner that they can each be pronounced (unlike English, which has several for each). There are certain modifier's that can be added to those kanji to produce “unusual” (at least to the Japanese) sounds.

There are 5 (basic) Japanese vowel sounds,
A , which is the “Ah” sound as in fAther
I , which produces the long “E” sound as in unIque
U , which is “U” as when used in rUde
E , which is the “A” sound in yEt
O , which is the “Oh” sound in hOpe
Just remember, “ah, ee, uo, aa, oh”. They won't change.
These sounds are then combined with the other letters (except for “L”, and “V”, the Japanese don't use them at all, or ever in Japanese).
When viewing the “Katakana Chart”, it's easy to see how their words are structured.
A, I, U, E, O.....
NA, NI, NU, NE, NO, ...etc.
  The most common difficulty everyone has, is with the fact that they don't have “CI” or “SI”, and they don't have “TU” or “HU”. “CI” is replaced with “CHI” “SI” is replaced with “Shi”, and “TU” is replaced with “TSU” and “HU” is replaced with “FU”.
There were several others that were eliminated years ago (as in many).
 Hence they're not used at all today, except in foreign (to Japan) words. These were the WI, WU, WE combinations, as well as the YI and YE sounds. When speaking English, it's easy to mistakenly default to the CI, SI, TU and HU combinations, remember to not use them, and change to the Japanese CHI, SHI, TSU and FU. TSU and FU are also pronounced differently (than in English). TSU is spoken as (if) you were to place the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth (behind the teeth), then say “Sue”. FU is pronounced by using only the lips (no teeth on the lower lip) as if/when blowing air through a straw. This makes for some odd sounding translations (initially), but a Japanese speaker would recognize/understand them. Note also that “WO” is pronounced “O” (when reading Japanese). The “W” is pretty much silent.
  One needs to keep in mind, that when writing someone's name in Japanese, you do so with the intention that if/when someone who is Japanese, will be able to read/translate it to sound correct to you (when that person reads it aloud).
  The most common mistake, is “assuming” that everyone's name is written the same way (as in English). Depending on how the individual person prefers their name to sound/be pronounced is what will determine how it should be written (in katakana).
  When sounding out the person's name (for translation purposes), Speak the name in the manner they wish it to sound. It can be a mistake to (slowly) break the name into individual vowel sounds that are slowly spoken. As example, I use my own name...”Tony”. This is a simple (enough) name to say, and translate. It consists of 2 syllables (“To”, and “NI”), Yet when written/translated into Japanese, most individual's (Japanese and American, both) commonly screw it up. They sound it out (aloud) and slowly and think “Tooo”, and “NIIIIII”. This becomes written as “ToooooNIIIIII” (this is not how I say my name! LOL). My name is written as “TooNI” (with no more elongation than necessary).
  When converting a Western name to kana (katakana), there are often several ways it can be written. There are NO (absolute) Right or Wrong ways to do it. Just remember that it is based upon the “sound” of the name. You (presumably) would prefer it to sound as close to how you would say it as is possible. Naturally, for certain names that contain sounds that the Japanese language doesn't utilize, this becomes tricky (some compromises have to be accepted).
  This is hardly a Life or Death issue, (but it distinguishes the professionals from the amateurs as well). I view it as if I wrote your name as “boob” (instead of “bob”). It sounds “close”, so I don't know why you would mind if I just called you “boob” all the time (would you?). And of course anyone else that was able to read the katakana, would also consider/call you “boob” as well (it's close enough, right?).
  When translating a name to katakana, the sounds are usually (pretty) straight forward (to match to the corresponding kana). It's only when you encounter names that have sounds (within them) that are difficult to simulate with the kana that the task becomes difficult.

  If/When converting a Western name to kanji (for use upon a name seal), the task is (usually) more time consuming.
When creating a name seal, it isn't necessary to include/utilize any of the elongation “symbols” that are being used to brush the name when writing in katakana (on the seal stone itself). This is different than when writing the name out in katakana. A name seal is usually “stamped” directly upon, or immediately following the brushed katakana that is used for the name (as “validation”).
*note, Katakana is rarely (if ever) used for making a “name” seal stone, it's considered "tacky" and amateur.
  Once the subjects name is written out phonetically, you can then list (all of) the kanji that match each of those vowel sounds. Some names can have pages of options available, and some will only correspond to a few (those are the more difficult to create).
  Once this is done, the “trick”, is to match the correct sounding kanji (together) to sound similar to a sentence, poem or Haiku. This can be descriptive of the individual, or even of/for their desires or interests. The creation of a name seal can be very “artistic” (or even sarcastic, LOL).   There are no “set rules” (when it comes to creating a “name seal”). The more “individualistic”, the better. Some like them to be simple, and some like them to be so subtle that only a very few would even understand the translation, it's up to that person as to what it will be.
  Examples can become quite elaborate, “Man who travels the world and carves Dragon bones”, it obviously takes (a Westerner, LOL) a fair amount of time to combine the correct kanji (sounds) to create something like this, but if/when one has the time, it can become quite entertaining.
  Once the acceptable kanji has been determined, you then need to establish the Tensho version of the chosen kanji (Tensho is the standard style of kanji utilized for name seals). If/when the seal is for a school/dojo, the task is usually simpler (simply look up the desired Tensho version of the kanji that are utilized in the name of the school). Various Tensho dictionary's are available for just this purpose.
  With this information, you can either carve the (reversed) Tensho kanji onto the seal, or have it done for you (through numerous sites on the internet that do so for a fee). The majority of sites also sell the seal stones, which you will have to choose (size/shape is only by personal preference, there is no set size. Shape, Style that is mandated for any of the types of seals). Charges, are usually made by number of kanji required (ie. long names can get very expensive, LOL).
  Blank Seal stones can be purchased for varying amounts, and in (equally) varying sizes. For a “name” seal stone, the size is usually kept under 2” square (which is fairly large for a name seal). The more common (in Japan) are under ¾” (square), they also tend to have shorter names. There are varying rules depending upon the specific use, establishment and city that one will/can use a name seal. Theft of a (registered) seal is roughly equivalent to stealing a credit card, though it technically has no monetary value.
  In the West (U.S.A.), the use of a seal stone is more commonly (if not “only”) seen upon “Martial Arts” certificates (in conjunction with the instructors/presenter's name, also written in katakana). It's really a matter of personal “taste”, but excessively large Name seals give the appearance of (inflated) “ego”.
  If/When making a seal stone for a school or organization, this size restriction doesn't really apply. Stamps are often used as validation of a certificate and are commonly “over” sized (4” X 4” +). When used for “Martial Arts” purposes, the association/school seal provides validation that the certificate was issued by that organization/school. There are commonly 3 (or more) “official” seals that are utilized for this purpose. 


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Product Review


"Rewritable" (practice) Paper

 One of the newer trends in brush calligraphy, is using rewritable practice paper. I've recently purchased some examples of these (in various sizes) and (so far) they're kind of "fun" to practice with. They certainly are more convenient to use for practice, they have a lower potential for making "messes" and they don't "use up" valuable materials ("paper, ink"). 
 In the past, I've had students use the small (and inexpensive) "chalk-boards" for temporary/repetitive brush practice. The major drawback to "that" method, was the reflection of "Paper/Ink" interaction (they were different between the two, which could lead to a false sense of ability with the "chalk-board" method).

 The paper is utilized by "wetting" the brush (similar to "inking", but it's an acquired knowledge, much like learning how much ink to use. The differences in consistency between the two mediums is easily learned though, and shouldn't be a concern), Then using just as with ink upon the paper.
 The paper doesn't tend to "bleed" too badly at all (which I admit was my initial concern). Drying/recovery time will be dependent upon the level of Humidity present where your at. I live in the Midwest (Kansas city, Missouri), it's the middle of winter (15 degrees outside) and we don't own a humidifier. Drying time is (on average) about 10 to 15 minutes. 
 Considering the savings in material (alone), I feel this is an acceptable "inconvenience". If your looking to practice the basic "strokes" (or even complete "kanji") I think this medium is definitly worth the (minor) investment.
 The "average" cost (via "E-bay") is (presently) around $10 for 10 of the smaller "sheets" (approx. 10" X 15") or a single Large sheet for $20 (approx.17" X 28"). The prices vary (I've seen them as high as $75 for the large one), but "shop" around, there are numerous people selling them. 

 There are also sheets for practicing the various "strokes" (I have one of those as well), but (IMO) they aren't very good "examples" and would instill bad practice habits through their use. "I" don't recommend them. 
 You won't be able to use your "regular" brush(es) on the paper though, as residual "ink" (in your brush) will permanently mark the practice paper. They are intended to only have WATER utilized on them. They (often) come with a brush that can be used (and obviously hasn't been used with "ink"). Though not of the best quality, they will serve the purpose. If you don't care to use the supplied brush, you can use your own (NEW) brush, just remember to not use it for your "inked" projects, LOL (unless you don't plan to use it upon the "rewritable" paper anymore). 
 I also acquired one of the "scroll" practice sheets, again, I don't care for the examples, but they do offer the ability to practice a consistent "size" and placement for a (horizontal)"scroll". The characters are approx. 1-1/2" and there are about 8 kanji/column and approx. 20 columns. The entire sheet is approx. 18" X 48". Though "they" recommend the use of a "small" brush, I had no difficultly brushing them with the larger (2-1/2") brush. (I can guarantee you that you won't be able to brush the complete sheet, before the first one's are dry, LOL). 
 Over all, though the "feel" is not exactly like that of using "ink" on paper, for practice/learning purposes, I think these are something that should be investigated, and determined if they would serve your practice purposes. The "cost" is cheap enough, that you shouldn't get hurt (too badly, LOL) even if they aren't for you.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Kanji Example Requests

Having been presented with numerous requests for "Martial Arts" kanji, I'm presenting some of those requests here.

 Atemi Kaisho                              Atemi Sosho

 Dan Kaisho/Sosho                         Kyu Kaisho/Sosho

Kyusho  Kaisho                                 Kyusho  Sosho

       Seito Kaisho                                                        Seito Sosho



      Sensei Kaisho                                                Sensei Sosho

 If anyone is curious about any others, let me know (It's just good practice for me, LOL).


Monday, April 22, 2013

Stroke to technique relation

 As I have mentioned previously, Shodo has numerous relationships to the practice of “Te”. The first example I usually “point out” is the stroke for “Ichi” (“one”). The stroke begins with the “mother dot” (set at it's usual 45° angle) moves to the right in a slight arc, ending slightly higher than it started, and finishes with an “ending” dot (again, at the 45°angle).
 This motion is performed just like a “milking” punch motion is done in Taika Oyata's version of “Te”. The motion begins with the hand positioned at an approx. 45° angle (in front of the hip, to the front side of the torso). The hand moves forward with a slight rise, until it makes “contact”, at that point the “fist” makes a slight “milking” action, akin to the wrist motion made when using the bokken (wooden sword).
 In Taika's book, “Te No Michi”, Taika makes reference to a technique (which he was told, by one of his instructors to “figure out”). Taika states that he was able to determine the correct technique execution by/from the “kanji” (the “written” name of the technique). He unfortunately, doesn't name the technique (or the kanji Which, “I” really wish he would have,..sigh..). Also, now names are often “made up” (just for a reference) by various instructors because, Taika doesn't give/have any “official” names for Techniques.
 At present, I'm working on “Sosho”(fully cursive) brush writing (less than 20% of Japanese can even read it, much less write it! LOL) It can be a challenge just finding examples (of a particular kanji). I fortunately have a “decent” amount of example books I can refer to. I was practicing “Te” (hand) in Sosho, and as I did the “strokes” it reminded me of one of the combination motions we teach. During a class (later) I had my partner throw a “face” punch, and executed the motions I had been practicing (with a brush) and it “worked” (it was already very close to “how” we do the motion anyhow). Although it was “interesting”, was it a “correct” technique? I don't really know. It worked, so I would have to say “yes”, but can it be replicated with any other “Kanji” (shrug?).   It may have been simple coincidence. But I do think it may be something (if nothing else, than for personal amusement) to explore.
 Anyone, can “relate” what-ever they do (carpentry, football, golf, painting) to Martial Arts practice. This (particular) “art” or “way” (shodo) has plenty of Martial Ways” (Iaido, Kendo, Shodo “obviously”) that use it as a “supplemental” art, to aid in the various individual “ways”. It teaches the breathing method that is prevalent in all of them. It teaches the “concept” of being “fluid” and relaxed (during execution). It teaches the Idea of “using the body” for motion (from the “hara” or “center”). It develops concentration and of course the concept of “doing something correct the first time” (as it's your only opportunity). For myself, it also offers “me” an escape from all the “hassles/frustrations” in my life. If for some reason, I'm not able to “empty my cup” LOL, before I begin to practice, it definitely shows (in my “failed” or “poor” calligraphy attempts).
 (As an interesting note, “Handwriting analysis” actually began in the “far east”, with brush writing. When one brushes kanji, the “mood” of the writer is VERY apparent. Which is why Copying any of the writings of the “masters”, be it of calligraphy, martial arts, etc. is so popular. If one can reproduce the style of the “master” [of what-ever] then the individual can possibly capture the “spirit/mood” of those masters or at least, so the thought goes).

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Martial Arts/Calligraphy “Connection”

 I am often asked “what possible connection is there between calligraphy, and martial arts”? The answer (simply) is one pertaining to fluidity. When one is performing a martial art (regardless of the system), it becomes essential to do so in a fluid manner. As I have observed many students (in many systems), the commonality between those whom do so correctly, and those who do so naturally, (usually) is with those who move without (obviously) working (to perform the actions).
 There are numerous methods which one could employ to accomplish this ability (“tai-chi”, meditation, etc). I prefer, and teach, the practice of “Shodo” (Brush calligraphy). When one studies Shodo, you learn to coordinate breathing, posture and task, to accomplish an end result (just as with any martial art). I study/teach “Te”, the methodology I teach is “rife” with nuances that distinguish it from other similar systems. The practice of Shodo also emphasizes (many of) the same characteristics as when performing the execution of the “moves/techniques” associated with Te. 
 As the student of Shodo executes a stroke, they will exhale. They take a short inward breath before beginning the stroke, then exhale slowly while the brush is in use (moving), and “end” the breath (exhalation) slightly after the stroke is completed. With experience, this is expanded to encompass a whole kanji, or even a group of kanji, just as with a movement/technique in the practice of Te. 
 This method (of breathing) is a prevalent teaching in most all martial art systems, and if, that was all there was to it, this dissertation would be complete. But this manner of breathing, needs to be coordinated with the proper execution of a desired action, be it with a stroke in Shodo, or a strike in Te.

 Using a Punch, as an example, the user begins with the hand at one's side. Taking a short, quick breath, The hand is then brought upward, moving forward (towards the intended target) and forms into loose fist (while en-route). While doing this, the user is exhaling (in a controlled fashion). As “contact” is made with the intended target (striking with the first two knuckles of the “loose” fist) the hand performs the “milking” action (as is done when practicing with the bokken, if this is the only intended action) the user will complete the exhalation of their “breath” while tightening the abdominal muscles. The hand then leaves the target and precedes to the next preemptive position, with the user replenishing their “breath” in anticipation of the next strike. 
 In comparison, when the user begins to brush the kanji for “ichi”(one), the subject takes a short breath, places the brush upon the paper and creates a mother-dot (beginning the controlled exhalation of the breath that was taken), the brush is raised slightly, and begins the arching stroke to the right (this stroke rises slightly, then settles again towards the finishing position). As the ending position is reached, the user raises the brush (leaving only the “tip” in contact with the paper) and then re-“settles” the brush to finish the stroke with a “mother-dot” (ending the exhalation of breath). The brush is then raised to a position of preparation for the next stroke. 
 Though not mentioned, both of the above descriptions require body-motion, in unison with their execution. Regardless of which is being explained (or described) the performance of either requires these “body motions” to be done in unison with the described actions. “Te”, is done as a whole body motion, as is Shodo
 Many people will dispute the need of Shodo practice, and it could be argued as a valid point. It is not my intention to imply that it (Shodo) is a “necessary” ingredient to the practice of Te. My only contention is that it can be (and “is”) a useful tool in training students to focus on the (many) “fine” points of (their own) technique execution. It also aids (IMO, “greatly”) in the “need” to motion in a “fluid” manner. It is a common practice of “sword” practitioners (namely, “Japanese/Chinese”), to practice copying the brushed works of the “old” masters (Musashi, being one of the most popular) in order to “capture” their “spirit”. Personally, I have always noted Taika's unique style of “brush work”. Taika (most often) “blends” a mixture of “Sosho”(fully cursive) and “Gyosho”(semi-cursive) within his own writing. When examining his brush work, one can (quickly) see the similarities between his (style of) technique execution, and his “brush” writing style.
 Handwriting analysis, or graphology, is the science involved in producing a personality profile of the writer by examining the characteristics, traits and strokes of an individual's handwriting.  This science (and it is, a legitimate “science”)was developed, and is used in Japan by numerous companies when hiring perspective employees (to rate the employee's “potential”). This science is also used by our own FBI for developing “profiles” of different criminal types, to aid in their apprehension. It is believed (and practiced) that by copying the brush style of the older/ancient “masters”(regardless of the implied “skill”), that one can kindle that same “spirit” within one's own manors/abilities. Whether this is true or not, by copying the “style”, one is reforming their own inhibitions/limits that (they, themselves) have restricted in their own development (be it in “technique”, or “personality”). 
 Although it is not my intention, to (exactly, LOL) “re-mold” (the thoughts of) my students, it is my belief, that from the practice of Shodo, one can expand their understanding of the correlation between breath, body motion and desired action. It trains the student to make note of the numerous subtleties of the techniques, and instills a “desire” for perfection, which though being “unattainable”, should none the less, be the “goal”. Shodo provides a “feed-back” model to enable the student to immediately “see” the results of their practice (and a provides a “record” of them).

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


 I've previously listed my “displeasure” with the use of Japanese (terminology) during the instruction of our (or for that matter “any”) martial art. I feel that the majority of instructor's aren't familiar enough with the language to use it, at least correctly (much less the poor student's who don't have a clue what the majority of it means).
 That being said, because I practice “Shodo”, I am approached to create (brushed) certificates for various people/schools in regards to to the creation of those Certificates (for rank, special training etc.) and occasionally for “Seal Stones”.
 The fact that I disagree with the use of Japanese in the instruction of a class, does not mean that I don't think that the brushed version of the language isn't beautiful (when done well). And I happen to think that a brushed certificate just looks cool (I know, I'm a “geek”). Evidently a lot of other people do so as well (hence the reason I'm “hit up” to brush projects for people).
 Whenever I say that I've done those projects (and have mentioned it somewhere), I (inevitably) get letters/comments about how “I” am illegally producing certificates. To begin with, I only produce “certificates” for an individual school (not to replicate any “system's” recognized certificate). There is NO “official” place, association, corporation, committee, group, government entity (blah, blah, blah...) that oversees or dictates who/what/when/where ANY certificate is issued. Within a (any) certain system, they may only recognize a certificate that is issued by their organization. But rarely will anyone else recognize it.  Hence, they can/do make you start over, as a white belt if you begin training with them, often if in the same system(?). So quit trying to make a Big Freakin' Deal out of your certificates.
 The value of a certificate, ONLY amounts to what it means to YOU, and from whom you received it. If someone comes to us (to train), we will recognize their (stated) rank, regardless of whom issued it. Rank requirements vary between schools (even within the same system). The individual's knowledge level will become evident as they train (and if lower than what your system would consider appropriate, they will eventually “catch up” anyhow).
 In regards to the creation of a certificate, there do exist certain criteria (placement of the kanji, signatures, stamps etc.) that need to be met (to look “correct”). There exists (a number of) sites that offer these generic certificates for purchase, and some, do a pretty decent job (“esthetically” speaking). These will range in price from $25, to (over!) $250, which is a little “pricey” (at least to myself), after all, it IS just a piece of paper, with some foreign language “scribbled” on it, LOL.
 At our school, we have Shodo (basic) listed as one of our rank requirements. What's offered (for the belt requirement) will not make the student a skilled calligrapher, but should (at least) have them able to recognize a “cheesy” (or Fake) certificate (which can say a lot about the recipient's training). Granted, a poorly done certificate doesn't mean their training was done equally “poor”, but it does indicate the level of detail considered acceptable by the instructor. (ie. If the certificate is a piece of trash, then the instructor either doesn't care, or isn't knowledgeable enough to know better. There by implying, Is their instruction of the “martial art” that they teach any better?).
 If an instructor doesn't know how to read (or translate) an “issued” certificate, then they should use one that is totally written in English (or what-ever Language that they are fluent in). There's been a few which were offered to me (to use as “examples”) that were simply ridiculous (in their translation). Those, I have had to (completely) re-write, which (in turn), means that I have to present them (to those that requested the document) with what the original had actually “said”, and then provide them with a translation of what “I” had provided to them (so far, no complaints, LOL).
 Although what we (in our school's requirements) offer, will only familiarize the student with the how (to do it) and the what (to look for) in regards to what's correct (or at least “common”). The instruction will none-the-less, provide the student with some basic knowledge as to what and how the kanji should be done.
 If one of our students should wish to pursue further study, I refer them to the Japanese Calligraphy Association, of which I am a member, and a licensed (by that association) instructor. Our hope, is that combined with what we show them, and the personal instruction we provide, they will have an easier time with the lessons they receive from there. All of the association's lessons are in Japanese, with some (limited) English translations provided.
 I was fortunate enough to have an instructor to guide me through the (very) basics (which HELPED immensely). Our instruction will hopefully also provide that basic amount of instruction.
 And No, their certification does not mean anything, to anyone, except to the one “learning” from them. “Endorsement”, “Certification” or “which-ever” terminology you prefer, is “only” relevant to the receiver of that awarded documentation.

Shodo The practice of, and it's correlation to Te

  The practice of Shodo, has many similarities to the practice of Te (in general). Learning to master this art (like any martial art) requires a great deal of practice.
  When I began the practice of Shodo, I had been practicing Martial arts for about 15 years. My first Calligraphy instructor was an individual in Denver Co. I was there working for a few months (during the day), 12hrs/day, 7 days/week. I wasn't one for hanging out at the bars, so I started perusing the local yellow pages and found an Instructor who taught Shodo (and happened to be about 6 blocks away from my apartment).
  He also taught some (sorry to say, lame) version of Kempo (Chinese? I believe). But, that wasn't why I sought his tutelage. He introduced me to official, LOL, instruction in Shodo. (In hind site) he wasn't great, but I did meet an individual (who happened to be a friend of his) who lived in Denver, and had authored (what I consider to be the best book available) an instruction guide on Shodo for the Nihon Shuji Calligraphy Assoc.
  His instructor was actually quite talented, and a pleasure to observe performing with the brush. My instructor wasn't necessarily talented (at that time), but had enough skill to at least to get me on the right beginning path with the brush. He showed me how to ”break-in” a new brush, how to properly clean a brush (and the suzuri) and the basic motions involved with brushing “Ichi”. He aided me with doing some of the Strokes that I was having difficulty with, Proper posture, arm position and breathing while brushing the strokes.
  I studied with him (several months), until I returned home (to K.C.). After returning home, I contacted Nihon Shuji (the N.Y. Branch) and enrolled in their course. Their first lesson entailed me doing a “full” page version of the kanji for Towa (eternity), and a few other kanji (which I returned to them for grading). In a few weeks I received my next lesson, the previous (now graded) lesson and a Ranking (to represent my "kyu-rank" level of learning). I began at 4th kyu (just as in M.A., ranks count down to 1, then go back up in Dan ranks).
  After receiving my Shodan certificate, I additionally received a Menkyo (teaching license) which allowed me to teach beginning strokes, kanji, kana etc. (similar to much of what I had been shown while in Denver). 
  Since that time, I have had numerous students, some good, some “not-so-much”. What surprised me the most I believe, was the Artists who came to me to study. Most were simply wanting to learn “how to write kanji” (I presume for inclusion in art pieces they were doing?). Every one of them quit!
  For some reason, they couldn't handle the brushing techniques involved (?). From talking with artist friends of mine, I was informed that some artists develop their own brushing technique? And don't/won't/can't seem to vary from that method. This of course, makes it very difficult to teach how to do certain strokes (that later are modified when doing the different styles of Japanese brushing). Hence, most of them could only accomplish a very simple form of Kaisho (and it was usually being incorrectly executed, in my opinion).
  My own interest (in relation to “Te”) was the many similarities between the two. In the concepts area they both shared many of the same or similar ideas (in regard to execution). There is an old maxim, that states “One practice, One encounter” (there are several variations, but all are similar). This saying (in regards to a martial art) implies that every practice (training) session, should be treated as the only one you will ever have before you have your own Life and Death encounter. Therefor, one should put their heart and soul into whatever techniques are taught/learned in that “one” training session.
  The same maxim is used in Shodo practice also, in Shodo there is no re-do or touch-up (it can be seen quite clearly if attempted) you only get one opportunity to make the correct strokes. How ever you do them, they are DONE. Therefor, practice is essential to gaining any level of skill even on the most basic strokes/kanji (mistakes, can happen during any stroke). Though perfection is the goal and is obviously an (consistently) unattainable goal, one strives for it while doing Shodo. That is what gives individualism to works of Shodo (as the individual develops their own style. Correct, but different). Some shodoka choose the “Zen(-ny)” look, when trying to be original. More often than not, it only looks “amateurish”. 
Some of the numerous intricacies involved while doing Shodo include the following:
Holding of the brush
The Individual Strokes
Proper Breathing
Proper Brush Pressure
Correct amount of Ink (on the Brush)
Securing the Paper (From motion while brushing)
Spacing of the Kanji
If Seals are used, The Placement of them
These can all be related to the practice of “Te”.

Holding the Brush
The manner which the brush is held, is almost identical to the “Finger-tip” strike. In both, Many techniques must be performed in a precise manner.

The Individual Strokes
Each of the individual strokes can be related to different “strikes/technique” motions.

Proper Breathing
The Breathing techniques that are used with Martial arts are done exactly the same with Shodo. One breathes in through the nose/mouth, and exhale through the throat in conjunction with the motion one is preforming (be it a strike w/MA, or a stroke with Shodo).

Proper Brush pressure
With Shodo, stroke size is most often determined by pressure on the brush (light for thin lines, heavy for thicker lines). With MA strikes, Light contact can cause a reaction (for direction change or reflex response) or with a Heavy strike, which can cause damage.

Correct amount of Ink
Loading the brush with Ink (presumably to complete the whole work (without having to reload) This can be compared to how much energy is expended at various points of an altercation. Some times it's prudent to expend large amounts of energy right at the beginning, but sometimes it entails not exhausting your own energy on “set-ups” (and be too “exhausted/weak/slow” for any necessary follow-ups and/or control technique).

Securing the Paper” (From motion while brushing)
This is similar to securing the aggressor with controlling techniques.

Spacing of the Kanji
This is similar to the “spacing/timing” of techniques with combinations (each varies by techniques and/or situations used, just as spacing can vary by kanji, number of, and work space (paper size).
The Placement of Seals" (If used)
This can be related to the use of “Kyusho” techniques. Correct placement is considered important depending on the “type” of work the piece is and which type of “stamp” is being used.