Loosely translated it means
Shu - Study the form,
Ha - Break the form,
Ri - Reinvent the form.
It's meant to describe in three kanji characters our entire journey through the martial arts, though it works somewhat at the micro level as well. Like the learning of music through scales, the artist progresses to spontaneous improvisation.
Shu - Study the form
The form is usually the syllabus of the school you are in. For aikidoka its all of our kata based techniques and weapons kata as well, the grading syllabus is a cut down version of this. Within Aikido Yuishinkai by about brown belt the forms are being phased out and freestyle application of the forms is being examined. This freestyle though is still part of the form, but at a higher level. By Shodan a student is expected to be able to perform the forms (techniques) of aikido. At this stage the student has become formally a beginner in the art of aikido. Unfortunately many don't progress from the 'Shu' stage, and become stuck and trapped in technique, including instructors, thus ultimately limiting their development.
Ha - Break the form
This is the stage of development where the student needs to begin to understand the forms that are being learnt. At around this point they may discover that aikido techniques don't work, are way harder than ever imagine and have to begin the journey to relearn them. For all of these reasons many students leave the art, maybe dissatisfied. Instead though 'Ha' is an invitation to go beyond the form, it must be dissected to bring about understanding of its purpose and finer points. Dissecting, a term I like better than breaking. Dissection may mean Bunkai (application of kata), exploring aspects of the kata such as distancing and timing in relation to uke, its relationship to sword and staff, adoption of abstract concepts like Ki, biomechanics, relationship with uke, defining aiki and many more. With the dissection complete (is it ever really so) it can now be discarded.
Ri - Discard the form, Reinvent the form
At this stage of development many think it means no art, no form or the creation of a new art. Its somewhat true, in fact aikido itself is the reinvention of its parent arts and the individual schools of aikido are the reinvention of the founder 's aikido. However for the vast majority of practicioners this is the stage where the 'Ha' understanding is reintegrated back into the forms of the aikido school. Outwardly nothing is changed except however the forms begin to really work, take on the personality of the practitioner.
There is the freedom that the form can be safety discarded, the form after all just a catalog of ideas that demonstrate the concept of 'aiki'. Interestingly the forms begin to re-emerge on their own again. Whether subconscious or not the drawing on the resource of the catalog and using a mind body that is now sensitive to energetics, aiki produces techniques spontaneously (takemusu) dependant entirely on the uke dynamic.
Unfortunately with O'Sensei sitting on a pedestal, many proclaim they are still beginners in the art (in the Ha stage) though I think this is a cop out and false humility, looking around the mat at seminar the reality seems somewhat different as people take on the responsibility for their own learning. Within our school for example, in Aikido Yuishinkai Maruyama Sensei helps us along the path with the 5 levels of technique Kotai, Juntai, Ryutai, Kutai and Kontai
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