Tea Ceremony

Roo (Katherine) Heins began studying tea ceremony in 2005 in Tokyo under the guidance of Mr. K. Yamada, headmaster and founder of the Shidō Ryū school. Yamada Sensei entered an apprenticeship in tea ceremony around 1940 at the age of 12, in Azumino, Nagano, eventually going on to enter a tea school in Kyoto. He underwent monastic training at Heirinji, a Rinzai Zen temple in Saitama, and maintains close connection with the temple to this day, offering instruction to the monks there monthly and conducting an annual tea gathering for the temple’s supporters every fall. He eventually broke away from his lineage to establish his own school of tea, Shidō Ryū, which he says means “tea for everyone.” Yamada Sensei is also a recognized master of flower arranging and ceramics; he makes most of his tea implements (bowls, tea scoops, shelves, tea caddies, etc.) from clay or wood by hand, and had the honor of arranging flowers for the occasion of a visit by the Japanese emperor to Heirinji in 2012.

Roo attended tea practice at Yamada Sensei’s house at least once per week, with practices lasting between 2 and 5 hours, from January 2005 to June 2011, when she left Japan. She also participated in three or four tea gatherings at temples and tea houses around Tokyo every year, all-day affairs attended by anywhere from 70 to 300 guests. She became well versed in various portable ceremonies, for which a formal tearoom is not required, as well as ryurei Western-style ceremonies and many traditional thick-tea and thin-tea ceremonies conducted in a tearoom with a brazier or sunken hearth, varying with the season. She also spent a year studying kimono-wearing with Mrs. T. Morozumi in Tokyo, a very strict teacher of a traditional style of kimono-wearing; Roo was her first non-Japanese student. Since returning to the US, Roo has continued to practice tea weekly and has taught private classes to select students. She teaches at Plum Blossom Tea in Suttons Bay, MI, two Saturdays per month, and at Kyoseikan Dojo in Grand Rapids by appointment. She returns to Japan once or twice a year for intensive periods of study with Yamada Sensei.

What is the Tea Ceremony?

Strictly speaking, tea ceremony is simply a process in which a tea practitioner (the “host”) offers a guest a sweet and prepares a bowl of green tea (made from matcha powdered tea and mixed with a bamboo whisk). To demonstrate respect for the guest, the host carefully purifies all the implements used to make the tea before preparing the tea. After the guest drinks their tea, the host cleans the implements and returns them to their original arrangement. Sen no Rikyu (1522-1592), the tea master who essentially created the modern tea ceremony, famously said,

The Way of Tea is nothing but this:
first you boil the water,
then you make the tea and drink it.

In practice, of course, there’s a lot more to the ceremony, and the significance of the practice varies greatly with the practitioner. It is deeply rooted in Zen, with its emphasis on being “in the moment” rather than looking to the past or future. This is expressed in the tea aphorism ichi-go ichi-e, “One chance, one encounter”: be here, now, because this moment will never occur again. Tea is also a way of recognizing and honoring the humanity of those present, of taking the time to fully experience and appreciate the uniqueness of every being. From the perspective of a martial artist, the tea mindset is invaluable: by fully experiencing all aspects of an encounter, one becomes aware of openings and opportunities, both on one’s own part and on that of the other parties in the engagement. Thus tea, Zen, and martial arts share deep links and mutual benefit.