Empty Your Cup

by Bart Scovill - Date: 2007-01-28 - Word Count: 660 Share This!

I first heard this comment in an interview with Bruce Lee. Later, I learned more about this concept in Joe Hyams' book, "Zen in the Martial Arts." The quote comes from a story Bruce Lee was relating to Mr. Hyams where a master was trying to make a point to an arrogant visiting martial artist. This martial artist ostensibly came to learn from the master, but merely wanted to prate his own ideas. In the story, the master begins to fill the visitor's cup with tea, but when it is full, the master continues to pour and the tea runs out. When the visitor points this out, the master replies, "until you empty your cup, you cannot get any more tea." The basic concept is that if you are full of your own ideas, there is no room for new ones.

Bruce Lee was not only a master martial artist, he was also a master of learning from others. He was constantly emptying his cup and taking in new ideas. In his brief lifetime, he continued to learn from others causing him to change philosophies many times, and create martial arts systems based on these constantly renewing ideas.

As martial artists, we can continue to learn from Bruce Lee's example. This doesn't mean we all need to create new styles as Master Lee did, but we can all become familiar with other styles to fill gaps in our training. As martial artists we should try to learn everything we can from others. Too many martial artists would rather pretend they already know it all and wallow in their own ignorance than risk admitting there may be more to learn.

This prideful approach leads to a tendency to tear down or dismiss ideas or concepts we don't understand instead of taking everything we can from it. This tendency comes from insecurity and defensiveness. Nobody likes to find out they may be wrong, but to continue to learn we must take this chance or risk stagnation. And when we find we were wrong about something, we should rejoice in its discovery because this is one more thing we are now close to getting right! The idea that any one person or system could be perfect and know everything is ludicrious. Every person out there knows something we don't. Every system out there has something they do better than our system. Once again, this is a good thing. Think of the learning potential!

Next time you're confronted with an idea that makes you angry or uncomfortable, don't immediately dismiss it or attack it. Take a moment to evaluate whether it's really a bad idea, or whether it merely challenges your own preconceptions. Even after you've honestly evaluated an idea and you still disagree, there is something to be gained. The exercise alone will help you solidify your own knowledge and concepts. Additionally, few well considered ideas are completely without merit, and careful evaluation may reveal a gem of knowledge hidden in a concept that may later have gone astray. Whatever value the idea possessed can now be assimilated into your own ideas, and the portions you have considered and rejected can now be comfortably dismissed without fear of missing something important. Even so, you should always be prepared to reevaluate a previously dismissed concept. It may later prove that there was nothing wrong with the concept, but you weren't yet ready to accept it.

In the movie Broadcast News, Holly Hunter's overbearing character was confronted by a coworker who asks her, "it must be wonderful always knowing you're right"? To which she replied, "no, it's terrible." That would be terrible. Knowing, or at least thinking, there was nothing left to learn from anybody else. So why take a chance on artificially creating this nightmare, even if it's in only one area of your life? "I thought I was wrong once, but it turns out I was mistaken." Remember, empty your cup, or you can't have any more tea!

Related Tags: martial arts, self-defense, karate, judo, jiu-jitsu, shuri-ryu, okinawan, martial art, aikido, kung

Bart Scovill trains in Shuri-ryu Karate-do. You can visit him at Warrior Pages, to see videos, reviews, articles and terminology. He is a lawyer by trade, but a martial artist at heart. Bart has been training in the martial arts since 1978. He currently trains and teaches under the legendary Shihan Donna Judge at the Suncoast Karate Dojo in Sarasota, Florida. One of the best things about training with a legend is you are surrounded by other legends and legends to be. He has previously trained in Shorin-ryu, Wado-ryu, and Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu. In addition to Shuri-ryu, he also participates in jiu-jitsu (both Japanese and Brazilian), bagua-zhang, xing-yi quan, qigong, aikido, kali, kobudo and yoga.

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