"Shodo" is Japanese for caligraphy, or the artistic drawing of Kanji characters. It is one of the many arts of the Samurai in Japan, and purportedly helps concentration and swordsmanship.

In continuation of my Samurai training, I spent some time yesterday learning Shodo. It was an immensely enjoyable experience, if slightly frustrating at times. My brush rarely acted in the way I wished it to, spoiling some of the work I did at inopportune moments. However, overall I did extremely well considering that I have no real experience with the art (although I appear talented in everything Samurai).

Some of the other foreign students participating have actually taken lessons. I'll admit I felt some small amount of pleasure in the fact that I did as well if not better than them. However, everyone was good overall, and I did not seek any compliments on my work (although I recieved many). The professor was especially impressed with the Kanji "Kebin" name my host father gave me.

The name "Kebin" is two kanji, Ki and Bin combined (Ki becomes Ke). They mean "Spirit" or "Heart" and "Quickly" or "With All/Great Speed". Exactly what the combination means is up in the air. It might mean I can build my spirit with incredible speed (ala Dragon Ball Z power ups! KYAAAA), quickly and with ease display great amounts of spirit, or simply mean that I am both spirited and quick. In any case, all the Japanese who see it declare it to be an incredibly good name.

Those comments have actually spawned some envy in students who have not been given Kanji names from their hosts. However, I think something is lost when you ask your hosts for one. The greatest things I have recieved from my host family have been unasked for, such as my name, my Shogi set, and my kendo practice sword (not to mention a lot of Love). If I asked for them, the magic I now associate with them would be very different.

But, back to Shodo.

If you are a perfectionist, Shodo is not calming at all. Nothing looks anything like you want it to, and when the professor creates beautiful work with ease it only compounds the problem. Trust me on this, there were a lot of frustrated perfectionists in the classroom yesterday.

If you are patient, and willing to settle with imperfection, Shodo can be an incredible experience well worth trying. There is something calming about the way the brush moves and the strokes are made when you become less focused on whether it is perfect or not and more focused on the simple act of the art. Like other Japanese arts, there is a strange feeling I find whenever I try them. It is the appreciation of simple elegance, I think, the understanding that in something as simple as a letter there can be art and beauty that makes Kendo, Shodo and most things Japanese so wonderful.

And also what makes the iPod popular here (expensive though it may be).

I'll be bringing home the work I did (all of it, good and bad), so look forward to (or dread if you like) my showing it off.

Later I shall see if, as Japanese lore says, the caligraphy will help me with my swordsmanship!

Kendo away!


Joshua Zugai said...

Dude, you're training in the way of the samurai and call yourself boring? You'll pardon me I hope but that does sound a little inconsistent. :-)

Read the post on Shodo, sounds very interesting. Are there any good websites you can recommend?

Matoushin said...

It's not like I have a samurai expert teaching me these things. I'm just in Japan taking courses on Japanese History and Shintoism, participating in the Kendo club, and generally doing activities that are somewhat in line with what the Samurai used to do.

Because the Shodo was done through the university here, I don't have any good sites related to it off hand I can mention.

Here's the best I can come up with at such short notice. It has a nice summary and some links.