Shuhari: Follow, Break, Transcend–A Guide to Mastery

Shuhari: Follow, Break, Transcend–A Guide to Mastery

shuhari

We’ve all heard that practice makes perfect, but maybe it’s a little more than that–or a little less.

The way to excellence is to learn the rules and then toss them, letting our inner creative compass guide us.

This is the lesson of Shuhari–the martial arts concept that describes the stages of learning toward mastery. To understand the full meaning of Shuhari, we must look at its three components: Shu, Ha, and Ri.

 

Shu: This is the first stage of learning in which you must learn all the rules. You must come to know them by heart, so much so, that they are internalized into second nature. They become so ingrained that the movements are mere muscle memory.

Ha: This step involves breaking the rules which you have become so familiar with, not just thoughtlessly, but with a focus on self-reflection. This is the search for your individual potential and goals, asking yourself which techniques are the best fit. In which areas do you as an individual excel? This stage is about innovation and customizing the rules to fit you.

Ri: This final stage happens more subconsciously, as the other steps have been internalized. It is “form without being conscious of form.”

It is the intuitive expression of technique, creating through inspiration instead of guidance.

Once you have been given the proper tools and know how to use them and have searched within yourself to find your own, you then transcend–becoming the only tool necessary.

The concept of Shuhari can be applied to business, art, theater, poetry, web design, etc. To see it more clearly, we will look at Shuhari applied to the art of figure drawing (drawing the human body):

To draw the human body, you would first need to become entirely familiar with both the body and with the act of drawing–learning, for example, exactly how to draw an arm, practicing it over and over and over. Then doing this with each part, with precision of your tool (pencil, charcoal) knowing exactly how to wield them to get the look you desire. This is Shu.

Then once you’ve reached the point in which you are able to successfully depict a person in their physical likeness, you must then break from these rules you’ve learned (Ha), trying different drawing techniques—(mis)using your tool, using an entirely different tool, drawing quickly, using your fingers to smudge, etc. So that with experimentation you progressively move in to Ri, in which your instincts guide you. So that you would not only be able to use the foundation of the basic rules that have become instilled in you to draw a person, but also able to pick from a variety of methods which feel most natural and inspiring. Then moving and acting not from a feeling of what has been learned, but by an internal guide of inspiration, so that you end up conveying not just the human body, but a person, and their essence, and within that, as an expression of yourself, the artist.

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So let us, in this time of the rise of the creative mind and individual expression, apply Shuhari to our work, our art and ourselves–forever becoming closer to pure inner inspiration and mastery.

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