I remember when I was a student learning Sumi-e. Having former education in Fine Arts; Western approach, aesthetics and of course the mentality, I was eager to understand, to figure out things and had many questions. My Japanese teacher's (Tomoko Kodama) English was not very good, so I wouldn't understand everything she would say. Besides, there would be very little verbal explanation anyway. Actually there was just the right amount and what was needed.... I understood this later. Needless to say I was frustrated, and was thinking of quitting. But something kept me there and I would go back again and again, even if there was nothing to show for it at the end of most of the classes. What kept me there was that feeling of total surrender to the moment, the process of the total involvement (with Body Breath and Brush), without even knowing what exactly I was trying to achieve. This kind of learning made me understand something important. It is that not everything needs to be understood (mentally). It is by practice and patience that you understand, through your body, experientially.
Now, I teach Sumi-e. My students are of Western/modern background . They want to understand and they want to know it fast (like I did), and my English is good :) So my approach is to start the class with a meditation, where I guide them to let go of the thoughts and tensions they brought with them, find their centre and let the body and the brush do the painting. I try to keep the class as quiet as possible, to allow the individual student to remain in their space, to connect, become intimate with the subject matter, allow it to reveal itself. When the questions arise, I try directing them to find the answer by themselves, through their inner enquiry. The best answers to everything (in life) come from there anyway.
Sumi-e is a process where one learns and practices the art of connecting and seeing the spirit, the underlying essence of the subject matter. It is not result oriented but if one does practice painting from that space the result can be breath taking.