Standard script
(楷書, kaisho) - Part 2

1. soku lit. “vicinity”. It is also referred to as (ten) – “a dot”, or 怪石 (kaiseki) – “oddly shaped stone” (from its appearance of a rounded rock). There are dozens of ways of writing dots and despite the fact that it may not seem to be a demanding brush stroke, it is in fact extremely difficult to write expressively.

2. roku”a halter”, also referred to as “jade table” (玉案, gyokuzuki) of smooth and even surface. It’s a slightly ascending vertical stroke with a strict beginning and end, where the movement of the brush is compared to the abrupt pull of the rider’s reins to stop the horse.

Yan Kin Li Bei (顏勤禮碑), calligraphy by Yan Zenquing (顏真卿), standard script, Tang dynasty, 8th century C.E., ink rubbing


3. domeans “to exert”, although the lower part of this character ( chikara, i.e. power) was once written as “a bow” (, yumi). From this, an image of a stone shooting crossbow ready to fire 石弓 (ishi yumi), was derived. The stroke ends with an immediate halt, imitating the crossbow mechanism lock. The left-hand-side of the vertical stroke in the character ought to be gently curved inwards, while the right hand side stays straight. The skillful manipulation of the brush pressure against the paper is the key here.

This vertical stroke is also known as the 鉄柱 (tecchuu) – “iron pole”, from its solid and rigid appearance.

4. tekisuggests “lifting”, or “a hook”, also referred to as 蟹爪 (kaisou, i.e. crab pincer) from its upturned shape. The difficulty in writing a perfect teki is that its gradually thinning line needs to be delivered in one smooth consistent stroke, without losing vigor.

5. saku, horsewhip, or虎牙 (koga, tiger fang). Saku is meant to be written with a rather brisk movement. Saku is a horizontal stroke, slanted upwards and thinning gradually towards its end.

6. ryaku. One of the meanings is ‘to graze”, like the non-lethal cut of an expert swordsman. Another name for this stroke is 犀角 (saikaku, rhinoceros horn). Ryaku stroke can be described as a curved sweep, sharpening gradually towards its end, arriving at the shape of a rhino’s horn.

Shen Ce Jun Ji Sheng De Bei, calligraphy by Liu Gongquan, standard script, Tang dynasty, 9th century C.E., ink rubbing.


7. taku, a peck - “bird’s peck” (鳥啄, choutaku). Performing this stroke, one ought to picture a woodpecker (啄木鳥 kitsutsuki – literally “a bird that pecks trees”) striking a tree with its beak. It is much thinner and more delicate than “rhino’s horn”.

8. taku, i.e dismemberment, also known as 金刀 (kintou, i.e. golden Dao sword). In taku, one is supposed to picture the shape of a Dao sword, with its characteristic triangular blade. Together with the “iron pole” and “strange stone” strokes, taku is extremely difficult to execute while emphasizing the energy and expressiveness of a character.

The remaining twenty nine strokes are combinations of the eight basic ones. Mastering all thirty seven can take years of practice. Kaisho is a real challenge, yet without it one cannot successfully advance in his studies.

Standard script is most likely the first style a novice will learn. Understanding correct stroke order, the overall balance of the composition and given kanji, further, performing smooth moves of the brush in the air between the strokes without breaking the spiritual continuity of the whole character, are essential for venturing into more complex areas. With tens of thousands of characters out there, it is not an easy task.

Aside calligraphy, kaisho in its printed (standardized for commercial purposes) form is commonly used today, in books, internet, advertisements, etc. It is also the most popular form used in calligraphy due to a simple fact; that other styles are not that easily understandable by everyone (including native readers).


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