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