Shu Ha Ri

wab25

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I figured I would start a thread here about Shu Ha Ri. Shu Ha Ri, is the Japanese version, but I believe that there are other versions from other places that are very similar. (It would be great to discuss those as well here, to compare the similarities and the differences...)

I see a lot of threads about Kata, and how to understand Kata... and a lot of people that don't really understand what Kata are. Well, at least, what Kata were originally intended to be... Despite what they may have become in some places.

To start out with, the Kata of an art is not a dictionary of moves in the art. More importantly, the Kata is not the art. I see too many people looking at the kata in an art and concluding that because move X is not in one of the Kata, move X is not part of the art and therefore cannot be done by one practicing that art. I see too many people saying that we don't fight like that, so the Kata is useless for martial training.

To understand what Kata is, and what it should be used for... we need to understand where it came from. Kata, is part of the Shu Ha Ri process. (I and others have brought this process up in many threads, but I feel that it needs its own thread) A very simple definition: Shuhari - Wikipedia

A much better discussion of Shu Ha Ri: Teaching and Shu Ha Ri | Kimusubi Aikido Orlando

Simply stated, Shu Ha Ri is a process or method of transmitting Japanese traditions. Martial Arts is just one of the things this process is used for.

Shu Ha Ri has three basic steps: Shu, Ha and Ri.

The first step Shu, is where the Kata come in. Note, learning the Kata is step one. It is step one of a very long process. In Shu, you learn the kata. You learn them exactly, with no variance. You simply copy. From the second article I listed above:
To experience shu and embrace the kata, the student must first resign himself and his ego to a seemingly random series of repetitious exercises.
Through time:
As the student progresses thru the various kata, different aspects of stress and distraction are encountered. As these challenges grow more intense the student's mind learns to process information and stress in a much more efficient manner. In time different neuro-muscular processes become intuitively ingrained in such a way that they are no longer consciously realized by the student. Once this level of kata is absorbed and executed satisfactorily, the student has reached the first level of his or her training.
Again, learning to do the kata, is step 1. This is where many people stop or get stuck. For many, it is because their instructor doesn't know any better. Anytime an art, that has kata, feels restricted by the kata (that technique is not on our kata therefore it is not in our art... our art does not handle that type of situation, because our kata don't contain that situation...) it means the art has gotten stuck in the Shu part of the process.

Correctly understood, the Shu Ha Ri process is about creativity, not simply memorizing patterns.

In the Ha stage, the student diverges from the kata. As in, the student makes changes to the kata.
Encouraging intuitive creative talent is the purpose here but this creative experience must be diligently tempered by the confines of the greater kata.
This is the first stage of introducing creativity. It must be done with the help of the sensei, so that the kata remains recognizable... or in other words, says the same thing, but with different words. Learning happens both when the student makes a good divergence and when he makes a divergence which is too great or changes the nature of the kata, or what it says. Both, especially the latter, help the student to understand what the kata is communicating in the first place. At this stage, the student is not confined to repeating the same things, the same words, but is encouraged to say the same thing with different words.

The final stage is Ri. This is where the kata are thrown away.
"Ri" is difficult to explain as it is not so much taught as it is arrived at. It is a state of execution that simply occurs after shu and ha have been internalized. It is the absorption of the kata to such an advanced level that the outer shell of the kata ceases to exist. Only the underlying truth of the kata remains. It is form without being conscious of form. It is intuitive expression of technique that is as efficient as the prearranged form but utterly spontaneous. Technique unbridled by the restriction of conscious thought processes result in an application of waza that is truly a moving meditation.

The Shu Ha Ri process is designed to communicate the art, in such a way that the artist is completely free to express his art as he sees fit. The Kata is a tool used to see the art, to explore the art, to understand the art, but it is not the art.

Some practitioners of modern martial traditions dismiss kata and Shu-ha-ri as being too confining or old fashioned. In truth, this position is flawed because the purpose of kata is misinterpreted by them. Like so many arm chair experts, they have not been properly trained beyond the shoden level in kata and are commenting on a subject they simply are unqualified and therefore unable to comprehend. Like most observers outside the experience of deep study they see the kata as the art itself instead of a sophisticated teaching tool that is only a surface reflection of an arts core concepts. The kata, in their flawed interpretation "is" the art. This is like the flaw of assuming a dictionary to be a complete representation of language.

A full reading of the second article I posted above is worth the time. (all of my quotes above come from that article) I feel we would have much better discussions about kata, if we had a better understanding of how they were designed to be used. That many places do not use them in this fashion says more about the place than it does about the tool. The tool, when used correctly, can help produce amazing results... it also has to be used in conjunction with the other tools. We have too many people trying to build a house with just a hammer...
 

SahBumNimRush

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I will say that the most fruitful discussions I've had on this forum regarding forms practice(kata, hyung, tul, etc.) have had this graded learning process in mind. After 36 years of practice, my forms practice is more enriching now than it ever has been.
 

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"learn the rules, break the rules, make the rules".
The Kata is a tool used to see the art, to explore the art, to understand the art, but it is not the art.
This is very well put. I think too many people who have never done in depth study of forms write them off too easily. A lot of good stuff here.
 

Flying Crane

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This is largely consistent with my understanding of forms practice within the Chinese methods. Which leads me to a question:

It is my understanding that the Okinawan methods that became karate had heavy influence from southern Chinese martial arts. In at least some cases, Okinawan practitioners went to China to study, and brought back Chinese forms that directly became karate kata. So my question is: is Okinawan kata ALL from Chinese martial arts, at least as a root concept even if later kata were developed by the Okinawans? Prior to the interaction with the Chinese, did the Okinawan martial arts use kata as a training method? Did the indigenous Japanese methods use kata in a similar way, prior to importation of Okinawan karate? I understand the Japanese Jiu-jitsu methods had kata, but conceptually different from what is typically seen in Okinawan karate and Chinese martial arts, I think it is more of a short, two-man interaction rather than longer, solo kata/forms.

Any insights?
 

Bill Mattocks

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I figured I would start a thread here about Shu Ha Ri. Shu Ha Ri, is the Japanese version, but I believe that there are other versions from other places that are very similar. (It would be great to discuss those as well here, to compare the similarities and the differences...)

I see a lot of threads about Kata, and how to understand Kata... and a lot of people that don't really understand what Kata are. Well, at least, what Kata were originally intended to be... Despite what they may have become in some places.

To start out with, the Kata of an art is not a dictionary of moves in the art. More importantly, the Kata is not the art. I see too many people looking at the kata in an art and concluding that because move X is not in one of the Kata, move X is not part of the art and therefore cannot be done by one practicing that art. I see too many people saying that we don't fight like that, so the Kata is useless for martial training.

To understand what Kata is, and what it should be used for... we need to understand where it came from. Kata, is part of the Shu Ha Ri process. (I and others have brought this process up in many threads, but I feel that it needs its own thread) A very simple definition: Shuhari - Wikipedia

A much better discussion of Shu Ha Ri: Teaching and Shu Ha Ri | Kimusubi Aikido Orlando

Simply stated, Shu Ha Ri is a process or method of transmitting Japanese traditions. Martial Arts is just one of the things this process is used for.

Shu Ha Ri has three basic steps: Shu, Ha and Ri.

The first step Shu, is where the Kata come in. Note, learning the Kata is step one. It is step one of a very long process. In Shu, you learn the kata. You learn them exactly, with no variance. You simply copy. From the second article I listed above:

Through time:

Again, learning to do the kata, is step 1. This is where many people stop or get stuck. For many, it is because their instructor doesn't know any better. Anytime an art, that has kata, feels restricted by the kata (that technique is not on our kata therefore it is not in our art... our art does not handle that type of situation, because our kata don't contain that situation...) it means the art has gotten stuck in the Shu part of the process.

Correctly understood, the Shu Ha Ri process is about creativity, not simply memorizing patterns.

In the Ha stage, the student diverges from the kata. As in, the student makes changes to the kata.

This is the first stage of introducing creativity. It must be done with the help of the sensei, so that the kata remains recognizable... or in other words, says the same thing, but with different words. Learning happens both when the student makes a good divergence and when he makes a divergence which is too great or changes the nature of the kata, or what it says. Both, especially the latter, help the student to understand what the kata is communicating in the first place. At this stage, the student is not confined to repeating the same things, the same words, but is encouraged to say the same thing with different words.

The final stage is Ri. This is where the kata are thrown away.


The Shu Ha Ri process is designed to communicate the art, in such a way that the artist is completely free to express his art as he sees fit. The Kata is a tool used to see the art, to explore the art, to understand the art, but it is not the art.



A full reading of the second article I posted above is worth the time. (all of my quotes above come from that article) I feel we would have much better discussions about kata, if we had a better understanding of how they were designed to be used. That many places do not use them in this fashion says more about the place than it does about the tool. The tool, when used correctly, can help produce amazing results... it also has to be used in conjunction with the other tools. We have too many people trying to build a house with just a hammer...
We talk about bunkai in this sense. First is omote. The obvious application. A punch is a punch. A block is a block. Then, oyo bunkai. This is peeling back the layers of the onion, finding applications that are hidden within. A person can spend their lives just doing this. Finally, perhaps for some, is honto, the 'truth'.

Omote is what's so often criticized by those who know little. "The Wansu dump is stupid and won't work!" These are the experts who change what they do not understand. It also ensures their students down the line will never understand either.

The vast majority of lifelong karateka are probably somewhere into oyo, as am I. There is more there to explore than I have lifetime left to do it in. Wherefore am I then entitled to change anything? All I could do is introduce error. I'm probably doing that anyway, but I won't do it on purpose by claiming I know better.
 

skribs

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I don't think this process applies to all kata or styles. It depends on how the kata was developed and published by the organization, and taught by the schools.

Kukkiwon Taekwondo forms don't follow this process at all. I can't find any research telling of the origins of practical application, except for one book which claims his Master went to some random place to discover their origins. (I don't remember exactly, as it was years ago I skimmed through the book, but it was something like Hawaii or another island, which is not the birthplace of Taekwondo). The published videos simply describe in great detail how to perform each technique, but do not go into practical application. I haven't personally taken the Master Course yet, but in the videos I've seen from those who have, I haven't seen anything except rote details being reinforced. None of the schools I've trained in do

Some schools do. From what I can tell, that is extra-curricular from what is required by the organization. Sometimes it's a stretch to say the technique comes from the form. Sometimes only 5% of the "application" comes from the form, sometimes nothing looks quite like the form. Sometimes the "application" simply doesn't work, or doesn't make as much sense compared to other options that are available. For example, blocking strikes from two different people, instead of simply not being in a position where two people are in range to strike you.

Because of my views on the kata (they are for performance and conditioning), I find it more fruitful to train practical technique separate from them. Just like how a boxer doesn't factor skipping rope, situps, pushups, or running into their combinations. In the beginner belts, it just so happens that the basic techniques and the kata are fairly similar. But as the practical footwork and combinations get more technical, and the kata get more complicated, a divergence emerges between the two. A divergence that I don't try to reconcile.

If I were to instead create my own school, outside of the organization, I would probably come up with my own forms, that more closely represent my approach to the techniques.
 

skribs

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To start out with, the Kata of an art is not a dictionary of moves in the art. More importantly, the Kata is not the art. I see too many people looking at the kata in an art and concluding that because move X is not in one of the Kata, move X is not part of the art and therefore cannot be done by one practicing that art. I see too many people saying that we don't fight like that, so the Kata is useless for martial training.

This is two separate pieces.

The first is one that really frustrates me. It's not just kata, either. Someone mentions that their instructor suggested going for the eyes. Now suddenly their art is all about eye gouges. That's their only strategy. A boxer would obviously be better at eye gouges because they practice good fundamentals that would also apply to eye gouges.

I don't know what these people are thinking. Do they think that if eye gouges are part of your self-defense strategy, that all you do all class is stand around chanting about eye gouges? "Go for the eyes. Go for the groin. Go for the eyes. Protect your coin."

Alternatively, if your school teaches something that isn't pressure-tested, such as knife defense, the assumption is that nothing is pressure tested or of any quality. Okay, let's say knife defense, which are 5% of the curriculum once you've reached a certain belt, are not realistic. That doesn't mean that the other 95% of the curriculum (and 100% before that) is complete crap.

As to the second...it's my opinion that every martial art is overestimated by those who train it, and underestimated by those who don't. That also applies to every technique or training method. I think if people look at Kata as gospel, they're probably overestimating its value. And if people look at Kata as complete garbage, an utter waste of your time...they're not giving it enough credit.

From what I've read and seen, I personally think of Bunkai as more pattern matching what you already know, instead of actually teaching something new. I think it gets romanticized so people don't feel they wasted their time on them. But I also think there's numerous benefits to doing kata, just not for direct application.
 

skribs

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What should be B's respond in the following Q&A?

A: Does your style have roundhouse kick?
B: We don have it in our forms, But we have it in our training.
A: Why didn't your form creator put it into your form?
B: ...
A: Does your style have roundhouse kick?
B: Yes.

Why do you need to specify where it is? If it goes like this:

A: Does your style have roundhouse kick?
B: Yes.
A: But I don't see it in your forms.
B: We do enough roundhouse kicks in sparring we didn't need it there, too.
 

Kung Fu Wang

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A: Does your style have roundhouse kick?
B: Yes.
A: But I don't see it in your forms.
B: We do enough roundhouse kicks in sparring we didn't need it there, too.
But you still have not explained why your form creator didn't include roundhouse kick into the form that he created.
 

skribs

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But you still have not explained why your form creator didn't include roundhouse kick into the form that he created.
I already did. I said it didn't need to be there. The first rule of editing is that if something doesn't need to be there, then it shouldn't be included.

Even then, why do you need to know? Are my roundhouse kicks less effective because they're not in the kata? Are my katas less effective because they don't include roundhouse kicks? It's such an arbitrary thing that it shouldn't matter. In my experience in these conversations, most people who keep pressing on specific details like this are looking for a "gotcha" moment so they can tell you how your art is dumb. They're not genuinely curious.

Even if it does matter...the person who made the forms in many styles is probably long passed away by now. Unless they meticulously journaled every technique that wasn't included in the forms and why it wasn't included, it's going to be impossible to know why the roundhouse kick wasn't included in the form. Unless you know someone who can perform a seance.
 

J. Pickard

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I don't think this process applies to all kata or styles. It depends on how the kata was developed and published by the organization, and taught by the schools.

Kukkiwon Taekwondo forms don't follow this process at all. I can't find any research telling of the origins of practical application, except for one book which claims his Master went to some random place to discover their origins. (I don't remember exactly, as it was years ago I skimmed through the book, but it was something like Hawaii or another island, which is not the birthplace of Taekwondo). The published videos simply describe in great detail how to perform each technique, but do not go into practical application. I haven't personally taken the Master Course yet, but in the videos I've seen from those who have, I haven't seen anything except rote details being reinforced. None of the schools I've trained in do

Some schools do. From what I can tell, that is extra-curricular from what is required by the organization. Sometimes it's a stretch to say the technique comes from the form. Sometimes only 5% of the "application" comes from the form, sometimes nothing looks quite like the form. Sometimes the "application" simply doesn't work, or doesn't make as much sense compared to other options that are available. For example, blocking strikes from two different people, instead of simply not being in a position where two people are in range to strike you.

Because of my views on the kata (they are for performance and conditioning), I find it more fruitful to train practical technique separate from them. Just like how a boxer doesn't factor skipping rope, situps, pushups, or running into their combinations. In the beginner belts, it just so happens that the basic techniques and the kata are fairly similar. But as the practical footwork and combinations get more technical, and the kata get more complicated, a divergence emerges between the two. A divergence that I don't try to reconcile.

If I were to instead create my own school, outside of the organization, I would probably come up with my own forms, that more closely represent my approach to the techniques.
I think a lot of this comes from a sense of national identity and making TKD uniquely Korean and stepping out of the shadow of it's [mostly] Japanese origins given the understandable bad blood between Korea and Japan during the time TKD was formed. Additionally a lot of the Korean "masters" that were in charge of the unification had a surface level understanding of kata at best. The Highest rank any of the original Kwan founders achieved that wasn't given to them by other Kwan founders or the Korean government was Won Kuk Lee who claimed to have achieved 4th dan in shotokan but Japanese records do not directly cooberate this claim. Understanding that the predecessor to TKD was predominantly Shotokan (TSD) and they originally did Japanese kata, it follows then that they were aware of this method in some regard. You can even see how the TKD poomsae are cut and pasted from karate kata. The guys in charge of the unification and forming Taekwondo were mostly government and/or military men and thus had the authority to say they were grandmaster or somewhere from 7th to 9th dan in their own school/style and nobody would question it because they were supported by the government and military. Imagine all the people who do the same type of self certification today. We laugh at all the people out their who trained for 7-10 years, create their own system, then claim a title of grand master in that style regardless of how skilled they really are but don't apply the same level of criticism to the founders of TKD for some reason.

The original 9 Kwans either did some form of Karate, judo, or chinese arts (and I believe one was founded by a history enthusiast that also studied the Muye Dobo Tongi which only has 1 chapter on unarmed combat) so the forms they did were mostly the karate kata. When the unification happened they sort of just copy and pasted parts of different kata together and added their own flair but completely changed to mindset of training the forms to make them "less Japanese" and simultaneously show overall athleticism more than the karate versions. This in itself shows that they had a shallow understanding of the true value the kata offered, or they didn't care and just wanted to sever another connection to Japanese karate.

Over time Taekwondo has become more about overall athleticism and mental determination, or as I have heard from more than one Korean master "the indomitable spirit of Korea!" and less about actual combat to the point that calling modern KKW TKD a "martial art" in itself is a bit of a stretch. And that's okay, the KKW doesn't seem to care about TKD being used to fight a real fight as much as using it as a method to promote Korean culture and help promote mentally and physical healthy youths from the upcoming generations. What KKW has ultimately cultivated over the past 5-6 decades is arguably a watered down version of it's predecessors but it doesn't matter because the end goal today is not the same as it was then (sadly KKW seems to have a goal mostly of lining their pockets and stroking their own ego). The practical side of TKD tends to come into play from the individual Kwan styles themselves because many of the kwans still hold on to the idea that a martial art should be effective for combat. Many Moo Duk Kwan, Song Moo Kwan, and Chung Do Kwan schools have begun to teach this sort of shuhari method of forms training they just might not call it that, as many of the Kwan Jang in charge today have decades more experience than the founders did at the time of the unification and have a deeper understanding. To train forms/kata/poomsae/hyung or whatever you call them purely for performance and conditioning is a not very practical unless you train purely for forms competition. Any conditioning you get from forms you can get just as well if not better doing other exercises so forms just for conditioning is impractical. If you train forms just for performance then I would argue that you don't train a "martial art" you train a performance art inspired by martial arts. An example of this would be tricking, TKD dance (yes this is a real thing promoted by KKW and WT), and XMA.

There is a lot to be gained by practicing forms, no matter what the style, with this "shu ha ri" mindset. Give it a try and see what you can learn. Even if the original intent of the form wasn't to be looked at this way it doesn't mean there isn't a benefit to it.
 
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wab25

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What should be B's respond in the following Q&A?

A: Does your style have roundhouse kick?
B: We don have it in our forms, But we have it in our training.
A: Why didn't your form creator put it into your form?
B: ...

But you still have not explained why your form creator didn't include roundhouse kick into the form that he created.

I know TKD has roundhouse kick. I'm talking about those MA systems that don't have roundhouse kick in their forms but claim to have it in training..
That is a very hard question to answer, when you have the wrong idea about what Kata is. It becomes a very silly question, once you do understand what Kata is.

I bought an English grammar text book. It taught me how to compose sentences and paragraphs, essays and short stories. In short, it taught me how the English language works. But, no where in the book, did it use the word "hospital." Does this mean that the word "hospital" is not in the English language? How do you explain the creator / author of the text book on grammar, not including the word "hospital" in the book he wrote?

The Kata is not the art. The Kata is a tool used to look at and understand the art. Its more like a text book on grammar for a language, not a dictionary. As you yourself, have pointed out... for a dictionary, it makes no sense to include the same word repeatedly. Your solution is to remove the extras. But, if I go to my English Grammar text book, and remove all occurrences of the word "noun," leaving only the first use... and do the same for the words "verb," and "adjective..." It certainly does shorten the length of the book. But, it also makes it harder for the book to then communicate what it is trying to teach.

Yes, when learning a language, you should expand your vocabulary. Why would you limit your vocabulary to only the words written in the text book about the language, that you have? Realize that there are many different English Grammar text books, some of which may actually have the word "hospital" in them.
 

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If a boxer creates a form that doesn't have hook punch, what does that mean?
To me, it does not mean anything. I assume that if the hook is important to him, he trains it in some other way. I certainly do not assume that he lacks it altogether.
 

Flying Crane

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Again, why would a wrestler creates a form that didn't include single leg and double legs?
Assuming a wrestler would make a kata at all, then I guess because he wanted to. Perhaps the kata focuses on techniques and strategies other than these takedowns. Reasons could be limitless. Maybe just to prove to you that he can.
 

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