Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Shuhari at Work.

“We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size”. -John of Salisbury (1159)

I’m really enjoying searching out and reading the tonnes of information on karate that are available on the web. What a great resource the internet is….how did I ever live without Google in my life?

In particular at the moment I’ve been reading some articles by Iain Abernethy. He has an interesting take on a lot of elements of karate and his articles are really informative and easy to read (plus, totally digging his accent in the podcasts!). The article I've been reading this morning is about different styles of karate and what effect this splintering off has on karate as a whole. In the article he talks about Shuhari - the process of evolution in martial arts. Here's what the article says:

Shuhari is the process through which martial arts are said to evolve. Each syllable represents a specific kanji character and the process of Shuhari is best explained by looking at the meanings of each individual character.

Shu: The meaning of this character is “to defend” or “to obey”. In martial arts, this stage would be the learning of the fundamentals of our chosen style. The student does not yet have enough knowledge or experience to be able to effectively deviate from the fundamentals and hence it is important that they strictly adhere to them. Essentially this stage is “learning by copying”.

Ha: The meaning of “Ha” is “to diverge” or to “break away”. A martial artist who has reached this stage will be working to find their own personal expression of the fundamentals introduced by the preceding stage. They will be working out what they feel is most effective and making corresponding changes to their training and teaching. Essentially this stage is “learning by experimenting”.

Ri: The final character means “to leave” or “to go away”. At this stage the martial artist has moved away from the earlier stages of their martial art and – although what they now do can still trace its origins to their early training – is now uniquely theirs. It has “left” what they originally did and may now need its own name to adequately define it. Essentially this stage is “learning by creating”.

I found this completely fascinating. I've mentioned in an earlier post that the style of karate I do is an amalgamation of a couple of different style. I know that my Shihan has a strong back ground in Gojo Ryu, but also holds Dan grades in several other disciplines and that he's drawn on all of that knowledge to compile the syllabus we work to. When I gave this some thought I actually find it quite comforting! It's nice to know that some serious consideration of what I'm being taught is in play. To do things "because that's how it's always been done" seems to be a waste of brain power. What are our brains for it not to analyse, question, reason? On more than one occasion I've heard Shihan say "you'll hear people say you should only do it this way... in reality that kind of attack would never happen, you're more likely to be confronted with X, Y, Z so we learn it this way instead". To just continue to do something without knowing why you do it? What's the point in that? This story mentioned in an article over at KaratebyJesse is a good illustration:

In a cage there were five monkeys.

In the middle of the cage there was a banana. Every time a monkey tried to grab the banana, a scientist would spray the monkey with ice cold water.

Eventually the monkeys learned not to touch the banana.

One day a monkey was switched out for a new monkey. The new monkey instantly jumped towards the banana, naturally, when suddenly the four other monkeys started screaming and beating him, to warn him. He tried again, and the other monkeys kicked his ass again. After a while, he learned that he maybe shouldn’t go near that banana.

The scientist now decided never to spray the monkeys again, if they tried to take the banana.
Eventually, another monkey was switched out for a new one. As with the first one, he tried to grab the banana, but everyone started beating him up, including the first new monkey. So the second new monkey learned, like the first had done, not to touch the banana. In the end, all of the five original monkeys had been replaced.

In the cage was now five monkeys who never touched the banana.

But no one knew why, or what would happen if they did.

Because that’s the way it had always been.

Seriously? Who wants to be a banana avoiding monkey?

Another area Iain discusses in the article is the evolution of kata. It occurred to me whilst reading that I'd actually unknowingly had a glimpse of this first hand. A month or so ago I attended my Sunday evening class (adults only) without my DH. As it happened he wasn't the only student not to make it that day and in the end the class consisted of myself, Shihan, and two sensei. No pressure then :P

I was just beginning at this point to learn the kata required for my green tip grading (Tagioko Sandan, the third in our Tagioko series of kata). This kata follows the same embusen as the first two but introduces three new intermediate blocks. The first few times I had done this kata I'd been shown to do the kata with a long forward stance (Zenkutsu-dachi) throughout. When we'd been through the kata a couple of times some discussion ensued between Shihan and the Sensei's that it wasn't quite right. The reason? Well, when we're taught the new intermediate blocks as part of our kihon training, for the most part we use the blocks over a specific stance. Chuge Uke (double block) over Sanchin Datchi (pigeon stance), Kake Uke (hook block) over Nekoashi Datchi (cat stance), Shuto Uke (knifehand block) over Kokutsu Datchi (backward leaning stance).

Cue some quick kata run throughs with the blocks over their correct stances and discussions that they really need to look at that more closely and there you go. Shuhari at work.

Now we do Tagioko Sandan with stance changes as well as the new blocks. Thankfully I hadn't had much time to practice the old way! I love that my karate is evolving as I watch though (literally in this case). Things should never be stagnant, remember those monkeys!

On a kind of related note... in that it's kata related. I think I've finally gotten my Gekasai Nidan kata nailed down. I just need to work a little on my speed but the new block (mawashi uke) and strike (Haito) that are in there are making sense to me now. Unfortunatley that means I now have to worry about the next kata in the syllabus (Koke Ho "Divine Breath") which quite frankly makes me want to cry! It's based on a lotus pattern of foot work and involves a lot of sumo stance (Shika Datchi) which, to be perfectly honest, I suck at. I just can't seem to get the pattern and turns to stick in my head either. I think Saifa might be easier for me to grasp and that doesn't even have a pattern!

On the plus side, I am getting to do two classes a week now. Sunday class 5-7pm and the mixed age group class on a Monday evening after Grace's little dragon's class. Grace amazed me by managing to sit quietly and entertain herself for an hour and a half while I particpated in the class - she even agreed she could keep doing it every week because I want to go the class. Bless her. She's such a sweetie (most of the time ;)). I've promised her shopping for a special "karate class bag" which I'll fill with some goodies to keep her entertained while I'm training. Long may it continue working!



  1. Hi Marie, This is a great post! shu-ha-ri is a fascinating concept. My own sensei has certainly been through the full cycle of shu-ha-ri. A year ago he and other senior sensei colleagues of his got completely frustrated with the karate organisation that their clubs belonged to because their attempts to evolve the syllabus through a process of ha and ri were completely thwarted by the head of the organisation. Eventually their frustration boiled over into resigning from that organisation and setting up thier own - the SSK (Seishin-do Shukokai Karate). This last year the ha and ri are in overdrive as our syllabus has rapidly evolved into something much more comprehensive, interesting and realistic than it was before. The SSK already has over 800 members throughout about 12 clubs in the Sheffield/Manchester areas.

    As far as kata are concerned I have to admit I don't like them to change. Each kata is like a mini encyclopedia of karate knowledge and each time a step in the kata is changed a bit of knowledge is lost and the ability to extract accurate bunkai is lost. Every single move in a kata - every hand movement, foot movement, angle, turn etc means something, something that the old masters of karate wanted to be preserved. I think that the bunkai is the place for experimentation and creativity, not the kata itself. A few minor changes have been made to some of the kata that I know but my sensei assures me that these are corrections to restore the kata back to the original. I hope he's right!

    By the way, I loved the monkey story!

  2. Hi Sue. Thank you for your comment. At the moment to me it seems that the essence of the kata I spoke about remains in place, the change to the stances just mirrors our actual use of them in the dojo - and therefore how we're more likely to use them in Bunkai. I wonder if I'll come to have a different opinion further down the line in my training? Food for thought. I love seeing how different martial artists relate to and interpret their disciplines. Totally fascinates me. Considering I never dreamed I would take part in a martial art it's quite a journey! LOL.



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