Nothing better than an old-fashioned tale to illustrate an always valid precept: if we hope to succeed at any level in any human discipline, we need to dedicate constant commitment and focused application to the basics of the art in question
by ANTONINO CERTA
One day a wealthy gentleman visited the workshop of a famous sumi-e painter. This painting technique, which uses ink on a moistened sheet, allows neither hesitation nor second thoughts. A master of it, however, can give a thousand shades of grey to his brushstroke, and produce works of extreme refinement.
The nobleman required the painting of a duck. The painter gladly agreed and, having established the price, told the nobleman to come back a year later. After a year, the nobleman returned to the workshop, but the painter seemed not to remember him: “A duck? Have you ordered it here? Oh yes, of course, it’s on my to-do list. You will have to excuse me, but first me, then my wife and my little ones got sick, and I got far behind with my work. Please come back in fifteen days, and in the meantime, I will try to satisfy you ”.
After a little more than two weeks, the nobleman went back to the artist’s workshop: “Of course I remember you! Of course! The duck! We’re almost there, you must excuse me, you know, but I had to go North on important family business. We are from the North, as you can tell from my accent, I haven’t lost it yet, have I? Be patient, come back in about ten days and I’ll make sure you’ll find it ”. The following time the painter had a new excuse and requested for three more days, then the nobleman was asked to come back the next day.
“It’s you again with your kind insistence! Do you know that now I can no longer think of anything else? Your duck haunts me! ”. While saying these words, the painter had placed a sheet on the table, stopping it with the right weights, and had moistened it with a sponge. Then, still chatting away, he had diluted the ink to the desired thickness and taken a large brush. Without even trying his hand, with a few confident strokes he had outlined a duck. Other strokes, more contained and lighter, and two last complex strokes, similar to the vibrato of a violin, had infused solidity and life into a splendid duck, which seemed to have just settled on the water, slowing down its movements for a lazy swim.
The end of the drawing coincided admirably with the end of his words, and the painter, after having removed the weights, handed the still fresh sheet to his client with an elegantly modest gesture. The nobleman was surprised, but also amazed. On his face was all too transparent of the thought of how long he had to wait for a truly admirable drawing, but one that could be done in such a short time. Therefore, stammering, he decided to ask the painter for an explanation.
“I really shouldn’t talk about it, but I like you and I think I owe you something, having made you wait for so long.” He then led the nobleman into his back studio: from floor to ceiling, it was carpeted with thousands of sketches of a duck.
This anecdote strongly reminds me of the daily practice of kihon in all martial arts. Would you agree?
Copyright© Antonino Certa 2020
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