The “Thought Provoking Process.” Leo Stories Part 3: (AKA “Go ask Grandma.”)

Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje used to tell us some interesting stories about his training under his grandfather, Conrado Tortal. Several of these were about Conrado’s teaching methods.

One of these stories that I found the most interesting was about the “Thought Provoking Process.” This was a somewhat Socratic method of teaching, in that a student was asked a question about a subject, rather than being given the answer from the start.

It began like this:

“Grandpa, what is this thing?” asked young Leo, holding up an object (for example, a knife).

“I don’t recall the name of that thing, Leo.” replied Conrado. “What does it do?”

“Well, you can cut rope with it” said Leo.

“Hmmm, I’m still not sure of the name. Go ask your grandmother.”

And Leo would go find his grandmother.

“Grandma, what is this?

“I don’t recall the name of that thing, Leo.” replied his grandmother. “What does it do?”

“You can cut rope with it” said Leo.

“Oh, I still can’t remember the name. What else can it do?”

“Well, you can cut vegetables with it.”

“Oh, you are a smart boy,” replied his grandmother. “But I still can’t remember its name. Go ask First Uncle.”

“First Uncle, what is this?”

“I don’t recall the name of that thing, Leo.” replied his 1st uncle. “What does it do?”

“It cuts rope and cuts vegetables.”

“Oh you are a very smart boy, but I still don’t remember. What else can it do?”

“It can carve wood.”

“Oh, you are a smart boy,” replied his uncle. “But I still can’t remember its name. Go ask 1st Aunt.”

And so young Leo would go from one relative to another, asking the same question and being asked to list all the things that the object could do.

This would go on through his older relatives until they saw that he had struggled enough for his age and they would give him the name. But the lesson would not end there.

“Oh you smart boy. I remember the name now. That is called a ‘knife.’ Now go back through all the people you asked for help and tell them that it is called a knife and all the things a knife can do.”

And young Leo would proudly go back through all his relatives and tell them all he had learned about this object and how it worked.

Tuhon Gaje explained to us the reasoning behind this teaching method.

Instead of giving the name when first asked, his grandfather would make him analyze the problem. As he made his way through his relatives asking for the name, he would have to repeat all the information he had learned along the way and try to come up with a new piece of information for each new person he asked.

This whole process was an exercise in logical reasoning, using repetition at each stage: first up and and then back down the chain of relatives as a mnemonic device to help remember each new bit of info. By the time he had gotten to the last relative, that name had become the holy grail for that day and Leo really, really wanted that name and therefore, once he had it, he would never forget it.

This method is comprised of:

  1. Analysis. “What else does it do?’
  2. Perseverance. “Go ask 4th Aunt. Go ask 1st cousin. Go ask 7th cousin.”
  3. Praise and Reward. “Oh you smart boy. I remember now. It’s a knife!”
  4. Repetition. “Now go tell all the people who helped you with the name you learned and repeat what it does.”


Train Hard, but Train Smart.

Tuhon Bill McGrath

PS. You can read part 1 of this series at:

Part 2:

For more on the Socratic Method visit:

For info on the painting that heads this post visit:

For info on upcoming classes, seminars and camps, visit: