Shu-Ha-Ri or Passing of the Torch

When one starts to study a complete martial art at first one learns basic movements through which one is shown fundamental movement principles. This happens in the form of defined movement patterns (forms/kata).

When one has been shown the fundamental movements in addition to movement principles combat principles are introduced. Again: from easy to complex.

This is reflected in the movements. First easy, then complex. Basis for these principles are correct images through which movement principles are imparted and which are expanded upon by combat principles.

These principles have to be used and experienced with a partner of course. In Karate the first step is to teach principles of receiving, punching and kicking. Then principles of grappling and throwing follow.
It is important that the defined movement patterns are taught and studied precisely because they are fundamental for kinetics and basis for everything else.

When one has internalized these movements, that means the body has understood them AND KNOWS the principles then the „level of Shu“ has been accomplished. The next step is to understand the principles – based on learned kinetics – and fill them with life, i.e. to personalize them and „discover them anew“. This happens in the „level of Ha“.

Now we have arrived at the role of the teacher. In the level of Shu close contact to a teacher is essential because one understands the principles and how to move first through his touch and corrections. In the level of Ha contact which is TOO CLOSE is impedimental because one does not want to become the clone of the teacher (and must not!). The teacher is of course still there and corrects some mistakes in movements that inevitably occur but he has to give his student his head so that he may find „his“ Karate.

At this stage exchange with other people that also left the Shu level is important (regardless of their martial art). Some principles just have to be looked at from various angles to understand them for oneself. We say: „Go out and learn, come back and share.“

Teaching at this stage is also helpful (even if one doesn’t feel like a teacher yet). When one has to explain something to a student individually one has to think things through and look at them from different angles. Besides one can „test“ certain applications on the students. The student learns to attack someone with „full force“ and the teacher can learn to handle it. Because the student isn’t as far as other people in the Ha level (that he needs) he can test things in a more relaxed atmosphere, in a „stress-free“ environment.

When one has understood the principles and learned to wear them like a suit on ones „karate body“ the Ha level is left behind. That’s the moment one doesn’t need fixed movement patterns (Kata) anymore for oneself, but practices them regardless to further school the body. That would be the achievement of the Ri level. Here one „feels“ ready to teach own students because one can apply the principles „freely“ and so respond to the students individually.

At this point one has reached the level of ones teacher (reached him while climbing the mountain; read the previous article) and can train together with him, on par with him, whereat the teacher also got better in his physical abilities (e.g. the principle of listening) and will therefore be forever better than oneself.

Through this type of knowledge transfer knowledge cannot be lost because the principles are „discovered anew“ each time. Through the contact to a teacher one also knows when they have been correctly understood and can be applied. The correct! patterns of movement are critical and transmission of the images that are fundamental to them and the transmission of movement and combat principles themselves.

Everyone discovers „his“ martial art through this process and so the fire is passed on and not the ashes (which would be a mere copy of movement patterns).

In former times there was no „one karate“ there was always the „fighting system“ of a specific person based on his knowledge and physical condition and the knowledge he gained from his teachers.

The student can learn new principles and movements at the end of the Ha level and expand his knowledge. To do this he has to go to a different far advanced teacher of the Ri level who can show him other (or advanced) principles and movements. Hence ideally one is inside an infinite loop at the transition from „Ha“ to „Ri“. When one understands some principles and images new ones supervene (from a different teacher) that can be combined with ones own or that advance ones own. Therefore one never stops to learn…