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.
Ponte Ryuurui (品天龍涙)