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“The Way of Calligraphy” — NY Buddhist Church

Shodo Practice on the Isle of Manhattan


Above all, Shodo, the traditional Japanese art of calligraphy is a meditative practice. Adopted from China in the sixth or seventh century along with the introduction of Buddhism, and once an educational rite of the ruling elite, every Japanese student nowadays is required to study Shodo in elementary school. One of many cultural arts, Shodo involves five basic scripts: tensho (seal style), reisho (scribe’s style), kaisho (block style), gyosho (semi-cursive style), and sosho (cursive style). The practice requires a set of basic materials, namely a fude (brush), washi (paper), suzuri (ink stone) and sumi (ink-stick). Shodo classes are offered at the New York Buddhist Church. twice a week under the supervision of the Resident Minister – Rev. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki.

I arrive early for Shodo class one Tuesday. Outside birds chirp amid the thick foliage protecting the residential neighborhood from a continuous sound of zipping cars below on the Westside Highway. Next to the entrance stands a massive statue in commemoration of the founder of Jodo Shinshu-Shinran Shonin (1173 -1262 A.D.). Resident minister Rev. Nakagaki greets me at the door. He seems slightly shy despite his polished English. He offers something to drink as we sit a moment before class begins. I ask him to chart a trajectory of his geographic path. He tells me he’s lived in Northern California and Seattle before coming to New York. Meanwhile, the doorbell rings once, twice, another few times as students arrive in succession. My classmates range in age, many elders and one woman in her late-20s or early 30s. We are 8 in total.

Upstairs in what may once have been a dining area 9 of us sit around a rectangular table facing one another before our materials – first a felt piece on the table and newspaper (practice paper) / hanshi (rice paper) atop which a bunchin (weight) rests. Rev. Nakagaki describes the brush is viewed as an extension of oneself. One must write with the body, not the hand. Sitting one fist away from the table in an erect position, one must relax the body – concentrate on deep breathing. In a practice where the moment at hand is all, there is no room for hesitation. Ink preparation is just as important a process as the making of a stroke. A kind of swift rigor is necessary. One begins to become mindful of every moment and decision in itself.

Reported By Nani S. Walker

New York Buddhist Church (NYBC)
331-332 Riverside Dr. (bet. 105th & 106th Sts.)
New York, NY 10025
TEL: 212-678-0305/

Shodo Class
Tuesdays, 12:30pm-2pm
Unpitsu Brush Technique Class
Saturdays, 11:30am-2pm
Fee Shodo: At $30/month for non-members and $20/month for members of the NYBC, you can practice the way of calligraphy weekly (non-certification). Unpitsu: $10/1 class
NYBC will give Kakizome (First Caligraphy on the New Year) event in the New Year’s Day.