Sado, Japanese tea ceremony, is an art that has long been associated with the martial arts. Back in feudal Japan, it was initially indulged in primarily by the nobility. It was intended to be an activity free of social and political trappings, as guests were required to enter the tea room by a 2.5 square foot crawl door, a deliberately humbling device symbolically creating a sense of equality to everyone inside. The tea room was one of the few places in which a samurai was not allowed to carry their swords, leaving them outside as they enter.
The tea ceremony teaches us to be fully present in the moment, cleansing the 5 senses by immersing them in the experience of making/receiving tea and appreciating the artistry of the ceremony and the beauty of our surroundings. This mindfulness is very much associated with the martial arts. Famous sword master Miyamoto Musashi (author of The Book of 5 Rings) encouraged the study of non-martial Zen arts like Sado as a way of learning mastery of the self in tandem with the study of the sword. Check out the video below that tells the story of the samurai vs the tea master. So when I learned that I had Maiko Behr, a Sado instructor (shown above serving me tea), training in my Jiu-jitsu class, I jumped at the chance to have her teach an introductory class on tea ceremony at my dojo.
As a guest in the tea ceremony, you take the time to appreciate a scroll hung and a seasonal flower in a vase adorning the alcove. You listen to the sounds of the kettle bubbling, the tap of the tea scoop on the bowl, the whisking of the tea, etc. When you receive the tea, you appreciate the layered beauty of the tea in your cup, while breathing in the smells of the tea. You enjoy the textures of the bowl in your hands and the tea as you sip it. As you take the tea into your mouth you let it wash over your tongue so you can appreciate the fullness of its flavours. When finished, you take the time to examine the bowl in your hands in detail and appreciate the artistry of the pottery. The person who performs the tea ceremony learns to apply present moment awareness from the other side, so as to give of themselves completely for the enjoyment of their guests. While we only did a simplified version of the tea ceremony, I still found it had the same benefits and was a wonderful experience. Plus, I got plenty of practise sitting in seiza (on my knees). See more photos from the tea ceremony class held at our dojo.
When you receive a tea ceremony you get the most out of it if you let yourself be present in the moment, connecting yourself fully with your surroundings. This is also true in the martial arts. If your head is elsewhere, you won’t get the most out of your training. The importance of being present is even more important when responding to an attack or fighting in a competition. If you’re thinking about what you’re going to do before doing it, you’ll be 2 steps behind where you need to be in the moment.
By practising Zen arts like Sado, you give yourself other opportunities to practise mindfulness, which you can then bring back into your martial arts training. Plus, it’s a nice way to balance out your training time, with a relevant, non-physical pursuit.
Do you train in any Zen arts that are not martial in nature? If so, have you found them to help you in your martial arts training? Please share your experiences in the comments.