“You make it look so easy,” said a student at a recent workshop after I demonstrated how to brush the eight basic strokes.
“It is,” I replied. After the demonstration I stopped by her table to check her work. She shook her head. “It’s really hard. It looks a lot easier when you do it.”
“Oh, that’s easy!”, said a 7 year old kid when I demonstrated how to make banana spring rolls with sugar and cinnamon this week during Kids College class. When he tried to do it the wrapper ripped and the spring roll fell apart.
Last semester, I demonstrated how to filet a whole salmon during cooking class. “You make it look so easy but I can’t seem to be able to do it,” said a student after he shredded the salmon trying to separate the filet from the spine.
“Keep your eyes on the mat,” I said to a beginner student at the dojo. “Also, keep your right hand behind you so it’s ready to slap the mat. Back leg straight. Don’t jump, just go over your arm. Nage (throwing partner during aikido practice) will support you.” I explained. I then threw myself over my arm to demonstrate a basic break fall.
“It looks easy when you do it,” he said.
It used to bother me when people said that what I was doing looked easy. I thought it devalued my skills. If I can do it, then everyone can do it. Which is true, I’m not special or anything. It was just my ego wanting to feel like I had superpowers. The reality is that it looks easy when I do it not because I’m good, but because I’ve been doing it for a long time.
I’ve been brushing the 8 basic strokes for 10 years. It was hard in the beginning. I went through pounds of newspapers a week practicing. I’ve fillet hundreds of salmon and other kinds of fish during my long checkered career. I’ve been doing Aikido break falls for 20 years. I don’t tell you this to brag, but to make you aware that it just takes time and dedication to be good at anything.
In order for you to be good at anything you need to have two things: ability and willingness.
Ability is the demonstrated knowledge, experience, and skill that you have at performing a task. Knowledge is demonstrated understanding and is acquired by studying. Skill is demonstrated proficiency and is acquired by doing. Experience is demonstrated ability gained from performing and is acquired by years of repetition (Hersey, Blanchard, Johnson, 2008).
When a student says that it looks easy when I take a break fall in Aikido is because I’m showing my abilities to take good ukemi (falls). I studied the techniques and methods of how to take falls properly and safely. I took that knowledge and put it into practice by taking break falls, lots of break falls, every day. After 20 years of break falling I have experience in, you guessed it, break falling.
Willingness is demonstrated confidence, commitment, and motivation. Confidence is believing in your abilities. Commitment is your demonstrated dedication. Motivation is demonstrated desire (Hersey, et.al, 2008).
I’m able to brush a scroll for someone because I believe in my abilities to brush calligraphy (again a combination of knowledge, experience, and skill). I’ve dedicated countless hours to practicing calligraphy to demonstrate that I am committed to Shodo practice. Most importantly, I have the desire to brush calligraphy. This desire is what allows me to brush calligraphy even when I’m not “in the mood”.
Earlier this year I started brushing and carving calligraphy on wood. The first time I cut a piece of wood with a circular saw I was frustrated and angry. It was so hard! The damn cut was not straight and the measurements were off by 1/16 inch. I blame the wood (it’s too soft). I blame the saw (it’s not stable). I blame everything except myself. I had no abilities with a circular saw. I studied how to use a circular saw, but I have neither skill nor experience with it because I had just started woodworking. I realized that in order to be able to do calligraphy on wood, I needed to learn how to make things with wood. Two weeks ago I finished making a cubby bench for the kids. I used the circular saw to cut the plywood for the back of the bench. It fit perfectly. Nothing had changed. It was the same saw and the same time of wood (pine). What changed is that by now I’ve spent months cutting wood with the circular saw and learning how to measure, clamp the wood, and keep a steady hand. I’m no expert at woodworking, far from it. Right now I am at the stage of doing the work in order to acquire skills.
If you’re interested in learning Japanese Calligraphy the first step is acquiring knowledge. You can do this by taking classes, doing a workshop or enrolling in my Intro to Japanese Calligraphy Online Course. The second step is to practice everyday in order to develop skill with the brush. You can do this by participating in some of my daily challenges (I have one coming up in September for my students). The last step is the hardest one because it requires patience. You can’t rush it. If you keep studying and practicing, with time, experience will come.
However, none of this is possible unless you are willing to practice and hone your craft. If you’re lazy, You will always think it’s hard when you do it and easy when someone else does it.