Connecting Mind and Brush

I never rush my commissions. Commissions are done on a first come first serve basis, so I have to work on them in the order I get them. However, that doesn’t mean if I finished one commission Thursday night that the next one will be brushed on Friday night. Each calligraphy represents a moment in time of my mind connected with the brush. That moment happens once and it doesn’t ever repeat itself. The few times I have forced myself to brush a commission at a given date, I’m never happy with it. I try, every time, to transport my mind into the words I’m about to brush.

A few weeks ago I had a commission sitting on my desk. It was a scroll for a dojo in Arkansas. The scroll was to be the dojo’s name: MUJUSHINKAN “the no abiding mind place”.

For this one, I had to wait until I was at the moment where I felt free, so that I could project that into my brushwork.

It happened late one night while I was working in the studio. I was editing a YouTube video. I needed to brush a kanji for a graphic I was working on. I set up my table, grabbed a piece of paper, pour some ink, and grabbed the brush. I brushed a few kanji and suddenly knew it was the moment. I quickly grabbed my big brush and a large piece of paper. I laid it on the floor and brushed the characters MUJUSHINKAN. Immediately I felt free, calm, yet focused and determined. The “test” calligraphy was on point and I knew I could transmit that to the scroll. I proceeded to lay the scroll on the floor and brushed MUJUSHINKAN at once. It is, to this date, one of my best scrolls.

Technically speaking the calligraphy is balanced, fluid, and energetic. The strokes are connected yet strong in their individuality. In that respect I am satisfied and content with the outcome. However, what makes the calligraphy great is that not only is technically correct, but it’s also expressing my state of mind in that very moment in time where I held the brush. I have accepted who I was. I was content with the the lines formed on the paper. I was one with the brush.

Many people asks themselves, what is Zen calligraphy? Zen calligraphy is not created by a Zen person, meaning either a Zen master or a Zen student. Zen calligraphy is not Zengo (Zen words) or a Zen poem, or Zen verses from Koans or ancient texts. NICHI NICHI KORE KOJITSU (Everyday is Good Day) is a famous Zen phrase. This phrase brushed in calligraphy doesn’t make it Zen calligraphy.

Zen calligraphy is the one that comes from the Zen mind or mushin (no mind). It is the expression of this “no mind” that makes calligraphy Zen. Zen calligraphy cannot be practiced, it is experienced. One can only practice the technicalities of calligraphy and one can become efficient in the technical aspect of calligraphy. This is very important in order to create art, including Zen calligraphy. However, it is not until your mind is connected with the brush that true Zen calligraphy cannot be created. Mind and brush connected calligraphy is pure, free of thoughts and attachments.

For me, I still have to wait for the Zen mind to appear before I can brush calligraphy. I cannot force it. I cannot invoke it at will. It shows up at unexpected moments and places. All I have to do is recognize it when it’s here and pick up the brush instantly before it goes away.

I need more time on the cushion.

Originally published at

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