Someone once told me the story of a duel between a Japanese calligrapher and a samurai.  The calligrapher had been walking in the market one day when he accidentally bumped into the samurai.  The samurai was offended and challenged the calligrapher to a duel.  The calligrapher was terrified.  He had never held a sword in his life.  For several days the calligrapher practiced sword with a friend.  He was clueless.  He would shake with fear and drop his sword, or lose his grip and send the sword flying through the air.  The morning of the duel, the friend was not sure what else to do.  He told the calligrapher to just pretend the sword was a brush.  Finally, the duel came, and the calligrapher and the samurai stood face to face.  The samurai drew his sword.  The calligrapher, picturing his brush, did the same.  The samurai, seeing the calligrapher’s motions, instantly fell to his knees begging forgiveness, saying he had not meant to challenge a sword master. 

Hearing this story, we know that the calligrapher was not really a sword master.  So, how could a samurai be fooled?  What had he seen in the calligrapher’s movements? 

Although this is just a story, calligraphy and sword have many things in common.

In sword practice, there is no room for error.  One wrong movement could prove disastrous.  Chinese calligraphy is the same.  In calligraphy (unlike oil painting) you are not allowed to touch up or cover over mistakes.  Everything must be done perfectly. 

How is this perfection achieved?  By taking the unnatural and making it natural.

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The Basic Strokes

All students of Chinese calligraphy begin in the same way, with the basic brush strokes:

Calligraphy Brush Strokes
  1. Dot (点 diǎn)
  2. Horizontal (横 héng)
  3. Vertical (竖 shù)
  4. Hook (钩 gōu)
  5. Lifting (提 tí)
  6. Left-Falling (撇 piē)
  7. Short Left- Falling (短撇 duǎn piē)
  8. Right-Falling) 捺 nà

Sword practice begins with the basic sword strokes.

Basic Sword Strokes
  1. Draw (抽 chōu)
  2. Carry (带 dài)
  3. Lift (提 tí)
  4. Ge (格 gé)
  5. Ji (击 jī)
  6. Point (点 diǎn)
  7. Spring-up (崩 bēng)
  8. Stab (刺 cì)
  9. Stir (搅 jiǎo)
  10. Press (压 yā)
  11. Split (劈 pī)
  12. Intercept (截 jié)
  13. Slice (洗 xǐ)

Skills Are Internalized

These basics are drilled over and over again for may years.  Slowly, they are internalized.  The student builds up muscle memory.   Strokes that were once awkward become smooth and instinctive.  The student develops mental skills such as patience, sensitivity, and calm.  He or she also develops proper physical alignment, correct breathing, and endurance. 

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