Sep 14, 2008

From the left hand

For students following the way of tea, everything is done right handed. Wiping, purifying, whisking, picking thing up with chopsticks, scooping water or tea, all are done with right hand. How disorienting it must be for left handers.

I have felt some of the disorientation that left handers encounter when I began to learn the gyakugatte procedures. Gyakugatte refers to the orientation of the room and it means ‘the opposite hand.’ In an orthodox or hongatte room, the guests are seated to the right of the host. The host makes tea and sets the teabowl out to the guests with the right hand. In a gyakugatte room, the guests are seated to the left of the host and the teabowl needs to be set out to the guests with the left hand because it is difficult to reach with the right hand.

In a gyakugatte room, the kensui is brought in with the right hand, entering the room is done with the left foot and the fukusa is worn on the right side. Though some things are done with the opposite hand, not all of the procedures are. Purifying utensils are done with right hand, water is still scooped from the kettle with the right hand and tea is whisked with the right hand.

Since I learned to do the gyakugatte procedures after ten years of doing it the orthodox way, my body was trained to anticipate the next move until I rarely had to think about it. The new procedures produced an uncomfortable sensation in my body and I became quite anxious whenever I made tea this way. My footwork was all off and my timing suffered. In fact, I felt like a beginner again because I didn’t know what to do next or which hand to use to pick up or put down anything.

It is quite humbling to feel this way. That is one of the reasons why I sometimes prepare a tea demonstration for gyakugatte. I have to pay strict attention and be very present to get through these procedures in front of people. Thank sensei, for teaching me these procedures so that I won’t forget what it feels like to be a beginner.

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