Kenshi Journal

kendo musings

Shu, Ha, Ri ( 守破離) ~Follow, break, leave

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Shu, Ha, Ri ( 守破離) ~Follow, break, leave

The essence of Shu Ha Ri is, in the beginning, one focuses on learning the basics through imitation (Shu), next, the focus shifts to understanding principles, philosophy, meaning, and applying that to oneself (Ha), focus finally shifts to self-directed teaching and innovation (Ri).

Shu refers to the stage of the beginner. This is the stage where everything is new to the incoming student. He is bombarded with large amounts of new information and may feel overwhelmed by it all. At this stage, the would-be practitioner must discard all that they believe they know. Most beginners think they know a great deal already about what is kendo is. They have watched many instructional videos, read books, visited you-tube daily, and have even bought a shinai and perhaps swung it around in the backyards. But in truth, they are bringing nothing of use to the dojo when they do this. In the Shu stage, one should be a blank slate, ready to absorb all that the teacher is giving. Instruction is mainly demonstration with the expectation that one will attempt to duplicate what was shown. Duplication of what the sensei does is the essence of the Shu stage. It is a vital stage, for it is now that kihon or fundamentals will be learned. This is when the muscles will remember from those endless repetitions that you think the sensei is not paying attention to. It is not the time or place to elaborate on your theories of how this or that waza could be improved. These wazas have survived because they worked in order to save a swordsman life at one point. The fact that he was alive to teach is was proof of its efficiency. I would venture to say the teaching method adopted in this stage of practice has its root in the apprenticeship.

The Ha stage begins to take form when the budoka has spent at least a decade of serious practice. At this point, the basics should have been learned and the muscles will have formed the necessary memory connections. If the instructor is a good one, along the way she would have begun to transfer more than just the bare essence of physical instruction. Instruction with your teacher is still necessary as she continues to provide the example for your progress, but the kata/waza starts to become your own. As such, one may start to look carefully at the timing and rhythm of the kata, or begin to think about the real concerns of distancing. More important, some of your identity may begin to surface in your budo. Slight adjustments may start to be made to fit the kata/waza to your speed or strengths as you begin to internalize the kata. For most budoka this is the hardest stage. The beginning was full of excitement, a new technique was always waiting in the next trip to the dojo. And once you showed the sensei you had a grasp of this new waza, maybe she would teach you another. Thus, the motivation to continue was high. Practice is rather different as one progress through the long path of the Ha stage. The introduction of new katas are technique are rare, indeed the instructor may not acknowledge you for some time, occasionally stopping you mid kata to correct the smallest detail that you are still wondering how he noticed. This is when your kendo begins to assume a personality. This is where the balance of the individual character and the teachings of the sensei is hard to maintain. With the kihon understood, one now starts to learn the underlying principles and theory behind the technique. Now more than ever it is important to start to delve into the deeper meaning of the movements and techniques under the continued guidance of a teacher. The student might start to branch out and seek instruction from others and incorporate this into his budo.

The Ri stage is when one leaves the umbrella of their instructor behind, but also realizes the spiral staircase of keiko leads back to the self-directed refinement of the basics, as one has learned that the true mastery lies in the mastery of those core teachings.

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