Thursday, 21 May 2015

守破離 (Shu Ha Ri)

A blog such as this, inevitably must deal with the topic of 守破離 Shu Ha Ri because it is a very important concept which is deeply rooted in the Japanese society and the martial arts. In this post, I would like to share with you my views on this sometimes controversial subject.

 (Shu Ha Ri written by the Author, 2014)
Let's begin by taking a look at each of the kanji in the aims of accurately describing the phases or stages in the process of  growth known as "Shu Ha Ri."
Alternate Readings of the Kanji and Interpretations  
Shu (守るMamoru) refers to 'protecting' the way as it has been passed down through the generations. We do this by doing what we are told regardless of whether we are able to recognize if it is right or wrong, at this stage we must simply following orders.
Ha (破るYaburu) refers to the stage where one can begin to think on their own. It is possible, at this stage, to begin to develop personal interpretations of the traditions and in so doing 'break away from' the tradition and begin developing one's own way of doing things.
Ri  (離れるHanareru) refers to 'distancing' oneself from the traditional way. At this stage one begins to do things their "own way."

This concept of growth was first presented by Fuhaku Kawakami Sensei and later became an important concept in the philosophy of Aikido. The following is a definition of the process given by Endo Seishiro. Aikido master Endō Seishirō shihan stated:
"It is known that, when we learn or train in something, we pass through the stages of shu, ha, and ri. These stages are explained as follows. In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebears created. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation. Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be broken and discarded. Finally, in ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws."[1]
 (Quote taken from Wikipedia)
Shu Ha Ri as a Healthy Process of Growth
I feel that the best illustration of this process of growth can be seen in the family unit, although it can also be found in many other facets of our lives. This process can be related to growing from childhood to adulthood in the following ways: It is common knowledge that a new born baby is totally dependant on their parents or care givers. Every child begins their life dependent on the care and guidance of their family. As they grow they begin to develop their own ideas and beliefs, some may even rebel, challenge authority and disagree with rules based on values different than their own, but it is the values, ideals, philosophies, and actions of their parents and other family members early in their lives that deeply affect and help to form their beliefs. This is described in Bronfenbrenner's Eco systemic Approaches to Child Development (1979, 1989) where the "closest level to the child, socialisation within the micro-system is influenced by those who are emotionally and practically closest to the individual" including parents, care givers, and immediate family members. Eventually the child, after growing to adulthood, must move out and live their lives according to the beliefs that they value which have formed over many years as they grew within the family unit. In short they adapt these beliefs to make them their own. Finally, they create their own family and base the values that they will pass on to their children from those they have learnt and adapted along the way.

With this illustration in mind, let's take another look at Shu Ha Ri in the karate-do context.

(High school students practicing Kata at Shuri Castle, Okinawa)
守る Mamoru
The process begins when we first begin our training; 入門 Nyumon The first kanjiNyu or Hairu represents to enter and the second, 門 Mon or Kado represents a Gateway. Together these characters  imply the action of entering the gates of the temple or Hall of learning. In this specific case; (道場入門) Entering or joining a Dojo. This term is also often used to describe the initial action of embarking on the process of learning, 学習 Gaku-shu through joining a private institution such as 私 塾 Shi Juku, Cram School or upon agreement to begin service at a temple or shrine.
When we first embark on this learning process we are almost entirely dependant on our teacher; 先生 Sensei, which literally means 'Born Before' and the lessons they teach us. We trust in our Sensei the way an infant trusts their parents; believing that they are acting in our best interest and that the points delivered through their sometimes unorthodox lessons (ex. Mr. Miyagi's Wax on Wax Off lesson in the Karate kid) will have a positive impact on our future. Furthermore, this is not limited to technical skills. This is also when we begin to learn the philosophies and ethics behind their (our Sensei's) actions. This is also the stage when respect is formed. With this trust and respect for our teacher, we do as we are told and grow accordingly. As we grow we inevitably begin to think of ways that we can perform specific tasks better and in doing so begin to adapt techniques to better suite our environment. When this occurs we begin to approach the next stage of growth.
破る Yaburu
Often translated as tear, but misunderstandings sometimes arise when we try to interpret the use of the word 'tear' further because it is also sometimes represented by the kanji 裂く Saku, this also means to tear, but could also be used to describe severing ties. I don't believe that this is the intended meaning of 破る Yaburu in this context eventhough saku will often also come up when you search yaburu in electronic dictionaries. In this context, Yaburu means bending or even breaking the rules. I have the image of tearing a peice of paper to make it fit a specific size or shape needed to create something. In Arnold Schwarzenegger's famous speech on success he suggested that in order to succeed we must "break the rules, not the law, but the rules." His message, as I interpreted it, is to find ways to make the laws work for us by manipulating the rules in our favour.
This ability to bend, break, and make the rules of something as old and complex as karate-do techniques work in our favour requires an in-depth level of knowledge and ability that most of us will never be able to attain on a large scale. But, we all do this on smaller scales in our training and cometitions when we try to make various 技 Waza, work in our favour, compensating for such differences as height, weight, reach, and flexibility. I am sure we have  all done this before and continue to do this whenever we practice with someone else or compete against another opponent. This is the stage when the karate-do waza that we have practiced as 基本 Kihon begin to become our own.
Rapid growth and development can occur in this stage. However, it is not an 'easy' phase to be in. There is a lot of turmoil and frustration in this stage of growth. This confusion is very evident when things do not go as we had planned, as we struggle between the gap of knowledge and proficiency, much like the teenage years of our lives when we either rebelled or quit trying to figure out some of the things we didn't understand, or didn't think we needed in our lives.  The danger is, if we stop learning at this stage, or discard important kihon in an attempt to advance quicker, severing ties to the traditional way of doing things too soon. If this occurs, the results can be very detrimental. Just as our parents put up with some of the acting out while trying to guide us from a far, so too do our Sensei let us explore, get confused, and frustrated, at this stage for the purpose of overcoming this difficult time in our development, guiding us in subtle ways from a far. As we begin to overcome these difficulties and adapt to the new conditions we find ourselves in we begin to recognize the distance and although is is not comfortable we know that we must live and continue to train in this manner; learning, honoring the tradition, respecting our teachers, and adapting to suit our unique situation at a distance, but still under the watchful eye of our Sensei.
離す Hanasu
Just as we cannot live with our parents forever; the natural progression of growth is to one day start our own family, as mentioned above, there will also be a time when we must move further away from the watchful eye of our Sensei and begin training on our own or begin  building our own dojo. This is the final stage in the process of Shu Ha Ri. When we distance ourselves from our Sensei but take with us the teachings, philosophies and techniques that we have practiced, developed, and adapted along the way. Embarking on a new journey but not splitting off from the 連盟  Renmei, Organization or 流派 Ryuha, or 会派 Kaiha Style just as moving out of the home you grew up in doesn't require severing all ties with your family. This is another part of this process that people often misinterpret. I do not believe that this process was designed for the pure purpose of creating a new Style. It is rather a natural progression based on healthy growth and honoring the ways of the old by adapting them to work given our current circumstances.  As we continue to learn and grow we show our respect to the traditions. As we contemplate the necessary adaptations to coincide with modern conditions we deepen our understanding of the technique and their principles.
There are many examples about how this applies to the Martial Arts and this concept often comes up in discussions regarding splits in various ryuha, kaiha, or renmei.  I like the example of the family provided above because it expresses the 'natural process of growth' that is the central principle of this concept.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Marc Waterfield, for a good explanation of Shu Ha Ri. Can I ask for clarification on what you wrote. "We do this by doing what we are told regardless of whether it is right or wrong." This raises many questions to me. How is obediently complying with something known to be 'wrong' a good thing? Also, is there a degree of 'wrong' at which this obedience is no longer applicable?