Shu Ha Ri - The Process of Mastery

Shu Ha Ri is a universal principle that can be applied to all disciplines.  The principle describes the natural order in which mastery is attained, given that enough effort, time and deliberate practice has been applied.  This principle, being universal, is a naturally occurring process that is supplemented by the notion that the journey is more significant than the destination.  However, possessing an awareness of it, makes one an even more powerful practitioner in their chosen field. 

The principle is of particular significance to me.  I was ultimately disadvantaged by my ignorance of this principle when I achieved my black belt in Shitō-ryū Karate.  I felt that I had reached my destination in my pursuit of Martial Arts and set it aside for more “important” life undertakings. Had I known what I know now, I would have continued my training and incorporated the expansion of my martial knowledge as an integral part of my life.  There is little benefit to regret and having started training once again, I look at my experience as part of my life’s journey to grow and thrive as an individual.

So, what is mastery and can mastery actually be attained?  Let's take a deeper look into the process of pursuing mastery and hopefully answer these questions.


Shu Ha Ri


The Principle

 Shu Ha Ri consists of 3 distinct phases:

  • Follow the Rules
    The Foundational phase where one learns and becomes proficient through instruction. Here you should try to achieve perfect technique, develop the correct body mechanics and learn the curriculum.

  • Break the Rules 
    The Understanding phase is where one breaks away from codified learning and adopts what is most suitable for one's self.  Through enhanced understanding and attaining efficiency in movement, build your skill uniquely and practically. Discard what is of no need to you and keep what works for you. 
  • Make the Rules 
    The Mastery phase where one transcends the codified learning of the Martial Art. Once you have adopted the Martial Art for your unique requirements and you are able to apply it and call upon it autonomously, you can then create and add to your repertoire to build upon your Martial Art.  You evolve and transcend as a Martial Artist.


Mastery by Bruce Lee




One of the most important things to consider is that the phases cannot be skipped. You must go through the entire process to achieve mastery in your chosen art or discipline. The Foundational phase is important as it is the basis on what you ultimately decide what works for you.

Like everything, this principle is cyclical and as you grow, evolve, adapt and age, you will find yourself undergoing many cycles of this process.  It will be inevitable that you revisit the foundation so that you can adjust it to your current situation and continue the process of mastery.

Cycle of Mastery


The Power of Shu Ha Ri

Many think of Shu Ha Ri primarily in the physical domain, however the physical is just a manifestation of this process.  The real power behind this principle is when the experience is internal, within the Mind and Spirit.  The individual starts by being shackled to a set of codified learnings. After enough understanding and knowledge, the individual undergoes a transformation by discarding the unnecessary and honing-in on what is useful.  The individual thereafter transcends the basic learning process and becomes free.  Finally, with the new found freedom, the individual is able to tap into their own creativity to produce new forms of expression of the Martial Art.

This has been beautifully summed up by the great Bruce Lee who I am sure had applied this to the creation of his own martial way - Jeet Kune Do

"Research your own experience. 

Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is uniquely your own."

If you have ever wondered why these martial forms have been referred to as art, this is the process that every great artist embarks on to create impressionable, thought-provoking and unique pieces of art.

Shu Ha Ri highlights the process of pursuing mastery and helps us understand that true mastery can never be attained.  Therefore, we should constantly strive to improve ourselves and our discipline because there is nothing wrong in getting inhumanly close.


More on Martial Arts

Saturday, 04 December 2021 10:49

A modern Martial Art that focuses on the cultivation of the inner aspects of the human being. Aikido is a martial way that seeks to strengthen and unite the internal and external aspects of the...

Wednesday, 01 December 2021 14:08

Kalaripayattu is an ancient Martial Art that originated in Kerala, India. It is thought to be the oldest Martial Art in the world and the predecessor of all Martial Arts. The Martial Art is...

Thursday, 07 October 2021 16:59

There are so many benefits of travel. You broaden your mind by learning about other cultures, acquire new life experiences and discover new things and places. Imagine combining this with some...