Zen In The Martial Arts, By Joe Hyams

Joe Hyams had the good literary fortune to be one of Bruce Lee's early students. This experience provided him with many of the anecdotes that populate his classic book, Zen in the Martial Arts. The book is partly the memoir of a man whose training coincided with explosion of the martial arts in the Western consciousness in the 1970s. But it is mostly a collection of episodes that illustrate the lessons that Zen Buddhism offers to martial arts training and to life generally.

The short (often two- or three-page) chapters are evocatively titled: "Empty Your Cup," "Conquer Haste," "Lengthen Your Line," "Active Inactivity," etc. They recount experiences Hyams had during his training in various styles and with various instructors (particularly Lee), and extract life lessons from those experiences.

In "Empty Your Cup," for example, Hyams repeats a parable that Lee shared with him: A professor visits a Zen master. The master can see that the professor is more interested in impressing the master than in learning from him. The master offers the professor some tea. He pours the tea into the professor's cup, and keeps pouring even after the cup is full and the tea is overflowing. When the professor protests that the cup is already full, the master replies: "Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

In other chapters, Hyams discusses the concept of mushin ("mind no-mind"), the benefits of Zen breathing, and the importance of doing nothing. The anecdotes that accompany these discussions are well-chosen and well-told. I have read this book several times over the last 25 years and each reading leaves me impressed anew by the skillful weaving of personal memoir, Buddhist philosophy and martial arts strategy.