Emptying Your Cup Before Stepping Onto the Tatami



A famous Zen story goes as follows:

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

This story illuminates that also when we study and practice aikido, it is important to always inquire within ourselves whether our cup might be full. Are we carrying weight into our dojo that limits our experience and development? The burden we carry can take many shapes and forms; beliefs, expectations, fears, or other factors that limit us. Holding on to what we believe we know or to what is familiar or right, prevents an open attitude and can be in our way of what we are yet to learn. Remembering to actively let go of our burdens empties our cup and creates room for new insight, experience and growth. In the words of O-Sensei:

Cast off limiting thoughts and return to true emptiness. Stand in the midst of the Great Void. This is the secret of the Way of the Warrior.