Someone emailed me a few days ago asking if Shodo Essentials (the new updated version of Intro to Japanese Calligraphy Online Course) was a good fit for him. He explained he was taking lessons from a local teacher and was wondering if he was better suited for my Advanced Course.
This is a legitimate question and one I get asked quite often. My goal with creating this online courses is to provide the opportunity to learn Japanese Calligraphy to those who can’t find a teacher nearby. However, what was interesting about this case specifically was that he didn’t know whether he knew enough basics stuff to move on to the Advanced Course. The natural response to this question is to ask: How long have you been practicing?
He had taken 8 lessons in the span of 4 months.
Naturally, my first reaction was “no way”. 8 Lessons? You’re barely scratching the surface of the basics. I had more questions: How long are the lessons? One hour? Two hours? When I teach my workshops students receive 6 hours of instruction. How often do you practice in between lessons? Once a week? Twice a week? Daily?
The truth is that it really doesn’t matter how many lessons he’d taken, or how many times he meets with his teacher. What matters is how often he is practicing. If he is practicing daily, I would say he must have a good grasp on the basic principles, even if it’s only been 4 months.
Last month I, along with a bunch of students, participated in a 30 day challenge that I called 30 Days of Shodo. The goal of this challenge was to brush at least one kanji everyday in April. Challenges like this are great to fuel inject some vitality into your practice. If you find yourself practicing irregularly, constantly finding excuses not, committing to a daily practice challenge is a great way to break those mental barriers and simply do it.
I wanted this to be the goal. I didn’t want students to worry about whether their calligraphy was good or bad. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad– that’s subjective anyways. What matters is that you do it, every day, no matter what. However, secretly I wanted them not to worry about it because inevitably as the month went by, and their daily practice continued, their calligraphy got better and better. It is only natural.
Daily practice is not easy. It wasn’t easy for me last month. Some days I felt inspired and I enjoyed brushing. Other days, it felt like a shore and I wasn’t into it. Some days I brushed for a few hours, on others I procrastinated and found myself rushing late at night trying to get it done. In the beginning my brushwork was rough and stiff. As days went by my brushwork was getting smoother and showing more finesse with each stoke. It’s all a mental game. It was easier towards the end of the month where the activity of sitting down to brush everyday had turned into routine. It was part of my day and it got taken care of along with everything else I do daily.
This attitude of daily practice can be applied to anything you do. Do you write, paint, draw, run, practice martial arts, sit in meditation, or cook? If you want to really really really get good at it, you have to do it daily.
Our next 30 Days of Shodo challenge is scheduled for August. Yep, right in the middle of the summer where you’re probably rather spent time vacationing, swimming at the beach, grilling outside, and relaxing. Daily practice is more meaningful when there are other obstacles and distractions, because that’s really when you feel it in your bones and it becomes part of who you are.
The timing of the next challenge is great too because Shodo Essentials opens for enrollment in the next few weeks, so all the new students who enroll will have two months of study before jumping on the challenge, if they choose to do it.
I did an Aikido seminar last weekend; three days and 12 hours of training. Germanov Sensei, the instructor who led the training, kept saying “never give up”. And that became the theme of the seminar. If you do something, anything, consistently everyday, it will change your life.