I have recently begun okeiko again with Bonnie Mitchell-sensei via Zoom. I am so grateful for the time and energy that she invests in every lesson. It has been more than 18 years since I attended weekly okeiko. After so many years on the teaching side, being a student again is humbling. Yet every correction, every suggestion, and every comment only make me want to double my efforts to improve my temae.
Although I have been teaching on Zoom for two and a half years, learning via Zoom is different than learning in person, as I am sure my students can tell me.
Because she cannot see everything as if she was there, she asks me for the exact placement of all of my dogu. While I am doing temae, she often asks me to describe what I am doing. More often than not she will not correct the order of temae, but how quickly or slowly I do things, exact placement of fingers, how much space between the palm of my hand and the utensil, posture, or breathing — things that sensei never focused on before.
What is different now is that sensei has higher expectations from me and expects me to practice in between lessons. She will correct me once, and tell me to practice that move for next week. And every week, she gives me assignments to help my understanding of the logic of temae. What she is instilling in me is to be able to work out a solution when I do not know what to do or get stuck when I am doing temae. Not a day goes by when I am not practicing something – be it basics like pouring water with hishaku, to handling of special dogu in upper temae.
These weekly assignments and practice between lessons have deepened my study of temae. I still prepare the tea room, getting up early to zokin tatami, hang a scroll, and arrange flowers. I still put on the kama and fill tea containers. I still arrange proper dogu for the lesson and put on kimono.
As I sit and wait quietly for sensei to log-on to Zoom, I am thinking of the coming lesson, going over my assignments and preparing mentally for the lesson. I am re-learning the commitment and discipline of practice. Even if I thought that I had mastered a move as simple as coming into the room and closing the door, there is more to it than I thought. I am learning to be conscious rather than unconscious during temae, to pay attention and be in service throughout the entire procedure.
What great training for a flying girl like me.