I have always found difficult to clearly articulate the connection and the benefits of an integrated training between Shodo practice and Budo (martial arts). I have found the reason to be simply because it’s a matter of feeling the connection, not understanding it. The first thing many students of Shodo realize is that they become more sensitive to their movements. Handling a brush saturated with ink requires great sensitivity. After years of Shodo practice, we can transfer the expansion of awareness and thoughtfulness developed with the brush to everyday life activities with ease.
Often during martial training, we concentrate on physical techniques to seize our opponents. If our training remains there, then all we have is physical power, which in time, as we age, only weakens and serve us no more.
For our training to have meaning and purpose it needs to transcend from physical practice into spiritual. There are numerous ways beyond physical practice for the martial artist to forge the spirit. Meditation is the most common one. Shodo is another one, although less common. Shodo can serve as brush meditation: expression of our mind through writing. Art will outlive us. It is with art that we demonstrate our true state of mind. It is with art that we fight our inner conflicts. It is through art that we become sensitive.
Shodo means “The Way of the Brush.” The kanji DO, 道, is also the TAO in Chinese, or a quest. It is the word DO that makes Shodo a path to enlightenment.
The tools for the journey to enlightenment are the brush, ink, and paper. Using the brush for meditation is a way of connecting it with your mind and body. With the brush, you make a picture, and that picture is a reflection of your mind. The word DO serves a similar purpose in the word Budo, the martial way. BUDO training is not just about knowing how to fight; it is about dealing with transcendence. Conflict, war, and violence are real ways to come face to face with transcendence, but this is not the only way we can be enlightened about life and death. Life and death are single. We only have one life and one death, so how can we experience this as one and resolve this duality?
To practice Shodo one must first study and understand the basics of Kanji writing. Composition, posture, balance, rhythm, and proper handling of the brush are elements not to be over-sighted. Our self-expression can only appear as a masterpiece if adequate writing is mastered first. The true artistic expression can only be accomplished by learning basic foundation. This is true for many things in life: martial arts, painting, cooking, photography, etc.
There is no room for correction; once the line is drawn, it is there forever. Once the brush, filled with ink and KI (spirit) touches the paper, the moment is captured as is. Good calligraphy will reflect our concentration, calmness, and power. Sloppy calligraphy will reflect a busy mind, hesitation, stiffness, and shallowness. The pressure that comes with knowing you only have one chance can be both empowering and demolishing. The duality of life and deaths resolves at this very moment where the only way to express yourself with the brush in hand is to become one with the brush. You and the brush are the same things at this moment while creating lines. Once you drew the line the moment cease to exist yet, it lasts forever. The sensitivity gained through this experience is what makes Shodo nurture martial training. It is the practice that can help the most to raise awareness, whether big or small, of our movements, emotions, and character.
The easiest way to conceptually understand the connection between Shodo and Budo is by first understanding the meaning of the word DO. However, to transcend beyond conceptual understanding we must physically and spiritually experience it.