Empty your cup. I am not sure on the origin of this philosophy or even from where I first heard it. But I like it. You may have heard it before. If not, here’s a primer in the form I remember it in – that of a martial arts student and the master he came to study from:

Student: “Master! At long last I have found you! I have studied martial arts for years and everyone says that you are the best in the world. I have come here to complete my training.”

Master: “Excellent. Let’s begin your training with the horse stance.”

Student: “The horse stance? I learned that years ago. I have studied Martial Arts for years. I only need to complete my education, not start off as some rank beginner.

Master: “Well then you must leave. There is nothing I can teach you.”

Student: “But you are the renown grandmaster. Surely there must be something you know that I do not.”

Master: “There certainly is. But from your vantage point your cup of knowledge is already full. If you are not ready to learn, I cannot possibly teach you.”

Empty Your Cup

This is the approach I am trying to take while studying Kung Fu. I have studied martial arts before and if I’m honest starting out as a beginner is a bit of a blow to my ego. But ego isn’t why I am studying there. Foot rehab, balance, flexibility, exercise (just to start the list off ) is. This weekend I had my first class. It was with the beginner or ‘A Block.’ The 30 minutes of standardized workouts was challenging – especially on all of those items I just listed. Think P90x in intensity. The next few drills were, well, I’ll say boring. Simple kicks and stance training. Some kicking of a bag – which I was pleased to see I could still do well.

But boring or not, it was exactly what I needed. I left the class pleasantly exhausted having worked out well for the day. My technique on even the basics was off. Despite the power I was able to generate, I could feel that my form could be better.

The instructor came to me and asked if I had studied martial arts before. I could have replied ‘yes’ but keeping the empty cup philosophy in mind, I didn’t. Not wanting to lie I said that I had studied so long ago that it didn’t really matter now. I think that is the honest truth! She complemented me and I deferred to muscle memory and asked for help making my technique better. At the end of the 90 minute lesson I felt like I learned something new instead of covering something old.

Other Applications

I’m sure I could apply this philosophy to other aspects in my life. Work, family, gym, etc. I tend to be impatient, especially when people are telling me things I learned before or believe I could easily figure out on my own. Sure, I swam 5.25 miles but all that did was tell me how much I really had to learn about swimming, about how much more practice I needed to get better.

How could you apply this?

Being a Beginner is More fun

A good follow up read about the Beginner’s mind. It covers, among other things, letting go of your expert-ness and having more fun as a beginner.

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