Apr 9, 2008

It’s not about perfection

Students often think that having the perfect temae is the goal of tea study. Though we strive for perfection in temae, that really is not what tea study is about. I wrote previously about hataraki, making adjustments and moving forward. Making mistakes are other opportunities for learning and growing.

Sensei often said that in class, you can to nothing right, but in chaji you can do nothing wrong. She would correct every little thing in class. And I would rather make my mistakes in class and be corrected, than to be in a formal tea gathering and make my mistakes.

Just about the time I thought I could get through a tea procedure without making any mistakes, sensei would mention things for me to pay attention to or ask questions while I was making tea, such as what is your left hand doing? Or explain to me the significance of of the guest role. And she would tell me to keep going to make tea while thinking, talking and answering her questions. Quite often, I would have a brain freeze and not be able to talk, nor could I continue making tea, nor could I remember where I was in the procedure or what came next. (I am quite easily distracted and have a hard time even walking and talking at the same time).

What sensei was doing was training me to be more aware of everything, to hold more than one thing in my head, and to trust my body. She was also training me to hold onto my concentration on what I was doing, to move forward when there were distractions and to be able to converse with guests without stopping the procedure and getting my work done. The trick in chanoyu is to make everything look natural, easy and uncomplicated, even though there is a lot going on.

Sensei also said, “If you are going to make a mistake, make it beautifully.”


  1. Sensei also said, “If you are going to make a mistake, make it beautifully.” - this is a great saying. The late Master Saito had a saying he used in his embroidery teaching, "The hands are the exit of the spirit". I think the saying from your Sensei would fit in beautifully with that thought.

  2. I like that saying from master Saito, too. "The hands are the exit of the spirit". I will have to use that with my tea classes. Thank you, Jane.