The oncoming of winter finds me reinspired to sit by my kitchen window with a good cup of tea, and practice my Chinese calligraphy (shufa) again. In this video clip, shufa master Qianshen Bai discusses the similarity of calligraphy brush movements and dynamics with taijiquan and other martial arts. He makes an interesting point how everything in taijiquan is about making a circle, and to go left you first go right, and to go up you first go down, such as in the movement of circles. Conicidentally, I was just this morning having a good laugh with a friend as I explained how that for any shufa brush stroke you frequently have to begin and end in the opposite direction of your intended stroke, in order to begin well and finish well. When I heard Qianshen Bai describe this, I also thought of the circle walking of baguazhang, which Lu Shengli describes so eloquently in Combat Techniques of Taiji, Xingyi, and Bagua:
“Because bagua is about change, the main idea of Bagua Zhang is bian or changing. It is said that wherever there is movement, there is change that never ceases. Change in this context refers to the changes of yin and yang. Physically, all change is said to come from and return to the crossing of the arms or the walking of the circle.”
Qianshen Bai goes on to talk about movement with a natural opening, and always followed by a return. He adds that movement should be efficient, meaning that it should be logical and consistent. No less importantly, he describes that movement should also be organic and treated as a whole. He goes on to provide some some good pointers on shufa brush technique.
I found it paradoxical to learn from watching Qianshen Bai as he practiced on a newspaper article entitled “Teaching by initimidation,” which has been the opposite of my experience in learning shufa. The only initimidation I have felt studying shufa always arises from within my own mind, in the challenge to overcome self-doubt and boldly press the brush to the blank paper in front of me.