Shu, or Mamoru means to keep, protect, keep or maintain [1].

During the Shu phase, the student builds the technical foundation of the art.

Shu also implies a loyalty or persistence in a single ryu or, in the modern interpretation, a single instructor [2].

In Shu, the student should be working to copy the techniques as taught without modification and without yet attempting to make any effort to understand the rationale of the techniques of the school/teacher [3].

In this way, a lasting technical foundation is built on which the deeper understanding of the art can be based.  

The point of Shu is that a sound technical foundation can be built most efficiently by following only a single route to that goal. Mixing in other schools, prior to an understanding of what you’re really up to is an invitation to go down a wrong path. A path where the techniques developed will not have sound theoretical or practical value. In the traditional interpretation of the Shu stage, it is the instructor that decides when the student moves on from Shu to Ha, not the student.

It’s up to the student to follow the instructor’s teaching as an empty vessel to be filled up [1].



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Ha, is the second stage of the process.

Ha means to detach and means that the student breaks free

from the traditions of the ryu to some extent [2].

In the Ha stage, the student must reflect on the meaning and purpose of everything that s/he has learned and thus come to a deeper understanding of the art than pure repetitive practice can allow.

At this stage, since each technique is thoroughly learned and absorbed into the muscle memory, the student is prepared to reason about the background behind these techniques [3].

In academics, the Ha stage can be likened to the stage where enough basic information is available to the student that research papers of a survey nature could be expected.  




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Ri means to go beyond or transcend.

In this stage, the student is no longer a student in the normal sense, but a practitioner. The practitioner must think originally and develop from background knowledge original thoughts about the art and test them against the reality of his or her background knowledge and conclusions as well as the demands of everyday life.

In the Ri stage, the art truly becomes the practitioner’s own and to some extent his or her own creation. This stage is similar in academia to the Ph.D. or beyond stage.



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[1] Kuroda, Ichitaro, “Shu-Ha-Ri” in Sempo Spring, pp. 9-10, 1994.  [2] McCarthy, Patrick, “The World within Karate & Kinjo Hiroshi” in Journal of Asian Martial Arts, V. 3 No. 2, 1994.  [3] Private conversations with Nakamura, L. Sensei Toronto. Spring, 1994.

Extracts from The Iaido Newsletter, Volume 7, Number 2, #54, Feb. 1995, “Shu Ha Ri” by Ron Fox, MWKF.  Full article can be found at: