A name that you might not expect to see in a book or blog on Karate Do is Jim Rohn (1930 ~ 2009) but, he posed the question in his many lectures, seminars and in his books on self-development that I feel is very relevant to the study of Karate Do, “if a cup is full can it hold any more?” The answer he gave was a simple but powerful “yes. But, only if what is in it is first poured out.” He went on to ask, “Why should we empty our cup?” One thing I learned from reading many books and watching seminars on the subject of success is that the answer to a question like this is always basic and to the point like Karate Do Waza. Rohn’s answer to this question was no different; it was simply “to hold more of the next experience.” I have also noticed in my studies that there are more similarities than differences in the Eastern and Western philosophies on such things. The similarities are there if we know where to look and how to recognize them.
While training and teaching in Japan I have often heard this expression of ‘filling and emptying ones cup’ as a reference to the learning process. The ‘cup’ in this context is called (器) Utsuwa. A container by definition but in this case it can also refer to someone’s ability to be of great calibre. The greatness of an individual is determined by the size of their Utsuwa and their ability to fill it with good and important things that will help them to pursue and achieve continued success in their endeavours. Another concept that is closely related to this is (素直さ) Sunaosa One’s willingness to be obedient, not so much toward another person but rather, to the lesson. A student with a large utsuwa takes longer to become complacent with their studies and therefore able to listen and learn ‘obediently’ longer than someone with a smaller utsuwa. It is the correct combination of a sunao manner and the size of the utsuwa that help students develop their greatness. Sensei often reference these things when disciplining students but also and more importantly, when motivating them.
Another important aspect of emptying one’s cup through honest willingness to share experience and knowledge with others is that it makes us 'bigger'; more abundant. There is a term which is used to describe those who are too narrow minded to understand or appreciate the importance of emptying their cup in order to attain more as we progress and grow. The term used to describe these people is (小さい人間) Chiisai Ningen literally this means 'Small Person' but not in the sense of children or those who are physically smaller than average. This smallness refers to emotional or spiritual size; closed-mindedness, narrow-mindedness, shortsightedness. In short, it refers to having a bad character that is counterproductive to growth.
Jim Rohn explained this concept very well back in the 1980s when he said, “If you are small, you don’t get much.” He said that, “you could pour happiness all over the world and some people would never be happy because they are not big enough… They have their cup turned upside down and are holding onto it so tightly that nothing can get in.” The smallness that he was referring to matches this Japanese philosophical point perfectly.
Those who are small are in comprehension, small in their ability to think and wonder or small in appreciation and will never get 'it'. He urged us “not to be small in our thinking”, as many Karate Do Sensei urge their students in the Dojo do as well, "don’t be small in our abilities." We must work to expand our consciousness to its full capacity and the only way we can do this is by first emptying our cup of predetermined or harmful knowledge. I suggest, as Rohn did, that we do this through sharing. “Some people have their cup turned upside down and hold it so tightly that nothing can get in.” Everybody who holds their cup, either right side up or upside down and does so by choice, making the choice to empty our cup and committing ourselves to filling it again can only be achieved through learning to share.