BECOMING A MASTERFeb 4th, 2010 | By tfedderson2 | Category: Campus News, February 4, 2010, Issue
Sato works to perfect his Japanese calligraphy skills
Friends drew Koichi Sato into the study of Japanese calligraphy. A bullying teacher pushed him away. And lessons of a wise, old raccoon brought him back.
After years of avoiding the brush and ink, the instructional design technology specialist with Extended Education and Outreach is again practicing the Japanese art form of calligraphy. He is one level from mastery and hopes to take the final test in the next year.
“Japanese calligraphy used to be something I had to do. It was an obligation and my parents made me go study,” said Sato. “Now, it’s a hobby that I love.”
Sato – also known to friends as Hadoman – grew up in Shibata, Japan, and started calligraphy when he was 9 years old. At that time, students had few choices for after-school activities. Sato remembers a choice between calligraphy or the use of a soroban, an abacus developed in Japan.
For Sato, the choice was easy.
“Soroban is good for fast calculations, but it did not interest me,” Sato said. “I picked calligraphy mainly because that’s what my friends were doing.”
Most Japanese youth learn about calligraphy for two or three years, then drop out as school becomes more difficult. However, as his friends dropped out, Sato continued to study for nine years.
“I could have quit at any time, but I felt obligated to continue,” said Sato. “That was just how I was raised.”
A teacher also kept him coming back.
Sato studied at Karyu Shodo Kyoshitsu (Karyu is the style of calligraphy taught, shodo kyoshitsu means calligraphy school). His instructor was tanuki-sensei – a man Sato remembers for his girth and joking nature.
“He had this huge belly and loved to joke about how he looked,” said Sato. “We never called him by his real name. He was tanuki-sensei, our raccoon teacher.
“He was great at encouraging us. He made us want to come back and learn about calligraphy.”
Sato studied with the raccoon until his third year in high school. At that time, Sato ran into a teacher who pushed him away from calligraphy.
“I really wanted to earn the last degree, become a full-fledged master and start teaching,” said Sato. “But, I was studying hard and getting ready for college. There was this one teacher who kept yelling at me, telling me it was time to stop doing calligraphy and get serious about my studies.
“I quit calligraphy to get him to stop yelling at me.”
In 1993, Sato came to the United States to study for a master’s. After a few moves, Sato settled into the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. While there, Sato got involved with a few international student groups and started calligraphy again.
“I did a couple of demonstrations and that got me back into it,” said Sato. “It felt great when I started again. I wanted to be more artistic and that motivated me to continue to develop my calligraphy skills.”
Memories of the raccoon also helped further his study.
“It was tanuki-sensei’s guidance, support and faith that helped me through those years in calligraphy,” said Sato. “He taught me the best calligraphy skills I could learn in Japan. But, he also taught me about discipline, patience, respect, etc.”
“It wasn’t just sheer artistic interest and my parents’ raising me that kept me going to calligraphy school. It was tanuki-sensei’s guiding influence through my rebelling years. I owe a lot to that teacher.”
While his sensei has since died, Sato has continued to follow the raccoon’s teachings. He plans to perfect his calligraphy form, then take the test to obtain his fifth degree of mastery. The test involves sending samples of his calligraphy to be judged by a special panel at a Japanese calligraphy school.
“Not many people continue on with the study and earn the highest degree,” said Sato. “Earning the fifth degree is kind of like obtaining a master’s certificate.”
Sato has found the study of Japanese calligraphy helps him focus, develop stronger mental skills and adopt a training discipline.
One day, Sato hopes to follow in the raccoon’s footsteps and become a calligraphy teacher.
“Wherever I end up, I want to spend time teaching children how to do Japanese calligraphy,” said Sato. “I think tanuki-sensei would really like that.”
– By Troy Fedderson, University Communications
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