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).

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