My teacher was asked once by a student:
- Sensei, I cannot write with the hanging arm technique because my hand is shaking too much
to which he replied:
- It is not your hand that is shaking. Calm your mind, and the hand will follow.
That is right. Practice, practice, practice! I found out that writing with the hanging arm technique is improving my skills twice or even three times as fast. Natually, pillow hand and bucket palm, etc. should be taken into consideration during your studies, but hanging arm technique is the bread and butter of calligraphy studies. Do this with a small brush and it will be even more challenging.
間時要有喫緊的心思、忙処要有悠間的趣味 / hanging arm technique, small brush.
photo - Mt.Fuji post processed in photoshop
Each language has its own ways of expressing ideas and condensing thoughts or into laconic idioms or phrases. Since Japanese language is based on Chinese writing system, the idiomatic phrases can sometimes be very abstract or poetic. Such phrases are often based on Buddhist philosophy and way of seeing the surrounding world. Some are thousands years old, and thanks to the unique characteristic of Japanese kanji, the way such idioms were written has not changed at all for all those centuries.
The data base of phrases and idioms that I am currently working on, is not just another dictionary of typical Japanese phrases or Japanese idioms. i am carefully selecting each phrase. Also, every single Chinese character is individually linked to my favourite online kanji dictionary, wwwjisho.org (created by Kim Ahlström) which is one of the largest and brilliantly designed interactive kanji dictionaries. Moreover, the readings of the idioms or words that you will find in my dictionary, are given in English and Japanese hiragana. Each of hiragana syllabograms is also linked individually to the Japanese kana database that I have created. This data base consists of handwritten characters, etymology of each syllabogram, and stroke order charts with correct hiragana and katakana stroke order.
As you can imagine, linking all those characters is quite a taxing job for me, I am sure it will not only help those who study Japanese (or Chinese), but also will assist all those of you who are new to the wonderful world of Chinese characters and Japanese kanji, yet are fascinated by its exotic originality, to better understand its mechanics, and how words and ideas are conveyed through Chinese characters. There is also a separate section with Japanese calligraphy jargon explained.
Some of the phrases will be linked to my store with calligraphy art or photography & calligraphy art combined, where you can purchase prints with your favourite phrase, and decorate your home, or offer it as a gift. If you like a particular phrase and want me to write it for you in Japanese calligraphy, then feel free to message me at email@example.com
Errare humanum est, so if you do spot a mistake, or an error in linking, please let me know by mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or messaging me on facebook at Ponte Ryuurui or Learn Japanese and Chinese calligraphy
Last but not least, since it is my first post in 2014, I would like to wish you all a happy new year.
I would also like to thank Snow Forest (雪森) for her assistance with selecting some of the idioms and phrases, as well as with determining the correct reading (many idioms have special readings, which are often unknown even to native speakers).
pictured calligraphy: 士魂 - samurai spirit
Aikidō is a type of martial arts, developed in Japan by Morihei Ueshiba (植芝 盛平). It is said, that Ueshiba was a simple man, though of great spiritual capacity. And so, Aikidō is just like its founder - simple. Or is it? Aikidōis based on the concept of redirecting the force of the attacker and changing the direction the enemy movement. Aikidō is not about aggression, competition or fighting. It is about attunement to nature, the flow of energy, peace and love. It is, as Ueshiba used to say himself, the perfect budo (武道; budo in Japanese means "martial art"). By "perfect" he meant "true" (真; real), as it conveyed the deep meaning which any type of martial arts should follow.
Martial arts are not about (or should not) be about using force against others, but using force against self to avoid using it against anyone. Studying martial arts is a way of life. The path to understanding of such concept leads through hardship of training, strengthening one's spirit, meditation and perseverance.
Through years of my martial arts studies, I have realised that there are only two types of martial arts students:
1. Those who go to martial arts trainings.
2. Those who never return from them.
If one really comprehends the idea of martial arts, one never stops training. Training martial arts twice a week is not training, it is a waste of time, at least in my view. In this respect, Chinese or Japanese calligraphy is based on a very similar principles as Aikidō, or any other martial art. It is not art, not even an art within art, as we read in serious literature on the subject. Calligraphy is a way of life. It is a realm that once it is reached spiritually, it cannot be abandoned. I do not make time to study calligraphy. I make time to breathe, eat and sleep. I do not study calligraphy because I enjoy it. I study it because it is a living part of myself. If I ever stop, my soul dies.
The quote of Morihei Ueshiba, which I write in the video posted above, can be applied to so many disciplines of life. That is because it is based on nature and its simple truths. He said:
"Let your mind and spirit be one with the the universe, stand in its centre, allow the the feeling of readiness to define your path, a path as sound and ubiquitous as a mountain echo. (path of the mountain echo is a path that reflects the changes of mind and body due to training, they become pure and unstoppable)" Morihei Ueshiba / "Essence of Aikido" / translation: Ponte Ryuurui.
I am often asked by people who wish to study calligraphy, where and how they can learn. I may tell you right now, that there is no book in the world that can replace a good teacher. So, if you think you can study calligraphy from anything titled "Three easy steps to mastering Chinese / Japanese calligraphy", then you are very much mistaken. One day I was editing a video of my teacher writing a short phrase in seal script (篆書), and I suddenly realised how similar is the way that we both hold the brush. But not only that, even specific gestures, like repositioning of the brush in the hand, or subconscious "brush doodling" in the air, too. Then, I watched his arm, its position, the angle of the albow against the paper, brush grip, etc. I was astonished to see obvious similarities.
Then again, our writing styles (書風, i.e. one's personal handriting style) differ. So, the technique is virtually the same, yet the outcome is not. Years ago, when I have only started to study caligraphy, I showed him one of my works. It was basically a copy of his own work. I thought he will be pleased, but he shaking his head in disapproval instead.
He looked at me, seeing that I do not understand why he is not happy about it, and said:
"Copying ancient masterpieces is a path to enlightenment. Copying your teachers' style is the end of the road. By copying my style you insult my teaching methods. Watch the technique, learn the basics, study the line, and then let your heart guide you. I can help you to build a boat, but you have to learn how to sail and maintain it yourself. Go and discover new lands, do not stick to the harbour".
I have visited tens of calligraphy exhibitions in past years. Having the words of my teacher in my mind, I was shocked to see how many people copy their own teachers. The situation is serious to the extent that works displayed during some exhibitions are so similar, they all seem to be written by the same person. This is usually done to either tickle the teacher's ego, or simply get a praise, or even worse, to win a prize. Very sad indeed.
The technique is everything. Calligraphy is like martial arts. You study for a lifetime only to forget what you have learned. Let me tell you this again, you study for a lifetime only to forget what you have learned. You ought to write the calligraphy with your soul. There is no ink, no brush, no paper, no nothing. There is only Matrix. Then, and only then, you can call it shodō (書道; Japanese for "calligraphy", whcih could be interpreted as "the way of life through writing). Practice is not about perfection, but about freedom. If you move before you thought you needed to, then you are trully free.
The calligraphy in the movie (above) is a quote of a famous philosopher, Albert Shweitzer. It reads:
"Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful."
You can also see me writing this text with a ballpen, here.
There is something about quotes that people like. Perhaps it is their amazing power of defining and summarising our paths, our goals, things we like and do not like, and so on. Those quotes assist us in expressing thoughts or wishes that, sometimes, we have troubles with compressing them into a smaller package, vocabularistically speaking.
This new project of mine aims at gathering quotations and sayings of people from any ethnic, cultural, or historical environment, and putting their words on paper by means of Chinese or Japanese characters. The power of Far Eastern calligraphy resides in the complexity of the message of the brush strokes (or even pen / ballpen strokes, as you can see in this particual movie, below). Kanji or hanzi (or other writing systems, such as Japanese kana) can convey the emotions of the writer very well.
The line flows down fromthe top of the page to the bottom like water. It can be a violent mouintain creek with many rapid curves and strokes, or a gently meandring stream thorugh a wide valley. It can be a roaring waterfall crushing anything in its path, or a still lake embracing the warm rays of lazy sun, setting down.
The script can be refined like mature clerical script (八分隷) or small seal script (小篆), where stokes are premeditated and they seem to be designed. It can be wild like cursive script (草書), or uneasy and illusively careless like ancient clerical script (古隷), to give only a few examples. Then, each of those has its variations. The ink is the limit.
The quote in this movie is by Albert Schweitzer, an extremely talented man, who was a German theologian, pholosopher, physician, and a musician. It reads: "Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful." Albert Schweitzer
My path to happiness is marked by ink and brush. The day I had realised it, I was born again. I wish you will find yours.
The calligraphy to the left depicts only a small fragment of a Chinese classic Daodejing (道德經; also read as Tao Te Ching), by Laozi (老子, c. 5th or 6th century B.C.).
The Tao (or the Way), literally means "the path". In great simplification, Tao is a phenomenon, or a force, that cannot be defined, logically explained or mastered. It simply exists and it is out there for one to attune with it intuitively. Taoism, then, is a way of living, based on a concept of simplicity, attunement to nature, the concept of "non-acting". As Laozi has said himself:
"The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao. The Name that can be named is not the eternal name. The nameless is the beginning of Heaven and Earth. the named is the mother of all things."
Taoism, a philosophy and religion , had a great impact on arts and politics of China. That includes calligraphy. The essence of calligraphy is for one to be able to express one`s inner understanding of the art. The inner understanding becomes the Tao of calligraphy, a path of life one has chosen to follow. Each line, each stroke, and each page define the way of life of a given calligrapher. By looking at one`s calligraphy, we can understand and appreciate one`s Tao. Consequently, if one remains true to the Tao of calligraphy, one`s works will be powerful and truly masterful.
Above calligraphy is written in small seal script (小篆). I used gold ink on black paper (20x20cm). The text reads: 天下神器、不可為也、不可執也。為者敗之、執者失之。 "The world is a sacred vessel. It should not be meddled with. It should not be owned. If you try to meddle with it, you will ruin it. If you try to own it, you will lose it." It is a quotation from Daodejing.
To see this work in a larger format, please visit the coloured paper gallery.
Ponte Ryuurui (品天龍涙)