Notes on cross-training, styles and development

I was reading an interview with Bill Burgar, author of 'Five Years, One Kata' (Sanbushi articles) which incidentally is on my list of books to get and he mentions something I found interesting on the notion of 'styles' and cross-training.

He describes starting from the beginning in another art as not being cross-training so much as it is parallel training. He defines cross-training as being when you look at other arts, absorb what you need and incorporate it into what you do. A fine distinction maybe? Although what you need and what you think you need may be different things, IMO you could miss key basics by skipping over material to get to the 'good stuff'.

On the subject of styles he expressed the opinion that you have to be careful with talking about style in one dimension and about how people change on the scale of shu-ha-ri.

There's an excellent piece on shu-ha-ri at Teaching and Shu-Ha-Ri. This is summarised in Pat McCarthy's Classical Kata of Okinawan Karate as:
Shu means to correctly copy all of the techniques of the instructor
Ha is the next stage of development when the student is allowed to develop his own way of executing techniques based on their own physical attributes and understanding of karate.
Ri refers to mastery when the student can perform all the techniques automatically, without conscious thought.

Bill Burgar goes on to say that talking about style is valid for people who are in the shu stage, where they are developing their core skills which requires clear guidelines and a definition of the difference between what is right and what is wrong. (I personally liked the bit when he says that anyone who talks about their style being best is probably still in the shu stage regardless of their numerical grade.) He also offers the opinion that if you in the ha stage then you will be learning from a variety of sources and concerns about 'styles' become less important.

You could perhaps align shu-ha-ri to the stages of learning which are described as progressing from unconscious incompetence (when you stink at it but don't know it) through conscious incompetence (you know you suck), conscious competence (can get it when you try) to unconscious competence (comes naturally). IMO the transition from shu to ha probably happens somewhere between conscious competence and unconscious competence and ri is located somewhere in unconscious competence.

Naturally we will all be in different stages with different things, for example you could seem to have mastered some strikes but some of your kicking sucks.

You could take one single technique and learn a defence against it. Initially you're going to struggle a bit but with time it gets easier, and you may modify it slightly from how you were shown so that it works a little better for you. More time passes, still only practicing this one thing and you will reach the point where that defence against that particular attack is so deeply ingrained you will simply respond without thought. It would look like you knew that strike was coming before it even started; it may even be said that you had mastered it.

Note on mastery... it means that you're far enough ahead of someone else that they can't work out how you do what you do.

- Mick Todd