Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Crazy for Kanji"

H. E. Davey Sensei's Japanese calligraphy will be featured in the upcoming Stone Bridge Press book Crazy for Kanji. A sample of his brush writing, which will appear in the new book, can been seen above. It shows the three different script styles commonly used in Japanese calligraphic art.

The kanji, or "Chinese character," depicted in all three illustrations is do (a.k.a. michi), which means "a road" in its more utilitarian usage and "the Way" in more spiritual terms. Many traditional Japanese arts that are practiced for spiritual realization end with the character for do. Examples are shodo ("the Way of brush calligraphy") and budo ("the martial Way," in other words, martial arts). In the illustration above, do is brushed using kaisho, gyosho, and sosho script styles. Moving from left to right, each script becomes more and more abbreviated and abstract.

You can learn more about how shodo functions as an ancient system of writing, moving meditation, and abstract art, by visiting our sister blog Art of Shodo at

You can purchase Davey Sensei's latest book The Japanese Way of the Artist, which covers Japanese calligraphy in detail, through

Want to find out more about the Sennin Foundation Center for Japanese Cultural Arts Integrated Shodo & Meditation program? Just drop by

You can read more about The Japanese Way of the Artist and the upcoming Crazy for Kanji at Stone Bridge Press focuses on books about Japanese culture that will appeal to many readers of this blog.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Robert E. Carter Reviews "The Japanese Way of the Artist"

H. E. Davey, in "The Japanese Way of the Artist," both describes the various "Ways" of the artist, and deftly identifies how these arts transform one who diligently practices them. This anthology of three previous works makes available the broad strokes, as well as the practical details, of the Japanese arts. Davey's writing is highly accessible and remarkably accurate and insightful. This is an important source for understanding the Japanese and their artistic "Ways."

About the Reviewer: Dr. Robert E. Carter, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy for Canada’s Trent University, has authored numerous works on Japanese spirituality and meditation, including The Japanese Arts & Self-Cultivation, Encounter with Enlightenment: A Study of Japanese Ethics, and Becoming Bamboo: Western and Eastern Explorations of the Meaning of Life.

ForeWord Magazine Review

Living the Japanese Arts & Ways: 45 Paths to Meditation & Beauty
by: H.E. DaveyIssue Month:
November/December 2002
Stone Bridge Press
50 illustrations
244 pages
ISBN: 188065671X

A spiritual path can emerge from learning Japanese calligraphy, flower arranging, tea ceremony, or martial arts. While millions of people around the world begin these practices, few go deep enough to experience the spiritual dimensions that are possible. How-to guides rarely cover enlightenment. This one, however, brings forty-five concepts the underpinning of all traditional Japanese cultural practices into focus. Understanding these Ways, the essence of living, points readers toward asking profound questions, getting inspired to take up a practice, and awakening to ultimate reality.The author illustrates how Japanese arts, followed with the right attitudes, can turn ongoing practice into moving meditation: "The Ways involve activity, and so their underlying principles can be discovered only by doing." Continued practice eventually embodies these essential universal truths in the body and mind of the practitioner, to achieve harmonious and effective ways of being in the world. A lifetime of mindful practice creates a physical understanding of, for example, in-yo, the Japanese equivalent of yin-yang, "the basic, complementary, and inseparable dualism evidenced in the relative world." Davey explains such aesthetic and spiritual terms at length, including some that Westerners may think they know like ki (life energy) or Do (the Way).

Connecting with the deepest possibilities in Japanese arts is a tall order. Davey is one Westerner able to deliver. He learned Japanese martial arts from his father and has practiced since he was five. He is now the highest-ranking American in the Nihon Jujutsu and Kobudo divisions of the Kokusai Budoin. This federation, sponsored by the Japanese Imperial Family, has conferred on him the title of Kyoshi or "Master's Certificate," equivalent to a sixth- to eighth-degree black belt. He is currently President of the Sennin Foundation, sponsor of Michi ("The Way") Online, an Internet magazine. In addition, he practices and teaches Japanese calligraphy and brush painting as well as a Japanese form of yoga at the highest levels. He has written books on the particulars of these Ways.

Because this learning must be experiential, there's much that won't be mastered by reading alone. However, the book offers some exercises called "experiments" to physically learn about the human center of gravity (hara), calmness (ochitsuki), and ki. An appendix provides sources for finding a good sensei (teacher). This holistic perspective presents a practical base of philosophy-in-action for those who want to take their Japanese arts beyond surface understanding. (November)

"Brush Meditation" Reviewed at Reader Views

Brush Meditation: A Japanese Way to Mind & Body Harmony
H.E. Davey
Stone Bridge Press (2007)
ISBN 9781880656389
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (4/07)

Once in a while I find it very helpful to venture outside of the realm of things that normally interest me and that I have some knowledge about. Learning about new things is a very stimulating experience and it seems to me that it keeps my brain in good working order. As far as the Japanese art forms are concerned, I am vaguely familiar with the flower arranging, but that is where my knowledge – and even real awareness – of such art forms end. Picking up H. E. Davey’s “Brush Meditation: A Japanese Way to Mind & Body Harmony” was a real eye-opener.

The author begins this book with explanation and history of shodo, continues with the complex connections of mind, body and brush, and finishes with simple step-by-step exercises for the basics of shodo. The illustrations and the photos would certainly be very helpful for anybody who intends to try their hand at this ancient art form.

Mr. Davey’s writing is fluid and engaging. He does not get overly technical and is easy to understand. The book kept my attention and made me wish for more balance in my life. Let me give an example of Mr. Davey’s writing here:

“The kanji, or written characters, used in both Japan and China have transcended their utilitarian function and collectively serve as a visually stirring piece of fine art. Shodo allows the dynamic movement of the artist’s ki (“life energy” or “spirit”) to become observable in the form of rich black ink. In great examples of shodo, you can sense both the rhythm of music as well as the smooth, elegant, and balanced construction of refined architecture. Many practitioners of this art feel that the visible rhythm of Japanese calligraphy ultimately embodies a “picture of the mind” – and accomplished calligraphers recognize that it actually discloses your spiritual state. This recognition is concisely summed up by the traditional Japanese saying: […] If your mind is correct, the brush will be correct. “

Although Mr. Davey stresses several times that one needs to find an instructor to truly begin the exploration of shodo, I found “Brush Meditation” to be an interesting book for anybody who would like to learn at least the basics of shodo as well as anybody who just wishes to become more familiar with the traditional Japanese arts and way of living.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

An Article by H. E. Davey, Author of "The Japanese Way of the Artist"

Shodo: Japanese Brush Meditation
Article and Calligraphy
H. E. Davey

More and more Americans are captivated by Japan’s traditional art forms. In the 21st century, it’s almost as common for children to participate in martial arts like judo as to play baseball. Your wife may study Japanese flower arrangement, while you read the latest book on Zen released by a major American publisher. Although classical Japanese arts have grown in popularity, they aren’t inevitably well understood, and not everyone realizes that martial arts (budo), flower arrangement (kado), tea ceremony (chado), and other activities are actually spiritual paths.

Note that the terms for each of these disciplines end in the word “do,” which means the “way,” as in a way of life leading to spiritual realization. Not only are such arts more than what’s seen on the surface, numerous other activities were “spiritualized” in ancient Japan. Many of these arts are little known in the West, or at least little understood. One of the most popular arts in Japan, also ending with the designation “do,” is shodo—the “way of brush calligraphy.” Western participation in shodo is much smaller than in Japan, and many people have never heard of it.

Of course, a few American art connoisseurs may have seen shodo in museums or books, and some young people in the USA sport tattoos of Japanese characters. Still, even Westerners that know of shodo seem to think that it’s too esoteric, or too difficult to read, to be accessible to most non-Japanese.

I’m living proof that this needn’t be the case.

Discovering Shodo
I began practicing martial arts at age five, tutored by my father, who had studied these arts initially from Japanese-Americans. He later lived in Japan, where his martial arts study continued and intensified.

In addition to the aiki-jujutsu that I learned from my dad, I enrolled in a local judo school. Even as a child, I admired the beautiful Japanese brush writing on the walls of our dojo, or training hall. I didn’t know what it said, but I knew I liked it.

Skipping ahead a few years, I grew interested in painting and drawing in high school and majored in art in college. I also began studying Japanese language, meditation, and healing. And I still admired the calligraphy I saw in homes and businesses of Japanese-American friends, but no teacher of shodo was available to me.

Jumping forward even further, in 1981, I formed the Sennin Foundation Center for Japanese Cultural Arts in Northern California. The primary focus of study at the Sennin Foundation Center is Shin-shin-toitsu-do, the “Way of Mind and Body Unification.” Shin-shin-toitsu-do is a form of Japanese yoga and meditation created in the early 1900s by Nakamura Tempu Sensei. In addition to Japanese yoga, the Sennin Foundation Center offers instruction in Japanese healing arts and martial arts (aiki-jujutsu). I teach all three arts, and over the years, I’ve developed teachers to assist me. However, I also wanted to offer my students optional instruction in brush writing. Unfortunately, in 1981, I’d still hadn’t found a shodo teacher that I wanted to study under.

Practice Begins
After searching for years, in 1986, I met Kobara Ranseki Sensei, one of the most skilled shodo artists living outside of Japan. Deeply impressed, I began practicing with Kobara Sensei, originator of the Ranseki Sho Juku of San Francisco. Kobara Sensei has evolved a distinctive type of shodo and a creative program of instruction. He has, moreover, received numerous awards for excellence from various shodo associations as well as the Japanese government. With his help, I was in time able to exhibit my artwork annually at the International Shodo Exhibition in Japan, where I’ve also received awards, including Jun Taisho—the “Associate Grand Prize.” In 1993, I received Shihan-dai teaching certification, the highest rank in Ranseki Sho Juku calligraphy.

Upon receiving certification, I began offering my students of Shin-shin-toitsu-do instruction in shodo. Like Shin-shin-toitsu-do, shodo is a “way,” traditionally functioning in Japan as both fine art and moving meditation. As such, it’s ideal for students of Shin-shin-toitsu-do or any type of meditation.

Yet some of my students were intimidated by the “foreignness” of shodo, and few Westerners seem to grasp how it functions as dynamic meditation that leads to deeper concentration, willpower, and calmness. To counteract this lack of understanding, I authored Brush Meditation: A Japanese Way to Mind & Body Harmony in 1999. And I hope this article will also lead to a greater appreciation of shodo and its spiritual components in the West.

The Roots of Shodo

Around 2700 BC, according to Chinese tradition, an enigmatic man with four eyes called Tsangh-hsieh created the first Chinese characters. Captivated by the footprints of beasts and birds, he gave birth to the earliest Chinese system of writing. The God of Heaven was believed to have been so moved by Tsangh-hsieh's bird-based characters that he made grain drop from the clouds as a symbol of his happiness with humankind.

Unfortunately for our four-eyed friend, archaeology paints a different picture. Drawings engraved on pieces of tortoise shell and oracle bone date from the Shang Period in China, which is from 1766-1122 BC. These pictures were the archetypes of Chinese characters.
Ancient shamans would bore holes in the shells and/or bones, which were then placed in a sacred fire. The surfaces of these objects would crack and split. Chinese priests, who etched their impressions of “The Voice of Heaven” on the bone or shell using simple sketches, deciphered the resulting fissures. Eventually these pictographs were utilized for legal transactions, conducted via the exchange of etched strips of bamboo or wood. Later, such writings came into religious and official usage as bell inscriptions.

Much later in history, these inscriptions developed into the kanji, or “Chinese characters,” that Japanese and Chinese are familiar with today. Various script styles, such as kaisho (similar to printing in English), gyosho (a semi-cursive script), and sosho (an abstract, cursive form of writing), eventually evolved.

Starting around 552 AD, many elements of Chinese culture came to the Japanese island nation. Chinese characters also arrived on Japan's shores during this era.

Japan had a spoken language, but no system of writing at this time. Thus, the Chinese method of written communication was readily adopted. Initially the Japanese used the entire multitude of Chinese scripts, embracing quite a few of the Chinese readings while adding as many of their own. Characters were later modified in Japan, and new phonetic scripts called hiragana and katakana were born.

An Ink Painting of the Spirit
The spoken languages and cultures of Japan and China differ greatly, but they share a common set of Asian characters, which although pronounced differently by Chinese and Japanese, often convey similar meanings. It’s important to note here that while these characters are utilized for written communication, Japanese calligraphy should not be thought of as just penmanship. In light of the fact that Chinese characters began as simplified drawings or pictograms, it’s evident that no clear-cut dividing line can be found between drawing, ink painting (sumi-e), and calligraphy. Ink painting and shodo originally used the same brush, ink, and paper. Even certain brush strokes are similar. Shodo can be thought of as a system of writing and abstract art originally based on abbreviated drawings. In characters like mountain (yama), for example, it’s still easy to see three mountain peaks.
Kanji transcended their utilitarian function and collectively serve as visually stirring fine art. Shodo allows the dynamic movement of the artist’s ki ("spirit") to become observable in the form of rich black ink. In great examples of shodo, you sense the rhythm of music as well as the elegant balanced construction of refined architecture. Many practitioners feel that the visible rhythm of Japanese calligraphy ultimately embodies a picture of the mind, and calligraphers recognize that it discloses our spiritual state. This recognition is summed up by the saying: Kokoro tadashikereba sunawachi fude tadashii—"If your mind is correct, the brush will be correct."

Shodo and Mind and Body Harmony
With a bit of thought, it’s apparent that the mind controls the body. Based on this line of thought, it is equally clear that the actions of the body serve as a reflection of the mind. Witness the slumped posture of someone who’s depressed and the shaking hand of a nervous student about to take an exam.

In like manner, in shodo the mind controls the brush through the hand, and the lines the brush creates reflect the mind. In this way, shodo functions as an outer reflection of our mental state.

Some Japanese calligraphers and psychologists have written books on the examination of personality through calligraphy. Just as American companies have employed handwriting analysts to help them select the best individuals for executive posts, the Japanese traditionally expected their leaders in any field to display refined, serene script.

It is even said that health defects are revealed in byohitsu, “sick strokes.” This stems from the belief that brush strokes unveil the state of the body and subconscious mind—its strengths and weaknesses—at the moment the brush is put to paper. It has also been held that the subconscious can be influenced positively by copying consummate examples of calligraphy by extraordinary individuals. Tradition teaches that using this technique, you cultivate strength of character akin to the artist being copied.

Even today, some of Japan’s highest executives and politicians endeavor to develop traits for success by reproducing the artwork of an emperor or famous religious leader. At its ultimate level, shodo has historically been regarded as a means of refining personality.

What’s more, most people want to realize their greatest personal potential. We want to bring the full force of our minds and bodies to bear upon whatever we do in life. Yet for many of us, it’s difficult to coordinate the mind and body. The body may turn the pages of a magazine or the steering wheel of a car, but our minds are frequently elsewhere. Such lack of attention becomes visibly apparent in shodo, and thus Japanese calligraphy serves as a means of learning how to unite the mind and body. Just as a car only functions well when the front and rear wheels move in the identical direction, we only display our full potential when the mind and body harmoniously work toward a related aim.

In shodo, thoughts and actions must match, and we must direct the full, coordinated energy of the mind and body into the artwork we create. Failure to do so causes characters to end up where we hadn’t intended, lines to nervously quiver, and the overall creation to lack vigor and grace. In essence, shodo offers Americans the same benefit it has traditionally offered Japanese—an instantaneous, visible barometer of mind and body unification.

Shodo for the West
Just as many Western people appreciate jazz, rock and roll, or blues without being able to read music, so can Americans appreciate shodo when they’re properly exposed to it. Since shodo is an abstract art, it’s not strictly necessary to be able to read Chinese characters or Japanese phonetic scripts to admire the dynamic beauty of shodo. Within Japanese calligraphy, we find the essential elements that constitute all art: creativity, poise, rhythm, gracefulness, and the beauty of line. While shodo is a fun way to learn about Japanese language, initial lack of Japanese reading ability needn’t be a stumbling block to shodo appreciation, and the universal aspects of shodo can be recognized and admired by every culture.

Bringing the mind fully into the immediate moment, realizing mind and body harmony, seeing directly into the actual character of the mind—all of this relates to meditation and all of these points are part of shodo. Shodo remains one of ancient Japan’s most sophisticated arts of moving meditation.

About the Author: H. E. Davey is the Director of the Sennin Foundation Center for Japanese Cultural Arts, which is based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He can be reached at and by telephone at 510-526-7518 (evenings). He is the author of the books Brush Meditation: A Japanese Way to Mind & Body Harmony, Japanese Yoga: The Way of Dynamic Meditation, The Japanese Way of the Flower: Ikebana as Moving Meditation, Living the Japanese Arts & Ways: 45 Paths to Meditation & Beauty, and Unlocking the Secrets of Aiki-jujutsu.
The Writings of H. E. Davey

Selected Publications

Listed below are some of H. E. Davey’s award-winning books

Unlocking the Secrets of Aiki-jujutsu (McGraw-Hill)

“H. E. Davey’s book provides a useful overview of this fascinating art and a sampling of techniques from Saigo-ryu aikijujutsu . . . I would recommend Davey’s book to readers who are unfamiliar with aikijujutsu and looking for a concise introduction to this somewhat esoteric martial art.”
Journal of Asian Martial Arts

The first book in English about the techniques, history, and philosophy of aiki-jujutsu, a Japanese martial art. Published in 1997, Unlocking the Secrets of Aiki-jujutsu features Introductions by Sato Shizuya (jujutsu 10th degree black belt), Kawabata Terutaka (kobudo 9th degree), and Walter Todd (judo 8th degree, aikido 6th degree), among the world’s highest ranking martial arts experts.

Brush Meditation: A Japanese Way to Mind & Body Harmony (Stone Bridge Press)

“H. E. Davey combines a remarkable technical facility in the Japanese art of the brush with a deep understanding of its spiritual profundities. His book offers a marvelous practical introduction to Japanese calligraphy as well as insights into the essence of the art.”
Dave Lowry, author of Sword and Brush and numerous works on Japanese culture

One of the top ten best selling Stone Bridge Press books of 1999, Brush Meditation details the time-honored art of Japanese calligraphy and how it functions as meditation in motion. Read more about the book at Read an excerpt here:

The Japanese Way of the Flower: Ikebana as Moving Meditation (Stone Bridge Press)

“A very welcome addition to students of Japanese culture, interior decorators, florists, and the non-specialist general reader with an interest in floral arrangements, The Japanese Way of the Flower is an impressive, authoritative, and comprehensive introduction.”
Internet Book Watch

Ikebana is the art of Japanese flower arrangement, and The Japanese Way of the Flower shows how it can lead to a deeper connection with nature and life. Published in 2000, it received numerous positive reviews. Read more about the book at

Japanese Yoga: The Way of Dynamic Meditation (Stone Bridge Press)

“Will make many yogis feel right at home... Davey's readable, friendly guide is definitely worth a look.”
Yoga Journal

The first book in English on the Shin-shin-toitsu-do system of Japanese yoga and meditation. Published in 2001, it received top reviews around the globe, including favorable comments from Yoga Journal in the USA and Tempu magazine in Japan. Yoga Japonesa: O Caminho da Meditacao Dinamica, the Brazilian version of Japanese Yoga was published by Editora Cultrix in 2003. Read more about the book at Read an excerpt here:

Living the Japanese Arts & Ways: 45 Paths to Meditation & Beauty (Stone Bridge Press)

“Demonstrating the Japanese aesthetic of elegance (shibumi), Davey uses words with clarity and simplicity to describe the non-word realm of practicing these arts--calligraphy, martial arts, tea ceremonies, painting--and the spiritual meaning of such practice.”
Publishers Weekly

Published in 2002, Living the Japanese Arts & Ways covers many classical Japanese arts and crafts, showing that universal principles of mind-body harmony underlie disciplines as diverse as martial arts, calligraphy, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and other art forms. In 2003, Spirituality & Health magazine presented H. E. Davey with its Book of the Year Award for Living the Japanese Arts & Ways. The same book was one of ForeWord magazine's top five books and a finalist for their Book of the Year Award. Read more about the book at Read an excerpt here:

The Japanese Way of the Artist (Stone Bridge Press)

Published in 2007, this anthology features some of H. E. Davey’s most popular books: Brush Meditation, The Japanese Way of the Flower, and Living the Japanese Arts & Ways. Three complete works, with an all new and detailed Introduction by the author. Read more about the book at

Selected Magazines and Newspapers

H. E. Davey’s articles and Japanese calligraphic art have been featured in magazines and newspapers throughout the United States and Japan. Some of these publications are listed below.

· Body Mind Spirit
· Excellence: A Magazine about Porsche Cars
· Furyu: Journal of Classical Japanese Martial Arts and Culture
· Gendo
· Hokubei Mainichi
· Journal of Asian Martial Arts
· Karate Kung-Fu Illustrated
· Miata Magazine
· Miracles Magazine
· Nichibei Times
· Porsche Panorama
· Seeds of Unfolding: Spiritual Ideas for Daily Living
· Shudokan Martial arts Association Journal
· Yoga Journal

Integrated Shodo & Meditation

Shodo means the “way of calligraphy,” and it is one of the most respected Asian fine arts. Painted with a brush and ink, Japanese calligraphy uses centuries old kanji (“Chinese characters”), which due to their pictographic nature have similarities to abstract expressionism. Balance, grace, dignity, vibrant movement, and the beauty of line combine to create a dynamic ink painting of the mind that people the world over have come to admire.

The Sennin Foundation Center offers you an opportunity to study genuine Japanese shodo—an art rarely taught in English —for artistic expression and moving meditation. Students study kanji as well as hiragana and katakana—phonetic scripts—along with classical ink painting. You’ll also learn to brush age-old haiku and waka poems, sometimes with accompanying ink and water painted illustrations (sumi-e). Sumi-e is a bit similar to Western watercolor painting, and shodo is a fun way to study Japanese language, while you learn about Japanese culture.

H. E. Davey Sensei, the primary instructor at the Sennin Foundation Center, is the author of Brush Meditation: A Japanese Way to Mind & Body Harmony, Living the Japanese Arts & Ways: 45 Paths to Meditation & Beauty, and The Japanese Way of the Artist. He is a top student of the late Kobara Ranseki Sensei of Kyoto, the founder of Ranseki Sho Juku calligraphy. He studied with his teacher for 20 years, and he received the highest rank in Ranseki Sho Juku brush writing. He exhibits his artwork annually at the International Shodo Exhibition in Japan, where he received Jun Taisho, the “Associate Grand Prize,” among numerous other awards. Davey Sensei’s artwork has been featured in many American and Japanese magazines and newspapers.

Integrated Shodo & Meditation is a special program created by Davey Sensei to teach traditional Ranseki Sho Juku shodo to Westerners in an accessible manner that leads to meditation. This class has been liked to “Zen with a brush,” and it combines group instruction in Shin-shin-toitsu-do forms of meditation with private lessons in Japanese calligraphy. Along with the combination of meditation and art, students learn exercises for enhancing ki, human “life energy” (chi in Chinese). Strengthening ki benefits our health, and ki is the enigmatic and dynamic force behind beautifully powerful calligraphy and painting.

Authentic shodo is rarely taught in English in the West. You can read more about Davey Sensei, Kobara Sensei, and Integrated Shodo & Meditation at the Art of Shodo blog. Contact us soon at 510-526-7518 to learn how shodo and meditation can help you discover beauty and serenity in your daily life.