Category Archive 'Tea Ceremony'

04 Mar 2017

A Martial Arts Story

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From Peter Cohen, answering a question at Quora:

A tea ceremony master was walking through the town market one day when he accidentally jostled a samurai. The samurai took great offense, but because the samurai and the tea ceremony master were of the same social caste, the samurai could not simply lop off the tea ceremony master’s head. So the samurai challenged the tea ceremony master to a duel the following dawn.

Now the tea ceremony master knew nothing of sword fighting, but was bound by honor to show up for this duel. Not wanting to embarrass himself, he went to the town sword master and asked the sword master if he could be taught to use a sword. The sword master was rather flustered, not really being able to teach much in the space of one evening. He showed how to hold a sword, how to do a basic sword stroke, and then said;

“I can teach you nothing about how to fight this evening, but I will tell you this; Go to the bridge in the morning, hold the sword thusly over your head. Think of the tea ceremony. When your opponent approaches, strike with all your might.”

The next morning at dawn the tea ceremony master stood at one end of a bridge and the samurai arrived at the other. The tea ceremony master held up his sword as he had been shown and thought of the tea ceremony. The samurai watched the tea ceremony master for a good while. Finally he bowed, turned, and walked away.

06 Jul 2011

Some Zen

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Ido Tea Bowl “Okugourai — undecorated piece” [井戸茶碗 銘 大高麗], Tokugawa Art Museum, Tokyo

From Collections & Recollections,

Ido ware was a cheap earthenware with a natural ash glaze made in Korea in the 15th century and used widely by commoners as rice bowls. After Ido ware appeared in Japan, tea masters began to use the larger Ido rice bowls as tea bowls, finding in their rough simplicity a particularly suitable to Zen expression of wabi-sabi (侘寂).

Some observations on tea bowls and Ido ware from Sanjiro Tanaka, a highly-respected contemporary Japanese ceramic artist.

Evaluating a tea bowl:

When looking at a tea bowl, the most important thing is how the rim was made. By looking at the rim, the general technical quality can be determined. Depending on the shape, the rim changes. The softness of the rim, how it feels–all of this makes the rim the most important point to watch. Also the incision on the foot rim is important. The height of the bowl and the diameter of the body and its relation to the height and width of the foot rim are factors. This balance is something I have not yet accomplished. However, when judging whether something is good and looking at it yourself, the foot rim is an extremely important element to take into consideration. The incision in the foot rim indicates age, technique, and character. In other words, like a man’s sexual organ, it is the most important point and cannot be ignored when looking at the tea bowl.

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On Ido tea bowls:

Ido tea bowls are foremost healthy looking and bright. There’s also a kind of melancholy to them and they stand upright like warriors. The clay is rough and has a depth to it, and when holding one in your hands, it has a special feel to it. Certainly it is a tea bowl for a man of high position. …

The aesthetics of this tea bowl are completely in a class of its own. Even after 400 years, no one disagrees that this is the “king” in the world of tea ceremony.The old Korean tea bowls have many stunning surprises. First of all, the beauty of their shape, the choice of clay, the way the clay is made, and why a certain glaze is used on a certain clay. … This was the highest level of tea bowl making. Moreover, tea ceremony ware was among the highest prizes given by the leaders Nobunaga and Hideyoshi and so the highest artistic levels were demanded. Like swords, land, and status, the Korean tea bowls were an important part of the social order in the Momoyama Period.

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Tea and zen:

I am especially interested in the Sengoku (Warring States) Period. The warriors during the Sengoku Period were always ready for a battle and in this setting, they sought serenity and elegance, drinking a cup of tea before going to battle. “Here is where we throw our lives away,” they said when driven into a corner.


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