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Breaking Shu Ha Ri
Breaking Shu Ha Ri
by Ross Robertson
05-19-2010
Breaking Shu Ha Ri

Your partner grabs your arm. Hard.

They've got their left arm on your right one. You're both right-handed, so you should have the advantage. Who knew they could lock down so tight? The technique you're working on requires you to enter behind them, sliding off to your right and ending up in their ura zone.

But you can't.

Okay, well, sure, you could. You could kick them in the kneecap for all you're worth. You could put your whole body into it and power through their weaker arm. You could, as the late-great Peter Ting was known to do, spit in their face. You could stick a finger in their eye. Damn the torpedos.

These options ought to give some comfort. For all their unsavory nature, they may be reasonable recourse if your life is on the line. Are you thinking that could be a knife in your partner's right hand? That's not out of the question, whether as a training scenario or as a real mugging.

Or hey, you could just ask your partner to lighten up a little. But you don't.

You're not comforted. And you don't want to just be given the technique out of politeness or condescension. You want something better. It's just a puzzle, and you want to figure it out. You want the solution. You want to do it they way you've seen sensei do it, with that infuriating casual insouciance.

The art is frustrating, but you know it's you you're really running into. You've hit a limit, and your partner is showing it to you. You want to throw them on their ass, preferably with style and elegance, but something in you knows it's you that's got to change. It's not the technique you're trying to make better -- it's you you're trying to improve. You've got to learn how to be better, and you don't know how.

At this point I could tell you about a thousand things that you could do to make your way through, and with the efficiency and subtlety you seek. Most of them you already know, but you need reminding anyway. Things like paying attention to the tension in your shoulder, like shifting the angle slightly, like letting their skin melt into yours, like not focusing on where they're touching you. Actually, it probably would take about a thousand things.

Instead, I'm going to ask you to consider another possibility:

Don't do the specified art.

Think about it for a minute. Pay attention to what you're partner is really saying to you. Everything about their stance, their position, and the way they've clamped down on you is saying "Don't go this way. Entrance forbidden."

To stay within the technique, you'd have to go against their mind, their body, and their ki. Practice this long enough, do the thousand things I tell you, and you'll get better and better at it. Eventually it will even start to feel like aikido. But is it?

Or, even if it is aikido, couldn't there be a better way? Do we dare let go of the glass, and as Rumi says, swim in the ocean?

I believe we should, but this itself is a problem. If we abandon the technique, we disobey the teacher whom we should trust and follow. We risk disrupting the class by doing something other than what we've been asked. We go against tradition. And if our scenario were in the middle of a test, you'd probably fail if you took my advice.

So in good conscience, I can't really recommend it if you're not on my mat. Not to you students of other teachers.

But to you instructors, please consider letting your students out of these dreadful cages sooner than later.

We know O Sensei spoke of the ten thousand techniques as "empty shells." Yet we keep looking inside those same shells to find the elusive sea creature that is aikido. Why is this?

For one, as the saying goes... "If you want to learn about the ocean, don't ask a fish." We can't see what we are immersed in. We can't see what surrounds us and sustains us and permeates us. We can't see or understand the limitless.

Finding an empty shell, we crawl inside. See? It's not empty after all!

But really, these shells are unbearably confining, especially the more comfortable they become. They are the prison cells in the world of aikido. Worse, they are straightjackets.

Is there value in finding freedom within limitations? Of course. Should we discover that there is infinite space even in the smallest enclosures? Absolutely. But how much do we need to learn this? Are there not other, better lessons?

I was told once a long time ago that if you lock a tiger in a cage, it will pace around and around, testing its boundaries. If the lock is secure, eventually it will settle down. At some point, it's no longer necessary to lock the door.

The tiger will stay in the cage, because the cage is inside the tiger.

The door is unlocked and unlatched. Nominally the tiger is free. What was once real has now been replaced by an assumption, a belief. The belief is based in experience, the experience was once connected to reality. But now, not so much.

Immediacy of experience is our direct connection with the ocean. When experience forms understanding, we learn. Yet when habits and patterns of thought ossify and encase us, we lose our connection with reality. We dwell inside our shells. Make no mistake, these shells are real things. But they are not reality.

Within these shells is revealed the unity of tiger, hermit crab, and human.

I don't believe in Shu Ha Ri. I don't believe we must first be encased in form, then break out of it, and only then be free. We are always simultaneously within form and free of form.

For me, aikido is really about no other thing than increasing degrees of freedom. Because freedom is never absolute, there are boundaries and limits. From boundaries and limits arise forms.

My experience of aikido is now wholly devoted to exploring these zones of freedom. Within a technique, there is a zone of freedom, but there is far far more freedom outside any given technique. So while I continue to find aikido within form, there is much more aikido outside of it.

Within the larger freedom of formless aikido, forms nevertheless arise. But now they are transitory occurrences, inevitable patterns like intervals in music. The composer knows them, the listener intuits them, but neither composer nor listener need be bound up in them.

So now whenever your partner grabs you, pay attention to the specific limitations they are placing on your ability to move in a given direction. Lest I be misunderstood, let me now say it again -- you will learn volumes by training to overcome those limitations, and your life will be richer for it.

But broaden your vision and look at the expansiveness that surrounds both you and your partner. Move into that, simply because you can, and because there are no restrictions to moving there. Move into that, and keep moving into that, and watch as the endless forms come and go. Move into that, and you will no longer need the volumes. Move into that, and you'll know you never did.

Put lovers together in a room, and they will write their own Kama Sutra with the calligraphy of their bodies. And lo, though it be theirs alone, it will be much alike Vatsyayana's. No instruction manual is needed (though it doesn't really hurt to have the field guide).

Our vast compendium of so-called aikido techniques is really no more than such a field guide. The techniques are not the way to aikido, but merely samples in a catalogue of the way of aikido. Don't do these things in order to do aikido. Do aikido and simply observe these things that we've given names to.

Put people in a room together (or out in the open) and let them have their physical encounters. If even half of them are committed to exploring freedom through these encounters, they'll discover aikido within a very short period. Along the way they'll encounter puzzles, and some will take a bit longer to solve than others. But it needn't take years, except for the ongoing unmitigated joy of it.

The long arc that Shu Ha Ri traditionally describes in the path of learning can certainly pertain. I just question its value as an assumption. The Shu Ha Ri that I believe in occurs on a scale measured in seconds, not years or decades. Conjoined bodies moving where they can, and not moving where they can't, invariably make certain patterns. Some are more statistically likely than others, but each is incidental to the movement, the circulation of energy, and the physiology of the human form.

Technical form is derivative of aikido, and not the other way around. Teaching a beginner nothing but form is to place a veil over their eyes that truly will take decades to remove. Thus, the unnecessarily long cycle of Shu Ha Ri becomes self-fulfilling.

Break the cycle, I say. Kick its knees, even.

Or better, simply move through, around, and beyond. Embrace it but don't cling. Begin with Ri, and move into Ri. Let Shu and Ha take care of themselves.

April 30, 2010
Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Systems
Honmatsu Aikido
Austin TX, USA
www.stillpointaikido.com
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Old 05-19-2010, 12:09 PM   #2
jbblack
 
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

Ross, as usual a "thinking/feeling" column.

I have been working to move beyond just the forms and the following is from a note I sent to a friend. It seems to explore what you are speaking about.

"The real craft of stone carving is a 'visual song' which cannot really be planned or repeated, because the vibration of the stone itself tells the carver how it should be shaped. The carver must become one with the stone, and then the music of the stone
expresses itself through him."

-- Ganapati Sthapati

(V. Ganapati Sthapati is a Sthapati, head of the "College of Architecture & Sculpture" in the Vastu Shastra tradition ascribed to the sage Mamuni Mayan).

He might as well be describing Aikido at its pure level. To feel ki from your partner is to understand his 'visual song' which tells you (if you can hear) how the throw should unfold. O'Sensei always said he could never repeat a throw, each moment is unique. As Nage becomes one with uke the music of ki express itself through him.

Cheers,
Jeff
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Old 05-19-2010, 01:00 PM   #3
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

Interesting thoughts.
I tend to go with before you can be an artist, first become a craftsman.
To appreciate its freedom, first learn its constraints.
But then again, I did always take the slow way around.
Compliments.

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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Old 05-19-2010, 02:06 PM   #4
aikidoc
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

I would have never thought that of Peter Ting. When I first started aikido I went to a Osu Festival-marathon-and Peter took me under his wing in one of the sessions and worked with me one on one. He was one of the nicest people I ran into all day. To this day, I still teach one of the irimi techniques he showed us.
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Old 05-19-2010, 03:32 PM   #5
akiy
 
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

Quote:
John Riggs wrote: View Post
I would have never thought that of Peter Ting.
Here's a nice blog article on Peter by Jake McKee that may provide more explanation on his spitting in people's faces:

http://twistingwrists.com/?p=464

Any other thoughts from folks on Ross's take on "Breaking Shu Ha Ri"?

-- Jun

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Old 05-19-2010, 04:45 PM   #6
Amassus
 
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

I recently exchanged emails with a friend in the States and reviewed a book he sent me. "On Mastering Aikido" by Dan Linden.

Parts of what we spoke about is relevant to this article.
Quote:
What we are trying to do (according to Linden) is to find the limits of the human body then exceed them. This will usually result in unbalancing our opponent or at worst cause serious injury. Linden treats the basic techniques of aikido like a language. Once you know this language you can then look further into the underlying principles and ideas of the art. Linden goes on to say that you can't trust a technique to work all the time. That is way the principles behind aikido are more important than the techniques themselves. Once you are open to the possibilities in any given encounter, technique is just not that important. Again, I agree.
And this...
Quote:
Shouldn't the principles of body movement, timing, centre etc be taught first, as a general foundation to any martial art? Then a practitioner can go off and learn such and such martial art to gain some techniques. Are we training in the wrong order in budo? A topic for another time, I guess.
My thoughts
Dean.

"flows like water, reflects like a mirror, and responds like an echo." Chaung-tse
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Old 05-19-2010, 05:15 PM   #7
Aiki1
 
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

To me, you are talking about doing Aikido instead of just practicing technique, which is a pet peeve of mine. I agree with you, although I have a slightly different view of it.

At the basic levels, practicing a specific technique involves Uke giving the appropriate attack that warrants that specific response. If they give a different kind or quality of attack, doing the prescribed technique would (likely) be, as you say, going against them. Expanding one's scope of practice, one would respond with what is appropriate to whatever Uke is presenting. I whole-heartedly support this. This is training to do Aikido, and I don't really see a whole lot of it.

I think too much Aikido practice is not actually Aikido per se, but simply learning and practicing a particular way of executing techniques. Some people never move beyond this, no matter how dynamic and dramatic their "Aikido" appears to be. I completely agree with you when you describe these constructs as "confining shells", "prison cells", and "straight jackets."

The interesting thing to me is, in a sense, that applies when one is perceiving "what Uke is giving" as what they are physically or even energetically constellating. If we look deeper into their being, at another level there is only one thing that they are presenting, ever: themselves, in whatever dynamic form that is being expressed. At that level, if we tune into that, or "them" as it were, then in theory (and practice), in that moment any number of techniques can be applied, beyond just what they are "informing us of" through their physicality, intention, etc.

This takes a deep technical knowledge and skill, but also deep perceptive skills that reach into the energetic and qualitative levels of connection, intention, balance, and manifestation. In those moments, my experience is that, while in truth "form follows function", one can apply almost "any form." This does have it's limits, ultimately defined by the same criteria - what Uke is "presenting", just at a very different and perhaps a more "open" level.

The other important point I would bring up is, learning to go with the flow is ultimately of most value, but I don't think most people can fully learn Aikido and have free access to consistent skill without a balance, and that to me is the answer - balance - between form and essence, content and process, technique and flowing creative response/Aiki.

Similar to playing an instrument, one can learn to solo, really fly with the music, but without having a solid, basic relationship to the instrument and to music itself, the ability to do so is transitory, not grounded, and therefore missing the elements that sustain a deep evolution and knowledge over time.

I personally believe in inducting a student into both realities, which when done carefully and consciously, can help bring someone along in their training (ability and understanding) quite quickly.

So, I actually both agree and disagree with you, on both the practical and theoretical levels.


Larry Novick
Head Instructor
ACE Aikido
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Old 05-19-2010, 05:35 PM   #8
Janet Rosen
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

Jun, thanks for posting that link. I'm sorry I didn't know Peter until he was in his terminal illness.

Ross, many thanks for a very thought-provoking column that is both cogent and passionate.

My own tendency is to feel things are best taught in a "middle path" that integrates time for both form (kata-based training, or as Lynn puts it, the craftsmanship approach) and free exploration from the start.

As learners we each tend to be stronger in one area than the other, and I think starting with both fallows each person to work on both strength and weakness from the start - so everybody experiences a bit of frustration and a bit of success.

Janet Rosen
http://www.zanshinart.com
"peace will enter when hate is gone"--percy mayfield
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Old 05-20-2010, 02:32 AM   #9
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

Great post, in essence the truth of Aikido. For me the paradox of people saying do "O Sensei's" Aikido is that he stole from everywhere and created his own art. The calcification into a set of waza or kata may be a useful vehicle of entry, may even be the only one for many, but it is still a prison. I understand that for some people the maintenance of a tradition and the purity of practice is a shugyo in it's own right, and this is vital too, for without the maintenance of the vehicle it is indeed difficult to transmit the essence.
Rumi also said, "fools gold would not exist if there were not real gold", so I guess peeling away the lead is the way forward.

If your temper rises withdraw your hand, if your hand rises withdraw your temper.
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Old 05-20-2010, 07:18 AM   #10
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

I think SHU-HA-RI is primarily a teaching/learning relationship, not something based on form vs. the absence of form. The form, if any, is the vehicle for the relationship, not the other way round.

In my opinion, a good example of this relationship can be seen with Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda. All the elements: SHU, HA, and RI, are there. Form (= waza) enters into this relationship only to the extent that it is seen to be necessary. I think Ellis Amdur has argued quite strongly in his latest book that form did not seem to matter too much to Takeda or Ueshiba. But the relationship was there--and it endured. In terms of the relationship, the RI component was formalized only in 1936.

Best wishes,

PAG

P A Goldsbury
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Old 05-20-2010, 07:43 AM   #11
Dazzler
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

Have to agree with Peter - Shu ha ri for me covers the changing student teacher relationship as the student grows.

As an article though, it is interesting and raised the question of when is it ok to break free?

My own view is the ultimate goal of Aikido is freedom which includes freedom from the mere tools of practice, the techniques.

However failure to practice, even when the going is tough and easier options seem available may result in a toolset that is blunt.

Perhaps train hard fight easy is an appropriate thought.

Or not.

Regards

D
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Old 05-20-2010, 08:44 AM   #12
Marc Abrams
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

I simply do not know if Ross is trying to be intentionally provocative, or does not have the depth of understanding that is behind Shu Ha Ri. The scenario that was presented displayed a surface and entirely inaccurate understanding of what Shu Ha Ri represents (my opinion).

I think that Peter provided a good counter-point perspective for people to consider. My own personal position is that waza is akin to kata. If you do not understand and appreciate the depth of waza/kata, learning will remain at a surface/superficial level.

Marc Abrams
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Old 05-20-2010, 09:29 AM   #13
Abasan
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

Peter Sensei this was something that I forgot to ask you when you were here the other day... Having experienced Yamaguichi Sensei's teaching firsthand, would you accept that he taught his Aikido encapsulated within a certain form... but which his students captured its inner essence each in their own fashion. By way I mean, looking at how Endo Sensei felt that he was being shown something personal to him even though Sensei was doing it for the whole class... and indeed at that point in time, he was just recovering the will to train again after his injury.

To me I would think the form is a canvas (aikido et el) that the Sensei uses certain common principles (chushin, zanshin etc) meaningful to him to apply techniques (awase, musubi etc) that are his forte resulting in a painting (ikkyo, nikkyo etc)... in reality the picture is limitless than the boundaries of that frame, though it's essence is captured in what we see. Does that make sense to you?

Quote:
Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
I think SHU-HA-RI is primarily a teaching/learning relationship, not something based on form vs. the absence of form. The form, if any, is the vehicle for the relationship, not the other way round.

In my opinion, a good example of this relationship can be seen with Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda. All the elements: SHU, HA, and RI, are there. Form (= waza) enters into this relationship only to the extent that it is seen to be necessary. I think Ellis Amdur has argued quite strongly in his latest book that form did not seem to matter too much to Takeda or Ueshiba. But the relationship was there--and it endured. In terms of the relationship, the RI component was formalized only in 1936.

Best wishes,

PAG

Draw strength from stillness. Learn to act without acting. And never underestimate a samurai cat.
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Old 05-20-2010, 09:31 AM   #14
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

I am quoting partially from Larry Camejo's post on the thread,

http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/newrep...reply&p=257779.

Quote:
Larry Camejo wrote: View Post
Over the years that I've been on Aikiweb one thing that has been constant is that there is no single, shared definition of Aikido.
Robert's post can take on as many meanings as there are ideas and definitions of what Aikido is.

We all think we know a better way.

David

Last edited by dps : 05-20-2010 at 09:34 AM.
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Old 05-27-2010, 02:17 AM   #15
tarik
 
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

Quote:
I don't believe in Shu Ha Ri. I don't believe we must first be encased in form, then break out of it, and only then be free. We are always simultaneously within form and free of form.
This description of shu ha ri doesn't remotely jive with my understanding of it. First off, I agree with Mr. Goldsbury that shu ha ri really describes a relationship with a teacher and that for most students without that personal relationship, shu ha ri is not a model that they will be able to follow very well even in a dojo with instructors present.

To me, shu is not about form, it"s about learning and obeying the fundamentals of the art in question from your teacher. It's about working on what you're told to work on even if you don't want to work on that. When you learn scales, you don't question why at first, you just do it and you trust that your teacher is teaching those scales for a good reason. If the teacher half to the relationship is any good, these fundamentals include form, but they also should include all the principles with the form taught as tools to explore the principles.

I've more not fully developed thoughts, but it's late and these budo twins I'm hanging out with tonight are telling interesting training stories, so hopefully I'll stop back later.

Regards,

Tarik Ghbeish
Jiyūshin-ryū AikiBudō - Iwae Dojo

MASAKATSU AGATSU -- "The true victory of self-mastery."
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Old 05-27-2010, 07:09 AM   #16
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

Quote:
Ahmad Abas wrote: View Post
Peter Sensei this was something that I forgot to ask you when you were here the other day... Having experienced Yamaguichi Sensei's teaching firsthand, would you accept that he taught his Aikido encapsulated within a certain form... but which his students captured its inner essence each in their own fashion. By way I mean, looking at how Endo Sensei felt that he was being shown something personal to him even though Sensei was doing it for the whole class... and indeed at that point in time, he was just recovering the will to train again after his injury.

To me I would think the form is a canvas (aikido et el) that the Sensei uses certain common principles (chushin, zanshin etc) meaningful to him to apply techniques (awase, musubi etc) that are his forte resulting in a painting (ikkyo, nikkyo etc)... in reality the picture is limitless than the boundaries of that frame, though it's essence is captured in what we see. Does that make sense to you?
Hello Ahmad,

Yes, it makes sense, but I doubt whether I would express it in this way. If I compare S Yamaguchi and H Tada, from both of whom I have taken ukemi many times, it is what they do besides the waza that matters, as much as the actual waza, such as kote-gaeshi or irimi-nage. I have seen Yasuno and Endo teach and, yes, there are recognizable Yamaguchi influences (there seem to be no Tada influences). Encapsulated? What would this mean, I wonder?

Best wishes,

PAG

P A Goldsbury
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Old 05-27-2010, 10:30 AM   #17
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

This is a though-provoking post.

I believe the shu, ha, ri learning relationship is an older model of the learning process that is consisting under attack (for good and bad reasons). Shu, ha ri, is a very old, Eastern learning style, which is difficult to fit into a commodity-based, instant gratification-oriented Western culture. I use the term learning because at the end of the day, I will argue that aikido is about learning, not being taught.

I am not convinced that a mentor relationship is the better learning style. There is considerable evidence to support the emergence of master craftsman in those trades which use the mentor/apprentice relationship. However, I think a key difference between craftsmanship and aikido is the objective evaluation of success.

The nature of Aikido's subjective orientation to attract a variety of practioners who seek to accomplish a variety of goals is vulnerable to abuse. For this reason I express concern when discussion leads to the implentation of a mentor-based teaching structure. Teachers wield considerable power over impressionable minds. Without an objective control by which students can evaulate progress we become over-dependent upon our sensei for guidence (read "drink the kool aid, class"). Kata gives me training for my body when I am not in the dojo or training with a partner. Kata gives me a structure to emulate until I am competent to expand the form. Kata gives me right and wrong.

As I experience raising a child, I am reminded of a parenting book passage, "children do not see the world in shades of gray, they see it in stark contrast of right and wrong." Mentoring is a good learning style implemented for those who express a proclivity for competency, but I am not sure how it fits those new students entering a martial art.

Good post...
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Old 05-27-2010, 01:18 PM   #18
Shannon Frye
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

I won't pretend to have the connections to aiki masters or the experiences that some of the elder aiki people on here have - but my understanding of Shu Ha Ri is not that it encapsulates and traps you. Rather that you learn until you are able to master it. After mastery, you evolve. I hardly see the learning and mastery phases as being fenced in.

I think we have too many teens and 20 some year olds that are watching a few videos of an art and thinking "Oh, I got this". I've encountered too many people who don't want to invest time to learn an art, just want a 'crash course' of the finer points so that they don't have to 'waste their time'. 2 months of BJJ, 2 classes of Aiki, a few Muay Thai classes, and a lot of bag work = I got this.

I think more students need to be acquainted with (and acceptant of) the concept of Shu Ha Ri. Invest the time to learn ONE art before trying to evolve it.

"In the end there can be only one"

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Old 05-27-2010, 05:20 PM   #19
Charles Hill
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

My reading of Ross' take on shu ha ri is that it does describe the relationship between student and teacher. If a dojo mate attacks with shomen and we respond with ikkyo omote, why do we do so? In the typical dojo, it is because that is what the sensei has shown and what the others practicing around us are doing. This is protecting the form of the teacher-student relationship. You tell me what to do and I do it.

The moving away from this relationship is typified by the individual doing the ikkyo omote because that is what is called for in reponse to that particular partner doing that particular attack. This is the ri that I think Ross is suggesting to start with.

I have read most of Ross' writings and I think he is not calling for the doing away with of specific technique. Instead, he has written that if you give students (children in the article I am remembering now) certain principles, specific techniques will spontaneously happen. Students will naturally do ikkyo omote because that will be directly perceived as the correct response.
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Old 05-28-2010, 12:07 AM   #20
tarik
 
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

Quote:
Charles Hill wrote: View Post
My reading of Ross' take on shu ha ri is that it does describe the relationship between student and teacher. If a dojo mate attacks with shomen and we respond with ikkyo omote, why do we do so? In the typical dojo, it is because that is what the sensei has shown and what the others practicing around us are doing. This is protecting the form of the teacher-student relationship. You tell me what to do and I do it.

The moving away from this relationship is typified by the individual doing the ikkyo omote because that is what is called for in reponse to that particular partner doing that particular attack. This is the ri that I think Ross is suggesting to start with..
What you describe doesn't square with my understanding of what shu ha ri is about even remotely. Doing what [appropriate technique] is called for in response to an attack is modeling exactly the sort of thing that should be taught while in shu in a proper teacher-student relationship.

Honestly, i doubt there are very many people out there training in a real shu ha ri relationship, much less understand what that really means. I know that most of my own knowledge of what it is pretty rudimentary, but from what I do know, I don't believe that most people are even approximating the real thing.

Regards,

Tarik Ghbeish
Jiyūshin-ryū AikiBudō - Iwae Dojo

MASAKATSU AGATSU -- "The true victory of self-mastery."
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Old 05-28-2010, 01:05 AM   #21
Charles Hill
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

Hi Tarik,

Thanks for replying. Your post has gotten me curious and I have some questions.

1. What exactly is your understanding of shu ha ri?
2. How did you come to that understanding?
3. You describe your understanding as "rudimentary." How does a rudimentary understanding differ from a "thorough" understanding?

Thanks in advance,
Charles
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Old 05-28-2010, 02:10 AM   #22
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

Hello Charles,

A few comments.

About halfway through his column Ross makes the following point:

"I don't believe in Shu Ha Ri. I don't believe we must first be encased in form, then break out of it, and only then be free. We are always simultaneously within form and free of form."

This, it seems to me, is the strongest evidence that SHU-HA-RI here is connected to form. Evidence for this idea is contained in an article by Takamura Yukiyoshi, entitled 'Teaching and Shu-Ha-Ri', published in Aikido Journal. Takamura Sensei is discussing shu-ha-ri at several levels of proficiency, but the art he is discussing is defined by kata.

Another view is given by K Chiba, in an interview also published in Aikido Journal:
"In the shu stage you absorb what your teacher has to offer and remain absolutely obedient. Self-assertion, creativity, and independent ideas on your part are absolutely forbidden during these years, however long it takes. You have to follow what you are taught absolutely, without interjecting your own bias in any way. This is often referred to as a form of “self-negation.” Still, however much you learn, it remains your teacher’s art, not your own."

There is no reference here to kata or form, only to 'absorbing what the teacher has to offer'. From many hours of discussion with him, I know that K Chiba believes the relationship between master and student to be absolutely crucial to the latter's development, so much so that if you cannot find the right teacher for you, it is better not to start at all. Against this view, I argued that this 'esclusivist' view would restrict aikido to a few individuals. The link between Takamura Sensei's view and Chiba Sensei's view lies, in my opinion, in the fact that both are grounded on a very close personal relationship between master and student that lasts over many years. It is much more difficult to see this relationship in a large general dojo like the Aikikai Hombu.

Quote:
Charles Hill wrote: View Post
My reading of Ross' take on shu ha ri is that it does describe the relationship between student and teacher. If a dojo mate attacks with shomen and we respond with ikkyo omote, why do we do so? In the typical dojo, it is because that is what the sensei has shown and what the others practicing around us are doing. This is protecting the form of the teacher-student relationship. You tell me what to do and I do it.
PAG. Possibly, but the relationship seems less close than that assumed by Takamura or Chiba and I believe your example is too wide to be applicable here. The example need not convey any indication at all of a learning relationship or even a respect or lack of respect for form.

Quote:
Charles Hill wrote: View Post
The moving away from this relationship is typified by the individual doing the ikkyo omote because that is what is called for in reponse to that particular partner doing that particular attack. This is the ri that I think Ross is suggesting to start with.
PAG. In the two articles cited, RI is the result of a lengthy cumulative process and this is why, in my opinion, SHU-HA-RI has only a limited value as an explanatory device in a martial art like aikido.

Quote:
Charles Hill wrote: View Post
I have read most of Ross' writings and I think he is not calling for the doing away with of specific technique. Instead, he has written that if you give students (children in the article I am remembering now) certain principles, specific techniques will spontaneously happen. Students will naturally do ikkyo omote because that will be directly perceived as the correct response.
PAG. Sure, but I do not believe that this is a case of maintaining or of breaking away from SHU-HA-RI.

A discussion can be found in Chapter 2 of Rupert Cox's book The Zen Arts. Cox, too, believes that SHU-HA-RI is essentially related to copying or breaking away from established form. It was my own relationship with Chiba Sensei, which included training and disputation, that suggested to me that the crux lies more in the relationship than on the forms studied as part of this relationship. I should add that Morihei Ueshiba never used the terms, because, I believe, he never saw aikido in terms of zen arts.

Best wishes,

PAG

Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 05-28-2010 at 02:13 AM.

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Old 05-28-2010, 07:03 AM   #23
DH
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

There exists an incredible amount of information within kata and form. Any number of teachers from Japanese to Chinese will talk about the precision required to understand certain things; from angles within your own body, to angles to contact other bodies, to some very important lessons with weapons. All require you to absorb those lessons through rote training in order to-bind- your body and mind to a way to move. It's like rewiring your brain. And all of that is to attain? Freedom, and newly attained (educated) natural movement. From there you move to individual expression which now "expresses" an art form.

There is no other way to understand an art for what it is, not what you will make of it-or simply just butcher.

You can include the latest interest of some; individual internal training/ aiki. Although outside of any single art, even then, there is precision required to get things right to control the mind/ body, that is inescapable as well.

FWIW, you can train with any number of BJJ or MMA people who will scoff at Kata and traditional training. Sooner or later you will hear as they go through moves...."Okay, now lets drill it! Do it ten times; first slow, then faster."

I think the arts are plagued with too many people trying to represent them who are utterly bereft of any real ability to do so. Instead what they are representing often is a very real incomplete understanding. If you are trying to preserve something like an art, than all individual expressions are not equal.
Cheers
Dan
P.S. If you have an interesting and well educated budo teacher there may be a richness to the experience, involving both them and some of their contemporaries as well.

Last edited by DH : 05-28-2010 at 07:10 AM.
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Old 06-04-2010, 02:06 PM   #24
R.A. Robertson
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

Quote:
John Riggs wrote: View Post
I would have never thought that of Peter Ting. When I first started aikido I went to a Osu Festival-marathon-and Peter took me under his wing in one of the sessions and worked with me one on one. He was one of the nicest people I ran into all day. To this day, I still teach one of the irimi techniques he showed us.
John, All,

Just a quick note on Peter Ting.

Peter was a true enigma. Your memory of him resonates with my own. He was capable of being the kindest, most compassionate, gentle human being I've ever met. And I've had the privilege of being in the company of some truly great human beings.

But Peter was also one of the fiercest people I've ever known, and his sense of righteous indignation could turn toward violence, if we're to believe his own stories.

Keep in mind that Peter was among the very last of a generation of 19th century kung-fu guys. They were, in many ways, the analogs of the gunslingers of the American Wild West. Peter's training began when he was, what... four, five years old? Hard training, too, according to his tales.

Even if Peter never spoke about himself, we could still hear much of his story told in the broken lines of every single finger on his hands. More broken bones in the rest of his body, too.

Peter eventually found aikido, and for him, it was a better way. But he had a long life of severity that even decades of aikido would not erase. Indeed, I don't think much of Peter would have remained had all that been excised.

Peter's life ended harshly, and we nearly lost him to poverty and homelessness and destitution even before the cancer took him. There was perhaps some poetic symmetry in the tragedy, befitting someone of legendary, even epic, stature. For me, I'm just eternally grateful to those who found him on that park bench and took him in,
and gave him some friendship once again before the sickness came.

Make no mistake, Peter spat fire and shook the walls and rattled windows when he taught. He scolded and threatened and shamed. But I've never in my life seen such a look of liquid love as what came through his eyes when he saw you taking time and patience with a beginner. It was to these that he bowed the lowest, as if he knew that his time was done, and that real hope lay with those whose future was just beginning.

Ross
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Old 06-04-2010, 04:20 PM   #25
aikidoc
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Re: Breaking Shu Ha Ri

That was a nice tribute to Peter Ross. Thank you. I was new, probably less than a month on the mat, at the time of my encounter with Peter. Obviously, he left and impression with me given he was one of 10 teaching and I only remember him and 1-2 others. His compassion for a new person was evident. I am saddened to hear he had such a hard ending. That truly saddens me.
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