Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Black Belts Carry an Empty Cup

I  am quite ashamed to admit this, especially in my first blog article, but man did I have a terrible attitude twitch recently. More specifically I allowed my ego to inflate itself to the size of Chuck Norris' fist. That's the thing with me, most of the time I can be very self-deprecating, not to be confused with humble, but every now and again when I know I do something well I let it go to my head too easily to balance out the rest. Those that know me know I talk about how awesome I am a lot, usually in a joking voice. This isn't arrogance in my case, this is me trying to build my own low self esteem. The more my self-talk says, "I'm awesome," the less it is telling me how much of a failure I am. I've also heard many times that "Ego is edging God out." It is my own personal belief that I am average, but I have a God who is awesome and every now and again His greatness comes out through me.

So what exactly happened to make me start thinking about how much better I must be than someone? Jealousy. Plain and simple. I was listening to an EDGE audio recording titled "Black Belt Mentality" by Bill Lewis  with Tang Soo Do instructor Chase Grays. Bill introduced Mr. Grays as being a 29 year old 2nd Degree Black Belt and Mr. Grays mentioned that he had started studying Martial Arts at age seven. This is where I had the thought: .oO(Hey! I'm 29, I started Tang Soo Do at age seven and I'm an 5° Black Belt and Master Level... I should be giving this talk, as I'm clearly more qualified!) Obviously with that attitude alone I completely disqualified myself from giving any type of talk on Black Belt Mentality, at least for a time.

There's always room to improve and more to learn.
You see, at Mike Neil Traditional Martial Arts our "Black Belts" don't even wear a black colored belt, they wear midnight blue. This is to teach that there's always more to learn and you never truly reach the end. The belts get darker in color as one progresses in rank and so black would symbolize the end of learning. I certainly wasn't embodying the mentality of someone who wears midnight blue instead of black. But thankfully this ego slip passed quickly.

I realized what a jealous dolt I was being when through my tuning out of the audio I caught Mr. Grays mention the phrase "don't have a full cup." Two simple words popped in my mind because of this, "empty cup." Those words (for those who get the reference) are more beautiful to me than even the words "cellar door." This immediately brought back memories of the first time when my instructor, Master Dr. Mike Neil, told some of my best friends and myself the story of the empty cup.
"A master was trying to explain something to a student. Now this student was not a brand new student, but a senior student who had learned many things. He had knowledge and experience aplenty to draw upon. But each time the master tried to explain something new to the student, the student kept trying to hold it up against his own notions of the way the world is and how it ought be, and he was unable to see the lessons in what the master was trying to teach him. 
Finally, the master poured a full serving of tea into his own cup, and into the cup of the student. Then he told the student he wanted to give to him some of the tea from his own cup. He began pouring tea from his cup into the student's cup, but the student's cup was already full, and all the tea from the master's cup spilled out over the cup onto the surface below. 
The student said, 'Master, you can't pour anything into my cup until I empty it to make room for what you are trying to give me.' The master replied, 'Yes I know,  and I can't give you any new thoughts or ideas or perspectives on life's lessons until you clear out some thoughts that are already teeming in your mind to make room for what I have to teach you.' Then the master paused for a brief moment, meeting the student's eyes with his own knowing look and calmly but sternly said, 'If you truly seek understanding, then first, empty your cup!'"
This was quite the eye opener for me in my early years.  It helped me understand that I certainly did not know everything, and not only that, but that I could learn from anyone.  I've believed for many, many years that I can and should learn from those around me.  I regularly learn from students in my class.  It doesn't matter whether they are another black belt, a green belt, or even a white belt.  I've learned from all of them.  It also hasn't mattered whether they were an adult student or a child student.  I've learned much from all ages as well.  Although I have to say I tend to learn the most from the children in my class, there's always in interesting lesson to be had in instructing children of all different personalities and ability levels. (Don't worry adults, you'll have your chance to teach me some things during sparring when you wipe the floor with me.)

So why when I'm constantly looking to learn something, and felt like I was regularly carrying an empty cup was my cup so full when I heard Mr. Grays?  Why did I feel like I was the best, and that I was somehow slighted by not being the one chosen to speak (as if Bill Lewis or anyone involved in producing the audio even knew I had the Martial Arts experience that I do)?  It comes down to jealousy and comparing myself and my abilities and desires to someone else's.

What I know is this: Black Belts are white belts who weren't afraid to put in the work, and didn't quit.  We tell our students regularly that Black Belt is a beginning, and not an end point.  I truly believe this.  I believe that if more Black Belts in the world learned like white belts do, there would be a lot more white belts entering the martial arts in the first place.  The white belts would respect and admire the wise, yet humble, nature of their Black Belt instructors and aspire to be that level.  Black Belt is not about proving you're the best, or winning all of the time, it's about being a servant leader.  I've many times put on a white belt around my waist when I've forgotten my belt for class.  The first time it was embarrassing a little, until I got the thinking behind it correct. It wasn't just a self-imposed punishment for forgetting my belt. It was a symbol of camaraderie with the lower ranks.  But I'll never forget the time I saw a Master Level instructor take off his belt and let a green belt who had forgotten theirs wear his.  Just the huge smile on the green belt's face alone was a fantastic sight.  You could tell he was dreaming of the day the Master Belt he was wearing would be his!  That is quite encouraging for a young student as well, but it was also a huge sign of humility for that Master to take off his belt and choose character over image in that instance.

Well, I know this article has been a bit lengthy, and in my opinion isn't put together as well as I would have liked, but that doesn't really bother me because Taxidermy Worms is the gifted writer in the family anyway.  I just like to share whatever jumbled mess  is in my head when I have time. But I suppose the main message I want to get across to anyone reading is that we should never be jealous of others.  We must work to improve ourselves and our own abilities.  We must always carry an empty cup for others to pour their knowledge into.  And as students, black belts, and masters, we don't sweat and bleed so that we can defeat our opponents or become victors over them; we sweat and bleed so that we can defeat the best and worst of ourselves and become champions within.

"We don't sweat and bleed so that we can defeat our opponents or become victors over them; we sweat and bleed so that we can defeat the best and worst of ourselves and become champions within." [Jason J. Frega]