Most of the masters of the martial arts practise the art of calligraphy which is in itself considered to be the seventh martial art. For is not the ability to make the stroke flow naturally, to let the brush move freely across a thin piece of paper, also a superior struggle of the most testing kind? The spontaneous stroke of the brush is reminiscent of the quick free thrust of the sword or the freedom of the arrow fired effortlessly. Wherever there is distress, worry or swiftness of action.
Calligraphy which is the art of drawing characters with the tip of a brush dipped in ink and requires a profound serenity. Here again, harmony comes from control over breathing and movement. Introduced into Japan from China about 1300 years ago, calligraphy was then the art of transcribing Chinese ideographs (kanji in Japanese). Nowadays both kanji and kana (Chinese ideographs transcribed phonetically) are used.
It is said that the internal serenity drives the brush. The brush in effect interprets the deepest part of the sub conscious. The ‘wisdom of the eye’ is what relates the characters to each other as though assembling the moveable and the immutable, the ego to the 10,000 things in the universe, the present to the timeless.
Calligraphy and Zen painting
The student who wishes to learn calligraphy begins by studying an ideograph. He draws it once, 50 times, 100 times, even 300 times. One works from top to bottom and from left to right, always in the same direction. The movement cannot be reversed. If one ideograph consists of six or seven strokes, each one requires a particular pressure. The sign is repeated until total spontaneity is achieved, completely free from thought... spontaneity and not automatism of movement which is contrary to the object of the exercise.
In calligraphy (as in martial arts) the space between the lines is what matters. It is this space which gives the signs their beauty. In Zen painting, we find this same need for pressure and spontaneity. Here, we see the result of the movement of brush and the ink on paper. The brush is dipped in encre de chine (ink). The special quality paper is very fine and absorbant. The brush hardly needs to touch the paper to make a large blob. Therefore, the hand must skim or fly across the paper without stopping. Thought is free. It is the hand which thinks and acts.
There are traditional designs in sumi-e: bamboo canes, figures, houses, landscapes. It is fitting to avoid excesses, to strike for economy of strokes and resources, to create the greatest possible emotion with the maximum solemnity. An old master of sumi-e said that the day he managed to say everything with a dot, he would have earned his life, present and future. He called this dot ‘the immovable vibrating point’.
In the universe, everything is movement and vibration. This universal vibration is identical to a point an this point contains all the energy of the universe: past, present and future.