Principles of Chinese Calligraphy

P3: Requirements of Posture

The requirements of a good posture in practicing Chinese calligraphy may consist of the following points: 

1. Keep head straight. Do not tilt neck. Keep head and neck in a naturally bent curve but not too forward.

This is a link to a picture of incorrect posture that makes the neck and shoulder tense. If the student practices in this way for long time,  the negative effects in physiology and ergonomics will make progress very limited in practicing Chinese calligraphy and may hurt the spine in the long run.


2. Relax shoulders. Rest left palm near right elbow to stabilize and flatten the paper if the method of holding a brush is resting the right elbow on the desk instead of the Hanging Arm Technique.


3. Keep torso straight. Sit only on one half or 2/3 of the chair. Never lean back on a chair. (Sitting on full area of the chair may distract our attention and confine our mobility during writing.)


4. Keep feet on the ground. Do not cross legs. Keep legs parallel and relaxed. The distance between the outer rims of the feet may not be less than the shoulder width. (The leg posture is as important as hand posture. Once the mind, body, and practice are coordinated, one will feel energy or heat flowing at Bubble Wells ( 湧泉穴 ) at the bottom of feet. This will bring the mind to a higher level of awareness and artistic creativity.)


5. When we are writing, mentally plan the position of each stroke and try to project it onto paper. A good way to focus and to project is to look through (not focus on or stare at) one’s nose tip as a centerline. (Some Buddhist mediation uses observing through the nose down to the heart as a way to refine one’s virtue.)

6. "Contain" the breath and concentrate during execution of each stroke. Breathing during writing each Chinese calligraphy stroke will interfere with concentration and may not render smooth strokes. Then breath naturally between strokes or characters. And, of course, talking is a taboo during writing brush strokes (except when a teacher is teaching students.) Do not force or hold breathing.
An article about breathing techniques in many detailed aspects will be added in the future. 


Besides the external postures, there are also internal postures associated in practicing Chinese calligraphy. The internal postures are the other primary factors that contribute to the longevity benefits of Chinese calligraphy and making more advanced progress in this art.


A suggested posture in consideration of ergonomics, artistic perspectives, and technical factors.


Once when a teacher led a group of students to watch Alexander Scriabin play the piano, almost all of them were focusing on his hands. The teacher said, “Watch his feet! Listen to the music but watch how he uses his feet to change pedals for phrasing …” For art with depth, one has to employ every part of one’s body to achieve optimal ergonomics. This cannot be done with hands or legs only. The body and the mind have to work in a most ergonomically correct and efficient way to express the artist’s intention and creativity.

It's inadequate to kneel down or crouch to practice Chinese calligraphy, though these are commonly seen among Japanese practitioners and those who are proclaiming to promote Zen meditation. Simply mimicking the crouching or kneeling posture and creating the ostensible atmosphere like an oriental tea or meditation ceremony and applying them to Chinese calligraphy are not recommended for any serious Chinese calligraphy artists and viewers. Indeed, there are connections between the hands and feet during writing Chinese calligraphy strokes in advanced levels.

The requirements of posture are closely related to the holding of the brush. Many books and ancient Chinese calligraphers have talked about the distances between the fingers and the brush hairs or "brush head." Each has different assertions. The lengths of Chinese inches ( ) were somewhat different in different dynasties and provinces and ancient people used to write characters a lot more smaller than we practice Chinese calligraphy today. Thus, it's not wise to take the ancient Chinese measures "literally" without considering the size of characters, the size of the writer's hands, calligraphy styles, brush characteristics and without knowing the different measures of lengths in each dynasty and territory of ancient China. 

There is one important question to think about - where and how should the left arm and hand be placed (if the practitioner is right-handed) relative to the writing hand? Many practitioners of Chinese calligraphy have neglected the position and posture of the left arm and lightly place it randomly on the desk without utilizing its many functions.

"If I give my student one corner of a subject and he cannot find the other three corners for himself, I do not repeat the lesson." ~ Confucius

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