Randy Channell Soei
Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.
Randy Channell Soei
Born in Edmonton, Canada, Randy Channell took up unarmed combat from an early age. Following time spent in Hong Kong in order to learn authentic kung fu, in 1985 he traveled to Japan to study the Japanese martial arts, working as an English teacher in the city of Matsumoto. He eventually decided to complement his martial prowess with deeper aesthetic insights through the traditional Japanese tea ceremony (chado/sado). Drawn deeper into this world, he relocated to the ancient capital city of Kyoto to study with Urasenke, one of Japan’s leading schools of tea. These days, having received the name Soei (in recognition of his devotion to the way of tea) and a tea instructor’s license, he spends his days guiding Japanese disciples.
March 9, 2017
Japanophiles: Randy Channell Soei
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On this edition of Japanophiles we meet Randy Channell Soei, a Canadian who, over more than 30 years spent in Japan, has become a master of the traditional tea ceremony.
On first consideration, the transition Channell made from punishing martial arts practice to the more genteel world of tea may seem an unlikely one. But it actually fits into a samurai tradition in which aesthetic refinement was seen as a vital aspect of a well-rounded character.
To Randy Channell Soei, there are many parallels between the code of the warrior and the traditional tea ceremony.
One hint at a kinship between the tea ceremony and the warrior’s code can be found in the Japanese name: chado/sado, or the way of tea. The "do" part means path or way, and the various different "ways" include kendo (the way of the sword), judo (the gentle way), aikido (the way of harmonious spirit), and kyudo (the way of the bow).
Along with shodo (traditional calligraphy, or the way of writing) and kado (flower arranging, the way of flowers), these names point to the fact that in many Japanese fields of learning, the important thing is the journey rather than the destination. Taken in its purest form, each of these disciplines represents a lifelong commitment to steady self-improvement, with no clearly defined endpoint.
To Channell, a major shared appeal of chado and budo (the way of the warrior), is a focus on poise: the mastery of action and form within the context of an overall flow, shaped by a deep sense of purpose.
Within the world of tea itself, there are numerous schools, each with its own unique approach to the art. But in general the focus is on facilitating communication between host and guest in a manner that, though highly stylized, strips away all pretense.
Each stylized gesture encourages participants to savor their environment and the experience.
The tea is prepared with a special bamboo whisk.
Participants are united in a state of tranquility in which each unique moment is savored, as captured by the Japanese term ichigo-ichie, which pays homage to the fleeting opportunity presented by unrepeatable encounters.
Randy Channell Soei is qualified to teach every aspect of the tea ceremony.
The host demonstrates respect for the guest by wiping each utensil as a gesture of purification.
Originally introduced from China in the 12th century, the sweetly bitter tang of matcha, the powdered green tea at the heart of the tea ceremony, was once used to help people stay awake during meditation. In recent years, the global popularity that matcha has attained with the help of various international coffee chains may seem to have diverged somewhat from these reflective roots.
But next time you seek refuge from the hubbub of the city, tucked away with a soy matcha latte in a quiet corner of a seemingly anonymous coffee shop, why not take a moment to reflect on the proven power of tea to open a path to spiritual growth?
Another feature of the tea ceremony is a traditional sweet that typically incorporates a seasonal motif.
Peter Barakan and Randy Channell discuss a life spent in Japan.
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