Peace and Tenkara

High in the Colorado Rockies
Photo Courtesy of TenkaraGrasshopper Media Services

There is a peace found in nature that cannot be found indoors no matter what we think. People are on the eternal path to find this peace yet many only get glimpses of this their entire lives. Sadly, a vast majority have given up the search for this natural harmony with the world and have gone inside to seek a semblance of peace.

I believe that inner and outer harmony can be achieved through practices such as meditation, yoga, and the martial arts. In the past, even I have used these techniques to attain a personal harmony with the world. In each and every practice I have attained tiny segments of this overall harmony, although I have not been able to bring these pieces together until recently, and it is because of tenkara that I have accomplished this.

 I did not start practicing tenkara as a method of finding this peace yet it did become a tool in my spiritual bag of tricks. Through my practice of tenkara I have found that my search for internal and external peace with the world has finally come together. Because of what might be considered a chance encounter with an individual I met while working my belief in tenkara as a gateway to spiritual bliss was awakened in me.

The individual who I encountered I will refer to as the Gateway, or roughly translated into Japanese as Kadoguchi. Kadoguchi is not a tenkara angler himself although I was able to introduce him to tenkara later in getting to know him. That is another story for another time and one that will be very fun to share with you.

I do not consider my meeting Kadoguchi-San as a chance encounter owing to the fact that upon our first meeting we appeared to be kindred spirits. One of us is actively working as a fly fishing guide and the other was  fly fishing guide in a previous iteration of his life. Apparently, it is true that a passion for fly fishing draws like minds together.

After our first meeting, Kadoguchi-San invited me to lunch during which we spent much of the time discussing fly fishing in general along with a brief discussion about tenkara as a viable form of fly fishing. Before we went our separate ways Kadoguchi-San handed me a copy of a book that he thought I would find interesting and I was intrigued by the title, Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams.

Over the course of a few weeks I read the book Kadoguchi-San gave me and something amazing occurred that I was not prepared for. With the turning of each page I came to the realization that almost all of the aspects of Zen that are practiced in the martial arts could be incorporated into my practice of tenkara. With this realization came a change in my attitude towards tenkara that I believe has already made me an even better angler. I came to realize that by incorporating the lessons that martial arts sensei's teach in their dojos could also be taught on the river.

Traditional Japanese Cast Iron Tea Cup
Image found on Teavana

There is a lesson that many sensei's teach and it appears that many of them teach it in the same way no matter who they are. Typically, this lesson comes after the student tries to impress the sensei with his or her knowledge or techniques that they have learned from other teachers or their own studies. Because of this, many martial arts instructors will do the proverbial eye roll to themselves. During the brief interval that student is trying to impress the sensei the sensei will offer the student a cup of tea. Once the student accepts, the sensei starts to fill an empty cup with tea to the point that the tea is flowing over the top of the cup causing the student to panic and point out that tea is being spilled. The sensei will smile before explaining that this is the first lesson the student must learn.

The sensei calmly folds his or her hands calmly, gazing at the student.

"When the teacup is full of tea and more is poured into the cup causing it to overflow, the cup is completely full. The same is true of your mind, when your mind is full of knowledge you are unable to listen and learn because you think you know it all! Yet, if you empty your mind of preconceived notions you will be able to learn and understand the lessons I will teach you."

While the sensei is talking they have replaced the overflowing teacup with an empty one and slowly fills it so the student can drink. It is at this moment that the student begins to understand the lesson of "Emptying the Cup."

Having read of this lesson, I knew that when I went fishing I needed to "Empty my Cup" while tenkara fishing. When I get to the water now I force myself to forget what I think I know about the river and return to being a pupil of the water. When I get to a section of river I have fished in the past I read the water and look for those clues that will tell me where the fish are without expectations based on past performances. By doing this I am able to have the stream teach me what I need to know even before I wet a line. Every time I get on the water I now empty my cup.

Had it not been for my encounter with Kadoguchi-San and his gifting of the book I can honestly say I may never have incorporated this into my tenkara practice.


I have taken some freedoms as writer in this post by naming a person using an English term and attempting to translate it into Japanese. I hope that I have not insulted any ones sensibilities by taking a bit of freedom by doing this.

I wish to offer a brief disclosure about the above post. I do not consider myself an Adept or Master of tenkara and I am in no way a master of the arts of the mind and body. I am simply a student of the world and life who wishes to share my personal experiences with you.

Tenkara was originally used as a commercial form of fly fishing by the residents of the mountains of Japan to provide food and money for their families. Tenkara has no martial arts basis and there is no written proof that it was practiced by the samurai warriors of ancient times. Tenkara also has no known spiritual or religious underpinnings that I am aware of. This is not to say that samurai or monks did not practice tenkara as a way of providing food for themselves or their compatriots. What I am presenting to you is not to be taken as a complete spiritual pathway to peace, yet if you wish to join me on this journey of discovery I welcome you as a fellow traveller.

If you have enjoyed this post I hope you will join me on my journey through the book, Zen in the Martial Arts and my personal tenkara experiences. I will be running a series of posts based on the book and my experiences along the way. You will be able to find a tab at the top of the site called Zen and Tenkara which will be a compilation of all the installments in this series.

Your comments are also greatly appreciated and maybe even a story or two on whether this has been something you might have tried yourself.

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