It's a menu for some of my translated articles. Many thanks to Judit S., who give me this huge gift, the translations!

The Way of Practising Japanese Calligraphy

/translated from: click here /
Translated by Judit Simon

The way in which calligraphy is taught and practised in Japan might sound strange to us when we first learn about it.This method that all of us - teachers and students alike - follow in our daily practice is the copying of great masters'original works.

As soon as we start practising calligraphy, our master gives us samples. First he presents us with the basic strokes, easy kanji  and as we proceed with our practice we get more and more difficult tasks. We keep copying the sample over and over again for about a month – yes, we copy it. In western art and fundamentally in all western cultures, individualism is a key notion. We, as individuals, are expected to learn to create our own personal work  and  accordingly, in our opinion a true artist is someone who is inventive, someone who is capable of creating „something new”.*
Let's not dispute the truth of the saying „There is nothing new under the sun” now...Instead, I invite you to take a closer look at the Japanese approach to practice. In Japan the copying of old masters' works is not looked upon as a shameful act, a crime or even as art forgery. On the contrary, in Japanese culture it is important to study the footsteps of renowned masters, as they had already perfected the art in which we are only beginners. What could possibly be better than to follow them? There is no need  to try and „outshine” others or to attempt to create something fancy. The task is simple: to learn and copy perfectly the master's calligraphy. Do you think this can  be done without effort? If you do, then you might need to reconsider your viewpoint. Of course I do   not wish to imply that if a copy is not perfect, then all beauty is lost. The point is that our practice is not aimed at creating something new or different. In the history of calligraphy very few calligraphers became highly acclaimed masters.
Wang XizhiThere are „Divine Calligraphers” such as Ōgishi (Wang Xizhi, 王羲之, 303–361) the Chinese master; but not everyone can become like him. Therefore, the proper way of studying calligraphy is      the copying of samples. Although both the sample and the copy may be equally powerful, it is always worth examining the differences between the two.. The aim is always the same: to attain the ability  to reproduce the sample without flaws. Here I must point out once again that the above does not mean that the copy can only be artful provided it looks exactly like the sample. My point is that first we must become able to copy anything. Then, years later we will have enough time and knowledge to create  our own individual work. When we have reached that level of mastery we can start to ponder what would  look beautiful. We should follow in our master's footsteps because under his guidance we can learn everything there is to know about the art of calligraphy . Copying artworks has formed the basis, the foundation of Japanese art for thousands of years. A perfect copy that preserves the values of the original is a fine artistic work in its own right,. It is known that at times flawless copies of original calligraphies  became as highly valued as the original ones. Furthermore, on one occassion a living master's calligraphy had so immaculately been copied  by  a student that in recognition of this outstanding work, the master handed over his own seal to the student, so that he could complete his calligraphy with that . Does this sound astonishing? No wonder it does! But please note that  in eastern cultures there are „thousand-year-old buildings”, too, which are known to have been  reconstructed time and time again over the course of centuries. Thus, from a strictly  historical point of view their age could easily be disputed. Yet those who worked on these buildings learned their art from their fathers, untiringly elaborating on every fine detail of their work.They followed the tradition of their predecessors or masters, devoting their whole life to art. The above confirms that copying is not forgery but a  very effective means of study.

We devote our lives to perfecting ourselves in one thing or another and this requires a great deal of humility. Humility helps us gain more and more knowledge, so that one day we may also become masters. But do not think that the accomplished masters ever stopped practising. In zen it is taught that with enlightenment begins practice. Time and time again the master returns to the basic strokes, repeats the writing of kanji, ever remembering that calligraphy is an art once learned, always practised. The best way is to follow our masters as they have already learned and are still learning the art we are  only aspiring to study. We must keep striving, and we should never grow weary! This way our continual aspiration will become a part of us and will guide us along the path.

* Still, it is worth mentioning that until a few centuries ago the same concept, i.e. students copying the artworks of their masters, was very much present in western art. Academic painting was based on the very same idea  that we use in the practice of Japanese calligraphy. It was not rare to see apprentices working in the workshops of great masters, helping them accomplish their masterpieces. There exist numerous paintings signed by one master but created by many more hands. Why can we not see this in the actual painting? Because the style of the master was perfectly attained by  the students.

Calligraphy Tools

The Four Treasures of The Study

/translated from: click here /
Translated by Judit Simon

Brush (fude, 筆)

Brushes vary in size ranging from tiny, delicate ones to man-sized brushes. Traditionally the shaft of the brush is made from bamboo stalk, while for the brush tip the hairs of a variety of animals are used. These can be distinguished by their colour. For instance white brushes are made from sheep hair; these are very soft brushes that slowly slide on the paper. Although this type of brush is difficult to use, once the writing technique it requires is mastered, one is able to switch to other types of brushes without difficulty. Brown are the brushes made from wolf hair. Being swift on the paper, these  brushes are perfect for writing short, fine strokes. They are flexible but not too soft.There are also mixed-colour brush heads made from horse hair and we can find fox or rabbit hair brushes, too. The size of the calligraphy determines the type of brush used, but within one calligraphy different types and sizes of brushes can be used for different purposes.

Although Chinese and Japanese calligraphy brushes differ from western watercolour brushes, they still share some common features. Firstly, they are always made from real, soft hair. Secondly, when wetted, their tip becomes pointed, making it possible for the artist to create both fine,delicate strokes  and big, powerful lines for which the whole head of the brush is needed. Thirdly, calligraphy brushes, due to their specially formed head can absorb a lot more ink than  watercolour brushes.

For protective reasons all new brush heads are dipped in "funori" (a special glue made from the seaweed gloiopeltis) which needs to be washed out in lukewarm water before the first use. Also, after each use a thorough cleaning is required to retain the softness and power of the brush tip. (A  simpler way of ridding our brush of its protective layer is to rub the head repeatedly with our fingers (but please note: always seek  professional help before using this method to avoid unintentional ruining of the brush)

Ink stick (sumi, 墨)

The Chinese character for ink means "black soil" from what it is (in the figurative sense) made. Ink is primarily made from pine soot, but oil soot can also be used.

The soot is mixed with bone glue and sometimes with ground spices too (traditionally with musk in China or clove )  to create a kind of dough. This glue, soot and spice mixture is then placed into wooden shaped molds and left to dry. The surface of the ink stick is often decorated with engravings, pictures or calligraphy. Out of The Four Treasures the production of ink sticks needs the most careful work. According to some sources more than a hundred steps are used in  the process. Since ink sticks are works of art in their own right, they are higly collectible items in Japan.
To prepare liquid ink, gound ink powder is mixed with water. Because the ink is prepared with a fixative, it adheres permanently once it is applied on paper and cannot be removed or corrected in any way. (in China a special type of ink was used in book printing, too.)

The ink stone or ink slab (suzuri, 硯)

The ink stone is used to grind the ink stick into powder by gently rubbing it against the grainy surface of the stone. It has various shapes ranging from the simplest to the most richly ornamented. Most ink slabs are made of a variety of abrasive stones or clay,  and their material effects the quality of  the ink made in them. All ink stones have a central circular  indent or well where drops of clear water and some ink powder is put. Ideally fresh rainwater should be used for this purpose. The liquid ink should be neither too watery nor too thick. The middle way is the best to follow, since too watery ink will run on the paper whereas too thick ink will stick to the hairs of the brush resulting in uneven strokes.

Paper (kami, 紙)

The best calligraphy paper is the Chinese or Japanese paper (washi, hanshi半紙) These are made from a mixture of fibres or even celluloid fibre. Chinese or East -Asian paper is usually referred to as rice paper. In reality they have nothing to do with rice. In Japan the most widely used material for making paper is kozo, the so-called Paper Mulberry  (Broussonetia papyrifera), a tree in the family Moraceae. Two other raw materials are mitsumata  (Edgeworthia chrysantha) and ganpi (Wikstroemia sikokiana), plants belonging to the family Thymelaceae.

Calligraphy papers are highly absorbent, with one smooth side for writing. Although other types of highly absorbent paper ( for instance newspaper sheets) can also be sufficient, good or at least moderate quality paper is still recommended for calligraphy practice.

The Fifth Treasure: The Seal

Although  seals do not belong strictly with the basic tools of calligraphy, they are still   indispensable tools. They are used by the artist to identify his/her work with them. Owners of paintings or books also often add their own  seals to pieces they have collected. Seals are small stone, ivory or copper  sticks with a cylindrical or square shape. Into the underside (working surface) of the seal, characters or names are usually carved, while the handle may be decorated with figurative inscriptions or other motifs. A seal in itself can be regarded as a special form of calligraphy. The inscription carved into the seal follows the aesthetical and compositional rules of the so-called "seal script." There are two main types of seal: the positive (yang) style seal and the negative (yin) style seal, or, sometimes a combination of these two. Seals are also popular as collectors' items as they may be very old or intricately carved masterpieces. The colour of their imprint is almost always red as the seal paste is traditionally made from cinnabar mixed with oil. The paste is always kept covered  in its ceramic container to prevent it from drying out.

Additional Tools

Additional tools of the calligrapher are the paperweight (bunchin) that helps keep the paper in place and the under-sheet  (shitajiki). Bunchin is usually a metal, copper, stone or glass square prism which the calligrapher places on the top of the paper. The shitajiki is a special felt pad (usually black) which is placed under the paper to protect it and the working surface from ink stains.

Brushes waiting to be used can be placed in little brush holders (fudeoki).These usually come in the shape of a stylized 3-peak mount.

Water or liquid ink can be kept in little porcelain bowls. These are very useful when paintig sumi-e (ink paintings) where different shades of ink (from deep black to a pearly, shining shade of grey) are used.

Suteki is a little water-dropper used to add water to the ink powder.

Water is added to the ink stone with the help of little metal or porcelain spoons or water droppers.

Fudemaki is a bamboo roll-up brush holder used for carrying brushes. It protects brush tips from damage and allows ventilation.

Fudekake is another type of brush holder/stand for drying brushes in a vertical position.


  1. Unlike western watercolour painters who simply wash out their brushes and use them over and over again, the Chinese or Japanese masters use a different brush for each colour to attain perfectly unblended, clear colours on the paper.
  2. See Explanation of Pictures
  3. The shade of ink is also influenced by the type of soot it is made from. Pine soot results in a warmer,matte ink type, while ink made from oil soot has a cooler, shinier, bluish shade of black. Although the difference is hard to notice, the choice of ink can significantly enhance the artistic value of the calligraphy.
  4. Parallel to paper; silk, wooden boards or stones and walls could also be used as writing surfaces


Calligraphies for the "1000 Japanese Poems" Anthology

/translated from: click here /

Translated by Judit Simon

"1000 Japanese Poems", an athology of haikus and wakas composed by zen masters, samurai , geisha, princesses and famous Japanese personalities was published by "STB Publishing Company".

I was invited to contribute some calligraphy pieces to this great book and I happily agreed. What follows is a little "summary" of the work I had done.

I hope this wonderful collection of poems will be a delightful read for everyone! 

The captivating cover of the anthology
(unfortunately the beautiful lacquer layer does not really show in the picture)


The calligraphies:

Calligraphy and decorative writing (posters and signs) Yose moji

When brushing a calligraphy piece, every stroke is executed with one single movement. We don't go back or make corrections afterwards.. But is this always the case?

Translated from here
Translated by Judit Simon


We might come across videos on the internet where we can actually see the the master going back to certain strokes to correct or modify them. This is the so-called yose moji (寄席文字) style.
Yose moji belongs to the edo moji (江戸文字) writing style that evolved during the Edo period (江戸時代, Edo jidai, A.D. 1603-1868) and comprises several related calligraphy styles. These are: Shibai moji (芝居文字), Yose moji (寄席文字), Kago moji (籠文字), Hige moji (髭文字), Sumōji (相撲字), Chōchin moji (提灯文字), Kakuji (角字).
(see these styles in thie above order in the picture)
These calligraphy styles are characterised by broad, thick strokes which leave only a little space for whites to appear. This symbolizes the packed auditorium with the audience sitting tightly in rows. What is the idea behind this symbolic meaning?
Yose moji is originally the style in which the posters of the rakugo (落語) theatre were made. Rakugo is typically a story-telling type of theatre where funny skits follow each other, much like in a stand-up comedy show. So a performance is really a series of short, usually fifteen-minute-long performances that go on for hours, with different actors performing their own piece. Everyone has their own music, style and circle of fans. Rakugo theatres are traditionally run by families.
Yose moji is the style in which the program boards are written where the rakugo itself is written in black and the other programmes, like a cabaret piece or an artist act are in red (see picture down below). During each performance the name of the performer appears on a board on stage. Yose moji can also appear in modern typography or on signboards, clothes and it is frequently used in computer design, too.
Yose moji is a very dynamic style for which a thick, short-haired brush is used. There is little white left amidst the strokes and the master can go back to certain strokes to add more ink or make corrections until the character becomes a harmonious whole. There are no waning lines and sometimes one stroke is put together from several little pieces. Most challenging are the simple characters but on the whole it can be said that the brushing of each kanji needs careful planning. This style is more like "letter-planning" or typography than calligraphy.




The two pictures below show how this style can be applied.
Finally let's take a look at the yose moji style of the kanji (家), meaning "home" and "family". (source: yosemoji-tujihana.seesaa.net where many more examples of yose moji can be found)


Ensō („zen circle”)

(Translated from here)
Translated by Judit Simon

Ensō (圓相), or "zen circle" is a special element of Japanese calligraphy. It is undoubtedly a zen notion which everybody practising or being interested in Japanese calligraphy will come across at one point.

Before analyzing it in detail, let us take a look at a "zen circle" drawn by master K. Kuwahara

Enso by Kuwahara

For those who have studied symbolism it is not new that the circle itself is an important symbol, which can represent wholeness (and what is more: undivided wholeness), the beginning and the end, eternal existence, unity and many more. "Zen circle" foremostly symbolizes emptiness, the state where clear mind arises, manifests itself and becomes permanent. This is an "active" kind of emptiness, not a nihilist thought.

The teachings of the Hitsuzendō (筆禅道) school state that ensō – "zen circle" – is one of the "foundation stones" of calligraphy. It looks easy to draw a circle. We just take a brush and draw a circular line. But this is not that simple. First of all we always draw the line clockwise (which has a lot to do with buddhist teachings). This, in fact, can be difficult because at school we were usually taught to draw circles anti-clockwise. The circle, as it appears, mirrors the drawer's actual state of mind that was present at the time of drawing. Ensō is always about both the maker and the viewer. If  ensō is not made with a fully focused mind, it will not be perfect and powerful which the viewer will instantly sense.

In one of my previous articles I mentioned master Harada Rōshi (原田正道, 1940 a.D.-). Let's take a look at one of his amazing calligraphies now.

Shodo Harada Roshi"s enso

Viewing it from the outside, the "zen circle" might look like a plain form, - still, let us not be misled by its seeming simplicity. Drawing a perfect ensō requires a profoundly focused mind working in the "here and now" of the moment. This is truly a spiritual journey.

Hitsuzendō School

The Hitsuzendō (筆禅道) school is a still active zen calligraphy school, originating from the art of Yamaoka Tesshū (山岡鉄舟, 1836-1888). The founder of the school was Ōmori Sōgen (大森曹玄, 1904-1994) zen master. His disciple, Terayama Tanchū (寺山旦中, 1938-2007) was head of the school until his death. He and Ōmori Sōgen together wrote a book "Zen And The Art of Calligraphy" which is a great source of information on this topic.

(Translated from here)
Translated by Judit Simon

As I previously mentioned, according to the teachings of the Hitsuzendō (筆禅道) school, ensō – the zen circle – is a fundamental element in calligraphy practice, just like mujibō (無字棒), or "zen line", which is very much like the "zen stick". The followers of the  Hitsuzendō school begin their practice with this single line, the brushing of which requires total concentration, the unity of body and mind, the attainment of "mindlessness" or "clear mind". Mujibō  is the line of emptiness, like  ensō is the circle of emptiness. He who can brush either of these lines perfectly, can find in them total concentration and attention, which can be utilized later on, in other calligraphy works or sumi-e paintings. With these simple forms it will be possible to grasp the object of the soul.
Let's take a look at two masters, Terayama sensei and Sarah Moate, brushing their ensō.

Hitsuzendo sensei

There are other teachings of this school about the deep relation between zen and artistic creation. We might often hear our calligraphy master say that all our movements should start from the hara (腹) or the tanden (丹田) so the brush can move of itself, in accord with the rhythm of the flowing life force. This idea originates from zen and ancient Chinese healing, according to which all life energy is concentrated in the centre of the body, two finger widths below the navel. This is the point from which the swordsman begins his movements, and this is the area we focus on  in zen meditation. From here the inner energy, or force "ki" (気) can flow  into the brush and through that into the ink and the paper. This life force, called bokki (墨氣 vagy 墨気), the energy of ink, shines through the calligraphies as we view them.

Hitsuzendo School

Finally let's have a look at a zen calligraphy from  the book "Zen Brushwork" by Terayama sensei. It reads: "Be in the now".

Lecture on Zen and Calligraphy


The following is the text of a talk I gave on zen and calligraphy during the Open day of Hangarii Shorakukai.

(Translated from here)
Translated by Judit Simon


„Zen teaching is like  a window. At first we look at it, and see only a dim reflection of our own face. But as we learn, and our vision becomes clear, the teaching becomes clear. Until at last it is perfectly transparent. We see through it. We see all things: our own face.”

 (from the book Dropping ashes on the Buddha by zen master Seung Sahn)




Zen (禅, Chinese: chan, classical Chinese: 禪)

Etymology: the word is derived  from the sanskrit word dhyāna or the pali jhāna , both meaning „absorption” or meditative state.

According to zen tradition, when Shakyamuni Buddha (Japanese: Shaka釈迦 or Shakyamuni Butsu) stayed at Vulture Peak in Grdhrakuta mountain, he twirled a flower in his finger and held it before his congregation. Everyone was silent. Only Mahākāśyapa  (Japanese: Daikashou 大迦葉 or Maka Kasho Sonja) wholeheartedly smiled. Buddha said, 'I have the eye of the true teaching, the heart of Nirvana, the formless form, the mysterious gate of Dharma. Beyond the words and beyond all teachings to be transmitted, I now pass this on to Maha Kashapa. This famous teaching later became one of the four key principles of zen.


The Four Key Principles of Zen:

1.    an independent transmission apart from written scriptures (教外別傳, kyōge betsuden)
2.    not relying on words and letters (不立文字, furyū monji)
3.    directly pointing to the human mind, in order to realize the Buddha-nature (直指人心, jikishi ninshin)
4.    awakening to one’s original Nature and thus becoming a Buddha (見性成佛, kenshō jōbutsu)

The historical Bodhidharma (known as Daruma  達磨 in Japan) who lived  in the sixth century AD.  is commonly considered the founder of  Chan (Zen) Buddhism. He was the 28th patriarch of Indian Buddhism and the 1st patriarch of zen buddhism.

Lineage of patriarchs:

1.    Bodhidharma (達磨) ( 440 – 528 A.D.) (Jp. Daruma Daishi)
2.    Huike (慧可) (487 – 593 A.D.) (Jp. Niso Eka Daishi)
3.    Sengcan (僧燦) (? - 606 A.D.) (Jp. Sanso Kanchi Zenji)
4.    Daoxin (道信) (580 – 651 A.D.) (Jp. Doshin Dai’i Zenji)
5.    Hongren (弘忍) (601 – 674) A.D. (Jp. Gunin Daiman Zenji)
6.    Huineng (慧能 vagy慧能) (638 – 713 A.D.) (Jp. Eno Daikan Zenji)

By the eighth century, the early chan school had been split in two: Northern chan and Southern chan (zen). Huineng is considered the founder of the "Sudden Enlightenment”or Southern Chan school of Buddhism. As opposed to the Southern School or Rinzai-shū (臨 済宗) which uses kōan introspection (公案) in its practice, the Northern School  Sōtō-shū (曹洞宗) focuses on the gradual attainment of enlightenment through meditation.


Zen in Japan

Dōgen Zenji  (道元禅師; also known as Dōgen Kigen 道元希玄, or Eihei Dōgen 永平道元, or Koso Joyo Daishi 19 January 1200 – 22 September 1253 A.D.) introduced the sōtō school to Japan after his return from China in 1227 or 1228 A.D. The  rinzai school was established by Eisai Zenji (栄西禅師, or Myōan Eisai 明菴栄西, 20 April 1141 – 5 July 1215 A.D.) after finishing a seven-year zen practice in China in 1191.


Zen Practice zazen (坐禅)

Zen meditation ( zazen 座禅 or 坐禪) is a „seated” meditation. It can be practised either facing the wall of the zendō  or turning away from it, depending on the given school's practice. The school following the rinzai (臨済宗) lineage, led by Shōdō Harada rōshi [Harada Shōdō rōshi (1940-) 原田正道] uses the practice of  susokkan or breath-counting as a meditation technique.

Traditionally the following practices form part of the zen monastic life: sanzen (参禅) personal discourse with the master, kōan (公案) studying, samu (作務) work, sesshin (接心/摂心/攝心) intensive practice period, teisho (提唱) teachings given by the master, takuhatsu (托鉢) alms gathering.


Clear Mind or Mindlessness

„Clear mind” or mindlessness”, is a key notion of buddhist philosophy and  zen practice. We can often read or hear that through practising zazen the aim is to reach mindlessness and attain kenshō (見性)  or satori (悟 り) – enlightenment. Here we need to point out that a clear mind is not a mind without thoughts. There are thoughts, but the mind does not cling to any of these. There is no judgement, there is no good or bad. The mind is free and open, not fixed or occupied by thought or emotion. Takuan Sōhō (沢庵 宗彭) calls this the „Unfettered mind” (Fudōchi Shinmyōroku, 不動智神妙録), where the mind is like a still pond, clearly reflecting everything  without attaching itself to thoughts or emotions.


Takuan teaches the same idea of „no-mind” in martial arts where the swordsman also needs to attain this state. An unmoved/impartial mind has no form thus it ceases to be „mind”. Mind becomes „no-mind”.

Zen Calligraphy (shodō, 書道)

"Iaido, like zen, is very popular,
But to practise zen  is by no means popular."

(Kozhuharov Ognjan: Iaido Seitei)

(Translated from here)
Transleted by Judit Simon

Maybe it is not an overstatement to say that Japanese arts go back for their inner form to a common root, Buddhism. When we try to comprehend the different "Ways" in Japan, we will soon find that they are all  impregnated with the same spirit: the spirit of zen buddhism. This applies for all kinds of art forms from archery to sumi-e painting, calligraphy, acting, dance, tea ceremony, ikebana  and swordsmanship. How is this possible? Because zen is not mere speculation. It is experience. It is much  more about  intuitive cognition than abstractive knowledge which we can define, nail down or explain.

This notion clearly manifests itself in zen archery where the bowman unites himself with the target to the extent that he finally becomes one with it. In this oneness the archer and his target become inseparable. If he does this, his arrow will eventually hit himself, the Buddha and the target all at once. Archery becomes the artless art, motionless motion. That is the true manifestation of zen.

Kendō, or the way of the sword is connected to zen in a very similar way. Takuan Sōhō (沢庵 宗彭) zen master explained this connection in the early 17th  century. A central thought of his was the notion of the "motionless", freely responding mind. This free, spontaneous reaction is the secret to the warrior's victory. Taisen Deshimaru (弟子丸泰仙) also points out that since zen and swordsmanship is all about the same thing: the self's fight with itself, both should be practised with the deepest devotion until "one's last day".

Tea ceremony is not only closely related to zen buddhism, but it also takes its roots in it.It originates from the tea-drinking gatherings of Japanese monks who, before taking their tea, made offerings to various deities. Zen buddhist monks became the first tea masters and the Japanese tea ceremony began to evolve its own aesthetic. Tea ceremony dates back to the 15th-16th century when Japanese masters like Murata Shukō (村田珠光, 1423-1502 C.E.) or Sen no Rikyū (千利休, 1522-21 April 1591 C.E.) perfected the art of tea-drinking, developing it into a  fully spiritual practice.A tea master aspires to be more than an artist - he wishes to become one with his art. The aim is to reach total unity. A tea master becomes one with his art  like a zen archer becomes one with his target. There is no clear boundary between the mind and the hand, action and non-action.
Ikebana, the art of flower arrangement evolved parallel to tea ceremonies. First it was looked upon as the art of tea masters. Unlike colourful western flower arrangements, ikebana  is never voluminuous. It usually employs only a few stalks and leaves or blossoms, in that respect  being very much like the brush strokes of a calligraphy piece.Since it forms a harmonious whole with its surroundings, ikebana can only be appreciated fully in the environment it was created for.

Calligraphy has its connections to buddhism, too, although we can say that it also functioned  independently from it. Over the centuries many calligraphy schools have been established. They do not differ much in their teaching styles or the brushing techniques they employ. Differences show in the forming of a particular kanji or kana. If we take a look at the school that Hangarii Shorakukai (ハンガリー書楽会) belongs to, we can see that in the horizontal lines there is always a slight
break. This is a very significant attribute of the strokes.

Zen calligraphy does not have such distinctive features. On the contrary, its significance lies in not having any of those. If we examine the calligraphies of zen masters we will be more likely to note the differences than the similarities. Of course, there are certain styles in zen calligraphy, too, like the so-called Daitoku-ji (大徳寺) style, founded by Ikkyū Sōjun (一休宗純, 1394-1481 C.E.). He was an abbot of the monastery , which functioned as a zen centre at that time. This style prevailed for many years and was revived during the Edo-era. This style is characterized by dry, open brush strokes, the frequent  employment of flying whites that give a spontaneous openness to the characters.

We might often hear our calligraphy master say that all our movements should start from the hara (腹) or the tanden (丹田) so the brush can move of itself, in accord with the rhythm of the flowing life force. This idea originates from zen and ancient Chinese healing, according to which all life energy is concentrated in the centre of the body, two finger widths below the navel. This is the point from which the swordsman begins his movements, and this is the area we focus on  in zen meditation. From here the inner energy, or force "ki" (気) can flow  into the brush and through that into the ink and the paper. This life force, called bokki (墨氣 vagy 墨気), the energy of ink, shines through the calligraphies as we view them.

It is taught that zen calligraphy also involves other aspects of brush-handling techniques and this way transcends other calligraphy schools. A notion can manifest itself in a single line like the ensō (圓相) or a sumi-e painting.

Zen calligraphy aims to reveal the condition of "no-mind" or mushin (無心) through its artworks. Ultimate creation springs from this state, which is beyond thought, expectation or emotion. Besides mushin, shōnen sōzoku (正念承續), the state referred to in buddhism as the "real thought" is also expressed in calligraphies. Shōnen means the state of profound concentration, while sōzoku stands for "free-flowing continuity". Grandness cannot be attained through conscious effort, only through theses states which are free from thought, idea and anything that can distract the mind from being fully focused.

Almost all contemporary calligraphy schools point out that works of art should come to life from conscious concentration, as a result of artistic wholeness. In spite of this, we can rarely see truly outstanding, lively artworks.Since Zen masters create their calligraphy masterpieces in a  state of "no-mindedness" (a state where the mind flows freely and ultimate concentration can be attained), their works are fresh and original,  full of energy. Master Sen no Rikyū believed that a tea-room should be decorated with nothing else but a piece of calligraphy. He was certain that only the kind of art that truly reflects the vitality of zen can lead the mind towards enlightenment. He realized that calligraphy inevitably  followed high-level spirituality. A perfect brush stroke can only be drawn with a hand led by a compassionate mind. A calligraphy that reflects deep thoughts cannot be created with a wandering mind filled with superfluous thoughts. A kanji that can reveal  its innermost meaning to the viewer must be written by a master who has attained oneness of mind through meditation and understanding. Thus one must carry on practising until they completely forget the brush and only concentrate on the strokes. Students of calligraphy should not even be attached to their brush. All concentration should be focused on what is happening on the paper. Most people tend to cut the flow of their concentration as soon as the character
is completed. When flawless concentration is attained, everything melts into an undisturbed, peaceful awareness. As all characters invisibly join together, ki  will flow freely and perfect unity will be reached.

Brush strokes manifest out of emptiness at the moment the brush touches the paper. The brush starts to move towards the paper to create a stroke so this way the touch already contains the stroke as ot touches the paper. When the brush is done, it retreats, leaving behind the shadow of emotion, the awareness of all things being transient. The brush should move evenly, led by flawless concentration. 

It is characteristic of contemporary calligraphy schools to value highly the execution of  precise, well-burshed kanji, which are pleasing to the eye. In zen calligraphy schools, like  Hitsuzendō (筆禅道), the emphasis is placed on brushing energetic calligraphies. A character like this is not the result of conscious effort, but of concentrated unity where we forget the "self". This state is called sammai or sanmai (三昧) in Japanese. Old masters maybe all aspired to attain enlightenment so aesthetic beauty was never a goal to reach in  zen calligraphy.

In Hitsuzendō school there are two exercises that are closely related to buddhism. One of them is Yōki-hō or the gathering of ki and warming-up, and the other is Kūsho or writing in the air. Yōki-hō is usually practiced in the morning to improve the senses and in the evening to purify the body from bad experiences. In the short, five-minute version we first do long prostrations then sit in seiza (正座). Focusing on the tanden, we concentrate on our breathing. When we breathe out we release all the stress from the body. Then we use a visualization technique of Hakuin Ekaku's (白隠 慧鶴, 1685-1769 C.E.) in which we first focus on the crown of the head, the crown chakra, picturing an egg-sized piece of balm. This piece of balm slowly starts melting from the outpouring heat of our heart and flows into our body. After wholly purifying it, it leaves the body through the legs. Then we extract the spiritual energy from the ground and drive it up into the tanden. We fill with this energy the centre of our body, then radiate it out into space. Then we repeat the same procedure, now with the energy of the heavens, first driving it into the body, then radiating it out into the infinite distance.

The exercise of Kūsho is attributed to Kūkai (空海, 774-835  C.E. or Kōbō-Daishi, 弘法大師). This usually follows the previously mentioned warming-up exercise. Here we write in the air with our hand. First we clearly grasp the picture of a character (kanji) with our mind, (for example the kanji of mu (無). Then we write it in the air as if our hand and arm were the brush. We move lightly and freely. We can also practise it as if we were firmly rooted in the ground. This time we write the character as if our whole body was the brush. We let our upper body move easily and freely with big, spacious sweeps. We should always write with a focused mind and body. We can further enhance the effectiveness of this exercise by closing our eyes and not using our arms, this way making it possible for our body to "see" the shape of the character. We can also try this with arms stretched out over our head or pressed to the sides of our body. This exercise helps our body  get tuned to the calligraphy practice.

Martial Arts and Calligraphy

/translated from: click here /
Translated by Judit Simon

Eastern martial arts were introduced to Hungary decades ago and have found a great number of followers since then. Japanese culture, history and arts also captivated the souls of many. I often get the chance to meet masters and practitioners,- all of them enthusiastic and devoted. These encounters led me to begin to explore the philosophy behind martial arts.
First of all let’s take a look at some of the most well-known phrases.

 Harcos szelleme The first is: Warrior’s spirit, 武士魂.  
   The next one is 道場で泣き、戦場で笑う, „To cry in  the dojo, to laugh in the battlefield”. A true warrior fights in the dojo in a way that  when it comes down to real fight in the battlefield, he will not be caught off guard. His concentration, the unity of his mind will not be broken, he will be present in the „now”. Sírni az edzőteremben, nevetni a csatatéren 
 Koncentráció  Concentration. It is by no means wonder that the next calligraphy is 精神統一,or concentration. To put it more precisely, the text reads „focused mind” or” focusing on something”. The gathering the mind or spirituality into one point is a core concept  in  martial arts.  
  剣者心也 or „Your sword mirrors your mind”. This kendo phrase is widely used in martial arts demonstrations and tournaments. Its meaning can be interpreted in different ways: „ The sword is the mind” or „The sword is the heart”, but fundamentally it means that „The essence of kendo lies in the heart”. A tudatod mutatja kardod
A legnagyobb győzelem az önmagunkon aratott győzelem 正勝吾勝 „True victory is victory over oneself„  - probably one of the most well-known phrases in martial arts.  
  Another well-known phrase is 不動心 or „Unfettered mind”. It means the free, unattached flow of the mind. Takuan Sōhō (沢庵宗彭, 1573-1645) zen master calls the mind „unfettered” or „freed from all restraints” or fudōshin, when  it merely reflects the „world” without any attachment. Takuan sums up the essence of zazen in this phrase. „Unfettered mind” is what a swordsman needs to attain  to be able to gain victory over his opponent. Fudoshin
ichi go ichi e Ichi go ichi e, „ one moment one meeting”  or 一期一会, The meaning of this phrase is closely related to the above one. Each moment is unique as it will never return. It cannot be re-lived or repeated again. If we fail to do something now, the opportunity is lost for ever. The circumstances can never be repeated. In the language of martial arts: „if you fail to strike a blow now, you will never get another chance”: this very moment can mean your  life or your death.      

„The life-giving sword”, or 活人剣. This terminology is by Yamaoka Tesshū and expresses the idea that a true master can defeat his opponent without even having to draw his sword.

Életet adó kard
test és tudat egy

 „Body and mind are one” or  拳禅一如. The Japanese phrase is: ken zen ichi nyo. In fact  ken means „fist” and  zen means „wisdom”. This same kanji is the kanji for zen buddhism, but in  martial arts „fist” represents the „body” and „wisdom” refers to „mind”.


Here belong other compound kanji, such as 残心or „awareness” (in Japanese zanshin), which is a terminology used in kyūdō, or zen archery, meaning „constant or persistent mind”

Kezdő szellem

„Beginner’s mind” or 初心or shoshin is a terminology present both in martial arts and zen buddhism. Over the course of our lives we gradually learn all there is to learn and start acting mostly out of routine. We stop to focus on what we do: how we walk, how we sit, how we live. A beginner’s mind is somewhat like a baby’s mind that focuses on every little thing it does. We must return to this state of mind to become fully aware of our thoughts or moves.


Finally „The power of bravery”,  勇強, or yūkyō, ” – a terminology frequently used in martial arts. It can also be interpreted as „bravery and power”.

Bátor erő, bátorság és erő, yukyu


Further phrases include the „Book of Five Elements” (五輪の書) by Miyamoto Musashi, a kyūdō expression „Flawless shot, flawless hit" (正射正中) or „To die before shame” (不名誉より死), „Maximum efficiency, minimum effort” (精力善用), „Martial fame” (武名), „One strike one death” (一拳必殺 vagy 一撃必殺) or „Kamikaze”, Japanese for „Divine wind” (神風).


The following are Japanese names of different martial arts types, such as 合気道 (aikidō), 空手道 (karatedō), a 剣道 (kendō), 居合道 (iaidō) and finally „The way of the warrior” 武士道 (bushidō).
aikido karate-do kendo iaido bushido



The kanji on the samurai battle standard, 風林火山 read „wind, forest, fire and mountain” meaning: „Be as swift as the wind, quiet as the tree, fight like burning fire, be as still as a mountain”.


Japán kalligráfia Aikido Shurenkan Dojo

Last but not least let me continue with  name calligraphies for martial arts dōjōs. The board made for the SAS Aikido, or Shurenkan Aikido Sports club can be seen next to the entrance. Norbert Hochstrasser, 3-dan master, leader of „Sas” requested a board reading Aikidō Shurenkan Dōjō to pay tribute to Japanese traditions (click here to read morei). It was my  first  big outdoor board, quite sizeable with a width of 30 cms and a height of 180 cms- a great honor and a great challenge to make.

First I made the 1:1 size calligraphy, which, after digital processing, was applied onto three wooden boards. The completed board neeeded to be weatherproof to be put outside and I was more than eager to get down to work and face the challenge.

Japán kalligráfia Aikido Shurenkan Sportegyesület Japán kalligráfia Aikido Shurenkan Dojo tábla
japán kalligráfia Shinkendo

My next project was a board again, this time for Shinkendō dōjō. It was an indoor board so I could use original Japanese calligraphy ink to brush it in. First I made a  draft and with the use of that I made a 1:1 size calligraphy which I brushed on the board. The final size came to 15cm x 59 cm.

Japán kalligráfia Shinkendo
japán kalligráfia Wadoryu Karate-do

I also created a Wadōryū Karatedō calligraphy for an enthusiastic practitioner of martial arts.


The calligraphy „Kenpō Bujutsu Tanrendō” was also a difficult one to make. It required a lot of preparation, practice and concentration. Although  the practice of calligraphy – like martial arts, tea ceremony or ikebana – is a never-ending learning process, we can always do one thing: devote ourselves completely to our task and be present in the moment. This presence will then be reflected in anything we do, be it a success or not.

Japán kalligráfia Kempo Bujutsu Tanrendo
   Shobukai  Shobukai (尚武会) calligraphy; „encounter of warriors’ spirit”.
 Karate-do Shobukai

Karate-dō Shobukai(空手道尚武会) can be translated literally as the„meeting of the warriors of the empty hand”

To the right is Karatedō Shōbukai (空手道尚武会), again on a board. The original calligraphy was made on kakizome paper.

Shinkendo Kuyo Junikun Shinkendo Kuyo Junikun
While the five-part circle of Gorin Goho Gogyo illustrates the comprehensive philosophy of  Shinkendō dōjō the even more complex Kuyo Junikun picture shows the „eight ways” a practitioner has to follow in his martial arts practice. The wisdom of Obata sensei, father of these teachings and this style of martial arts,  shines through his words.

I was extremely thankful for this complex and challenging task as it required profound concentration and patience. I can only hope that the completed calligraphy serves its purpose and brings joy to those who view it. 


Please click on the links to view the websites of martial arts dojos and enjoy their art!

Seal Carving

For the original version please click here
Translated by Judit Simon

Over the centuries, seal-making has been practised by master seal engravers who, throughout their lives, devotedly worked on the perfection of this beautiful art. But there have always been calligraphers who carved their seals themselves.
As there are practically no master engravers in Hungary, it is quite difficult for calligraphers to get hold of private seals. To solve this problem, I began working out solutions and started making my own seals. (Read more on seals I use here).

In this month’s issue of ICCPS' newsletter I have read interesting facts about Chinese seal stones. There is a great variety of stones used for seal making and it is useful to know what these are. For a long time seals were made of copper or jade, which were hard materials and difficult to carve. Later softer stones were used, the four most common of which are “The four well-known seal stones of China”.
The first stone is the Balin stone (巴淋石), a special, yellowish, reddish stone, not too hard and not too soft. It is produced in Inner Mongolia. The second is the Shoushan stone (寿 山石) with a milky white colour with shades of yellow or red. Due to its pure texture and other qualities, it is considered the national stone of China by many artists. The best quality stones have a pearly, creamy colour and a greasy feel. They are produced in the picturesque village of Shoushan in Fouzan province. The third stone is the Qingtian stone (青田石)with a dense texture. It comes in a great variety of colours (yellow, red, green, blue, brownish, or a mixture of these). Due to its softness, it is easier to carve. It is produced in Qingtian county in Zheijang province. The oldest type of seal stone is also said to have been produced here. Finally, the fourth stone is the so-called Changhua stone (鶏血石) which can be red or grey, sometimes flecked with white dots. This stone has a greasy feel and a mild colour.
In Japan seals, inkan (印鑑) or hanko (判子) are essential to everyday life because they are used on all kinds of documents to replace signatures. Each seal is a unique work of art, carved out of ivory, wood or stone, with great care.  

When we make a seal, we traditionally carve a name into it using "seal script”, an ancient calligraphy style. (For more on calligraphy styles and the seal script please click here). First we prepare the stone, polish its surface, write the kanji on it and then carve in the characters. This is how the below two seals were made.

These two seals were made from soft talc. This stone is easy to carve and can be bought in many shops.

Modern technology also helps us in making seals. After we draw the outlines of the text and process it digitally, we can apply it on any surface we wish, such as plastic or traditional seal rubber as shown below.

Other materials, like wood can also be used. I got this beautiful wooden seal “body” not long ago and after trying out several materials I finally carved the characters into wood. This is how the final version looks like:

There is an inexhaustible source of dictionaries and books available on seals, their material and the texts carved into them.

Seals and the Seal Script

Seal script, or tenshotai (篆書体) as its name implies, is  a writing style predominantly used in seals in modern times.

Translated from here
Translated by Judit Simon

This ancient Chinese calligraphy style evolved from the earliest forms of printing when the characters were carved into stones. Nowadays characters inscribed in this style can  mainly be found in seals and their unique imprint gives the finishing touch to calligraphy pieces. Seal script, like other calligraphy styles has its own rules of writing but it also needs to be adjusted to the shape of the seal. (On personal name seals called hanko (判子) or inshō (印章) which are used in Japan instead of signatures we cannot really find seal scripts because this ancient writing style differs greatly from the modern forms of kanji. All in all it can be stated that this early form of calligraphy reflects man's desire to create something beautiful and harmonious.

In Japan there was no such thing as seal script. It arrived in Japan with the seals. Seal script has two forms, great seal script and small seal script, the former being the more ancient one of the two. Let's take a look at some examples of modern characters and seal- script characters. Seal scripts from left to right: dragon (龍), mouth (口), man in two styles (人); heart (心), big (大), calmness (安), writing (書) and nothing (無) in great seal script and finally horse (馬) in small seal script.

For lovers of calligraphy, seals are very intriguing objects. Their imprints on the paper serve as the "signature" of the calligrapher and by this can we identify the artist who brushed the calligraphy. The characters on a seal can also represent the school or the monastery the calligrapher belongs to or it can express a thought he considers very important. While in the past calligraphers made their own seals, today there are expert seal-makers who specialize in creating these beautiful objects.

Finally let's examine four seals with the same name, Niko (仁虎) inscribed on them in four different styles (the last one in seal script).

The History of Calligraphy Styles

/translated from: click here /
Translated by Judit Simon

English terms used for the main calligraphy styles

English term
(hanzi - traditional)
Japanese (kanji)
Korean (hanja)
(hanzi - simplified)
Chinese, Mandarin (pinyin)
Japanese (Hepburn romaji)
Korean (hangul)
Vietnamese (Quốc ngữ)
Seal script
(Small seal)
Triện thư
Clerical script
(Official script)
Lệ thư
Regular script
(Standard script)
Khải thư
Semi-cursive script
(Running script)
Hành thư
Cursive script
(Grass script)
Thảo thư

The history of calligraphy in Japan dates back to the beginning of writing. In the beginning there was no written language in Japan. Around 5 A. D. a tendency of importing the Chinese writing system began to develop. Japanese literati men started copying and studying Chinese texts and wrote in Chinese.

Concurrently they began to use the Chinese writing system to represent their own language. They started using kanji (Chinese characters)[1] in a way so that they fitted the Japanese language. Since Japanese language - unlike Chinese - is an agglutinative language, they needed to create affixes to define the words' meaning and grammatical function. In doing so, they began using certain Chinese „loanwords” or characters, disregarding their meaning and using them purely for phonetic purposes. Each character was used to represent one Japanese syllable.

There also existed  a type of writing, a syllabic script where Chinese characters were used for their sounds in order to transcribe the words of Japanese speech syllable by syllable.[2] Eventually (in the 9th century) this system was simplified, giving rise to the evolution of the kana syllabaries.[3] By the 10th century syllabic writing had already become widespread and in the 11th century an unique, distinctively Japanese form of calligraphy emerged. In spite of the above, for over centuries Chinese still remained the dominant language in literary circles, influencing it greatly. Although printing had been present in Japan since the 8th century it could not replace the more widespread duplicating methods or calligraphy until the 16th century when book printing began. Nevertheless, calligraphy prevailed and it played an important role in woodblock printing.

Shotai (書体), a type of calligraphy written in Chinese characters is still widely practised in Japan. The different writing styles are the reflections of the historical development of writing in China.

„Living” Calligraphy Styles

Kalligráfiai stílusok "élőben"


Tensho, archaic or seal script, first appeared on seals during the Quin Dynasty (221-206 BC). Reisho or clerical, official script[4]was used in official documents. These are ancient Chinese calligraphy styles which had not been used in Japan until the Edo era when the studying of Chinese culture and literature became popular among learned men.

Kaisho or regular script[5], on the other hand, was much more widely-spread. It has survived until the present day and it is a style used in modern typography. Gyōsho or semi-cursive script is a softer and faster form of the kaisho script, in which the strokes are joined together to form a more rounded whole. This style is often used in informal texts. Sōsho or grass script is a highly cursive, sweeping style of calligraphy written with swift strokes where the characters flow into each other. Due to this, character sizes in the writing tend to differ in size, which further enhances the dynamism and artistic value of the writing.

Although calligraphy styles may have changed over the centuries, the method of calligraphy practice and the tools used have remained almost unchanged. The two basic types of brush, futofude (thick brush) and hosofude (thin brush) are used. With futofude the artist writes the calligraphy and hosofude is used for writing fine cursive scripts or for signing the calligraphy work. Sumi (ink) is still prepared much the same way as it was hundreds of years ago.[6]


[1] Kanji is the name of the adopted Chinese characters . In modern Japanese language there are about 2000 basic kanji and there is also Kana, a syllabaric writing system.
[2] In Man’Yōshū (万葉集), a poetry anthology from around 759 CE it can clearly be seen how Chinese characters, or kanji, were used purely for their phonetic purposes  to represent Japanese syllables.This evolved into the so-called man’yōgana (万葉仮名) writing style.
[3] In modern Japanese language there are two types of kana. Hiragana characters are used to „overcome” the differences in Japanese and Chinese grammar and also to write words that have no kanji. Children are first taught hiragana at school . Katakana characters are used   for foreign words or names borrowed from countries other than China.
[4] It is sometimes referred to as „scrivener”-style as it was used by scriveners in offices.
[5] In certain texts kaisho is sometimes referred to as „block” style.
[6] Ink sticks are made from pine soot using other procedures that include mixing with glue,  drying and molding. To make liquid ink, the ink stick is rubbed in water on an ink stone until the required shade of black colour is attained. 

The Story of Kakizome

/translated from: click here /
Translated by Judit Simon

Kakizome (書き初め or the „first writing of the year”) is the Japanese term used for the first brush-writing of the year, performed traditionally on the second day of January. Other names of this event are 吉書 (kissho), 試筆(shihitsu) and 初硯(hatsusuzuri).

It is interesting to observe how much emphasis is put on a number of „first” things in Japan. We can say that this time of year is the celebration of the „firsts”. Among others is 初詣で (hatsumōde), the first visit to a shintō shrine or 初釜 (hatsugama), the first tea ceremony of the year.
The story of kakizome goes back to the distant past when it was celebrated in the imperial court only. Then, over the course of centuries, it had spread over Japan and by the end of the Edo-era (江戸時代, 1603-1868) it became a popular, nationwide event.
 Traditionally  kakizome is done using freshly rubbed ink and the first water drawn from the well on 1 January. Ink grinding provides perfect opportunity for meditation and is always performed with the greatest care. Once the ink is ready, the writer lifts up the brush and with steady strokes, smoothly and uninterruptedly  brushes the calligraphy on paper. This moment perfectly reveals the subtle meaning of the phrase 書は人なり (sho ha hito nari) „ calligraphy is the person” or in other words: our handwriting reflects our personality.
 Usually an auspicious word or phrase was written out on paper, something that embodies one’s wishes or resolutions for the New Year. Popular topics were haiku (俳句) about longevity, the coming of spring or perennial youth. A frequently brushed poem was: 「長生殿裏春秋富、不老門前日月遅」)
In modern times people prefer to write kanji with a positive meaning. Kakizome is also often given as an assignment to primary or secondary school students for the winter holidays. These calligraphies are still often burned during the Sagicho festival (左義長祭り) on the night of 14 January. According to popular belief the higher your burning paper flies the more skilled you will be in the new year.
Every year on 5 January  thousands gather at the Nippon Budōkan (日本武道館) in Chiyoda-ku (千代田区), Tokyo to write out their wishes for the new year. This is the first large-scale calligraphic event of the year, widely covered by the media.
Popular themes are:
富士山・ Mount Fuji
つよい心 or 強い心・ strong heart
強い信念・ strong faith
強い決意・ strong determination
がんばる・ Go ahead, do it!
創造する心・ to create a heart
美しい心・ beautiful heart/mind
心に太陽・ sun in the heart
健全な心・ healthy heart
生きる力・ living force
げん気 or 元気・  health
夢と希望・ dream and hope
希望の朝・ the morning of hope
美の追求・ searching for beauty
未来の夢・ dream of the future
道法自然・ the law of the path is natural
自然を守る・ to protect nature
白いはと(鳩)・ white dove
世界平和・ world peace
平和の国・ peaceful country
幸せな家庭・ happy home
晴れた空・ light sky
春風・ spring wind
陽春・ the time of spring
春光千里・ long spring
四海の春・ the spring of four seas
明るい春・ bright spring
雪の正月・ snowy new year
七くさ・ seven (spring or autumn) plants
白い山・ white mountain
ゆき山・ snowy mountain
白嶺夕景・ snow-capped mountain
雪光る・ bright snow
御来光・ to see the sunrise from the top of a tall mountain
雪国紀行・ journal of a snowy landscape
始業式・ opening ceremony
卒業記念・ school-leaving memory
宇宙旅行・ boat trip
... and so on…..

The Zen Stick

I have already mentioned the "zen line" and the "zen stick". Due to their deep connection to zen buddhism, they often appear in calligraphies of zen masters. And what is so intriguing about these simple lines? Let's find out together!

(Translated from here)
Translated by Judit Simon

Let's begin at the beginning. I wrote about the Hitsuzendō (筆禅道) school in my previous article. In this zen calligraphy school two things are  considered fundamental, regardless of whether one is a beginner or a master. One of these is the "zen circle" and the other is the so-called "zen line". These two form the basis of all practice, in other words they are the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. The line and the circle is where we start our practice from and this is where we return to over and over again.

Although the circle may not appear in other schools, the line plays an important role everywhere. I have already mentioned that at the beginning of our practice, we all start with drawing vertical and horizontal lines. One might think this is an easy task, but when tried, it soon becomes clear that it is not so! First of all the brush tip reacts to every little movement sensitively, so even a tiny bit of unevenness in our handling the brush will instanty show in the line we are drawing. It is also not easy to draw a straight and even line. Our body has to get used to a new way of writing, i.e when we draw the lines by moving our whole upper body, not the wrist or the arm. It is very difficult to draw an even (and also straight) line without using our body. In order to master this kind of "whole-body-movement' in the Hitsuzendō (筆禅道) school, the students also practice drawing diagonal lines.
Here is a zen line:

japanese calligraphy

So the "zen line" forms a fundamental part of the practice. "Zen line", although in a lot of ways similar to "zen stick", still differs from it. "Zen line" is called mujibo (無字棒), which literally means "not a character line". This might sound a bit obscure so let me put it this way: mujibo means: "empty line". Whereas "zen stick", usually made from bamboo, is called kanabō (金棒), or "iron stick". This "iron stick" is not the weapon which looks like a flail without the chain.

This stick is called "iron" because it keeps the "devil" away with its power and helps the buddhist monks in their practice. This is a tool with which the master (at the right moment) strikes the student so as to bring his wandering mind back to focusing wholly on his practice.

If we now take a closer look at the "zen sticks" of zen master Hakuin (Hakuin Ekaku, 白 隠 慧鶴, 1685-1768 A.D.) we will find that they sometimes transform into a character or a dragon, accompanied by further teachings written next to the "stick".

Hakuin Zenji

Here are some other "zen sticks" for further study.

Japanese calligraphy zen sticks

Zen, Calligraphy and The Way of Tea

(Translated from here)
Translated by Judit Simon

Tea ceremony is not only closely related to zen buddhism, but it also takes its roots in it.

It originates from the tea-drinking gatherings of Japanese monks who, before taking their tea, made offerings to various deities. Zen buddhist monks became the first tea masters and the Japanese tea ceremony began to evolve its own aesthetic. Tea ceremony dates back to the 15th-16th century when Japanese masters like Murata Shukō (村田珠光, 1423-1502 C.E.) or Sen no Rikyū (千利休, 1522-21 April, 1591) perfected the art of tea-drinking, developing it into a  fully spiritual practice.

A tea master aspires to be more than an artist - he wishes to become one with his art. The aim is to reach total unity. A tea master becomes one with his art  like a zen archer becomes one with his target. There is no clear boundary between the mind and the hand, action and non-action

This amazing art is described  in full detail in the Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzō (岡倉覚三, also called: Okakura Tenshin, 岡倉 天心 14 February 1862.-  2 September 1913. C.E). Tea ceremony still preserves the harmony and art its masters established hundreds of years ago.

Calligraphy plays a central role in tea ceremonies. The only decoration a sparsely furnished tearoom  usually allows for is a piece of carefully chosen calligraphy, and, occassionally, a Japanese flower-arrangement  (ikebana, 生け花).

Since Zen masters create their calligraphy masterpieces in a  state of "no-mindedness" (a state where the mind flows freely and ultimate concentration can be attained), their works are fresh and original,  full of vital energy. Master Sen no Rikyū believed that a tea-room should be decorated with nothing else but a piece of calligraphy. He was  certain that only the kind of art that truly reflects the vitality of zen can lead the mind towards enlightenment.. He realized that calligraphy inevitably  followed high-level spirituality. A perfect brush stroke can only be drawn with a hand led by a compassionate mind. A calligraphy that reflects deep thoughts cannot be created with a wandering mind filled with superficial ideas..A kanji that can reveal  its innermost meaning to the viewer must be written by a master who has attained oneness of mind through meditation and understanding.

Here is a calligraphy I have made for a friend's tearoom. It is a well-known phrase, an invitation for tea.