50 – Shodo: The practice of mindfulness through the ancient art of Japanese calligraphy with Rie Takeda

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Rie Takeda on her recently published book about shodo and how people can practise the art of shodo with the use of 10 fascinating Japanese words.



Nana Korobi Ya Oki

'This means seven falls, eight rises. I wanted to pick a yojijukugo in this style, not too complicated to practise, but also like the proverb which has the positive uplifting meaning.

Nana is seven and Korobi is fall, to fall. And eight is hachi, and Ya is hachi, so eight or eight times. And Oki is to rise, to get up. So one can already envisage the abstract movement or the picture. So that means we will experience a lot of ups and downs in life, but we will be fine in the end. It's more like accepting our difficulties again and again.'  - Rie Takeda


Rie Takeda

Rie Takeda is a freelance artist and a professional calligrapher; she has been practising shodo since the age of five, under the creative supervision of her grandmother, a distinguished Gayu calligraphy artist. 

Rie teaches shodo in various countries, including the UK, Switzerland, and Germany. She produces Neo-Japonism paintings, calligraphy works, washi paper and vintage Kimono collages, illustrations, and works in body art. Rie was also a guest on episode 32 of the Ikigai Podcast, where she talked about Mindfulness Calligraphy.



LINKS

Website - Neo-Japonism artist and calligrapher.

Shodo - The practice of mindfulness through the ancient art of Japanese calligraphy.


Podcast Highlights

  • Writing about shodo. At 1:21, Rie shares her experience writing a book about shodo

  • Being aware of inner energy. At 19:05, Nick and Rie talk about being in the state of mushin and being aware of our inner energy.

  • Challenges from teaching shodo. At 31:19, Rie shares the challenges she encounters when teaching shodo

  • The brush strokes of 10 Japanese words. At 36:13, Nick and Rie discuss the 10 Japanese words mentioned in Rie’s book.

  • Yorokobi. At 36:14, Nick and Rie discuss yorokobi (joy).

  • Waki. At 37:59, the two talk about waki (energy of peace).

  • Unsui. At 47:43, Rie explains what unsui (floating clouds and water) is.

  • Nichigettsu. At 50:49, Rie talks about nichigettsu (sun and moon).

  • Ikigai. At 56:20, Rie explains why she chose ikigai as one of the templates to practise shodo.

  • Nana Korobi Ya Oki. At 1:03:13, Nick and Rie discuss the expression Nana korobi ya oki (seven falls, eight rises).

  • Shonen. At 1:14:08, Rie explains what shonen (right mindfulness) is.



Writing about shodo

Being a professional calligrapher, Rie mastered and teaches the art of shodo. Shodo is one of the oldest and most profound art forms in Japan, and is often translated as “the way of artistic handwriting.”


Shodo


"I appreciate that the way I teach shodo was maybe part of my students' healing process. Because without those experiences, I wouldn't have developed this method effectively."


With years of experience, Rie was able to write her own book called Shodo: The practice of mindfulness through the ancient art of Japanese calligraphy. Her book offers insights into what shodo is, and serves as a guide for those wanting to explore and practice shodo.



Shodo Book - Rie Takeda


Being aware of inner energy

Mushin (void heart), the state of being free from obstructive thoughts, is the key to learning shodo. The state of mushin in calligraphy is the core foundation for learners to become fully aware of their inner energy.



“Zen philosophy and shodo calligraphy are connected, especially through the practice of mindfulness, which can lead us to experience a state of mushin. The state of mushin (from a Zen word that can be translated as “void heart”) can be defined as “being free from obstructive thoughts” or an “unoccupied heart”, and is key to learning the art of shodo.”


Zen and Shodo


The inner energy referred to as Ki or Qi is our living resource. In her workshops and courses, Rie takes a few minutes with her students to activate their Qi and let them experience the warmth of their inner energy. The brush follows their inner energy rather than their body trying to control the brush.



“When your inner filter is not clean or cleansed, you can have time for yutori but not really yutori quality. So first you need to cleanse your inner filter, and as time passes, you will regenerate and activate the Qi or energy. And then you’re going to have quality yutori time. The whole process is valuable.”


Yutori Quality


The brush strokes of Japanese words

In her book, Rie goes through the brush strokes of 10 Japanese words. These words serve as a template or guide for her readers who want to practise shodo.



Yorokobi 歓び

Yorokobi (joy) is a good template to study shodo because joy is one of our major emotional feelings. Moreover, it is fun to practise with because the kanji is easier to visualise as it resembles a smiling face.



Waki 和気

Waki is composed of two kanji characters: Wa (peace and harmony) and Ki or Qi (energy), thus, waki means “the energy of peace.” The practice of shodo requires mindfulness and the energy of peace is needed. As people go through each brush stroke, they experience calmness and become one with each stroke.


Waki


Unsui 雲水

Unsui which means floating clouds and water is a popular name used by monks because it symbolises the concept of a free spirit; the smooth formation of the clouds, and how the water flows freely depicts the state of being free – having the ability to move freely.


Unsui


Nichigetsu 日月

Nichigettsu which translates to sun and moon is easy to visualise for beginners. Hence, it is an ideal template for practising basic calligraphy movements. It is more of a foundation to mastering the flow of calligraphy.


Nichigetsu


Ikigai 生き甲斐

Ikigai, which Rie described as “sparks of life” in her book, is a term that has been gaining attention outside Japan. However, its authentic definition is not known to many. That is why trying to visualise its kanji can help people understand its deeper meaning.


Ikigai


Nana Korobi Ya Oki 七転び八起き

Nana Korobi Ya Oki is an example of yojijukugo (four-kanji proverb) which means seven falls, eight rises. It’s a template that’s not too complicated for beginners and possesses an uplifting meaning that we might experience a lot of ups and downs in life, but we will manage to get through it in the end.


Nana Korobi Ya Oki


“For me, it’s always been this idea of persistence, but it also seems to reflect the true nature of life. We just go through ups and downs, and the most important thing is to keep going and have that hope.”


Persistence


Shonen

Shonen, which translates to “right mindfulness” is one of the Buddhist eightfold noble paths. The practice of shodo requires mindfulness, and Shonen is the right template to express it.



A detailed explanation of the art of shodo

Aside from using 10 templates as an example, Rie’s book covers other elements calligraphy practice, such as:


  • Building a regular practice rotuine

  • Preparing your shodo practice

  • Calligraphy materials

  • How to prepare the ink to calm the mind

  • How to release physical tension

  • How to raise your Ki

  • Practical brushwork

  • How to prepare the paper

  • How to hold the brush

  • Signing your work

  • Warming up two foundational brushstrokes

  • Basic techniques and movement

These components serve as a guide for people wanting to study or advance their skills in the art of shodo. 



Conclusion

Japanese calligraphy is more than just the art of writing, it involves a deeper connection with each brush stroke. One must understand the basics to fully understand and practise the art of shodo. The 10 Japanese words introduced by Rie are good examples of templates to practise with, as they convey a profound meaning that helps people to connect to the brush. 

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