This service has been an interesting exercise in making plans I’ve somehow been “elected” (unopposed) as chair of my local service, and it’s been interesting to see how nothing quite seemed to work out the way we intended it to. Some of that is because of the nature of the service of course as we have to accommodate for what the dementia patients we work with want regardless of what activities we had planned. A lot of it though is purely us: the idea was we would take the first few sessions to plan the activities we would do for the next season or so then run them according to plan from then. We actually ended up only getting one planning session (two including the introduction) and people seem to have developed a habit of happening to miss the sessions which they were meant to be running.
The point though isn’t that everything is collapsing. It’s more along the lines that it’s a miracle that we’ve managed to somehow pull off every session without logistical collapse given the somewhat chaotic events behind the scene. It does show the value of planning what you are doing weeks in advance. Because we actually spent that first session making sure all (or most) of our materials were ordered/accounted for, even if somehow the people who were meant to be running the activity on a particular week don’t show up (which I thought was going to be the case last week) we can just go and collect what we need from the service office and have someone else run the activity. Just as importantly perhaps, is that we’ve learned a lesson from last year’s group and actually included two plans/activities for every week so that if, for example, if we were planning on doing origami with the elderly at the lodge, but the person who knows how to do origami “disappears”, as happened last week, we would still have the other activity we were planning, Jenga, to do instead. That’s what’s helped us run our two sessions so far without much issue. Hopefully things stay that way.
As part of CAS, I’ve recently begun a session Friday after school of Chinese calligraphy. One of the more interesting takeaways from my first session was that I think I can finally see why the “proper” versions of Chinese characters on a computer look the way they do with differing thickness across a line, tapered endings of lines etc. despite, of course, it being both insane and somewhat impossible to actually create that shape while writing with a pencil. Part of it is probably aesthetic of course, like how fonts in English typing also tend to be somewhat difficult to imitate on paper, but one thing I’ve realised while using a brush is that with the right technique, it’s actually possible to create those shapes when writing with a brush.
Now, as to the right technique part, it’s interesting how you really don’t know what you don’t know. I wouldn’t ever have thought before starting calligraphy that there was a proper way of drawing a line. It’s sort of that the way you rotate your brush can create, as I was saying earlier, differing line thicknesses, inflections on the end of a line, tapered ends etc. which are part of the “correct” form for a particular line, stroke, dot etc. It’s actually quite hard to do, and writing freehand, I can barely (or rather cannot) make the simplest characters look the way they are supposed to or “balanced” so to speak. Honestly, at the moment, it’s less art and more skills practice, tracing the same characters or strokes in our workbook? over and over again. Which is rather calming in its own way of course.
The next question then, would be why? Why calligraphy? Part of it is of course that I am a Chinese (B SL) student, and I was thinking that if I spend more time writing characters, then I will probably get better at it. A good way of ensuring efficiency of time I suppose. Furthermore, the natural answer to that question of course would be something along the usual, generic line of “aesthetics”. Which is true in a way, but then raises the question of aesthetics for whom? It is undoubtable that compared to the days of Imperial Civil Service examinations. “No one” writes with a brush on a daily basis anymore. Is it solely for the purpose of historical preservation that calligraphy has remained?
There is a certain feeling here akin to what I have already written about martial arts, as if though the modern practice has become divorced from the context in which it was started. I do have a certain attraction towards relics of the past it seems…
For the past few weeks, I’ve been working on basic drawing and sheathing work with a wooden blade and sheathe (compressed bamboo). The basic idea is quite straightforward making it surprising how many ways I can mess up pulling something out of a sheathe. It can be frustrating especially by the [insert variable] time I get the blade stuck while someone swinging at me. The fact that they are swinging slowly only makes it more aggravating. That’s what practice is for though, after a week of practicing at home, I seem to be showing some improvement in that I managed to finish the draw more times than I failed. The other interesting thing I noted is how I only seem to fail at drawing when someone is actively swinging at me. It is a rather simple task after all. It’s only difficult when performing under pressure (even if it’s simulated pressure). Which I suppose is getting in some small way at the point of a martial art. Not to be able to demonstrate a series of moves in sequence, but to be able to do so in less than ideal situations. Of course, a practice drill with blunt wooden weapons is still largely artificial, and if we were to really go there, I do suppose it would be different to perform in a practice environment, even a competitive one, and to be able to do so with a live blade swinging at you. And part of the dissonance that I would think most people in the martial arts feel is just that. You can practice for years on end without ever getting a day’s experience. Is there a solution? Perhaps not. We can simulate a pressurised environment to various degrees and try to refine our ability to perform in those, and as I’ve stated already some cracks already start to show in the most basic of drills where there is an element of competition involved, but can I honestly say that I would be able to react the same way if it were for real?
That being said though, even the artificial drills tend to lend some insight. It would have been a few weeks ago I think where we were doing much the same exercise as described above, just a bit more confrontational (the exercise would proceed until someone had hit their opponent) and with foam wrapped nylon swords to free us up to hit a bit harder. Anyways, what happened was that I accidentally messed up on the initial draw cut and my “sword” (it really isn’t one) went flying out of my hand. That in and of itself is one thing and an issue of its own, but more crucially, I stood there for several distinct seconds until I was hit (I think multiple times) without doing anything. And from a martial arts perspective, I do think that IS an insight. Why didn’t I try to at least grab the “sword” again or at the very least run or dodge or do something other than get hit? As I was saying, that’s kind of where you begin to demonstrate your ability or lack thereof. Something to think about at least…