Empty Your Cup, You're Not That Good Yet

Jeff Hutchings

Newfoundland, Canada

Shotokan Karate, Martial Arts

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. “It’s full! No more will go in!” the professor blurted. “This is you,” the master replied, “How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.”


Erase Your Preconceived Notions

Are you ever in a situation during a class or seminar where your drill partner says, "Sensei said we need to do it this way, but I like to do it this way." Or while doing a solo drill do you ever think "I don’t know about this. This is way different than what I’m accustomed to."



It doesn’t matter what you’re training toward or the particular sport or art—it may be time to empty our cups.


The Zen message above is simple: if you’re already full of preconceived notions and your own thoughts about how things should be, there isn’t much room to take in new perspectives or teachings. Besides that, if everything you are told or shown is met with your own critique and analysis, you won’t get much from it. It’s ok to process what you’re learning, but you have to do so with an open mind.


Empty Your Cup, You're Not That Good Yet - Fitness, meditation, martial arts, mastery, learning, karate, mindfulness, zen


Be the Sponge

Karate methods and teaching styles have been engrained in our psyche for generations and it isn’t always easy to open up to fresh perspectives or to new ideas. But if we don’t, we will miss out.


My most personal experience with this is Bunkai. I thought I knew a few sound applications for some Kata and I was reluctant to stray from those. After all, Karate is pretty much keep low, block, kick, and punch, right?



Wrong. I was very wrong.



I read Karate Kata Applications by Aidan Trimble and Vince Morris; I asked questions on Bunkai to Sensei Power; I watched demonstrations by Sensei Toru Shimoji and videos by David Gimberline. What did I learn? I learned to be open-minded and to study Kata by using my own head. I now look at Kata with new eyes and ears–and it has rejuvenated my Karate.


My motto is to be the sponge: take it all in and keep what is useful and practical.



The many effective variations in Bunkai are just a sample of how deep Karate goes. There is much to learn that isn’t openly apparent and that can’t come through if your cup is full.


In my humble opinion, I think that we sometimes take what we think of as traditional Karate and cage it. Then, if we’re asked to make a slight variation in our techniques, or if someone suggests a variant for a drill or sequence, we shut down. Incoming information can’t find a foothold if we process it with what we think we already know or were already taught.


If we take a moment to give our minds the "all clear" signal, we are doing a better justice to ourselves and our karate—we’re making room for learning.


You Have to Empty Your Cup

I was fishing a salmon pool one time on the beautiful Exploits River and was having very little luck despite my passion for salmon fishing and years of experience. There were salmon showing in the pool but they simply were taking the bait. I was about to give up for the day when a buddy pulled in next to me in his boat.


“Take the hitch off your fly and try it. It’s hot, salmon are lazy.”


I was reluctant and told him so, and as I was protesting I cast back into the pool (without a hitch over the end of my fly) and a large Atlantic salmon made a swirl after it.


“You’re never too old to learn, ya know,” he grinned as he went on his way. “You may be too stubborn, but you’re never too old!”


I’m glad I emptied my cup.

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