Shuhari: The Japanese Martial Art Stages of Learning

Shuhari: The Japanese Martial Art Stages of Learning

Throughout history, the Japanese have been the source of a variety of different cultures and schools of thought. Today, it is easy to see their influence as important knowledge and wisdom courses through most of what they do. Whether it be in their leadership, home life, or battle strategy, they always seem to have deep wisdom infused with their practice. One practice that has carried throughout the ages is there many different forms of martial arts. As each different school of martial art has its own different technique, they also come with their own unique lessons. 

The Shuhari was one of those lessons. It was founded by Fuhaku Kawakami as part of the Tao teachings under a different name. It wasn’t until Zeami Motokiyob introduces this method into his practice of Noh that it took full shape as Shuhari. These teachings later went on to inspire the practice of Aikido, a peaceful martial art made to prevent the injury of both defender and attacker.

Shuhari, while used in martial arts, is actually a staged method of learning. It can be used for so much more than just learning any specific kind of fighting. Here we are going to learn the three stages of Shuhari and where we might stand in each. 

Shu (守)—Obey

There is no negative connotation in obeying. This just means that we follow the rules. That is all we can do in the early stages of learning. In order to be creative, you must first know the basics. In Shu, you are learning the basics. This is the stage that you learn the rules and guidelines that come with a particular practice or trade. We follow standard procedures because all we know is standard procedure. 

This is the stage when we are usually dependent on another source for our growth. We may have a teacher that guides us through specific lessons. We may be learning from the wisdom of books and art. Whatever it may be, we are dependent on these sources of information. This is completely fine. The automobile could not have been invented without already knowing how to use the wheel or build an engine.

If you ever find yourself angry that you are working in a job rather than pursuing your own passion, ask yourself this: what is this job teaching me? It is not always a bad thing to have a job, especially when that job is teaching you valuable fundamentals towards your ultimate passions. You may even have a specific mentor in that job that teaches you great lessons, too. The only problem would be if you are in a job that doesn’t benefit you in any way towards your ultimate end game. 

Ha (破)—Detach

In Ha, you begin to separate yourself from the traditional teachings you have been learning. While you may still be learning by a particular source, you now have enough information to become creative. As they say, you know just enough to be dangerous. 

You are not completely done with your training though. You are not really considered a master, but you start to understand your place in this field of knowledge. You start to see where your expertise may be best suited. You start to understand where your own personal talents and these lessons may become one.

You may also begin to branch out into other fields of knowledge that may be complementary to your own. You may begin to see connections with the world and all else around you. These connections may take you on different routes of knowledge in an effort to make sense of these connections.

While you are beginning to branch out your base of knowledge, it is important to remember not to spread yourself too thin. While it may be enticing to fully dive into a totally new practice or method, you still need to understand that you have not fully mastered the one that you are already in. Definitely take note and remember different fields of interest. You may even dive into them a little bit just to broaden your horizons. Just remember that you need to build a more solid structure in your base before you will begin to branch out too heavily. It may result in more confusion as you try to juggle so much information at once. A tall building without a solid base will crumble.

Ri (離)—Separate

Ri brings you past mastery. Before this stage, you master all parts of your trade. You are extremely skilled and knowledgeable in your particular practice, and everything you do it’s still centered around that structure.

However, in the stage of Ri, you have gone beyond the structure that you created. You are so well-versed in your particular practice, that you no longer need to refer back to its structure to move forward. You now fully separate your self from the structure that you have grown using and are now beginning to create a structure of your own. 

 This is the stage in which true innovation and unique deviation occur. While your fundamentals may be rooted in one particular way of thinking, your detachment from those fundamentals carries you into something completely new. You trust your self to create your own understanding of the world and what you seek. You trust your understanding of the knowledge that you have gained throughout the past and your ability to decipher it into the truth. 


This is the most radical change throughout this process. The truth. In the beginning, you seek out to learn the basics and incorporate fundamentals into your understanding and practice of life.  At the end of this process, you no longer seek to understand more fundamentals. You now seek to understand the truth. That truth may be different to all those who seek it, and that is why it must be done on your own. Just like how this method may come from Japanese martial art, it can be used in a variety of different settings. The knowledge you have accumulated has its reach into more than just its respective field. We must take the fundamentals that we have spent so much time learning and use them to find our own truth.

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