Thread: Shu Ha Ri
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Old 07-03-2004, 03:32 PM   #17
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Re: Shu Ha Ri

Hi Giancarlo,

Thanks for replying.

I have to say that I agree with most of what you say. In fact, I am not sure exactly where I diverge from what you are writing. I can say my experience lends itself to the position that most Aikido today is not geared toward actual combative skills, etc.; that such a turn of events is supported by the masses, and by the cultures of the masses; that we are talking here about principles and not forms in some sort of reified shape; that there are many legitimate ways of employing shu-ha-ri model to one's training, etc. I think you are also saying these things. Please correct me if I am mistaken.

The only point of disagreement that might exist I think is on our experience with Japanese shihan -- noted by the quote you provided from my last post. While we may just have different experiences with these people, perhaps it is as you are implying -- that we are just looking at these exposures in different ways -- your way perhaps being the more valid. Allow me then to explain what I am seeing and what I think I should be seeing under such circumstances -- why I do not count it as Ri and why I do not think we are exposed to such training by such men (for the most part).

Please also understand that this is how I personally employ the Shu-Ha-Ri model in our training. It was after all my first post that suggested that there are many ways of employing and/or understanding such a model. Therefore, I would like to take advantage of my own position and have you not feel that I am universalizing what it is that we are doing at our on training hall at the cost of all other types of applications. Thanks in advance.

Shu-Ha-Ri is a process. Its elements are co-dependent with themselves. It is a process through which, by which, and with which, a practitioner of a given art is "transported" from a state of being that carries already within it both an attachment to form and a type of spontaneity to another type of relationship to form and to another type of spontaneity. That is to say, prior to training we are all already attached to certain types of responses and reactions -- just as we are already attached to the means by which we have developed those responses and reactions. These responses and reactions (which must include over-reactions) are more habitual than not and they are derived from our personal histories. In a way, they are learned.

More often than not, which is why these responses are often so contradictory to Budo, these reactions are fueled by our inability to reconcile the presence of Fear, Pride, and Ignorance in our lives. By the time we are adults, we have "practiced" these reactions to such a degree, and thus lived out non-reconciliation with Fear, Pride, and Ignorance to a similar degree, that we are in many cases quite spontaneous with these reactions. That is to say, there will be times, when stressors have reached high enough a level (for example), when we will react in a usual way but will do so without realizing it. "It just came out of the blue!" (but was 100% in agreement with everything else we have ever done under more calculated circumstances).

In a way then, we already have the mechanisms for Shu-Ha-Ri within ourselves. This would make sense. That is to say, we as human beings have the capacity to find spontaneity within a given set of responses, reactions, and/or within the underlying context of those responses and reactions. This all has to be there at some natural level -- outside of contrived educations -- for Shu-Ha-Ri to work and to function. Buddhism does hold that such a process is a natural function of exhistance. However, I would never say that this shaping of a pre-training habitual way of being (that we do indeed become spontaneous with, and that are based upon a lack of reconciliation with Fear, Pride, and Ignorance) is Shu-Ha-Ri. They are different -- even though related.

As I said above, Shu-Ha-Ri is a process by which these other types of habitual ways being are "displaced" with another type of being -- one supported by the tenets, principles, and philosophies of the art in question. Shu-ha-ri is then best understood as a process of displacement AND replacement -- a displacement of types of spontaneity that are based upon an attachment to form for the purposes of replacing it with another type of spontaneity that is based upon a non-attachment to form (which is different from a negation of form).

In this way, Shu is initially an introduction of other/new principles, concepts, reactions, responses, etc., to given situations. We train in or experience these new things via forms, etiquette, dojo culture, sensei/deshi relationships, senpai/kohai relationships, etc. Shu training must involve as many elements as needed to expose and/or to bring to the surface our actual habitual reactions (e.g. to push back against someone that is pushing at us). It does this primarily via contrast. Shu training must also commence bringing to the surface the possible non-reconciliation with Fear, Pride, and Ignorance that has fully been supporting such reactions up until training has commenced.

In this way, through training in the dojo, one's habitual way of being are being put next to alternate ways of being -- ways of being that the art feels is in accordance with itself. Thus, Shu is a positing of sorts. Shu is an adding of sorts. Shu is a construction of sorts. Shu is very non-invasive. The teacher shows and you do. As such, Shu takes full advantage of the human being's natural capacity to adopt new habits. If training is left to itself, left to start and stop here, which is the place where most of us are forced to leave our training, it is not the case that one is stuck in a land of form and thus left with little or no capacity for spontaneous expression. This would obviously fly in the face of the first spontaneity I mentioned at the beginning of this response -- the one based in a habitual way of being that is supported by a lack of reconciliation with Fear, Pride, and Ignorance in one's life.

If you place an aikidoka with this level of training, which is the level for most of us, in a spontaneous situation, what will you see? What type of spontaneity will come forth? One will most often see a type of spontaneity that is inconsistent in its expression. It will fluctuate between apparent adaptation and inaccurate prediction. It will tend to rely upon and be restricted to patterns of action and thought. It will show stylistic preferences and it will demonstrate a tendency toward either a single rhythm or a total lack of rhythm. Depending upon the number of years which said practitioner has been undertaking Shu level training, one's spontaneous expression will be peppered to a relative degree with reactions and responses that are clearly from the habitual way of being that they first walked in the dojo with. Etc.

Physically, these things are often exhibited by forcing techniques to fit where they should not go; by holding one's breath; by deviating when one should have entered; by entering when one should have deviated; by panic expressions on the face; by choppy movements; by being too late; by being too early; by hesitating, by premature exhaustion; etc. This all occurs because one's training is still bogged down by form, by habit, and thus by the mechanisms through which we become attached to habit and form. We can say, the heart/mind, is "fettered" by a sea of choices -- all of which are functioning within us at different levels of consciousness and of body-consciousness.

Flooded by a sea of choices, it is as if we become "stuck" in a swamp of mud. However, sometimes it will look like we are "getting it." If we only train at Shu level, and if we appear not to be "stuck," it only appears that way under spontaneous training conditions. Rather, what we are seeing, and what is clearly visible to a person that has "fulfilled" the process of Shu-Ha-Ri, is merely a product of chance. Chance will occasionally dictate, even within spontaneous training conditions, that a coincidence should occur between action and response. This is due to things like stylistic preferences being supported by an attacker and/or by predictions stumbling upon accuracy. Outside of these rare events, which are made all the rarer by sophisticated attackers, one simply sees a type of spontaneity that is plagued by an abiding mind -- a heart/mind that is "stuck" and only understands "form as form." Takuan in "The Unfettered Mind" writes on this topic. Please allow me to quote him here for the sake of others perhaps not as familiar with his thought:

"The term ‘ignorance' means the absence of enlightenment. Which is to say ‘delusion.' ‘Abiding place' means the place where the mind stops. In the practice of Buddhism, there are said to be fifty-two stages, and within these fifty-two, the place where the mind stops at one thing is called the ‘abiding place.' Abiding signifies stopping, and ‘stopping' means the mind is being detained by some matter, which may be any matter at all. To speak in terms of your martial art, when you first notice the sword that is moving to strike you, if you think of meeting that sword just as it is, your mind will stop at the sword in just that position, your own movements will be undone, and you will be cut down by your opponent. This is what ‘stopping' means…Whether by the strike of the enemy or your own thrust, whether by the man who strikes or the sword that strikes, whether by position or rhythm, if your mind is diverted in any way, your actions will falter, and this can mean that you will be cut down. If you place yourself before you opponent, your mind will be taken by him. You should not place your mind within yourself. Bracing the mind in the body is something done only at the inception of training, when one is a beginner. The mind can be taken by the sword. If you put your mind in the rhythm of the contest, your mind can be taken by that as well. If you place your mind in your own sword, your mind can be taken by your own sword. Your mind stopping at any of these places, you become an empty shell. You surely recall such situations yourself. They can be said to apply to Buddhism. In Buddhism, we call this stopping of the mind ‘delusion.' Thus we say, ‘The affliction of abiding in ignorance.'" (pp. 19-20, Wilson)

On this point, the Heart Sutra implies that such "stopping" is a product of only realizing that "form is form." Plagued by a sea of options, and also by an attachment to the mechanisms that support that perspective, one has not yet reconciled the truth that "form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form." Hence, "the affliction of abiding in ignorance." Ha is that co-dependent aspect of the overall Shu-Ha-Ri process that commences the displacement/replacement that is at the core of ceasing the affliction of abiding.

Ha is a negating of sorts. Ha is a reduction of sorts. Ha is a deconstruction of sorts. Ha is very invasive. The student does, the teacher penetrates to the doer through the doing. While Shu takes full advantage of the human being's capacity to adopt new habits, Ha training addresses our attachment to that process. If we want to speak of Ha in positive terms, we can say, Ha training involves the cultivation of non-attachment. This is why we can say that Ha training is not necessarily about one more variation on a form, one more technique, one more principle or concept, etc. Ha training is about reconciling our attachment to such things. Thus, Ha training is often about uncovering the ways in which we have taken our Shu training and fed it into our habitual way of not reconciling Fear, Pride, and Ignorance in our lives. Toward this end, Ha training must of course also make full use of the things Shu training does (mentioned above). However, it should also make use of the following: zazen or some other type of praxis involving moments of silence and isolated "confrontations" of self (e.g. purification, prayer, etc.); training with high levels of intensity; training regularly (according to one's experience with Shu) under spontaneous conditions; and the guidance of a teacher capable of noting and reflecting the subtle forms of attachment that experts of Shu can unknowingly demonstrate, a teacher capable of ensuring that a spontaneity that is in accordance with the art in question is being produced and not another.

As our attachments, our level of attachment, and our manner of attachment are all extremely individual, Ha training is very personal. This individualistic nature is compounded by the fact that each teacher will also have his/her way of "guiding" the student into a state of reconciliation with such things. The seminar circuit, for the most part, cannot support such personal training. In fact, in many ways, it is antithetical to such training. For this reason, and for many others (e.g. the rarity of such teaching and such teachers), I can say that my experience with such teachers, on the contrary, supports the view that instruction mostly consists of Shu level training. However, it must be said, it is hard to actually consider it Shu level training because Shu-Ha-Ri is an interdependent process of displacement and replacement. If I do not have Ha, it is very hard to have Shu. In that sense, it is not too far of a stretch to say that our exposure to such teachers mainly consists of purely architectural matters -- of forms (which of course involves principles and concepts, theories, tactics, strategies, etc.). Obviously, this is important. Moreover, obviously most of us are quite satisfied by such training. However, we do not have to proclaim it as or understand it as Shu-Ha-Ri training in order to offer it the status of being important and/or satisfying. Leave it for what it is -- studies in architecture; a kind of physical expression of architectural appreciation.

As such, it is my experience that the "moments of Ri" that we see under such conditions are more akin to the "coincidence" I described above when folks of Shu training alone are put in a spontaneous training condition and just happen to have things "match." The "matching" is obviously more sophisticated at seminars and demonstrations, but that is mostly due to the fact that said training conditions are themselves constructed in more sophisticated (and subtle) ways. If one does happen to witness a case of true Ri, we sitting there watching it, we training there without the personal process of Ha being applied to our being, are basically in the same place as if we have never seen it. We gain nothing by watching it -- as I am sure you would agree. In other words, the rarity of seeing it is only surpassed by the rarity of actually being able to invest within it at such events and under such men.

The hard-point here for me is Ha, not Shu. If Ha is understood differently from what I have described above, and if that different understanding of Ha lends itself to what one does and sees at seminars and demonstrations, I can very well imagine that such events can indeed be thought of as lending themselves to such a process as Shu-Ha-Ri. An example of this could be understanding Ha as variations on a given Kihon Waza. Many folks in this thread have either said this outright or have implied it. Under such an understanding, I could withdraw or amend my comment you quoted. That, however, is not my understanding of Ha, as this reply has stated, and so I am afraid I have to stick to my comment while I can fully appreciate yours.

Thank you,
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