Tuesday, April 9, 2013

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.

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