A martial arts “Warrior” in the traditional sense of the word must learn and master and internalize many seemingly contradictory principles. These include such principles as respect, discipline, confidence, humility, compassion, wisdom, and many more. Traditional Asian Martial Arts have evolved far beyond mere pugilism or arts of war; or as is often the case in modern times, sports. For the lucky ones who can find a teacher who has learned in a traditional way or to those who commit themselves to this way, they can be true arts of the way. In other words, they are spiritual arts. No, not a religion, but methods of “personal perfection,” as one famous teacher put it. Character development is another modern way to put it. As such, none of this can be possible without taming and transcending our own inner “demon,” that pesky little three-letter troublemaker known as the EGO. As to whether this is actually ultimately attainable, I will leave that to the thoughtful reader to contemplate. Intellectually, perfection may seem to be impossible to achieve, but as my teacher advised, the key is to “shut off the mind and perceive the world from the heart, then the Dao is a possibility and each moment is rich.” Keep in mind, each time we bow or perform break stance or the like in our training, we are acknowledging and honing these principles.
Now, I know some of you are reading this and thinking, “Say what?” I don’t blame you, it can sound very lofty and unattached to modern reality, “on the street.” I assure you, however, nothing could be further from the truth. The Martial Arts Warriors of the past developed these insights in an age where fighting was visceral, not a video game or conducted by drones — it was conducted hand to hand, blade to blade, kill or be killed. No joke. We may not have to face death by the sword nowadays, but we all have our own tests and stresses to face, and the traditional arts can help us with these as well.
One of the more practical traditional philosophies we can study is known as “The Teachings of the Cup,” of which there are a number of versions, including the Tibetan “3 Bowls,” as in soup bowls not tea cups. Each “cup” has to do with our ego and qualities as a student/person. At any rate here is a short introduction to these 5 “cups.”
-The Empty Cup
This is the cup that symbolizes being open to receive knowledge: from our teachers and everyone and everything within and around us. We must make an effort to “empty the cup” daily or else we are done learning and growing. Be humble, empty your cup — yeah, you too, 20th Dan Grand Pooh Ba Sijo Soke Grandmaster!
- The Full Cup
Obviously, if our “cup” is full we can’t learn anymore and may be no fun to be around, as in being “full of you know what.” Check out the famous story of the professor meeting the Zen master for a humorous story on the virtues of the
“empty cup” and the drawbacks of the “full cup.” I have been told that Bruce Lee and SGM Ed Parker would argue over this one, the “Little Dragon” emphasizing “filling the cup,” while SGM Parker would argue we need to focus on “emptying the cup.” At any rate, if your cup is full, please empty it appropriately, do not let it leak all over the place!
- The Upside Down Cup
If our “cup” is upside down for whatever reason, we obviously can’t learn anymore. This “cup” is in a different mind-set or position in life than the “full cup.” She may want to learn and grow and be open to it but is being prevented for some reason. The goal here would be to find out why our “cup” is upside down and to turn it right side up if possible, or to make the best of the situation until we can do this.
- The Cup With a Hole In It
Obviously, if we have holes in our “cups” this will impede our ability to learn and grow. Again, why we have these “holes” is up to each of us to learn and overcome, with the help of trusted guides, teachers, and friends. For instance, if I am a body builder but my favorite foods are pizza and ice cream, this dietary “hole” is not going to be helpful in building my body!
- The Cup Held Above the Spigot
Like the “Upside Down Cup” this sad situation will prevent us from receiving any knowledge or insight, or growing at all in our arts and life. My teacher taught us a live lesson in this one evening when a lady entered our school and loudly proclaimed to him for all to hear, “I have already mastered all of the laws of the universe, all I want is for you to teach me some tai chi techniques.” His response was priceless: “If that’s true, then you don’t need to be here.” Rather than humble herself to learn, she turned around and left as my jaw dropped witnessing this unbelievable act of egomania. Same for the guys who have mastered video game or movie martial arts who challenge a real expert — time to take out the garbage, boy.
- The Cup Tainted With Poison
This is the most challenging and potentially dangerous cup, think Darth Vader — he was such a bad seed even wise, old Master Yoda could not reach him. Traditionally teachers of Martial Arts won’t teach people like this, they turn them away no matter how much money they might be offered. But of course, even Darth Vader saw the light eventually, so there is hope for all of us — I hope!
In conclusion, I would like to quote a true Martial Arts Warrior, Guro Dan Inosanto, He said, “The goal of Martial Arts is not for the destruction of an opponent, but rather for self-growth and self-perfection.” May the journey continue.
Author: Michael Fuchs Learn about Michael Fuchs, C.B.I.S.'s books: The Shaolin Butterfly Style, The Seven Jewels of Reiki and The Compassionate Touch of Reiki. This website also informs you of Michael's classes, training and events being offered throughout Connecticut, Regionally, Nationally, and beyond. Butterfly Tai Chi System, Butterfly Reiki System, Kung Fu, Kali, Meditation, Qigong, Martial Arts, Pai Lum, Healing, Yoga.