The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Learning Process in Japanese Martial Arts

Over at the Classical Budoka, there is an excellent article on the learning process in Japanese Martial Arts, embodied in the phrase "Shu, Ha, Ri." Below is an excerpt. The full article may be read here.

Sooner or later, the practitioner of nearly any kind of Japanese budo (martial Ways) will hear the term “shu, ha, ri.” It is a way to describe the learning process of a traditional art or craft.

The concept, on one level, is really quite simple. On another level, it can be very deep. I had been taught and read about “shu, ha, ri” by the time I was studying under the late Ohmori Masao, my Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu iai sensei, in Kyoto. I was about to return to my native Hawaii after an extended stay in Japan. He was teaching me a new kata, explained its technical theories, and then told me that I should understand what “shu, ha, ri” was all about. He started to explain the meaning. Then he stopped.

“For the rest,” he smiled, “jibun de kenkyuu shinasai. You need to study the implications on your own.”

That, by itself, was an example of “shu, ha, ri.”

So what does it all mean?

Shu, ha, ri is a description of the way one should learn a traditional art, be it tea ceremony, origami (paper folding) or budo. Literally translated, the characters mean: protect, separate and understand. In other words, first protect and treasure what you have learned from your teacher, then separate yourself from your teacher’s instructions, and thereby, finally, reach your own understanding of the concepts.

Some people adopt a superficial understanding of the “ha” to mean a complete break with one’s teacher or training, and thus too many people with too little talent point to this concept as a reason why they come out with their “own” style of martial arts, the better to market their own unique punch-kick exercise system after two years’ worth of studying at a strip mall dojo. On the other hand, too many students never go beyond maintaining what they learned from their teacher even after their teacher’s retirement or passing, and are stuck in the “shu” level of simply maintaining, not excelling or attempting to go beyond what they learned from their teacher. They become stunted in their growth.

Shu, ha, ri, attempts to describe a traditional learning process, in which the end result is a new generation of “masters,” steeped in the tradition, but able to think and teach on his/her own, bringing new insight to the art. It is not really meant to justify new “styles” by people with minimum talents but maximum egos, nor is it meant to cast a teacher’s instructions in concrete, never to be violated by future changes.

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