Before you start out and learn how to hold a calligraphy brush, it’s important to get to the right place mentally.
Japanese and Chinese calligraphy is an art that requires patience, a calm/still mind, and a steady hand.
So first, get seated, straighten your back and take a deep breath.
Focus inward and relax, notice your breathing, and use it to calm yourself.
Once you have removed yourself from the stress and busy pace of everyday life, you can start on
Normal Pen VS Brush
When you want to hold the calligraphy brush for the first time, it might be easiest for you to start off by imagining how you hold a pen. Most people in the west hold a pen with their Thumb and Index Finger, and rest it on their middle finger, like so:
This is actually fairly close to one of the basic ways of holding a Japanese calligraphy brush, except that you you hold the pen further up (slightly above the center of the brush), and hold it pointed at the paper in a straight angle downwards.
But it’s important that you don’t get squeeze it too hard, or try to rest it too much on the middle finger as if you were holding a pen.
You should be able to hold it in good balance, without it moving due to undue pressure.
The Two Ways Of Holding The Brush: Tankouhou and Soukouhou
The method when you only use 3 fingers (thumb, index, middle) to hold the brush is called 単こう法 tankouhou.
Adding an extra finger to that, 4, and holding with the thumb, index, a双こう法 soukou hou.
You can see both demonstrated in the photo below, by fureai shodo club.
Whichever is easier depends on the students.
Some beginners find the tankouhou hold easier because they are used to holding a pen with those fingers in a similar grip.
Other beginners find increased stability with the soukouhou because of the added finger.
You can also watch the video below that explains how to hold a shodo brush really well.
Even if you can mimic the way the brush is held in pictures or videos in image, you will not be able to masterfully paint/draw as you want to begin with.
It’s important to start he journey of shodo with a beginner’s mind, being open to learn and being okay with failing at first.
Remember that even the greatest of masters at anything were once beginners just like you, and that only through dedication and patience were they able to master their craft.
Good luck on your Shodo journey, and if you are ever in Tokyo, consider visiting our class taught by our very own master shodo-ka, Kaneko Youshun.