What is Shodo - and Why I Learned

What is Shodo - and Why I Learned

There are those people in life that you just connect with.  They are fun, friendly, easy to get along with – and because you connect easily it makes teaching and learning from one another fun and easy too.  This New Year I spent with a friend and former client named Kentaro.  Kentaro had been learning English from me for two years and he was about to make a move from Nashville to California.

As a parting gift he brought back calligraphy tools in order to teach me shodo.  Shodo is a calligraphy art-form and discipline, which combines all three style of Japanese alphabets, including kanji, hiragana and katakana. It originated in China, but was introduced to Japan in the 6th century AD.

What I love about the practice is the ritual of it and its spiritual implications.  Kentaro explained to me the practice of dressing in the robe; and carefully gathering all of your tools.  You use special paper, which is placed over a wool or felt, a paper weight or bunchin, is then placed on top to hold the very delicate paper in place.  A shodo brush and water are the final elements needed to begin.

But at the New Year the most important part of this tradition, is the meditative part.  Kentaro instructed me to concentrate on a word for the year.  Something I wanted to come to fruition.  Since we had been discussing the launch of my new business, Apto, which is an online cultural-linguistic simulator designed to help internationals, like Kentaro, to adapt to life in America, I immediately thought of the word “success.”

The process is slow and deliberate and the whole time you are putting brush to paper you are focused on this one thing.  As an American, I can tell you from years of experience – we are a culture of frenetic multi-taskers – not often encouraged to focus on just ONE thing.  The process gave me a certain rush of concentrated, positive energy – the power of concentrated non-effort!  Of course, Kentaro was very generous with his compliments of my handiwork, probably more than he should have been.

I had so much fun that he encouraged me to create one more.  This time I thought about my personal life.  I focused on the word contentment – in the Japanese the word is closer to “peaceful satisfaction.”

In the end, I walked away with two beautiful works of art that represented a state of mind I wanted to remain present in throughout the course of the year.  More than that, I stepped into a tradition ripe with historical, spiritual, and cultural significance.