What Led Me to The “Way of Tea”

Before becoming a tea master, Randy Channell Soei was into various martial arts: kickboxing, taekwondo, and wing chun, to name a few. However, during his martial arts journey, he sought some balance between the martial side with something cultural, which directed him to the "way of tea."

Randy shares his martial arts journey and how he became a tea master.

Nick: So sensei your journey to becoming a tea master is really interesting. So originally, you were from Canada, and you came to Japan in the 80s to study Budo. But weren't you studying kung fu in Hong Kong before that?

Randy: Yes, I was. In Canada, I was doing a little bit of martial arts, I was kickboxing and things like that, and Taekwondo, and some Wing Chun originally brought me to Hong Kong with a friend of mine.

So we went to Hong Kong, he was actually a Chinese fellow that was being introduced to his wife to be, so he said, he's going to Hong Kong and I said, okay, I'll go with you. So he left and I went with them, and just kind of never went back.

I went back to Canada a couple times in the interim, but I started doing kung fu in Hong Kong, and then about eight 8 or 10 years ago, I can't remember. 

It was probably my age and my understanding of things. I wasn't really satisfied with the way my kung fu is progressing. So I wanted to find something a little bit more with a path, michi, the way. 

So any of the Japanese martial arts are very easy to understand, they usually ended with the Chinese character for path or way. So originally, I wanted to come to Japan to study kendo, and then Iaido, the art of drawing the sword.

So I left Hong Kong to come to Japan to study martial arts, and I can't remember the exact year '84 '85 something like that.

Nick: I know you studied several including kendo, Judo, and Iaido, sword drawing. I had a student who taught me some Iaido, and you also did naginata.

Randy: Yes, I did, naginata, it's similar to the halberd. It's a long pole with a blade affixed to it, it was often used by the foot soldiers.

And more recently in Japanese history, it's a weapon that's attributed to the women of the warrior families, it's something that they would use to defend their homes and things like that.

And the traditions again, there are many schools where I was doing naginata tradition. And so these traditions, unlike most of the martial arts are run by men, these traditions are run by women and so kind of interesting to see how it has progressed through that.

Nick: So how long did you study and how proficient did you become at these various Japanese martial arts?

Randy: Now proficiency might not be the adequate word but I studied for quite a long time, in the two swords style, nitoryu, I was a Rokudan first level instructor with a sixth degree.  

Then in Iaido, I was a Godan, fifth degree with the first level instructor and then in Judo, I was Godan, which is a fifth degree. And then the other ones I kind of forget, I'm thinking somewhere third degree or second. So I probably have about 25 degrees of black belts.

Nick: It sounds like the ultimate martial artist. I mean, that sounds like a lot of levels of proficiency there. 

Randy: That's pretty much in the past. I'm just a tea guy.

Nick: Oh, we will have to slow down and enjoy life. So I guess that leads to this idea of, at some stage you wanted to connect more culturally, or you wanted to connect your martial arts training  to Japanese culture.

Initially you tried learning koto and also calligraphy. And you sounded like you struggled with those two.

Randy: I always tell the story, even when I was in Hong Kong when I was doing kung fu and things like that I learned a phrase.

In Japanese, we say bunbu ryodo, which is the culture of martial ways together in unison, kind of like the American military concept of an Officer and a Gentleman. You don't want to just be a thug and beat somebody, you want to beat him artistically, so you need that kind of a balance to it. 

And so, when I first came here, as I just mentioned, and you knew that I did a lot of martial arts, but I felt kind of an imbalance in my Yin and Yang, I needed some kind of balance. 

So I wanted to live my life in this bunbu ryodo style. So I wanted to balance my martial side with something cultural.

And as you mentioned, I tried calligraphy and the koto which is a Japanese harp, for those that don't understand it, long plank of wood with strings on it, and apparently had no talent for either.

And so that's what led me to the tea. Actually, it's not true. I was doing tea at the same time, I kind of picked them all up at around the same time, probably.

Within six months of coming to Japan, I was doing everything, which was probably a problem because I was doing too much. Probably I couldn't focus so much. But like I said, I needed to balance that martial side with the cultural side.

So I was looking for something to do with culture, and that ultimately led me to the way of tea.