I was reading a great post over at Goju Kenkyukai entitled Stop Making Excuses. I thought it was a great post, so please take a look over there.
But, as usual with good source material, it made me think. In my usual disjointed style, here are my thoughts.
First, the use of Shu Ha Ri as a guide for the phases of a person's education. It made me look up the definitions of both shu ha ri and jo ha kyu (with which I am more familar).
Jo Ha Kyu
My Sensei has always mentioned the importance of utilizing jo ha kyu when we are performing iaido kata. There is a certain element of drawing in the enemy with a purposefully slow beginning, increasing the pace to be prepared for the attack, and continuing the acceleration in order to arrive on target before the enemy can react to save themselves. There is also an element of Go No Sen to this, in that you appear to begin behind (you are actually so aware that you are well aware of the coming attack (or at least I should be)), then catch up to the present, then get ahead through body positioning, intent, focus, and application of a waza designed to accomplish this feat.
He has also mentioned this in our karate classes, although usually this is more from the point of warming up, or presenting techniques or forms that are correct (to the best of our ability). The first time you do it, jo, you move more slowly, "remembering" the movements and techniques with your body and loading them into muscle memory. You might make a few mistakes in a kata you haven't done in a while. The second time, ha, you increase the speed, bring some elements of kime, speed, or power into play, while consciously correcting your form. Finally, kyu, you are at your maximum of speed, power, technique and focus. That is the form you would want to present at a grading, for example.
I raise this, as it is a related metaphor to that of Shu Ha Ri. Although the meanings are different, the application and intent are similar.
Shu Ha Ri
Upon reading about shu ha ri, I found that it was much more apt to Garry's use than my own understanding. But for the sake of discussion, the similarities are simple enough to see.
At the shu stage you are learning. When learning a form it is necessary to go slowly to understand and learn the movement. At the ha stage we are removing ourselves from the slow original, breaking away and trying to add in the sum of our education to date. Finally, in the ri stage, you are at the peak, having transcended the previous attempts, achieving (hopefullly) perfection.
Alright, maybe its a big of stretch, but I don't think its too far from the mark. At any rate, this is also a great way to view education, particularly from the context of the martial arts. I have been thinking about this aside from the above, so I wanted to share my findings/thoughts.
There is a bit of a divide in the way in which Western thought and Eastern thought attempt to reach the same goals. Any one who has read or visited an Asian martial art school, or trained with old masters of the arts, can attest to the importance of observation.
In the Western world, education is something to be questioned, analyzed and set out before everyone was discussion and understanding. The empirical method has been the mainstay of modern scientific thought, and to a large extent this has affected the view of the entire Western world and its cultures. Something needs proof, and answers are given to those who ask. If I recall some lecture material from Sensei Richard Kim, this would be tied to the intellect - he would say this was public knowledge of the external world. It is a valuable method for exploring and understanding the world we live in.
In contrast, we have the Eastern approach focusing on a more internallized and intuitive approach. The student follows the path of their teacher, accepting that their wisdom is sounds. After all, a teacher is one who has tread the path before - they know the pitfalls and has some meaure of wisdom with regards to what and how to view and use what the student will find. Richard Kim would call this private or self knowledge.
Now, lets get back to the martial arts. Are we learning more about ourselves on this path of insanity (what sane person prepares for a day that they hope won't come and might mean their death ;) ) or more about the external world. I would have said, in my own naivety, we are learning about the outside. After all, all philosophy aside, we are training to defend ourselves in the real world. We want to come home safely, when all is said and done.
But the more I thought about it, especially after Garry's post, the more I realized that we are on an internal journey of self perfection. That is the mastery which is the peark of the mountain we all climb. And it really made me realize that this was a case where the West needs to listen, watch and take the steps that the East has done already. How else can we learn and internalize the concepts we strive to understand to an unconscious level without developing the intuition and internal knowledge of ourselves.