Zen Calligraphy

Since I became interested in learning how to write Korean and Chinese characters, the challenge has been how to find instruction.

My search led me to Esteban Martinez, a Massachusetts resident, who became interested in Japanese calligraphy 10 years ago.  Esteban runs GOHITSU Shodo Studio, a website dedicated to the three pillars of BUDO: KEN, ZEN, SHO (Sword, Zen and Brush).

Shodo – Japanese calligraphy, literally “The Way of Writing”


Esteban has an online course in Japanese Calligraphy.  He studied with a Japanese calligraphy teacher Maki Sensei.

” Meditation is hard. You need to commit. You need to cut through illusions, pain, doubt, anger, and frustration.

The moment you try to brush a kanji for the first time you realize it will take time and effort. Any illusion that, because you bought a fancy brush or watch all my videos, you will brush amazing calligraphy will be destroyed the moment you have to brush a kanji to perfection inside a grid.

Overcoming these struggles will be the path of cutting those illusions and waking up to reality: life is hard work.” –  Esteban Martinez

This quote captures how humble I feel about calligraphy.  I can easily see how it would take a lifetime to master.  I have only dabbled a bit for half a year, buying some brushes, paper, ink, and books.  I work on one hanja character a week.

Each session is a kind of meditation, deeply concentrating, no distractions, breathing calmly.  I am dissatisfied with my basic strokes.  I long for a session with someone who knows how to do calligraphy, because self teaching is hard, and I simply do not know what I don’t know.  I want the fundamentals of calligraphy.

In Japan, excellence in calligraphy is considered to be the proper attainment of every cultured person.

There are lessons I am learning about art, seeing, and consistency of practice to develop skill.  I observe my cluttered mind and cluttered desk, and know that shows in my calligraphy.  I wonder if I would gain insight if I spent a day just working on calligraphy, similar to the way Zen and the Art of Seeing devotes a day retreat to drawing.  Time stops for me as I spend 30 minutes drawing an ant, and feel exhausted afterwards, seeing the deficiencies of my sketching from reality, but also knowing this drawing is better than the last.  I believe that learning the fundamentals of drawing will help me develop fine motor skills and an artistic eye.

Calligraphy focuses me.  When you are writing, just write.  Put aside all the other thoughts, be present.  The ink is wet, the paper wants to spread the ink, a moment of movement is captured on the paper and can’t be erased.  It is so sensitive to pressure, speed, thickness of ink, subtle movements, the emotions and thoughts of the person writing.  There is discipline, creativity, skill, and refinement.  Indeed, a valuable endeavor for a cultured person.

Getting Started with Calligraphy

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