Beginning Chado study is hard. Nobody is inherently beautiful and graceful and perfect out of the gate. Even Japanese people who begin to study make mistakes. It is like learning a foreign language. You are not going to be fluent after a few lessons, and even after years and years of study, you never feel like you totally get it.
There really is not anything that prepares you for your Chado studies, though some people have particular talents like a good memory, or body spatial awareness. There may be some training that may help you, like martial arts or dance, but Chado is not like that exactly. You may have studied Japanese language or literature or Zen but really these things do not really help you to do temae or be graceful when eating a sticky sweet like mochi.
Do you remember how difficult it was in the beginning to fold your fukusa? Do you remember how hard it was sit down and get up off the floor in kimono? How hard it was to remember the order of temae?
At one time, we were all beginners. We all had to learn to walk correctly, sit down in the proper place and could not figure out right foot, left foot and which one we had to use first.
At one time, we discovered we didn’t know much about what were doing. We saw advanced students doing different kinds of things, and asking questions about things we had no idea what they were talking about.
At one time, we helped with a tea demonstration and got lost in temae. We have had that panicky feeling of what do I do next, and how am I going to get through this procedure in front of everyone?
At one time we were all frustrated with where we were in our Chado training. We saw other students studying different temae and wondered if we were ever going to progress enough with so sensei would advance us to the next one.
At one time, we all felt like we were never going to feel competent in the tea room. If we only had a little more knowledge, or remembered everything we learned, we would feel more confident.
The thing about Chado study is that it is hard. There is so much to learn and so much to remember. Did I say that Chado study is hard? Yes, Chado study is hard. And to continue to practice it even when we know we are not very good at it is hard and sometimes discouraging. To persist in practice at something we know we are not good at is humbling and makes us want to quit, to move on to something we can excel and look good at doing.
And yet there is a sense of accomplishment when we begin to get it. When the secrets of temae begin to open up and we understand some of the lessons we couldn’t get before. It is a good feeling when sensei asks us to help a new student to prepare in the mizuya and we know exactly what to do.
But will we ever feel fluent and competent in the tearoom? Looking back on 30 years of training in Chado, there is always something that I feel like I don’t know much about or am unsure what to do. I do feel a certain comfort in that, generally speaking, I know what is going on, and what I need to do at certain times.
But then again, I just spent a weekend attending multiple seki at the Hakone Daichakai, and felt like a fairly new beginner again. I was unsure when I was asked to be the shokyaku if I would mess up the experience for the rest of the guests. I don’t know if it is worse to humiliate yourself in front of total strangers that you will never see again, or fellow students and teachers who have seen you mess up many times.
And you know what, Chado study is hard. But how will you learn anything new unless you try it out?How else will you get better at something you suck at if you don’t practice, mess up, and re-do it again and again? If we only stuck with things we know how to do and look good doing it, our world would be small and unchallenging. It is a myth that if you love something, you will be naturally good at it. Lots of things take unending practice and effort, and yes looking not so good when you are practicing it. But if you love something, I think there is motivation to move through the humiliation of not being very good at it, and to continue to practice until you get better at doing it.
After all these years, I am learning Japanese language, and I suck at it. But I am practicing every day, and little by little, I am getting better. I may never be fluent, but I am understanding more about myself through the study and application. And that means a lot, too.