When I began to teach aikido, like many people, I had a photo of Master Ueshiba in the tokonoma. That was the way I had been taught, bowing in the direction of the master. When I went to Master Tsuda’s dojo for the first time, there was a calligraphy, printed by a friend of his who was an artist, after an ancient stone engraving. It was « Bodaï ». This calligraphy was there, when I had expected to see a photo of Master Ueshiba… Moreover the lines were thick… – 8 cm, that’s very thick! – And it resonated in a different way, it had another respiration…
It is another dimension. And seeing the calligraphy at each session… makes things change completely.
Around the month of June, Master Tsuda would bring his calligraphies rolled up under his arm : they were displayed in the dojo and were for sale.
I must say that, at the dojo, in the first years, we didn’t understand anything…! We didn’t know what it was, so we asked « what does it mean? »… and we weren’t at all capable of appreciating calligraphy…
The price for a calligraphy was about 100 euros,which is a ridiculous price, but it seemed enormous to us ! Just for one ideogram ! It seemed out of proportion !
It took us a certain number of years to begin to appreciate them and to feel what he was expressing through them.
He sometimes explained that the people who are interested in calligraphy know that it is not the sign which is important but the space it delineates. I must say that at the time this seemed a little peculiar to us. We were somehow closed to all this. I didn’t understand. Then gradually we began to appreciate it.
It was mainly the Swiss who bought them, because they were better off than the French ! So quite a lot of the calligraphies went off to Switzerland.
But still, there were generally quite a lot of people who bought calligraphies. Often because it was a bit like having a souvenir of Master Tsuda. But afterwards, unfortunately, those people didn’t always take care of them : some calligraphies were later found folded up because they had been stored in a drawer. The material had got damaged of course !…
For me, it gradually began to make sense; I thought to myself « if Master Tsuda is leaving these calligraphies, it’s because there is something there ».
I then began to take an interest in calligraphy. Also besides Tsuda’s. I discovered other types of calligraphies and the kakemonos. I began to look at them, to see them and to try and feel what was going on. And seeing calligraphies by great masters, like zen masters for example, I discovered that, actually, it wasn’t the aesthetic aspect that mattered, it was something else. But it depends on the Master : thinking about the calligraphies by one great zen master, I would say : « yes, they are very aesthetic, they look great on a 1930 style sideboard, but they don’t convey anything to me at all! » And on the contrary, sometimes, calligraphies by unknown people have a great strength…
A few years ago I went into a Japanese restaurant, and in the entrance I saw a calligraphy mounted as a kakemono. And I thought « now, this is a calligraphy ! » then I asked the owner
« what is this calligraphy ? »… he replied « oh, that’s simply wishes of success, it’s my grandfather who wrote them… » Well, then, that makes you say : « yes, there is ki in there ! »
Of course this calligraphy wasn’t part of a teaching, it wasn’t meant to be aesthetic either, but it was a grandfather’s wishes to his grandchildren who were about to open a restaurant in France. And so it had a lot in it !
It’s also all this you can discover with calligraphy : at a certain point, it conveys something to you.You don’t always understand what it means but you think : « ah, there’s a person there, a certain type of attention. »
Image: Calligraphie de Itsuo Tsuda, Yumé (Dream)