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Don’t Empty Your Cup, Just Check Your Ego At the Door

By November 2, 2016Ego

First you must empty your cup. What martial artist hasn’t heard this piece of Eastern philosophy at one point in his lifetime?

Here’s how the official story goes. A professor of philosophy visits a well-known Zen master. The professor is full of his own opinions. The master, being a good host, serves the professor a cup of tea. As he fills his cup, he just keeps pouring until the cup starts to overflow. The professor could no longer stand it. “Stop!” he said. “The cup is over full. No more will go in!” The master’s response went like this: “You are like this cup. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

The moral of the story is that you can’t learn something new if you are full of your own ideas and pre-conceived notions.

This philosophy is fine if the person is walking into a martial arts school for the first time and is clueless about training. I don’t agree with it however, for those who’ve had previous martial arts experience.

Realistically, a martial arts school often encounters new students who’ve studied different martial arts. A Japanese karate school for example, may have within it, students who have trained in aikido, boxing, judo, jujitsu, kickboxing, kung-fu, tae kwon do, tai chi, and even the occasional high school wrestler or street fighter!

What do you do with these students? Tell them to “empty the cup” by asking them to forget everything they’ve ever learned? Instead of “emptying the cup”, ask them to “leave your ego and shoes at the door.”

If you are a martial artist training in a new style, be respectful of your new style and instructor. Don’t be arrogant by constantly saying “this is how we used to do it in my old school.” Don’t go in there trying to prove something. Keep your comments and questions to a minimum. This is rude and obnoxious. Be respectful and professional. Remember that you are there to learn and keep in mind that this school may do things differently.

When looking into a new style, a prospective student should look for an instructor who welcomes people from other systems. If they trash other styles, try another school. You don’t want to end up in a martial arts school that is like a cult. Avoid places that say our way is the only way; our style is the only style.

A good instructor accepts his students as a wonderful package of human experience. He will help the student integrate his previous knowledge with his new found skills.

For example, let’s say the student had studied tae kwon do for five years before switching to an Okinawan style of karate like Goju-ryu. Tae kwon do is known for its kicks which come at you from a variety of directions given the talent of the student. A good instructor will encourage the student to add the Goju-ryu kicks to expand his kicking repertoire and not to discard his tae kwon do techniques.

So don’t empty your cup! But check your ego at the door, conduct yourself with professionalism and appreciate the new learning experience.

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