Commonly known as a “chop,” the seal has been in use on stone since the year 222 BC. A chop is a unique art form in that it combines three areas of creativity: Calligraphy, Typography, and the art of stone carving.
Calligraphy is the foundation of seal carving. The Chinese characters used for chops are often ancient, dating back as far as the Shang Dynasty through the Tang Dynasty. The ideograms usually used on a chop are quite different from the contemporary Chinese handwriting styles known as the “traditional” and “simplified” form of writing. A Chop can be made of single character signifying someone’s name or it can be an poem, a picture, or even recorded history.
Typography is probably the most difficult aspect of creating a chop. The small space of a chop presents difficult challenges to an artist. Since the area upon which to carve is rarely larger than a matchbox, getting the ideograms in order and making them look like a unit are important qualities to consider. However, the artist must also arrange the characters, sometimes numbering in the dozens, in a way that is beautiful and pleasing to the eye.
The art of stone cutting is probably the easiest part for an accomplished seal maker. But, even here, many difficulties are found. The artist must first know how to transpose the text because what is written on the chop must be reversed so that the chop, first and foremost, can function when ink is finally applied and its seal stamped. Another transposing must be made if the artist decides to carve the seal with a “void” imprint as opposed to the more common raised imprint seen on most chops. Additionally, the technique for cutting a soft stone is very different than the technique for cutting harder stones such as jade. Lastly, the knife technique needed to cut the bottom seal differs slightly from the technique used to write on the side of the stone and also differs from the technique used to carve any additional ornamentation.
Before the age of 30, Moy Yat attained in his lifetime the skill level of a “Sealmaker Extraordinaire.” He was one of the world’s foremost authorities on the ancient art of Chinese Seal carving. In the past, Moy Yat worked as a consultant for the Museum of Natural History not only due to his skill with a sealmaker’s carving knife, but because of his extensive knowledge of the history of seal making and the individual sealmakers throughout China’s history.
The Ving Tsun Kuen Kuit Although Moy Yat carved hundreds of chops in his lifetime, by far his most famous stones are a set of seals commissioned by and carved for his sifu, Yip Man. The set is collectively known as the Ving Tsun Kuen Kuit. The Ving Tsun Kuen Kuit is one of only two large matched sets of Chinese Seals believed to be in existence today. Along with fellow sealmaker Chi Nam Kwong, Moy Yat spent 4 years of his life researching, and cross checking thousands of Hao Kuit, or oral songs to leave only those proven to be for Ving Tsun. This distillation was then carved into hand picked stones collected over a two year period. Each stone was carved in a different calligraphic style from China’s history. Together, the 51 stones preserve the techniques, the stories, and the warnings of the Ving Tsun Kung Fu Martial Art System.