It’s a lot of work and I have an online course, so why go through all the trouble?
When I first wanted to learn Japanese Calligraphy, I didn’t now where to start. So I bought a book and figured I could teach myself. This was the late 90’s– the internet was not as useful as it is today. I read the book, followed all the instructions and exercises but my calligraphy didn’t look like the ones in the book. “I need more practice”, I said to myself but 10 years later it still looked the same.
Then, one day I decided to learn from someone. Books were not cutting it. I searched for classes, workshops, seminars, anything, but found nothing nearby. Unless you live in a big city with Japanese or Chinese communities, chances are there aren’t anybody teaching Japanese Calligraphy near where you live.
I found a Japanese lady who lived not far from me willing to teach me. She said “come to my house once a week for 2 hours”. I did. Everything I learned from books made sense now, and within a week or two my calligraphy took off; like a switch had been turned on.
When I put myself online people bought my calligraphy, but more people were interested in learning Japanese Calligraphy. People kept asking, do you teach classes?
So I decided to teach a workshop. I set a date, months in advanced, and started to plan for it; not realizing how much work it’d take.
These are just a few of the many things I have to do every time I teach a workshop:
– Find a venue. My ultimate goal is to eventually have a retail space for the studio (and and a dojo) where I can have ongoing classes and workshops. Right now my studio is too small to host more than 2 people, so I’m always in need of space. I’m lucky to train at Zenshinkan Dojo where we have a classroom space. I’ve taught two workshops there and it’s perfect. I taught one workshop at a church where they had a conference room– that was nice too.
– Registration. I modeled my calligraphy workshops after Aikido seminars. Two three hour sessions with a lunch break. One thing I did not want to emulate from Aikido seminars was having people register at the door. Aikido seminars push pre-registrations with discounts and other perks. I never pre-registered. It’s just easier to walk in and pay at the desk. However, this would be extremely difficult for a calligraphy workshop, because in order to make sure I have enough space and materials for everyone I have to know in advance how many people are coming. Online registration is critical. I sued Ticket Leap for my first workshop, a service that lets you sell tickets for an event. It was ok, but now I can have people register directly through my website.
– Speaking of materials, I need to have brushes, ink, paper, felt mats, newspapers, handouts, among other things to teach the class. Students are encouraged to bring their own materials, but I like to provide them also in case there is someone who is a complete beginner.
– Set up and clean up time. The workshop is 6 hours, but I need to add another half hour before for set up and another half hour after for clean up.
– Advertising. I will not have any students attend unless I promote the workshop and let everyone know I’m teaching one. Advertising include YouTube videos, Facebook Posts and Ads, emails, articles, and other social media advertising. I do all advertising myself and is quite time consuming and sometimes it does feel like a chore.
All of this was really time consuming and difficult the first time around, but the more I teach workshops, the easier it gets. I’ve already implemented systems and methods I use for every workshop that streamlines the process. I can focus on the student’s experience and outcome.
So again, why go through all the trouble?
I know in my bones the benefits of Shodo practice. I know how it has affected my life and benefitted my spirit, as well as my Aikido and Zen practice. And I want to pass on that knowledge so other people can benefit from it too.
Teaching a workshop allows me to:
– Meet students face to face and have a personal relationship with them.
– Provide feedback and teachings to students right in the moment when they are brushing, offering a direct mind transmission, while (literally) guiding their hands across the paper.
– Make myself available to questions and be able to answer those verbally right in the moment , instead via email.
– Demonstrate in front of the students. One thing that really helped me grasp the techniques of Shodo was watching Maki Sensei brushed in front me. While videos are great, and one can learn a lot via videos, nothing compares to watching your teacher brush live in front of you.
– Build a community. My online course has built a wonderful international community. This is something that would’ve not been possible just a few years ago. However, a live workshop develops a community that’s personal and meaningful.
– Students don’t learn by themselves. I believe learning in a group setting is extremely rewarding. You can feel inspired by each other’s work while motivating and challenging each other. It was wonderful going to Maki Sensei’s house and have private lessons, but it was also quite lonely. I wish there were other students learning with me to share the experience.
Shodo Essentials was last May and I plan on teaching more live workshops in the future. My next Basic Japanese Calligraphy Class will take place on Saturday October 14th, 2017 at Zenshinkan Dojo in Worcester, MA. Last year I made the difficult decision to take less commission work (a major revenue stream for the studio) to focus more on teaching. It was a step towards the goal of transforming Gohitsu from a virtual studio to a physical one.