Ambrose Li

Cue from Japanese calligraphy

A couple of days ago I came across a page that claims that in Japanese calligraphy,

There are a couple ways in which calligraphers hold their brush. In the Tankoho method, the brush is held like a pencil, using the thumb, index finger, and middle finger. In the Sokoho method, the artists adds their ring finger.‍[Note 1]

I was skeptical. I had always been taught that (in Chinese calligraphy) holding the brush like a pencil was wrong.

Since Anthy‍[Note 2] didn’t seem to know what to make of “tankoho” and “sokoho”, I turned to search for corroboration and was surprised to find another page with the same claim:

The brush may be held with the tankoho method holding the brush like a pencil or the sokoho style, adding the ring finger to the grip.‍[Note 3]

But to me, corroboration involves finding out how the terms are actually written in Japanese. Since I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere, I changed my search strategy: I entered the search term “書道の方” (techniques for calligraphy).

Then bingo! 単鉤法たんこうほう (tankōhō; ˈdanˈŋɐuˉfat, ‘single grip method’) and 双鉤法そうこうほう (sōkōhō; ˈsœŋˈŋɐuˉfat, ‘double grip method’).‍[Note 4]

I also found the two grips serve different purposes: the double grip (the way I was taught) for kanji or strong, bold strokes; the single grip for kana or delicate strokes.‍[Note 5]

Single grip for kana or delicate strokes.

This might be the key to how to do English with a brush. I’m going to experiment.


  1. “A Brief History of Japanese Calligraphy,” https://​www​.invaluable​.com/​blog/​japanese​-calligraphy/​.
  2. The standard Japanese input method on Unix systems that aren’t MacOS
  3. Mahli Knutson, “日本書道” [The calligraphy of Japan], May 6, 2018, https://​sites​.middlebury​.edu/​sakura/​2018/​05/​06/​%E6%97%A5​%E6%9C%AC​%E3%81%AE​%E6%9B%B8​%E9%81%93/​.
  4. Nihon Shodo Kyoukai [Japanese association for calligraphy], “基本姿勢” [Basic posture], https://​www​.u​-can​.co​.jp/​shodo/​hand​_​write/​study/​posture/​.
  5. しい” [Correct way to hold a brush], in 書道入門 [Introduction to calligraphy], https://​shodo​-kanji​.com/​a3​-1​-2brush​_​arm​.html.


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