Introduction: Those who are not familiar with the concept of "shu-ha-ri", which is the basis of the Japanese way of learning, are welcome to read Dai-Shihan Duncan Stewart's article on this topic, before starting to read the current article. For your convenience, click here for a link to the article.
Anyone who has been to a Hombo Dojo in Japan, in Hatsumi Soke classes, has heard this phrase. I remember that always when I would hear him, I was either amused or didn't understand why he was saying it. Today I think I realized something...
Last Friday, in the training of my teacher - Danny Waxman - we performed, as usual, various Wazas (techniques), and then I asked for permission and demonstrated different "Henkas" (variations), and a discussion developed about the importance of the performance ("waza" vs. "Henka" ) and on the form of study. I explained to the guys my understanding of the Shu-Ha-Ri and said that to my understanding, the "Shu" is the basic Wazas while the Henka, when performed successfully, are the Ri. But when I tried to explain what the Ha is and where it is manifested, I lost the token! I suddenly realized that the Play, about which Hatsumi always spoke, is exactly the Ha! The "play", is the stage where you take the waza, the basic technique you were taught in class, and start "playing with it". This is the stage where you "take the plasticine and start kneading it" until you create the perfect product, the Henka, the technique that is all yours! And this is exactly what happened in Hombo, Japan, in Hatsumi's classes: he would show a certain technique and then turn the stage and say the aforementioned immortal phrase (Understand? Good. Play!) and let "the kids" play with the material. Now, when I think I understand This, I understand the enormous importance of the "Play" and of this whole "funny" sentence. Because what Hatsumi meant and said in this sentence is: Did you understand (the waza)? Very good, so now go "play with it", Play, so that you can develop your variation, your own Henka, your own technique! Huge, simply huge! Huge teacher, with such a wide and generous heart!
But, and this must not be forgotten: there are no shortcuts!! It is forbidden to jump to Play, to "the game" and to creation, before you have the base, the clear and solid material in hand. One must have excellent control of the base, in the Shu. Only after you have the material in hand, you can start "playing with it" and then move to the Ri. Because without a gradual and complete transition, your Henka, your Ri, will have no combative meaning.
And yes, I definitely think it will affect the way I teach in training.