Calligraphy Brush

A Japanese term “Sanpitsu(三筆)” which literally means “three brushes” refers to the three greatest calligraphers in the Heian Period (794-1185) in Japan.   They are;



1.       Emperor Saga ( 786-842)


2.       Tachibana no Hayanari (782-842)


3.       Kukai / Kobo Daishi (774-835).


Among them, Kukai is probably the most popular calligrapher and his posthouse priest title “Kobo Daishi” is also well-known and appeared in Japanese sayings regarding calligraphy.


One of them is “Kobo Fude wo Erabazu.”  This saying is about proficiency of the calligraphy.  It literally means “Master Kobo doesn’t need to choose a brush.”  Because he was so proficient in calligraphy, he was believed to do a great job of calligraphy with any brush.  Therefore, this saying is usually used as a meaning of English saying ““cunning mason works with any stone.” 


However this saying is not just making boast of Master Kobo’s proficiency.  Nor it does not encourage us not to choose a brush or not to choose tools or materials.  The truth is, I think, opposite.  In order for us to be proficient, it’s very important to choose which tools to use.  And it is actually professional people who carefully choose its own tools to use.


Generally speaking, Saying is not for the people who are called “master” but for the people in general to become better or to lead a good life.  Therefore, true message of “Kobo Fude wo Erabazu” must be omitted and hidden.  It’s not to work with any brush but we need to choose a brush for calligraphy.


What a discovery.  I got this hidden message after thinking about levels of proficiency starting from utmost level.



1. Utmost master level….  No need to choose a tool. 

2.  Master level……............Master can choose an appropriate tool and tell if this tool is good or not. 

3. Ordinally people level……We just blame tools. 



Once again, Master Kobo’s level of calligraphy is beyond our reach.  It’s an ideal proficiency but not realistic.   We cannot be like Master Kobo who didn’t need to choose a brush but we ordinally people need to choose a brush. 

They say “a bad carpenter blames its tools.”  But at our Calligraphy Class at Koloa Jodo Mission, it’s not shame to blame a brush.  It’s ok to complain it but what is more important is to try to use a different brush.  After all, we hardly realize whether it’s good or bad until we experience both good and bad brushes.

Our next Calligraphy Class will be on Sunday, November 25th.  Please let me know if you are interested in the Japanese Calligraphy.

I'm sorry there will be no Sunday Service at Koloa Jodo Mission on Sunday, November 4th since I'll be off the island.