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Old 03-01-2021, 05:04 AM   #6
Thomas Christaller
Dojo: Zentrum fuer Bewegung & Lebenskunst/Bonn
Location: Bonn, Germany
Join Date: Jul 2009
Posts: 10
Re: Shu Ha Ri Dialogues

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.

Last edited by Thomas Christaller : 03-01-2021 at 05:15 AM.
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