In Shodo, or Japanese Calligraphy, there are three writing styles: KAISHO, GYŌSHO, and SŌSHO.
KAISHO – 楷書 – BLOCK STYLE
The first style you should study is called KAISHO or “block style”. This is a formal style of brushing Kanji. The strokes’ order are to be followed rigidly and diligently. Composition and proportions are to be carefully studied and executed. Each stroke must be brushed precisely– the beginning and the end of the brush must mark one’s emotions of that exact moment. Because of this, KAISHO is the foundation to the other less formal styles of writing.
GYŌSHO – 行書 – SEMI CURSIVE STYLE
The second style, and probably the most popular, is GYŌSHO, literally meaning “moving style. The Kanji GYŌ (行) means “to move” or “to go”. Kanji brushed in this style must have a sense of motion, continuity and fluidity. The emotion and feeling of each stroke must continue onto the next. This style is less strict and formulaic than KAISHO, therefore brush strokes order, shape, and composition can be slightly altered by the artist to match his/her own creative style.
SŌSHO – 草書 – CURSIVE STYLE
The third style is called SŌSHO. The Kanji SŌ (草) means grass. Kanji brushed in this style must have the feeling of wind blowing grass. However, because of its cursive nature and simplicity this style is used mostly in abstract works of art. Kanji with as many as 10 strokes can be simplified to just one or two strokes, making this style of writing illegible to many. Only those with a trained eye in calligraphy may be able to read it. Kanji brushed in SŌSHO may appear simple and easy to do. However that is not the case. This is the most difficult style to brush. Thorough mastery of KAISHO must be achieved before attempting to brush SŌSHO, otherwise the desired effect cannot be achieved and the calligraphy will look like mere swirled lines on paper without depth and emotions.
In Zen, especially in the practice of HITSUZENDO, GYŌSHO and SŌSHO styles are preferred. This is because in Zen art, it is more important to transmit one’s KI, energy, and feeling of what one wishes to say in order to become one with what you create. This is not to say, however, that technique should be disregarded and that good calligraphy will happen through mere inspiration. Without proper technique and understanding of the foundations and principles of writing, good art cannot be created.