Shu Ha Ri, a question of Mutual Respect

A personal view on the concept of Shu Ha Ri

Keep, break and leave

As a westerner, am I to understand “Shu Ha RI”? If we simply read the words “keep, break and leave”, it gives a sense of “no respect” to your teacher. Of course, in the history of martial arts, there are numerous examples of the breakup of the founder after an argument, mostly a “money” argument.

However, there are many examples of leaving the teacher after he has given permission to leave. The teacher understood very well that the disciple needed a certain freedom to grow as a person practising martial arts. The teacher trusts the disciple, and the teacher knows that the legacy is safe in the hands of the latter.

When Kenji Tomiki became an 8th Dan by Morihei Ueshiba, this was a sign of confidence and also an indication of liberty permission. Of course, there are also signs of political motives as far as relations between Tomiki and Ueshiba are concerned. This topic is not central to this article and will not be expanded.

The idea of leaving is a mutual decision between the master and the disciple, and depends entirely on the understanding of the concept of “keeping and breaking”.

Keep and break

As a matter of fact, the concepts of “keep and break” are very simple. On the other hand very difficult to understand by a western person. There is a famous quotation by Morihei Ueshiba and for him the Westerners are “yes, but people”. If he really made that quote, I don’t know, but it’s going around in martial arts circles.

During the “Keep” relationship with our teacher, we learn from the teacher’s experience and we may ask questions about something we do not understand. Of course, we never criticize the teacher. We learn the basic elements of our martial art.

Depending on the time we practice and study, our understanding goes in the direction of “Break”, and this can lead to a very difficult situation. This is a period of your formation where you can see that truth has different aspects. You always learn from your teacher, but you can add personal insights into your training. Your teacher acknowledges this and sometimes will give you some advice.

The two, teacher and disciple, are still interacting positively during the breaking period. Otherwise, the outer world will see disagreements and this can have a negative effect on the functioning of the martial art school.

Randori, 3 types of practising

The relationship between the 3 kinds of randori and Shu Ha Ri may not be obvious. But they certainly have something in common.

  • Kakari geiko – Shu
  • Hikitate geiko – Ha
  • Randori geiko – Ri

In kakari geiko, the roles of attacking and defending are determined. We can talk about teachers/attackers and students/defendants. Sure, there is some freedom in timing and distance.

During hikitate geiko, the attacker has the freedom to interact during the actions of the defendant. There is still the role of teachers/attackers and students/defendants.

Randori geiko is not a shiai, not to win medals. Randori geiko is a process for the physical discussion of the art of fighting. Both practitioners recognize the equality of the two.

The Shiai Paradigm

Shiai should reflect the power and beauty of martial art during a public performance. Spectators must be attracted by the skills of the competitors and not by their brutal and aggressive nature.

It is true that in the shiai there is a certain rivalry, but also the respect of the adversary. When we figure that out, winning a medal is no longer important. The most outstanding performance you can offer is your reward. Whatever you know may be used depending on the circumstances. When you become obsessed with earning medals, your approach will be inflexible from a living human perspective. Respect for other people’s lives and ideas is more precious than winning medals.

The role of the teacher and student is an important factor when approaching the competition. In particular the role of the teacher is significant in the education of the martial art career of the student. The teacher’s respect and attitude toward the student without a medal should be positive.

How to improve someone’s skills comes in the first place.

The Kata & Randori Dilemma

“A kata is not fixed or immoveable. Like water, it’s ever changing and fits itself to the shape of the vessel containing it. However, kata are not some kind of beautiful competitive dance, but a grand martial art of self-defence – which determines life and death”….Kenwa Mabuni….Okinawa

Some martial arts instructors believe that they execute “kata or formal exercises” in the same way as the founder of their system. If you understand something about “Shu Ha Ri”, then you know that’s a little beside the truth.

The development in kata is already discussed in another blog post on katachi and kata. Kata and randori are 2 sides of a coin, but there is a 3rd part of a coin: kata and randori and….

In martial arts, we see the evolution of basic body movements to katachi and further to kata. Again, the term “Shu Ha RI” is like that.

Once you find the freedom of Kata, the application will go smoothly to randori. There will be no difference between kata and randori.

Of course, if you stick too much to Shu Ha RI without understanding the real meaning, you will be locked up into fixed forms without flexibility of mind and body. You will never find the liberty of Kata and Randori, which is the true dilemma of martial arts.

Tomiki Aikido: Past and Future

In her book “Past and Future”, she attempts to explain the real values of Aikido as a martial art with a message. There are no techniques explained, but the value of the book is at a much higher level: How to practice Aikido!

More books on Tomiki Aikido

Published by

Eddy Wolput

A passion for Martial Arts since 1964

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