I read an article recently where several self-defense instructors were exploring how to teach an intangible thing that their students need. They proceeded to discuss that how to teach the lesson really requires the teacher to know what it is that they are teaching. Finally, they concluded that what they are teaching is only important if you know why the students need it. The progression was “How?” to “What?” to “Why?”
This train of thought bears a striking similarity to the budo concept of shu, ha, ri. Shu means to protect or obey, ha means to detach or digress, and ri means to leave or separate. The stages of shuhari represent the learning of form, the breaking of form, and finally the transcendence of form. These stages of budo learning are the answers to how, what, and why.
A student asks, “How do I do karate?” Well, you punch like this, move this way, do this kata… “Wait a minute, what is karate anyway?” It’s a way to physically prevail by using physics to your advantage. You are now free to explore different ways to define “how” you do that personally. You can make karate your own. “But wait, why do I want to know karate in the first place?” To win competitions, to become a better person, to defend yourself in an emergency… When you know the answer to “why,” your answers to “how” and “what” transcend the forms that you once knew. Your karate manifests in limitless shapes and movements. You progress from making karate your own to making your own karate.
The weird thing is… the process seems backwards. Shouldn’t we define our goals, then define what strategy will achieve those goals, then decide how we will fulfill that strategy? I think the reason we have shuhari instead of rihashu is to build on the knowledge of previous generations. Instead of wasting time on trial and error, we find a master or teacher or guru and copy what they do to get a head start. The dynamic is similar to the master-apprentice relationship in crafts like pottery and metalworking. If you want to win championships, find someone who trains champions. If you want to get into shape, find the instructor that stays in shape. The tough question here is, “Who is a master of self-defense when physical encounters are so rare, and every student and every situation is different?”
Submitted by: Matthew Baran, Sandan