“In Zen art, technique cannot be entirely disregarded, nor is it possible to rely exclusively on inspiration. Practitioners may understand Zen well, but if they have not been trained in calligraphy and painting they will not be able to produce a work of art on the first attempt. We would not expect even the most brilliant Zen master to pilot a jet plane without proper instruction; if knowledge of the necessary techniques is missing such things cannot be done, no matter how enlightened a person may be.”
Omori Sogen “ZEN and the art of calligraphy”
When I started practicing Japanese Calligraphy in 1998, I had no formal training whatsoever. I didn’t know anything about how to write Kanji.
I just felt inspired.
I had been training in Aikidō for 3 years, was ranked 3rd kyu, had just finished a Kenshusei program under Toyoda Shihan, and had a calligraphy by him in my hands. I thought I had what it took to brush calligraphy. I bought a few supplies and started brushing.
The truth of the matter was that my calligraphy sucked. And it sucked for another 10 years. I kept practicing. I was self taught — learning from reading books and looking at other works by famous calligraphers and Zen masters. It wasn’t until the day I decided to find a teacher that my practice really became meaningful.
When I was learning calligraphy under Maki Sensei, she never taught me any secrets. She never taught me any magical way to hold the brush. There wasn’t any deep philosophy discussed, neither she spoke about how calligraphy would give meaning to my life. All she did was drill on me the basics of how to brush Kanji characters.
Composition. Rules of writing. Proper posture. Technique.
I immediately saw a huge change in my calligraphy. I always had good spirit in my work, I was indeed a martial artist and zen practitioner so my work wasn’t totally stale, but now my calligraphy was getting depth, emotion, and it was meaningful. It wasn’t mere swirled lines on paper.
Like Omori Sogen says in his book, inspiration alone won’t take you anywhere. You need to learn proper form and technique in order to produce good work. The Zen masters who were also masters of calligraphy, like Omori Sogen, Yamaoka Tesshu, and Yamada Mumon, were also trained in calligraphy and writing. Technique combined with their Zen inspiration is what makes their art so magnificent and grand.
Finding a teacher can be very difficult especially outside of Japan. That is why I started GOHITSU Shodo Studio. I realized that while I was lucky to find a teacher, though really hard to do, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t because of her. With the benefits of the online world these days I knew this was the way to reach many people, who are in the same position I was, and offer them help.
To take this to the next level I have also decided to teach an Intro to Japanese Calligraphy Workshop this fall. This way I can really transmit to you what I learned from Maki Sensei and all the years after honing my skills. You can click here to read more about the workshop.
In the image below you can see the calligraphy of KENSHŌ. One was brushed in 2007 shortly before I met Maki Sensei. The other one was last year in 2013. BIG difference isn’t it?