Shu Ha Ri – How We Learn

Teaching and learning in traditional martial arts is divided in three phases: Shu (obey), Ha (detach) and Ri (leave). Over the years of studying the art, a student moves through those phases until she finds her own way. Don’t try to hasten to Ri too quickly, it takes decades. Trying to find shortcuts will distract and confuse rather than help the progress.

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Shu – This is the phase that every student in every martial art starts with. The purpose is to exactly follow the teacher’s instruction and precisely copy her. During this phase the body will learn the movements and subconsciously get a ‘feel’ for the principles at play.

Ha – After years of practice a student will more deeply understand the principles that are lying behind a martial art and its techniques. She will understand what’s critical for the art and what’s just an expression of style from different teachers. The student will start to learn what interpretation and variation will work best for her body. This is the time when students start to experiment with the art and slowly and carefully go beyond the boundaries of what they are presented with in class.

Ri – After decades of practice, the student’s body will have learned the principles of the movements. It will have become a natural part of her body. The student will have discovered what works best within the special abilities and constraints of her body as well as what works best for others that she teaches. It is now time to find her own interpretation, to develop the art further and contribute to keeping it adapting and alive. The student will leave the teacher to find her own way, although she will never lose the connection to her roots or her teacher. Even in Ri a student is not finished learning. She will seek out other masters and other arts to broaden her understanding and bring new ideas back to her art.