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Does Aikido's "Shu Ha Ri" Help With Presentations? 
by Gilda Bonanno

Recently, a presentation skills coaching client asked about Shu Ha Ri, the cycle of training used in the Japanese martial art of Aikido and sometimes applied to software development and used as a model for other learning.

As I understand it, here are the 3 stages of Shu Ha Ri:


Shu: This stage is for building the technical foundation by learning the kata or essential forms and drills - "the student should be working to copy the techniques as taught without modification and without yet attempting to make any effort to understand the rationale of the techniques of the school/teacher."

Ha: Now that "each technique is thoroughly learned and absorbed into the muscle memory," it is up to the student to "to reflect on the meaning and purpose of everything that s/he has learned and thus come to a deeper understanding of the art than pure repetitive practice can allow.... "

Ri: In this stage, the student becomes the practitioner and "must think originally and develop from background knowledge original thoughts about the art and test them against the reality of his or her background knowledge and conclusions as well as the demands of everyday life." (All quotes from Ron Fox, The Iaido Newsletter vol 7, no. 2 #54

Applying Shu Ha Ri to Presentations

With some modifications and consideration, Shu Ha Ri can be applied to learning presentation skills.

When you are in the foundation-building stage of presentation skills, it is helpful to work with a coach or be mentored by an effective presenter as you focus on your goals:


·What would you like to look and sound like when you are present?


·What do "effective" and "confident" look like in your company or industry culture? For example, in some companies or industries, presenters are expected to have command of large amounts of data and be able to answer detailed technical questions, while in others, presenters are considered confident if they present without notes.


·What would you expect the audience to do, be or know as a result of your presentation? (Do you want them to be informed, persuaded, entertained?)


Repetitions, drills and practice can help you to remember key elements of presentation skills, such as pausing and breathing at the end of a sentence rather than saying "um," or smiling and making eye contact with the audience.

Don't Get Stuck in Shu

However, as you are working with and learning from someone else, you have to be very careful not to just copy his or her presentation style exactly. It would be like wearing someone else's clothes - they may look great on the other person, but they won't quite fit you.

You have to be certain not to get stuck in the Shu stage and instead, move into the Ha stage where you analyze and understand why certain elements may or may not work for you and other people. For example, some people can look very comfortable moving around the stage with a handheld microphone while others would be better standing in one spot with a lavaliere microphone.

Each person has his or her unique presentation style or "voice" and while you can adapt techniques that you see other people using, you cannot completely copy anyone else's style. Watching yourself on video can help you analyze what works and what doesn't, as can working with your coach or mentor.

Arrive at Ri

The ultimate goal is to arrive at Ri, which Yukio Takamura described as "a state of execution that simply occurs after shu and ha have been internalized.... It is form without being conscious of form. It is intuitive expression of technique that is as efficient as the prearranged form but utterly spontaneous." 

(Yukio Takamura, edited by Nanette Okura

Ri would mean when a presentation is seemingly effortless and you are comfortable with your content and truly in the moment connecting with and engaging the audience. Achieving Ri would mean that you are not worried about the technicalities and individual aspects of your presentation because you are relying on your training, practice and experience to allow you to create a coherent whole that makes sense to your audience.

Gilda Bonanno is a speaker, trainer and coach who helps people from all walks of life improve their communication and presentation skills.  Copyright (c) 2012

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