2 min read

Shu Ha Ri

Shu Ha Ri

This Japanese martial arts concept comes to mind often.   We all are beginners, learners, and masters of different aspects of our lives.  There is no right or wrong to this....it's just fact.

That master sage Ferris Bueller closes the movie with this quote: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."   I got busy in the last 2 months with life and smelling the roses.   I enjoyed a summer beach vacation, helped move family members to school and apartments, and started a new role at work.  

Starting something new can be a humbling experience.  I'm working in a new system, with a different programming language, different operating system, and new colleagues.   This post is not about the details on that.  The situation simply reminds me of Shu Ha Ri.

I first heard of Shu Ha Ri about 6 years ago as it was mentioned with respect to the Agile methodology.  The concept can be applied to anything though.

What is Shu Ha Ri?  

Borrowed from the wiki page:

Shuhari roughly translates to "to keep, to fall, to break away".

  • shu (守) "protect", "obey"—traditional wisdom—learning fundamentals, techniques, heuristics, proverbs
  • ha (破) "detach", "digress"—breaking with tradition—detachment from the illusions of self
  • ri (離) "leave", "separate"—transcendence—there are no techniques or proverbs, all moves are natural, becoming one with spirit alone without clinging to forms; transcending the physical

Martin Flower writes:

The idea is that a person passes through three stages of gaining knowledge:

  • Shu: In this beginning stage students follow the teachings of one master precisely. They concentrate on how to do the task, without worrying too much about the underlying theory. If there are multiple variations on how to do the task, they concentrate on just the one way their master teaches them.
  • Ha: At this point students begin to branch out. With the basic practices working they now start to learn the underlying principles and theory behind the technique. They also start learning from other masters and integrates that learning into his practice.
  • Ri: Now the students aren't learning from other people, but from their own practice. They create their own approaches and adapts what they've learned to their own particular circumstances.

My Acceptance

We can all think of aspects of our lives where we were in one of these phases.  I personally enjoy being in Ri the most and for a long time in my job, I was in that phase.  It's nice to be "the guru", but it has its own brand of challenges.  For example, when you are considered the master, then the toughest challenges come your way.  At times, things can feel monotonous.

So to me, it's important to get into other things.  Learn.  Be the new person.  Be in Shu again.   Feel that discomfort.  Embrace the suck (as the Navy Seals say).  Ask a million questions of the folks in Ha and Ri.   Enjoy the process.  And through it all, remind yourself that it's okay to be new at something.   Such is life.

And when you advance to Ha and Ri again, find another Shu.

Bueller quote 2

The question isn't 'what are we going to do', the question is 'what aren't we going to do?'