Nov 26, 2013

Competency in the tea room

Some of my newer students are learning a new temae or procedure for making tea.   One of them said that we haven't spent enough time on it for her to feel competent.  She only did it a few times before we changed to the Ro season and now she feels like she has to start all over again.

Here is the news:  we all feel like we have to start all over again.  In fact, for those of us who have practiced for 25 years and more, we want to get back to the place where we feel like beginners again. Rikyu's poem says, "Learn from one to ten and then return to the original one again."  The change of the seasons reminds us to pay attention to what we are doing. 

Feeling competent in the tea room can lead to feeling complacent -- to phone it in because we know what to do.  My sempai said that as a host, the act of making tea is brand new every single time you do it.  To have the freshness, anticipation and excitement of doing something as if for the very first time, makes it fresh and new for the guests, too.

With the many variations in temae, depending on the guests, the utensils, the seasons, the time, the place, there are literally millions of ways to perform the ceremony.  Who can remember and do each one perfectly?  Does doing the temae perfectly mean you are competent?  Can you do a competent temae without doing it perfectly? 

Can we this apply to real life outside the tea room? There are no instructions for life, so how do you judge how competent you are doing your life?  Do you get to practice life until you feel competent?


  1. I've loved that Rikyu poem since the first time I heard it (from Barbara sensei while you were away). Certainly not in chanoyu, but in other aspects of my life I've felt the paradox of being an "expert" and returning to the beauty, joy and challenge in the basics. Or the brain-twist of unlearning and relearning a foundation. Like dance, the basic step allows for everything that follows.

    1. Steph, thank you for your comment. I certainly hope that you can soon "feel the paradox of being an expert and returning to the beauty, joy and challenge in the basics." One of the ways that I keep it feeling fresh again is to teach students, especially new students who are just learning the temae for the first time.

  2. I had not heard that Rikyu poem, but love it.
    What a lovely post and thoughts. I think we
    always want to do to perfection, but not being
    perfect we have a hard time with this. I will be
    thinking of this today.

    1. Marilyn,
      Thank you for reading the blog and for your comment. Here is another post It's not about perfection