I’m a huge fan of martial arts movies, and as such I’ve been a long time fan of the late Bruce Lee. When I was young I was interested in Bruce Lee because he was such a major badass, someone who can’t be messed with. In my mind’s eye he became this unbeatable force of nature, and a hero to me. As I grew older, and learned more about Bruce Lee, I became less focused on his physical capabilities, and more focused on his ideas / philosophies, which resonated very deeply with me.
Lately I’ve been thinking about Bruce Lee’s idea of Jeet Kune Do, and applying what I think are its core principles to the art of making tea in the Gong Fu (Kung Fu) style…
~What is JKD~
Jeet Kune Do can be translated as “the way of whatever works.” I’ve also seen it translated as “the way of whatever works best,” and “the way of water.“
Bruce Lee described JKD as a reaction of the overly rigid styles of martial arts. The wikipedia article on the topic explains this well…
Through his studies Bruce came to believe that styles had become too rigid, and unrealistic. He called martial art competitions of the day “Dry land swimming”. He believed that combat was spontaneous, and that a martial artist cannot predict it, only react to it, and that a good martial artist should “Be like water” and move fluidly without hesitation.
Bruce Lee would often use water as an analogy for JKD, saying that a person (a martial artist) should be “like water.” What Lee meant by this was that a person should be as adaptable as possible, so that whatever situation they were in they would be able to respond appropriately.
~What is GongFu Cha~
Gongfu Cha can be translated as “preparing tea with great skill.” Meaning preparing tea in a way which brings out the best flavor. More often than not Gongfu Cha is characterized by the use of a Gaiwan, or Yixing teapot, using LOTS of tea leaves, and many short infusions. When it’s done well the flavor of the tea brewed Gongfu style will change over the course of the many infusions, and the person(s) drinking the tea will fully experience all the tea has to offer.
The only problem I see with Gongfu Cha is that people can get too hung up on the style aspect of it. When this happens one loses sight of what Gongfu Cha is really about, which is of course experience of drinking tea. Another way to make this point would be to make a comparison. Imagine a archer who becomes so involved with the ceremony of shooting an arrow that he / she does not see the target.
Gongfu Cha is a ceremony, and doing the ceremony well is important. However, it’s always important to remember that the ceremony is a tool used to make good tea. Thus if making good tea means changing up the ceremony in some way than people should not feel any compunction about making adjustments, because Gongfu Cha is really just like Jeet Kune Do.
~The Spirit JKD & GFC~
I believe that if you take away the fact that Jeet Kune Do is a martial arts thing, and the fact that Gongfu Cha is a tea thing, and just look at the spirit of them both it becomes clear how similar they are.
Both things encourage a person to have confidence in themselves, and their ability. As a person trains, or is trained, in JKD or GFC they get to the point where they can start to trust their instincts, and make the necessary adjustments on the fly.
And most importantly both can teach us how to be like water, and respond perfectly to our present.