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Joined: 13 Feb 2003
Posts: 6154
Location: Upstate NY
Styles: TKD;Shotokan;JuJitsu;Tai Ji

PostPosted: Thu Sep 04, 2014 5:45 pm    Post subject: Shu-Ha-Ri: The Evolution of a Style Reply with quote

A few years ago, I was at a crossroads, torn between loyalty to a system and the desire to share my own knowledge of martial arts with my students, struggling with the decision to strike out on my own or stay connected to an established network. Having spent many years studying various systems I joined with this particular group, because their style was most like my main style of interest, and I was given the opportunity to retain my rank as I learned their format while I opened an associate school.

I gave them several years of loyalty, taught my students their "system" and supported the association's activities without question - all the while under the constraint of not teaching my students anything else but "approved curriculum." Finally, the internal conflict caused me to contemplate jumping ship. But the loyalty issue muddied the waters, and I worried about losing friendships and professional alliances, sending the wrong message to students, etc. My search for answers led me into an emotional conversation with a martial artist from my past who, after listening to my story, reminded me of something from my past training that I had not considered, remembered, nor fully understood - and it immediately answered all the questions I had been asking myself: Shu Ha Ri.

Shu Ha Ri is a concept with many layers and interpretations, so I will be as general as possible in my explanation and leave the ifs, ands and buts for another time. It is a method of learning - of obtaining mastery - that is woven into Japanese martial culture and thus inherent in many martial styles that share this cultural base. It begins when the student first starts their training and continues throughout their lifetime, changing and adapting to the context and circumstance of the practitioner but always based in tradition and fundamentals.

Shu: The first stage of learning where the student practices kata/basics exactly as taught - absorbing technique through repetition, without deviation or question. He/she learns to "hold" that which has been passed on to them and develops loyalty to their ancestors and their ways. This stage is all about tradition and develops discipline and a sense of loyalty.

Ha: I define this as the "guided discovery" phase where the student is allowed make their own conclusions about kata and application through pre-selected context and a period of trial and error that allows for the adaptation of technique based on the personal style. The student makes the kata/techniques their own and discards combinations or contexts that do not "fit" but are still held accountable to the system. This phase eventually leads to the student becoming competent - within the rules and selected context - and finally proficient as they begin to use kata/technique intuitively. Finally, new context begins to emerge and they "break" from tradition but do not stray far.

Ri: This is the stage where the student begins to depart from kata and the doors to creativity began to open. The "how" rather than the "why" dominates and new kata begin to emerge. Eventually, it's time to leave the nest and accept what their heart and mind desires - to transcend into a new beginning. The circle completes and they now have our own traditions that they pass on to their own students as Shu begins again.

Shu is within Ha; Shu and Ha are within Ri. It all made sense! In that one moment I realized that the answer was here all along! I was evolving, and my heart already knew what it had to do even if my mind was not yet on board. I realized that my friend was telling me that I needed to return to my roots/traditions and embrace "ri"! I needed to let go and let my martial arts evolve according to plan and stop worrying about other things - train and the answer will come. I returned to my training with a new perspective, reconnected with the roots of my training (judo, Tang Soo Do, tae kwon do, karate, Arnis and jujitsu) and soon the muddy waters began to clear.

I began to realize that I was blessed to have many traditions to draw upon and many kata began to appear - all of which seemed to follow the same format: Shu - a base of technique/kata, Ha - the addition of guided context and student discovery, and Ri - live application and creative response. I went with it and eventually the decision to break away now seemed minor in the grand scheme of things It came and went with little commotion on my end (I received the blessings of all my past instructors with the exception of the current, of course). The evolution of a style began and continues through Shu Ha Ri!
"A Black Belt is only the beginning."
Heidi-A student of the arts
Tae Kwon Do,Shotokan,Ju Jitsu,Modern Arnis
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KF Administrator

Joined: 01 May 2001
Posts: 27145
Location: Los Angeles, California

PostPosted: Thu Sep 04, 2014 5:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for the submission, Heidi.

Patrick O'Keefe - Administrator
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KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 23 Feb 2008
Posts: 14611
Location: Houston, TX
Styles: Shindokan Saitou-ryu [Shuri-te/Okinawa-te based]

PostPosted: Thu Sep 04, 2014 7:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A very well written article, Heidi; you hit the important aspects of Shu Ha Ri. Not all MA who compassionately are taught Shu Ha Ri really get to the core of it, but, I feel that you hit the nail dead on its head. Not to technically involved but enough so that the concept is understood!!

**Proof is on the floor!!!
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KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 31 Mar 2006
Posts: 27927
Location: Hays, KS
Styles: Taekwondo, Combat Hapkido, Aikido, GRACIE

PostPosted: Fri Sep 05, 2014 4:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for sharing this with us, Heidi. I imagine that many Marital Artists find themselves in this situation during their journeys, and grapple with the choices at hand. I commend you for sharing this integral part of your journey with us! Thank you!
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