The first time I heard this term I was fascinated by the sound of it: “shin gyo so”…it sounds so poetic, so mysterious. And then someone tried to explain its meaning to me, and I didn’t understand a thing! Having a western mindset we are prone to learn from textbooks, from theoretical rules which make it difficult to find the “right” meaning for this term. I will try to explain it in my own way. Let me tell you that it comes from old China and has been adapted in Japan for the traditional Arts as tea ceremony, ikebana, shodo, but also in architecture for the structure of houses as well as in gardening layouts. This term can be found also in Karate, Kyudo, Bushido and much more. I think “shin gyo so” is omnipresent in almost every Japanese form of art.
But what is “shin gyo so” really? Well, I am unable to explain it in a philosophical or intellectual sort of way, but from my observations and search, I have come to this interpretation:
Shin = formal, knowledge, elaborate, regular.
Gyo = informal, technique, partly simplified, semi-cursive.
So = free, sensitivity, greatly simplified, cursive.
I found lots of examplesthat can help understand this not so easy concept and although I would like to have more sensitivity in order to learn more, I have to start from the regular basic. My idea of “shin gyo so” is pretty much what Sensei Fukita explained at his Demo/Workshop: “Knowledge, technique and sensibility are the three ingredients for an excellent bonsai artist.” Therefore I see knowledge as shin, technique as gyo and sensibility as so!
On the other hand my Sensei Nicola Crivelli explained it to me in relation to the bonsai pot: Shin –formal – for all conifer mostly pine, styles like Chokkan and Moyogi and unglazed pots with rigid lines as rectangular and squared ones can be. Gyo – informal – for deciduous but also some slender, feminine shimpaku junipers; for Kengai and han-kengai style and sometimes also Moyogi; for glazed, oval, soft and sinous pots. So – free – refers for shitakusas and kusamonos but also to bunjin pine, for round and irregular pots.
As you can see this chart is not complete (some styles are missing, the pots feet are missing, and some other pot forms are also missing), but as a beginner it seems promising and helps me to choose the right pot for my plants.
Shin gyo so can also refer to Shodo (calligraphy) as Shin for regular, gyo for semi-cursive and so for cursive
In Kyudo (the art of archery) Shin Gyo So can be defined as follows:
Shin means following the truth. It means that the fundamentals of shooting should be diligently and scrupulously followed.
Gyo means carrying out the truth. It means that the shooting should obey true principles.
So means form as nature. It means that the shooting should be natural and in harmony with all things.
(Source: Kyudo Genève)
This is a very rudimental way to explain the principal of shin gyo so (doesn’t is sound great?).