A long time ago, my karate instructor told me this story.

A young man was looking for a martial arts instructor and so he visited every dojo he could find. One day, he visited the dojo of a renowned master. He knew this master by reputation and wanted to study with him. He asked permission to watch the master teach a class and was suitably impressed. When the class ended, he asked the master if he could ask him some questions. The master agreed and invited him into his private office where he began to prepare his afternoon tea.

The young man was desperate to be accepted as a student so he began recounting all of the different arts he had studied and all of the competitions he had won. The young man couldn’t tell if the master was even listening because he continued preparing his tea in silence.

After several minutes, the young man said, “Considering my background, my training, and the fact that I have several black belts in other styles, I think I’m qualified to be your student.” Still, the master said nothing and continued preparing his tea. He silently placed a teacup in front of the young man and began to pour. The young man thanked him and continued going on about himself while the master continued to pour. The tea reached the brim of the young man’s cup and still, the master continued to pour. Eventually, the tea began spilling over the brim and onto the table. The young man was alarmed and screeched, “Hey! You’re spilling the tea!”

Finally, the master stopped pouring. He looked at the young man for the first time and said, ‘Your mind is like this teacup. It is so full of what you think you know that there is no room in it for my teaching.”

When you’ve been at this as long as I have, it’s easy to think you’ve seen it all, done it all, and tried it all. I’m thankful my sensei told me that story because it reminds me to keep my teacup empty. Still, there are many times that I fail to do so and it’s usually then that I get surprised. That’s exactly what happened. Watch this video and you’ll see what I mean.