ShuHaRi – Mastering Your Learning

ShuHaRi is a Japanese martial art concept that describes the stages of learning to master and improve your skills in an area.

ShuHaRi (Kanji: 守破離 Hiragana: しゅはり) is the Japanese concept of learning to master martial arts.

The ShuHaRi concept was first presented by Fuhaku Kawakami as Jo-ha-kyū in The Way of Tea, “Sado 茶道”. Fuhaku based his process on the works of, Zeami Motokiyo, the master of Noh, which then became a part of the philosophy of Aikido.

Though ShuHaRi has its origins in Japanese martial arts, it has been popularized by agile software developers like Martin Fowler and Alistair Cockburn and applied more broadly to learning in general.

Most disciplines can be learned this way


When you know where you are on the journey to mastery, you can figure out what kind of learning will be most beneficial for you.

Shu – Follow The Rules

Shu (守) “protect”, “obey”-traditional wisdom: The beginning stage is focused solely on learning fundamentals through repetition. In order to form muscle memory, you repeat the basic forms over and over again. In the shu stage, you’re not concerned with any underlying theory of the practice.

Ha – Break The Rules

Ha (破) “detach”, “digress”-breaking with tradition: Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can start innovating. It might be a good idea to branch out and learn from other masters. If you have an understanding of the underlying theory, you may be able to incorporate methods and variations from outside sources into your own work. 

Ri – Make The Rules

Ri (離) “leave”, “separate”-transcendence: After mastery, you are free to give up forms altogether and follow whatever your mind desires. Now, you learn from your own practice, not from other people. When you reach the Ri stage, you are essentially expanding the discipline.

ShuHaRi can be considered as concentric circles, with Shu within Ha, and both Shu and Ha within Ri. 

The fundamental techniques and knowledge do not change.

ShuHaRi and Your Career

In the shu stage, practitioners follow the teachings of their mentors strictly, adhering to established techniques and principles.

This parallels the early stages of a career when individuals learn foundational skills and knowledge from experienced professionals or through formal education.

As they progress to the ha stage, practitioners start to question and adapt these teachings, experimenting with variations and exploring their own interpretations.

Similarly, in a career context, professionals begin to develop their style, applying their expertise in innovative ways and challenging conventional wisdom.

Finally, in the ri stage, practitioners transcend the teachings and become masters in their own right.

They integrate what they’ve learned with their own insights and experiences, creating a unique and highly personalized approach.

Likewise, in a career trajectory, individuals reach a point where they not only excel in their field but also contribute to its evolution through thought leadership, mentorship, and innovation.

Understanding the principles of shuhari can guide individuals in navigating their career paths, encouraging continuous learning, adaptation, and ultimately, mastery.

Shuhari creates effective discipline when followed. Consider it a shift in your learning model. 

Shuhari emphasizes actual learning and not just getting a grade. 

It is a change from the school standard of ‘get the grade’ to ‘master the skill.’

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