The Concept of Shuhari
Shuhari (守破離), I believe is firstly the heuristic study or learning of Aikido fundamentals which then segues to experimentation and true application which finally allows us to attain a higher understanding of the art – in short; to learn, to understand and demonstrate, and to transcend. Clearly, shuhari is part of, not only Aikido culture, but built into the fabric of Japanese budo.
1. Shu (守) _ is to protect, obey and learn the fundamentals of the art. This also includes following traditional teachings that have been passed down from teacher to student. Protecting the basic principles of Aikido is paramount. If the foundations of Aikido are forsaken then so too will Aikido’s history be lost. During the “shu” stage of study, a student should follow the teachings of his or her teacher or teachers without question. The student should not attempt to dissect and query every point taught but should absorb the knowledge being imparted – he or she has not yet achieved the skills to perform natural techniques. I believe that learning an art such as Aikido takes dedication and the ability to learn heuristically.
2. Ha (破?) – is, I believe, the step of being able to experiment will the knowledge gained through “Shu”. The student should have the skills to perform techniques demonstrating the principles he or she as learned. Indeed, the student is free to digress from a formal study style and experience a full range of different techniques. His or her understanding and ability of basic or Ki-hon waza has reached a milestone as the methodology of Aikido finally becomes clear in the mind of the student.
3. Ri (離?) – to reach an ultimate goal, to transcend to where the body and the mind are one. The student literally lives and breathes Aikido. The student’s movements are natural – many years of study have conditioned the body and the mind. He or she no longer needs to cling to basic forms; they are free to experience or transcend to full physical and mental awareness. In a sense their abilities becoming one with the spirit of Aikido. Some may say that when a student reaches the “Ri” stage in the study of Aikido, that he or she is free to separate and create techniques within the rules or laws of Aikido – create completely unhindered.
It is clear that shuhari is an important concept for the study, and the ultimate understanding, of Aikido. It is not something that is taught but something that is experienced. I’m sure if students of Aikido had a clear understanding of what the concept of shuhari is, their abilities and skills in the art would improve dramatically. Shuhari also teaches us patience and gives us a philosophy to live and practice by. I also believe this concept could be applied to the study of other Japanese cultural traditions. Shuhari is a concept not really understood by Aikidoka in western countries; perhaps it is something that should be explained in order to bring a better understanding of Aikido – its direction and its methodology.
Since researching this topic I have come to understand Shodokan Aikido so much more. I also realize that I, like many others, are still in the “Shu” phase of my training and that I have many years of practice and study before I segue to the next level of “Ha”. Understanding the Japanese concept of shuhari has given me motivation to train harder, a sense of purpose and a desire to learn more. It is clear that Tomiki shihan formulated Shodokan Aikido based on shuhari which is probably why this style of Aikido continues to grow around the world. Finally, it is my wish to share the concept of shuhari with many Aikidoka and help them achieve the goals they strive for in Shodokan Aikido. It is also interesting to note that shuhari is a concept also practiced in Shorinji Kempo.