View Full Version : Shu Ha Ri Dialogues

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Craig Moore
02-18-2021, 04:54 PM
I watched the session with Ledyard Sensei yesterday and really enjoyed it.


George was courageous enough to raise a number of topics I've never heard anyone else speak about but things I really relate to and have observed myself. Completely different level, situation, organisation and country but all the same.

Miles Kessler has done well organising these and also posted the recordings of the other sessions with Ellis Amdur, Paul Manogue and Toby Threadgill. All worth the time to watch.

02-22-2021, 08:11 AM
I have listened to several of these and I enjoyed them. This last year, I was reminded about some of the frustrations I have expressed in aikido over the years. The idea of "mastery", and who determines what is mastery is one them. When my son first enrolled in pre-school, I read a poem called, "The Little Boy", by Helen Buckley. It was popular at the time for teachers and schools because it is about education.

The Little Boy
by Helen Buckley

Once a little boy went to school.
One morning
The teacher said:
“Today we are going to make a picture.”
“Good!” thought the little boy.
He liked to make all kinds;
Lions and tigers,
Chickens and cows,
Trains and boats;
And he took out his box of crayons
And began to draw.

But the teacher said, “Wait!”
“It is not time to begin!”
And she waited until everyone looked ready.
“Now,” said the teacher,
“We are going to make flowers.”
“Good!” thought the little boy,
He liked to make beautiful ones
With his pink and orange and blue crayons.
But the teacher said “Wait!”
“And I will show you how.”
And it was red, with a green stem.
“There,” said the teacher,
“Now you may begin.”

The little boy looked at his teacher’s flower
Then he looked at his own flower.
He liked his flower better than the teacher’s
But he did not say this.
He just turned his paper over,
And made a flower like the teacher’s.
It was red, with a green stem.

On another day
The teacher said:
“Today we are going to make something with clay.”
“Good!” thought the little boy;
He liked clay.
He could make all kinds of things with clay:
Snakes and snowmen,
Elephants and mice,
Cars and trucks
And he began to pull and pinch
His ball of clay.

But the teacher said, “Wait!”
“It is not time to begin!”
And she waited until everyone looked ready.
“Now,” said the teacher,
“We are going to make a dish.”
“Good!” thought the little boy,
He liked to make dishes.
And he began to make some
That were all shapes and sizes.

But the teacher said “Wait!”
“And I will show you how.”
And she showed everyone how to make
One deep dish.
“There,” said the teacher,
“Now you may begin.”

The little boy looked at the teacher’s dish;
Then he looked at his own.
He liked his better than the teacher’s
But he did not say this.
He just rolled his clay into a big ball again
And made a dish like the teacher’s.
It was a deep dish.

And pretty soon
The little boy learned to wait,
And to watch
And to make things just like the teacher.
And pretty soon
He didn’t make things of his own anymore.

Then it happened
That the little boy and his family
Moved to another house,
In another city,
And the little boy
Had to go to another school.

The teacher said:
“Today we are going to make a picture.”
“Good!” thought the little boy.
And he waited for the teacher
To tell what to do.
But the teacher didn’t say anything.
She just walked around the room.

When she came to the little boy
She asked, “Don’t you want to make a picture?”
“Yes,” said the little boy.
“What are we going to make?”
“I don’t know until you make it,” said the teacher.
“How shall I make it?” asked the little boy.
“Why, anyway you like,” said the teacher.
“And any color?” asked the little boy.
“Any color,” said the teacher.
And he began to make a red flower with a green stem.

If this poem does not scare the crap out of anyone who has the power and influence to determine "mastery" in another person, I do not know what does.

Craig Moore
02-22-2021, 04:19 PM
Thanks for the reply Jon. The poem is a good one. Getting the balance right between allowing expression to take place and providing guidance can be difficult. My wife is a passionate secondary teacher, so I get to hear a bit about theories on teaching and learning (very different things). Of course to provide guidance you need to be at a certain level too though. I've met people who think they're amazing and teaching valid stuff because they've trained longer than what Sensei had when she/he started teaching classes. But those same people haven't had anywhere near the breadth or depth of exposure to what Sensei had back at that equivalent stage.

Don't know if the discussion I linked raises points that are too uncomfortable for people to talk about, if people don't agree with any of it, dojo closures are giving everyone more urgent things to think about, the general state of Aikido, Covid and all means people are loosing interest or just a reflection of the general state of internet forums these days. I know most stuff has been discussed to death here in the past and people eventually get sick of the same topics. But I thought new material like a recent interview, demo or whatever would be of interest. It's got even more quiet around here lately that it has been for a while....

02-23-2021, 08:07 PM
As a pessimistic observation, I think the world of modern aikido is confronting the reality of training outside its [dominant] social context. For any number of reasons...

George always has good points. He thinks a lot about this stuff and has for as long as I've known him. The other interviews are likewise interesting - I find myself agreeing with many of the things Ellis has to say. Conceptually, shu, ha, ri, acts more like a physical discipline than an intellectual one. It's easy to see the learning modality of an artist, or athlete, or craftsman building her skillset using a building block system. But, Zen is cool and back in the day we loved to talk about that stuff; I am not so sure that wasn't the case for gendai arts trying to wear their Zen on their sleeve, also. There was a book a while back by a guy named Dan Linden. He trained ASU forever and I met him when he lived in Orlando. Dan wrote a book, On Mastering Aikido. The book isn't great and I think Dan made a career of saying and doing things that did not give him a great reputation, but the book is written in an interesting way which sets it apart from others. The book is responsible for making me uneasy about Westernized Eastern philosophy confusing common thought for us simple Aikido people.

What gets my goat in Aikido is that more often than not we use shu, ha, ri to keep us in line. Ya gotta have a master to tell us when we've mastered something. In some ways, the lack of our in-person training has better illustrated that dependance. I mean, if you do an ikkyo at home and no sensei is there to approve... Or, why waste the time to practice your ukemi if there are no kohai to impress?

Since I am throwing out old names, my favorite summary of shu, ha, ri was given by Dennis Hooker, who once said that Picaso could paint a blob and call it a cow. Why? Because Picaso could paint a cow, first.

Sometimes it's OK to appreciate that art stretches our perceptions. But, it's also important to remember that skill first makes it practical. The whole series is interesting to watch if you haven't seem them yet.

Craig Moore
02-24-2021, 03:29 PM
It's interesting stuff to think about.

Yes, I did watch all four. Really enjoyed the different perspectives and got something from each of them.

Thomas Christaller
03-01-2021, 06:04 AM
Yesterday there was the finalizing panel discussion of the Shu-Ha-Ri series organized by Miles Kessler. That was really interesting. For me all these Japanese wordings and their underlying concepts are so difficult to make sense of. Because the words have so many different meanings (more then in German or English?) and they are so much intertwined with the culture. So, this is, as all of the panelists say, not a technical term but a metaphor for learning progress. Because of its vagueness it has something for everybody. What I would like to have is how we can teach and learn Aikido today. And, of course, imitating the teacher's movements is one tool to use. And learning the standardized Aikido technique, too. And questioning it, and finally finding one's own interpretation of Aiki.

I have so often heard that it takes years and years to "really master" it. But I don't believe it. You master it according to your actual state of experience, knowledge, and training. If you look back you may wonder why you did so many things in a complicated and inefficient/ineffective way. But without that you wouldn't be where you are today.

For many years I worked as a researcher in Artificial Intelligence and (mobile) robots. I had the privilege and honour to collaborate with neuro and behaviour biologists, learning a lot of what they figured out how living systems learn movements. What I much too often experience on the tatami is contradictory to that knowledge. While these scientific findings are assimilated and used in professional sports training we in Aikido are too proud of these metaphors and refrain to care about these insights.

So, when I start a beginners course at the local university, which I have the pleasure to give every semester before the pandemic, I do start with contact exercises and not with any "typical" Aikido movement or technique. I believe that learning is a kind of hill-climbing algorithm, where you try to climb up the Mt. Everest but have no idea where it is while you stand in a hilly landscape. Best strategy is to climb the highest hill which you can see. This gives you broader overview and you may see a higher hill farer away. So, you go down the hill (you un-learn things you have learned!) and trying to find a path to this higher hill you have seen. You may go into deep valleys, climb up less higher hills until you reach that. And now you proceed in the same way. Climb up the hill, have a look around, choose the next hill, which hopefully is higher than the one you are standing on right now. Your journey continues. Until you come into the Himalaya mountain region and may see the Mt.. Everest.

But: You have to start at a favourite place. If you start in a large plain you will never see a hill and finally you will stay where you are. You can imagine any kind of metaphor using this description to describe how learning is working and when it may be successful and how you may feel during this learning process.

The teacher is a person who may lead you to the moste favourite place to start at. The teacher may show you how to look for the next higher or highest hill. The teacher may help you to develop the stamina for climbing hills up and down. The teacher may show you how to use tools, sticks or even ropes to overcome very steep cliffs. The teacher may help you to overcome your frustration that after three hill climbings the Mt. Everest isn't still in sight. But, finally, you have to walk, to climb, to decide what you do next. This is where the teacher shouldn't interfere. Its your journey, right from the beginning. And, maybe, you will climb higher hills or mountains then your teacher did or was able to do. Is that Shu-Ha-Ri? Possibly. But it's not obvious, is it?

And getting in contact with another human is for me the starting point of any martial art. So, how to get in contact with the intention to control or even hurt/giving pain to that person. The person, receiving that kind of contact. How does it feel like? What is your reflex to it? Does it work? From this point on I let the students experiment with strength, speed, impact. The first thing students learn is that their reflexes don't work and make things worse. So, the next step is, to explore the alternatives. And one, in which I am interested in, is to act in a swift and soft way. No fighting intention, no Angst. Surprisingly, students do learn quite fast what path I am trying to show them. And only then I start with movements which finally lead to Aikido techniques. I do have only three months of time and one class a week to teach them the secrets of Aikido. Which doesn't mean they are masters after all but most of them are hooked and join my course the next semester … The journey started.

Robert Cowham
03-06-2021, 02:14 PM
I like your comment Thomas. I view my role as a teacher to look to inspire my students to research things for themselves (outside class!) - as I was inspired by my teacher. So it's about passing it on - where it is the inspiration/motivation for self research.

Of course there are plenty of specifics, exercises, capabilities, techniques, body training practices. But in some ways those are the easy things...

03-08-2021, 11:41 AM
Re inspiring students to research for themselves- sugano sensei once observed a friend of mine teaching class who then asked sugano sensei for any tips on teaching he might have. Sugano Sensei said that he was fine his class was good but that he explained too much thereby depriving the students of the opportunity to discover these things for themselves

Thomas Christaller
03-15-2021, 05:11 AM
Yes, this is a common trap for a teacher: To talk too much. I am prone to that sometimes, still :-) One trick is to ask a question and start a dialogue with your students instead of starting a monologue. Then everybody can be involved. But after some time you feel that it is enough and you start to practice again.

03-16-2021, 01:38 PM
I disagree that the common trap is to talk too much. Rather, I argue that the common trap in aikido is that teacher imagines himself (or herself) to decide over what information to share (or not). You receive money from a student to "learn" aikido, then withhold information from student. "It's for his own good." What happens when student injures another? Student's fault? Unintentionally harming others is part of the process, I guess. Letting student teach others wrong? Teaching bad aikido is part of the learning experience. What about when student fails exam? Part of the learning experience. Its a great system... If student fails, student's fault. If student succeeds, great teacher.

I have said this so many times... In no other educational system I have ever experienced, would how we teach aikido EVER result in successfully learning. The way modern aikido practices aikido is how a room full of chimpanzees would write the great novel. I can tolerate the the influence of culture in stifling the learning environment, but let's not pretend its about learning.

We had a bunch of shihan who spent years learning Aikido and were unable to produce new giants of aiki. Many of them knew this deficiency and some tried to change in their later years. I raise my hackles every time I see some sensei pretend to finger-comb his long white beard while sipping tea pretending to decide who is worthy to receive the "real" technique, and who needs to learn by "figuring it out." It is disrespectful to the student who think they are learning.

Yet, how many of us go to a seminar... sit next to sensei... and proceed to ruin dinner by telling sensei what we think? Did I pay money to hear myself? Every sensei who has done seminars just chuckled because they closed their eyes and imagined the student who did that at the last seminar. Better yet, what about the senseis who go to the same seminar and practice techniques exactly as they teach them, ignoring what sensei is doing? More chuckles...

Craig Moore
03-16-2021, 04:37 PM
Yeah, I'm a bit of the it's not about not talking too much but more about what and how. Most people teach how they were taught with little thought about practical teaching methods against best practice in education and training systems. Sports training courses (short ones, not university degrees) only cover such a short segment on the how and intentionally leave a lot wide open because they recognise that different sports/organisations have their own approach. Instructors could be more decisive and conscious about what they talk about. It is not useful when it becomes about ego or just bagging on for hours, and there's plenty of that. But smart multi-mode communication including talking / aural (and hands on / tactile, and modeled / visual, etc) is the most effective. It's teaching 101.

Trained teachers/coaches know and have planned out what bits they need to talk about, what bits they need to demonstrate, what bits they need to hands on correct and what bits they need to let people just practise until their bodies get it. In the art of balance and harmony, these are sometimes out of balance. Some aspects (like shut up and train, instructors never receiving ukemi) promote active suppression of an individual aspect from this list to the point where it is sometimes seen as taboo.