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Chapter Five

A Buddha In My Junior High School

Mika enjoyed art classes and crafts. She took classes in drawing and painting at school and she once took a class in weaving at the local recreation department. She took a photography class and a sewing class. There were so many types of creative and beautiful activity classes available she knew she could never take them all but she kept taking a new class at every opportunity. Then, after many different experiences, she finally found two teachers that truly appealed to her. Let me tell you about one of those teachers.

Because her family was Japanese, Mika had thought it would be fun to learn to write the old style of Japanese in which the artists write with a brush instead of a pen or pencil. This type of calligraphy is called Shodo and the characters look beautiful in a strange sort of way. She watched the teacher for a while and it did not look difficult at all. The teacher dipped the brush in black ink and drew the character with six smooth strokes. Mika thought “How difficult can it be?” Her parents were happy to sign her up for the class.

On the first day of the class, her father wrote her name in Japanese kanji on a piece of paper using a ball point pen. Mika happily took it to class with her thinking she might practice writing her name in this special style with the brush. 

The teacher, hearing Mika’s plan to write her name, calmly gave her a brush and some ink and asked her to try writing her name. Mika was shocked to see the mess she made on the first page. “It’s not as easy as it looks is it?” 

The teacher smiled and said, “Let’s start at the beginning.” She proceeded to draw a straight line across the page. “Now,” she said, “copy my line 10 times.”

The brush simply would not make a line like the one the teacher had just done. Sometimes the line was too thick and sometimes it was too thin.. too straight with not the right amount of curve, too wet or too dry and the ends of the line were all different shapes. The teacher gave her another piece of paper and said “Ten more lines.”

The teacher was not harsh or scolding but she was very insistent that Mika continue to make this simple line over and over again. After a while, Mika became a little bored and frustrated.

“Will you show me how to write my own name?” Mika asked the teacher, showing her the ball-point pen version her father had written. The teacher replied, “You cannot build a temple if you do not have even one stone.”  “Ten more lines please.”

As the classes progressed, the teacher and Mika developed a very good relationship. The teacher was kind and encouraging but firm in her guidance. She taught Mika that making even one line is a great challenge but you must never feel defeated. You simply need to constantly strive for excellence. And as your skills improve, you will find new challenges. Eventually, you will write your name beautifully. The teacher then wrote Mika’s kanji in beautiful, strong, graceful strokes with careful proportions and balance.. and gave it to Mika to take home to her father.