A close friend and secret Fudebakudo practitioner unironically sent me a link to this video of a pen, knowing I would enjoy it. It’s a short video from youtube channel TheImmovableMovers* showing marks being made with a flex-nibbed fountain pen:
I post it here because when I work (by which I mean, my day-job) and when I write, I use the stagnant keys of a keyboard. I used to write nicely — in fact there was a time when I started each morning by writing out an elegant, italic alphabet on the drawing board, before heading off to work** — but now my handwriting is always driven by necessity, and it has no art to it. In fact as I have aged, my handwriting has worsened considerably. This saddens me because we are each of us custodians of the movement of our own hands, and there is nobody else to blame for letting such a personal and expressive skill decay to ruin.
I clearly remember handwriting classes in school, and I did indeed use a fountain pen (actually, a cartridge pen) for many of my school years. In fact I am fairly sure than for most of my schooling it was compulsory, and we weren’t allowed to have biros at all. Somehow I don’t think this is the case in UK schools today. It seemed silly at the time because the inky pens were messy and tiresome to use, but now I see it was probably a laudible attempt to help us, because the tip of a ballpoint slides wildly and insensitively across the page compared to most other pens’ nibs. I did later switch to the new-fangled “Ball Pentel” for doing all those essays and sums. Nowadays I use fibre-tipped pens for writing, because they do allow some variation in line, and are easy to control.
Something must have made an impression back then, because as I grew up I developed a proactive and specific dislike of biros — now I never use one unless I really need to (I only have one at home, kept for signing the ludicrously slippery strips on the backs of new cards like credit cards and whatnot, and discard others that materialise).
Furthermore, I only write in black unless I really do find myself with no choice (so I would rather not write at all than write in blue ink from a biro). The most common reason for having to use a disliked pen and a colour other than black is if someone hands me the wrong kind of pen at a counter for the purposes of officialdom. At such times I nearly always have one of my own black pens to hand (there are usually at least two in my pockets), in which case all is well. But if I do not, then I wince when I find a blue biro in my hand. If my signature’s purpose is to identify me, then it should not be blue, for all the reasons above; it seems clear to me that black ink really is part of my identity, in the same way, perhaps, that the way a dancer walks is part of theirs. Furthermore, as a deliberate affectation learned from my fondly-remembered time in Thailand (I lived and trained there for around six years) I really do baulk at writing my name in red ink. Over here in the West, nobody cares, but it’s a trained awareness that I choose to keep (and it’s usually easy to ask for another colour (sometimes shaking the pen as if it is blocked) and trick the unknowing cashier into handing over something more acceptable).
So I feel OK about posting a video of a pen here on the Fudebakublog, partly because clearly I am a bit weird about pens, but also because it will confuse many people, including search engines, about the true nature of the art that Fudebakudo really is. The exploding pen of Fudebakudo really does have a meaning, which I don’t think is particularly obscure, but perhaps that’s better left to another time. Suffice to say it’s not really about fountain pens here, you know.
I recall an event at Seni, the UK martial arts expo (which I mention in the Seni 2007 report), when we were being pestered by some bemused and tediously dim-witted youths who wanted to see a pen (it turned out, eventually, it was so they could shout “bang!” at it and then run away, which I regret having found out the hard way). I told them that actually Fudebakudo students practice with wooden pens for many, many years before they are ever allowed to hold a real one, which I think the youths thought was preposterous.
At the time, of course, I was alluding not only to the unsurprising practice of learning moves with dummy weapons where the live ones would be a danger to beginners (and their training partners), but also to the less expected business of learning kyudo (Japan’s esoteric form of archery) first with no arrow, and then with a target just one or two inches (no, really) from the drawn bow.
But now I look at my pens and I look at my keyboard and realise that with handwriting we seem to have it the wrong way around. We start with the live weapon, the one that really does have the power and expression in it, and leave it behind for the inert business of depressing debounced switches on a keyboard. If I had written this passionately, by hand, you would surely have known it. If I have typed this passionately, with flair, well, nobody is going to know, and that part of the message will have been stripped away before anyone comes to the reading of it.