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Sept 2003

KS Classifieds
#017 out now

Randall Channell

Kansai Scene speaks to Kyoto resident Randall Channell, Tea Master Budoka, TV Celebrity and a Blues Brother.

Why did you come to Japan?
I originally came to study Kendo and Iaido (These are traditional Japanese martial arts) swordsmanship.

In Kendo you face an opponent with a bamboo sword called a shinai. Iai-do normally has no opponent and uses a katana (Japanese sword). Later on I began to study other martial arts such as Kyudo, Naginata and Nito Ryu.

While I was busy studying Budo (Japanese Martial Arts) I felt that some-thing was missing as my life was only focused on doing these things. Too much Yin and not enough Yang so to speak. (Called In-yo in Japanese). I suppose it was in order to balance these that I took up the study of tea.

There is a saying in Chinese and Japanese "Bunbu Ryodo". It means something like following the cultural and martial ways together. So, I decided to practice both arts.

How did you find a tea ceremony teacher or an institution?
Before moving here to Kyoto I used to live in Matsumoto City in Nagano Prefecture. I was very lucky because the lady who lived next door to me happened to be a tea ceremony teacher. Her husband was a retired English professor. Although I didn't speak much Japanese at that time, she nonetheless explained everything in Japanese. Of course I didn't follow a lot! Sometimes her husband would translate. It was quite interesting and a major part of my Japanese language development was done like that. She is a very
nice person who I grew to love and respect.

What do you like about studying tea?
I was interested in the similarities between it and martial arts. I'm really attracted to the movement of tea, that is, the specific procedure of tea or temae . The movement is very beautiful and natural. Many martial arts have a similar kind of "flow" or thinking. Of course, tea is what we call sogo-bi , a complete art form. You have everything from calligraphy to flowers, from architecture to ceramics. It is totally complete. Tea is derived from many aspects, which makes it very interesting. I think that each person doing tea gets a different feeling or has a different reason for doing it.

Recently I have developed an interest in antique utensils for tea but my main focus still remains performing the correct procedure. I think the main thing is to actually do the movements, I feel this is more important than talking about the study of it. It's very difficult to perform tea properly, and likewise it's difficult to practice or shugyo by yourself. But I think that's what appeals to some people.

How did you end up studying at the Urasenke School of Tea, the biggest school of tea in Kyoto? Did your teacher introduce you to this school?
No. She did not introduce me to the school. I came to Kyoto for the Kyoto Taikai, a martial arts exhibition held here every May. I was already studying tea at that time so wanted to visit Urasenke. It was not actually until quite a few years later that I applied to enter the school.

How was studying at the Urasenke school?
Well, I entered with the purpose of studying the three-year course and was very lucky to be allowed to do so by Oiemoto, Dr. Sen Soshitsu. It was a very interesting experience to study tea everyday in that kind of a situation. The school is an official technical college recognized by the Ministry of Education and is highly regarded.

Did your feelings for martial arts change after starting to study tea?
I think it was more the other way around. Since I'd had a lot of experience in martial arts, right from the beginning I found many similarities in both, especially in relation to posture, when sitting, standing or walking. As a lot of the movements are quite similar, I found this could be applied to the study of tea.

Another similarity is the mental side, in that tea involves Zen thought for the practitioner, which is of course an important part of martial arts. I think people that practice either can cross over quite easily. In teaching tea, I've found that people who have martial arts experience tend to progress more quickly than those who haven't any such experience.

What do your students get when they learn from you?
I think there are various reasons why. However, let me say this. I not only teach tea four or five times a week, but I also study three times a week myself.

Although I am doing tea almost everyday, I feel that I am still a very beginner, and so as a teacher, I'm still very much at a beginner level. I learn a lot from my students, and maybe when I first started teaching, I was learning more from my students than my students were learning from me.

So I think you'd have to ask each person individually. I'd say each one has a different reason. Some people do it to be in a group activity and to have fun. Some people do it because they want to learn something cultural. Some people simply want to practice their English or because they want to teach tea to non-Japanese people. And maybe some students join because they think that a non-Japanese teacher will be easier on them, not so strict. (They quickly learn that is not always the case!) When it comes to the correct procedure of doing tea, I'm quite strict.

What do you want to do in Japan in the future? Do you have any particular aspirations?
Yes, to become rich! (Big laugh) I already do too many things but there are so many others I'd like to try. I want to be involved with TV, movies and commercials, play the blues, billiards, and of course continue to improve my understanding of tea.

I want to do so many other things as well, but my main ambition is really just to reach a higher level in what ever it is I'm doing, to better myself. My life maybe just a little bit unique compared with others, but I'm fine with that. For the most part, I just want to enjoy life.

Randy's website: www.15-1a.com • Email: [email protected]


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