“The Power of Shodo,” by Josh Gold

“How can we make the spirit and wisdom of the great
martial arts masters accessible to more people?”

Some of us have been fortunate enough to learn from a great martial arts master. We may have experienced something profound through a magical moment in practice. We may have the opportunity to study continuously under a mentor. Some may have even had the rare experience of training as an uchi-deshi (live-in student).

Being published in Aikido Journal, many of the people that read this article have had these experiences, and know the profound, positive impact they can have on our lives. But these experiences are extremely rare, almost legendary, when viewed broadly across our society.

How can we make the spirit and wisdom of the great martial arts masters accessible to more people? How can we receive inspiration, and even gain personal knowledge of a mentor after his or her death? There’s no single answer but we can look to two exceptional masters for one insight.

O-Sensei loved shodo (Way of the brush). Uniquely, he began his practice when close to 70 years or age, under one of his aikido students, Seiseki Abe. Abe Sensei (10th dan) had a unique relationship with the founder of aikido. For over fifteen years, the master of aikido and the master of shodo followed each other as teacher and student in their respective arts. The humble, seeking spirit of these two great men can inspire us all.

Beyond the insight we can gain from the wisdom of the principles reflected in the calligraphy, both O-Sensei, and Abe Sensei believed that through shodo, one can directly experience the ki of the artist. They believed the essence and spirit of the artist is channeled through the art.  I believe it too.

I have the privilege of viewing great original shodo pieces every day. Their visual power and underlying meaning serve as daily inspiration. Having exposure to these great works creates mindfulness of the principles embodied in the art, and serves as a reminder to actualize the principles in daily life.

Not every great teacher brushes calligraphy, and not all of us have access to those few special works that have been created. However, as martial artists, we should treasure the value they provide, and use the opportunity to view them as a way to bring the essence of the artist to life, and to give us the mindfulness and resolve to actualize the principles conveyed in the art.

We can also use shodo to bring awareness and inspiration to others in our global community. People that would otherwise have no exposure to the spirit and teachings of the great martial artists that have provided so much guidance and mentorship through the ages.

In today’s society, role models largely consist of reality TV stars and sports figures. I’m sure some of them have admirable values, but how do they compare to the philosophies and examples set by the world’s great martial arts masters?

Perhaps there is a way to unlock the power of the brush – to use it to inform, to engage, and perhaps to inspire, a larger part of society.

What are your thoughts?

If this thinking resonates with you, we would be honored to have your support in spreading the spirit.

Have your dojo-cho / manager contact us here and we will send your dojo a set of 4×6 prints of Abe Sensei’s “Agatsu” calligraphy.

The prints can be framed, kept for inspiration, and hopefully given to friends or family that may learn from, and connect with, the message and spirit of the shodo.  

Josh Gold

Josh is a devoted student of aikido and co-founder of Ikazuchi Design, a new apparel company dedicated to the spirit of the martial arts. Our focus is to inspire a way of life dedicated to the improvement of mind, body, and spirit, with the goal of building a better humanity.


  1. To Josh,

    This is truly inspirational, I too share your views. Over the past four years I have read all I can on Aikido Journal. Through reading the many accounts of when Morihei was asked what is Aikido, the numerous accounts that Morihei would write a piece of calligraphy or whole pictorial cosmology, in a single moment, has had me convinced for a long time that Aikido and the brush are interelated and interconnected.

    So to understand this, I have tried to copy some of the more famous works that have been printed either on this site or indeed in books. I have also studied other Japanese sites that have really good English translations of the deities that O’sensei believed in (inasmuch as can be pinned down to what he believed).

    Due to this process it represents for me, on one hand you have the martial techniques, and the other the word or the pen or the philosophy, and both should be practiced with the same intensity. This is so universal that once understood, can be seen as direct pointing to the truth as in zen, or did Mohammed not carry a sword in one hand and the book in the other, to name just a few, there are too many parables to name here, but I will assume you get my meaning.

    It reflects and engages in the same breath, one could not live without the other in any meaningful, outcome.

    I commend you, and thank you, for your efforts. Truly inspiring.

    Andy B

  2. Josh,

    Excellent posting. As I’m sure that you’re well aware, the samurai also cultivated skills such as flower-arranging, the tea ceremony, poetry and indeed calligraphy which on the surface, did not have a direct combat application but were another means of instilling discipline and the process of mastery.

    Writing is vital to the preservation of traditions, since oral transmission alone can result in garbled or inaccurate information, and the ability to document certain key aspects or knowledge and wisdom can truly be priceless.

    As a martial artist, and as a professional writer, I can admire calligraphy not only for the aesthetics of the form itself, but also for the expression of the content.

  3. Hi Josh,

    thanks for the article. Very interesting, especially to me (I practice Aikido and Shodo ;)).

    One plead: would it be possible to get the Japanese version (Kanji+Hiragana) of the quotes from O’Sensei regarding calligraphu, along with a source, if available?

    I.e. “In Shodo I have encountered a very wonderful thing” – “書道では、私は非常に素晴らしいものに遭遇した” mentioned by Whoever in the Book AIKIDO X, Y, Z

    Thanks a lot,

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