Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams

James Ryan

I really like this book.

Early one sunny Saturday morning while my son Jacob and I were walking along the street, we came across a collective series of yard sales (approximately 15 of them within a two-block radius of each other). Normally, I don’t bother to stop at yard sales, but I was feeling particularly curious and decided that snooping around other people’s ‘unwantables’ would be a good way to pass a bit of time.

As it happened, I managed to pick up two small gems – the first was a small-sized colour television for one dollar. The next was this book – also for one dollar.

As a martial artist, there have been many things about my life that I have struggled to understand. Believe it or not, this book has helped me a great deal to add necessary perspective and explanation to my life.

Answers to questions such as; why am I the way that I am? Why do I have such stubborn views on certain aspects of life? Why am I always so confident in myself and my abilities, when there have been many situations in my life that I would have absolutely no reason to feel that way? Why am I who I am?

To be clear, ‘Zen in the Martial Arts’ is not a book about fighting. It will not teach you how to take a man who has crept up behind you, having placed his forearm across your bare neck, thus choking you, and teach you how to take this man and run forward with him in tow, as you hold tightly onto his arm and flip yourself forward, taking him with you, as you land on your back, forcing him to his, breaking the hold through the sheer impact of hitting the ground, and then using your left arm to tie up his right arm and getting him in a single left-handed eagle-claw type choke hold as you baseball-catch his left fist into your open right hand and finally submit him, forcing him to give up as he immediately recognizes that there is no way out of this dangerous situation (*catch my breath*). All of this in less than 20 seconds (true story BTW).

No – the book won’t teach you how to do this. But it might explain why you are instinctively capable of doing such a thing without first having to think about it.

One of the best Chapters for me as a teacher, was the second chapter on page nine entitled ‘ Empty your Cup’. It tells the story dating back to 1964, when the author, Joe Hyams, met with the legendary Bruce Lee for the very first time to see if Sensei Lee would teach him privately:

“Why do you want to study with me?” (Bruce) asked.
“Because I was impressed with your demonstration and because I’ve heard you are the best.”
“You’ve studied other martial arts?” he asked.
“For a long time,” I answered, “but I stopped some time ago and now I want to start over again.”
“Do you realize you will have to unlearn all you have learned and start over again?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
Bruce smiled and placed his hand lightly on my shoulder. “Let me tell you a story my sifu told me,” he said. “It is about the Japanese Zen master who received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. It was obvious to the master from the start of the conversation that the professor was not so much interested in learning about Zen as he was in impressing the master with his own opinions and knowledge. The master listened patiently and finally suggested they have tea. The master poured his visitor’s cup full and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the cup overflowing until he could no longer restrain himself. ‘The cup is overfull, no more will go in.’ ‘Like the cup,’ the master said, ‘you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?’ “
Bruce studied my face. “You understand the point?”
“Yes,” I said. “You want me to empty my mind of past knowledge and old habits so that I will be open to new learning.”
“Precisely,” said Bruce. “And now we are ready to begin your first lesson.”

Now that’s classic Bruce!!

Sensei James

Zen in the Martial ArtsZen in the Martial Arts
By Joe Hyams
© 1979

Under the guidance of such celebrated masters as Ed Parker and the immortal Bruce Lee, Joe Hyams vividly recounts his more than 25 years of experience in the martial arts.

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James Ryan
James Ryan



  1. Jeremy

    Hey James,
    I noticed the link to Amazon, so I clicked it and I was able to purchase the book on-line at a great deal!!! Thanks for the tip.

  2. Aaron

    James buddy,

    Bought this due to your suggestion. I get it in a few days fromt eh amazon link you gave me, i'll let you know what i think about the “Empty your Cup” chapter.


  3. Lisa Hyams

    Dear James,
    Thank you so much for your kind words on my husband's little book. It was a labor of love. Joe was always so honored when people like it and learned from it.
    With Respect, Lisa Hyams

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