Shu is the first phase. The word itself means “to obey.” In the martial arts context, it obviously refers to the need to follow the instructions of your teacher. But in a larger sense, it also suggests the need to bend your will to the dictates of the system you study. Those of us who have spent any amount of time in the martial arts are familiar with the “dojo rangers” who travel from one school to another. They claim they are there to learn new things, but often seem to spend a great deal of time pointing out that “so and so chambers the punch this way” or “my old teacher told us to lift the back heel in the front stance when punching” or a thousand other observations. They may be trying to impress us all with their vast knowledge and experience, but really, all they’re doing is wasting valuable training time. And, of course, missing out on whatever is being taught. One of Donohue’s basic dojo rules: “you learn best when the eyes and ears are open and the mouth is shut.”
Shu, then, involves the capacity for humility, of admitting that someone may have something important to teach and (most importantly) that you need to be taught.
Writing, it seems to me is very much a “shu event.” Since we’re all pretty good at talking, and since it flows naturally and spontaneously, many writers I come across in my work as a teacher approach the written word as if they were talking. What they fail to notice is that the structure and conventions of writing are different from the spoken word. Writing is linked to speech in many ways, but its form and conventions are different.
And, most importantly, they must be obeyed if you are to develop as an effective writer. The writer’s world is a type of dojo: it’s devoted to an important human activity, it requires study and practice and conformity to the system. You are, of course, certainly free not to conform. But not here. A writer who fails to master the rudiments of the system is not a writer at all and has no place in this dojo.