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Hi, hope this issue finds everyone safe and sound. Yes, the isolation might drive some stir-crazy. So here's a post for reading.

We who practice budo are probably familiar with the concept of Shu-Ha-Ri. The journey towards a deeper understanding through constant, regular practice is, by itself, the very road of this concept.

Illustration by Resident artist, Billy Yong

Shu, learn the rules;

Ha, understand the rules;

Ri, bend, even break away from the rules;

then back again to Shu.

Acquire knowledge, develop your way of applying said knowledge, then becoming a beginner all over again by studying the same piece of knowledge.

Normally you might think that once a person has acquired an innate understanding, so much so that they can understand where these rules can be broken, wouldn’t be terribly bothered to return to the basics again and again. After all, we do not go back to our ABCs once we have learned them, why would this be any different?

The trouble with such a train of thought is that it leaves you to a very broad generalization that all forms of knowledge can be applied equally. Then again, we’re familiar with our ABCs, but how many of us can confidently recite the alphabet backward, or in alternating steps, like 1, 3, 5, 7…?

So as Iaido goes, what is Shu? The simplest yet the most often significant milestone within the three, Shu is the welcome party. Your very first time in the dojo. Putting on the keikogi, transitioning to a Montsuki, handling a Bokuto, handling an Iaito, learning the footwork; all this is Shu. As a raw beginner, your cup is probably empty, ideally with an open lid. Everything is new, your body suddenly cannot tell left from right. Knowledge is pouring in just enough to bring your cup to a full one.

The popular saying that “The more I learn, the more I realize I know very little” connects the western and eastern concepts of Shu-Ha-Ri together. You’ve acquired the skill through many years of dedicated practice, then one day, practicing the basics again, you discover something different within the Waza. You’ve achieved certain confidence, and yet this discovery makes your technique different. Subtle, but tangibly different, after a few adjustments. These adjustments are different, yet still very much within the core principles of the Waza. It almost feels like you see the light now, understanding what was missing that you never even knew existed.

It seems everything comes full circle; welcome back to Shu.

Note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the Author.


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