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Agile Coaches' Corner shares practical concepts in an approachable way. It is for agile practitioners and business leaders seeking expert advice on improving the way they work to achieve their desired outcomes. If you have a topic you'd like discussed, email it to, or tweet it with #agilethoughtpodcast.

Nov 29, 2019

This week on the podcast, Dan Neumann is joined by Che Ho! Che Ho is leading an agile transformation for the County of Santa Clara, California. He also recently got certified as a Scrum Master Professional through Agile Alliance. And, fun fact: He’s also a martial arts instructor for Wing Chun! He’s been studying it since he was 10 and has been teaching it now for 20-odd years.


Speaking of martial arts, the topic today directly relates to it! Shu Ha Ri is a concept that comes from Japanese martial arts’ kata (AKA forms) and is a fantastic tool for Agile coaches in their approach to agile adoption. In this episode, Dan and Che Ho are completely breaking down the concept of Shu Ha Ri to make it just a little more tangible.


Key Takeaways

What is Shu Ha Ri?

  • ‘Shu Ha Ri’ is not levels, nor is it a self-contained stage that you go through
  • The description of Shu Ha Ri comes from Japanese martial arts’ kata (AKA forms)
  • Shu Ha Ri is similar to a pyramid; each phase supports one another and one cannot exist without the other
  • It’s simply a way to look at a maturity level which can help with agile adoption

Breaking down Shu Ha Ri:

The ‘Shu’ phase:

  • Shu is when you first start learning (it’s essentially like learning the alphabet and how to put things together)
  • Where you learn the ‘why’
  • The time for getting comfortable with the rhythm of things

The ‘Ha’ phase:

  • Ha is about playing with the techniques and stringing them together in your own unique way
  • You can begin to personalize within the framework
  • You can move off script as the framework is internalized
  • Motivation comes to light at this phase

The ‘Ri’ phase:

  • Ri is the ‘ultimate mastery’ — it’s described as the phase where the form no longer matters (it’s a ‘formless form’)
  • It’s more of a lifestyle — it becomes so ingrained in you that it just becomes the way that you are rather than something that you do
  • The activity becomes organic
  • Through this, you create ways that are uniquely yours and you can become playful with it
  • A lot of experimentation can signify a ‘Ri’ level of maturity
  • Ri is when you become so comfortable with what’s going on that it just becomes you; and you’re free to innovate, create, and experiment

How to address resistance to Shu Ha Ri:

  • Firstly, don’t take it personally as Che Ho says, “They’ve honed their habits over decades to get to the success where they’re at now so of course they’re going to resist changing it!”
  • Address the ‘why’ for the change
  • Remember: it takes time
  • You can only get so far studying by yourself but a coach helps you get great
  • A study group can be a form of coaching if they are focused and have their intention set for growth and change

Che Ho’s key takeaways:

  • Shu Ha Ri is a way to bring people to the same understanding
  • Be sure to have patience with the change
  • Celebrate the small wins along the way
  • Instead of trying to achieve something, Shu Ha Ri should become an internalization and part of your being


Mentioned in this Episode:

Che Ho's LinkedIn Profile

Agile 2019 Conference

Wing Chun

Shu Ha Ri

Bruce Lee

Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition, by Lyssa Adkins

Alistair Cockburn


Woody Zuill

Agile Coaches’ Corner Ep. 45: “The Benefits of Mob Programming with Chris Lucian”

The Agile Manifesto

County of Santa Clara

Nonviolent Communication (Approach by Marshall Rosenberg)


Che Ho’s Book Picks:

Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication, by Oren Jay Sofer

Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness,
by Rick Hanson Ph.D. and Forrest Hanson

Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology: An Integrative Handbook of the Mind,
by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel M.D.


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