Jun 8, 2008

Self discipline and tea studies

One of the great lessons that I learned during my 25 years of tea studies is the importance of self-discipline. I think it is one of those grown up values that don’t seem to be emphasized much anymore. I used to think of self-discipline as punishment; feeling guilty for not doing the things I should be doing and denying myself the pleasures of life.

When it came to tea studies in the beginning, I was not a particularly good student. I wouldn’t practice between classes, my sensei would scold me during class for my wandering mind, I would be late for class and I would always be asking questions even when sensei just finished explaining the very thing I was asking (I was not paying attention). As a consequence, I didn’t progress very far.

Sensei said to me one day, that it didn’t matter to her whether I progressed or not. I was paying her to teach me, but I had to meet her half-way in my learning. It wasn’t until I was clear that I wanted to study tea, that I became focused on what I was doing every week. I began to think about class after I went home and before the next one. I became diligent about choosing a poetic name for my chashaku every week. The funny thing was that when I became a better student, sensei was much more strict with me. I had to work even harder than when I was a lazy student.

When I went to Japan, one of my sensei there told us that we were sitting on a mountain of jewels, but we’d have to dig them out ourselves. It was not the teacher’s job to see that I had a good experience for the year we were there. This was the hard lesson for me. When I rebelled or was lazy or didn’t do what I was supposed to do or be where I was supposed to be, it just got harder for me. When I applied myself, all kinds of special things came my way. They were training me.

There were some students who were very good at looking good. They would appear to be busy while sensei was looking, and then do nothing if he wasn’t. For the first half year, I would often complain to one of my sempai about things that upset me or that I thought were unfair. She would nod her head wisely at all of my complaints and say, “Yes, it is good training for you.” When I could control my reactions to other people or what was going around me, I had a much better experience. I knew what I had to do and just doing it became satisfaction enough.

Sensei says, “Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.”


  1. A very nice article, I found that a lot of it applied to my study experience in Japan too.

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  2. Marius, when were you at Midorikai?

    I use www.feedburner.com for email subscriptions on the blog. You have to set up an account with them and tell them the name of your blog.