Japan is a fine country with many excellent customs, and over the years I’ve been privileged to participate in several of them. I’ve been buried in volcanic mud at an onsen, walked around the first seven stops on Shikoku’s famous 88-temple pilgrimage, and queued in line for 24 hours to buy a Playstation 3. I have been to see the fights at Korakuen hall, and composed haiku under a cherry-blossom tree while shitfaced on sake. I have even slept in an internet cafe. One thing I’ve never done, though – and something that remains on my bucket list – is the tea ceremony, or chanoyu.
The Tea Ceremony, according to what I’ve read, is a form of Zen Buddhism – focused on encouraging participants to live in the present moment, keeping them totally involved in the occasion and not distracted by mundane thoughts. According to web-japan:
The ceremony is equally designed to humble participants by focusing attention both on the profound beauty of the simplest aspects of nature—such as light, the sound of water, and the glow of a charcoal fire (all emphasised in the rustic tea hut setting)—and on the creative force of the universe as manifested through human endeavour, for example in the crafting of beautiful objects.
Conversation in the tearoom is focused on these subjects. The guests will not engage in small talk or gossip, but limit their Tea ceremony conversation to a discussion of the origin of utensils and praise for the beauty of natural manifestations.
Nice. But what if you don’t have a access to a Japanese tea-house, dear reader? Or what if you don’t read this website for my love of Zen and hot drinks, but to craft yourself into a more fearsome human being?
Simple: apply the lessons of the tea ceremony to your time in the weightroom. Or, more appropriately, shut the fuck up when you’re deadlifting.
There’s rarely any need to talk in the gym. Yes, it can be nice, and having friends at the gym is one way to keep yourself motivated – especially in the early going – but to be honest, it’s distracting, and often counter-productive. You’re there to get stronger, or leaner, or healthier, and talking about your job or your relationship – or, worse, last night’s TV – is not going to help. Less obviously, the gym can be an escape from the mundane, and a chance to leave other concerns behind for an hour while you concentrate on hauling the heaviest fucking thing you can off the floor. That’s why CEOs train, and you’re more productive in the afternoon after you lift.
So here’s an experiment: apply the lessons of the tea room to the gym. If you lift with friends, suggest a session where all conversation has to be based on the experience of the gym: how the last set felt, whether you can go heavier, what form pointers you should focus on for the next set, no joking or messing around. If you lift alone, this is even simpler: just put on your headphones, focus on your session, and stay off Twitter between sets. Enjoy the experience of focusing on one, simple thing: lifting that weight just as well as you possibly can. Do something as close to perfectly as you can: it’s not something you can do often.
Oh, and drink some green tea. It’ll help you get lean, and it tastes fucking delicious. Live hard!
HOMEWORK: As above. If you do bodyweight moves instead of gym stuff, that’s fine. If you go running, then try to focus on the sensations of the world around you and the way you feel, instead of boring everyday life. If you aren’t going to do any of those things over the coming week, I don’t know what to tell you.
Oh, and watch Fearless: the film that the above pic comes from. Aside from its kickass tea-drinking scene, it’s full of thoughtful moments alongside some absolutely astonishing fight choreography, and is the best of Jet Li’s ‘late-period’ films.