The Students Who Improve the Fastest…Lesson from an old Kung Fu Master

We see quite a number of students pass through the doors of the academy over the period of a training year. Some try a few classes and decide that it isn’t for them and go seek another activity.
Of the students that stay, some are serious competition minded and some are simply happy to get fit and enjoy a new hobby of jiu-jitsu.

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I have noticed a common factor that the students that tend to improve the fastest share. While having above average athleticism certainly helps there is another factor that is more important.


In my experience, the students who are most open to the techniques and advice of their professor tend to build their game more quickly than the rest. Their is an old King Fu story about a student who was arguing several points with the old master during training. The student was disagreeing with the teacher about some points on how to perform the technique.

The master signalled that days lesson was over and invited the student to share some tea. The old master poured his own tea and then began to pour the tea for the student. The student watching, saw the cup filled to the top…but the old master did not stop pouring.

The student put him hands up to stop the old master. “Master, the cup is already full of tea. No more tea can be poured in the cup!”


The old master looked at him knowingly and replied “Yes, the tea cup is like your mind. When it is already full, no more can be added.” The master poured out the cup of tea and placed the empty cup back on the table. “Empty your cup if you want to be able to fill your mind with new knowledge.”

The old master had made his point about having an open mind and being receptive to the information imparted by the person they have entrusted to be their jiu-jitsu professor.

One student expressed to me that different students come to bjj for different reasons. One of which might just be to be social and enjoy a fun active activity. While that may be true and the student is certainly within their rights to approach their jiu-jitsu in the way that suits their goals and temperament, they will show little improvement.

Interestingly, I have noted that when instructors of other martial arts join bjj to supplement their existing martial arts skills, that they are among the most open.


Want to improve the fastest?

A new designer limited edition kimono or fancy double reverse berimbolo won’t do it. Show up to class regularly and try to use the techniques that the instructor shows you.

And empty your cup!

read also: Don’t Ignore the Basics : Advanced Techniques Too Quickly

Credits: Mark Mullen 
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Taipei, Taiwan
Twitter: @MarkMullenBJJ