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.