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Tea and Martial Arts

February 14, 2011

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Editor’s Note: The following is a post by Cosmin Dordea, who writes the tea blogs Chadao, Way Of Tea Europe and Chadao Calea Ceaiului.

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“A musician can have Kung Fu, or the poet who paints pictures with words and makes emperors weep, this too is Kung Fu.”

As mister Jackie Chan said above, kung fu is more than throwing a punch or pouring a cup of tea. Everybody can learn the basic steps of gong fu cha, but how come the results are so different?

The answer to this question is well understood by somebody who practices any skill with diligence. I will focus on two skills today: martial arts and tea.

There are few kung fu movies, especially old movies, which don’t show any tea related item in them. In every movie, a master accepts a student only after he serves him tea from a gaiwan.  I think today, this custom has vanished, but the practice of drinking tea by martial artists has not.

I grew up reading Japanese books like Musashi and Taiko.  Tea is often mentioned in those books. I believe that the Japanese tea ceremony would not be the same without the centuries of war that Japan experienced.  Tea was truly a moment of peace in those struggling times.  I would go on and say that concepts like wabi sabi were created by warriors, and polished by artists.  The concept of finding perfection in imperfection would seem only natural in those conditions, as natural as finding peace in the middle of war.

Those warriors were first of all schooled in the arts of war. Of course, those skills are no longer necessary today, because if you kill a person with a punch you go straight to jail, no matter how skillful you are.  Martial arts have evolved into something else over time.  Rather than being skills used to kill, they become tools of self improvement. One can now train his mind, body and soul by practicing over long periods of time.

In martial arts, a fist hits or does not hit.  There is no “what if”. You learn to accept and work on your own mistakes. No matter the cause of being hit, the only answer to why that fist hit is: because you are not good enough. Skill doesn’t come in a day.  This is exactly how I see gong fu cha, and for me, it’s just a different ‘martial’ tool to practice, and both skills ‘brew’ me as a person.

Most of you who read this blog should already know how many things one should take into consideration when brewing tea.  I think you can agree with me that those skills cannot be obtained by reading books or by a scientific approach.  You cannot expect to obtain a perfect formula for tea brewing.

The only difference between you and a master is decades of practice. This is the only way of learning.

As in martial arts, the body learns, not the mind.  In both skills, practitioners learn to ‘shut down’ their mind.  Mistake by mistake, success by success, the countless hours spent practicing sum up and without knowing, you start to have results, but you realize you are far away.

One should accept his inability when it comes to tea.  For example, I often brew tea for people who have never heard of gong fu cha.  I do want to make sure that I don’t lie to myself, and I brew enjoyable tea.  It’s easy to build your own imaginary world and imagine yourself as a ‘tea or zen master.’ Reality checks are a must.

Martial arts teach you to accept yourself and work on your mistakes. So does tea. Trying to behave as something you are not reflects in your art. You, as a human person, are an indispensable element of gong fu.  Your essence is reflected in what you do.  As I read somewhere, “the cup of tea you brew will reflect all of what you are and will leave an impression on those who drink your tea.”

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