Just A Cup of Tea?

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Few things work so well as an analogy to illustrate how the practice of martial arts, real martial arts, changes lives like the Japanese tea ceremony where attention to the finest details is required. Training in this discipline is considered an excellent approach to refine one’s character.

Originally practiced by priests and samurai, it has since attracted quite a following and reputation. In Japan, it is impressive to have been trained in this discipline.

A modern reprinting of Okakura Kakuzo’s classic, “The Book of Tea”, contains an introduction by one Liza Dalby where she describes her experience with the tea ceremony in Japan training with a friend who’s mother was thinking about marriage negotiations and insisted that her daughter study tea:

“We were quite typical in our lack of seriousness. Still, we went through the motions. After a while I became curious as I practiced the ritual of folding of the tea napkin, listening to the voice of our teacher vocalizing the whipping of the tea as ‘sara sara sara chin’ with a soft clink of the bamboo whisk on the edge of the teabowl."

And amazingly enough, after about six months, I began to notice things I hadn’t before. As I became familiar with the ritual, it became remarkably liberating. Once I no longer had to concentrate on how to fold my tea napkin and the order of placing the utensils, my mind quieted and my awareness became sharp.”

The practice of martial arts can facilitate the same kind of experience. Within the first few months of my training, my perspective changed dramatically. I know many others who feel the same. However, the approach to the practice and the environment have a great impact on the results.

What is your approach to your practice? Only you know what goes on inside your head, but you’d be surprised how much it shows on the outside.

Approach your practice as the most important thing in the world. No, you don’t have to do martial arts for a career in order to take it seriously. That is not the point. The point is to practice fully engaging yourself. The point is to learn more about you: how you act and react; how outside influences effect you; how calm and centered you can remain when faced with adversity; how well you can control your breath; how well you can manage your energy. If you find yourself generally lacking in energy, chances are there are far too many things going on in your head.

Many see kung fu and other martial arts as just about fighting and violence. Authentic kung fu is as much about fighting and violence as the Japanese tea ceremony is about making a cup of tea.

“It’s just a cup of tea!” you say?

Is it really?


Originally published June 2005


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