Shu Ha Ri

As mentioned in ThreeLevelsOfAudience, and described at http://www.aikidofaq.com/essays/tin/shuhari.html and http://www.kabuto.nu/ninzine/Arnaud.Cousergue_-_Shu-Ha-Ri.shtml.

The budo concept "shu, ha, ri" which translated from Japanese roughly means "hold, break, leave" and illustrates the levels of learning of a person. -- DanielSvennberg.

The Chinese character Shou(Shu) is composed of two parts, House and Law. Hence the house of laws. The character means "to abide by; to defend". Shou(abide by) Shi(time) is being punctual, and Shou(abide by) Xin(trust) is being trustworthy.

Po(Ha) is composed of two parts, Stone and a phonetic part. It means "to break".

Li(Ri) is composed of two parts, Bird and a phonetic part. It means "to leave; to depart". Li(to leave) Hun(marriage) is divorce.

In the phase of Shu, the person tries to abide by the rules. She tries to learn all the principles and informations by heart. But she can't abide by all the rules while she is doing the practice. Her body(including her brain) starts to remember them bit by bit through repetitious practices. When the time comes she can internalize and abide by all the rules -- when Shu is achieved, Shu phase is finished and she enters into Ha phase.

In the phase of Ha, she tries to break the (old) rules. She tries to self-reflect on herself and her knowledge, and come up with anti-theses such as exceptions of the rules in the real world. But she can't break all the old rules while she is doing the practice. Her rules start to get more complete(or becomes more like "case-by-case") as the rules encompass exceptions bit by bit. When the time comes she can break all the rules and see the both sides of every rule (maybe substituting with a set of her own rules) -- when Ha is achieved, Ha phase is finished and she enters into Ri phase.

In the phase of Ri, she tries to leave the rules. She tries to get free from all the rules, and get into the state of no distinction, or into a new dimension. But she can't leave all the rules while she is doing the practice. Her body starts to forget them bit by bit through following natural laws and flows (or Tao). When the time comes she can leave all the rules -- when Ri is achieved, Ri phase is finished and she enters into a new dimension of Shu.

At the end of Shu, what she sees is nothing but the rules -- everything looks like the rules. At the end of Ha, what she sees is nothing like the rules. At the end of Ri, she doesn't see but work with her mind.

-- JuneKim


Seems to partly explain the drift toward WisdomOfTheEast among very experienced practitioners here on wiki and in fact everywhere. -- AlistairCockburn

Can someone explain the disdain towards Zen and Taoism that I encounter in Korean, Chinese, and Japanese IT professionals? My co-worker was literally laughing at a book entitled "The Tao of Mentoring". (Upon further conversation, I find that he equates "Tao" with fortune-telling. -- KeithRay

Perhaps they feel the word "Tao" is oversold and misused in the US, I certainly think so. Would you laugh if you see a book entitled "Mentoring by the principles of the Free Market", or the "Teaching by Democracy"? Also, the word "Tao" implies a very high level of expertise or enlightenment, using it on anything less and we will recognize it as marketing speak immediately, and will probably show disrespect for it -- OliverChung

Actually since Zen and Taoism are somewhat esoteric religions in the east, a better analogy would be "Mystic Mentoring" or "Teaching Psychically". Not that that's how I feel about Zen, but try not to snicker. -- StevenNewton

Most IT people, at least in East Asia, believe they are doing the most rational, logical and advanced, hence contemporary stuff among others. But the majority of Eastern thoughts are usually considered as pre-modern in East Asia. There was a period of self-denial and self-disdain in the early 20C in East Asia, and during the time, they equated anything Western with rational, logical, proved, and advanced hence scientific and useful in the real world; anything Eastern with irrational, superstitious, unproved hence useless and old-fashioned and outdated. As of now, however, the new emergence of recognition of Eastern thoughts over the West is awakening the East of the real values of their own traditions. Rediscovery of the old. -- JuneKim

The whole, "holy crap the white devils have been selling us opium like crazy and annexing our various provinces" bit may have had something to do with this self-denial and self-disdain.

Also, outside China we tend to get only the most philosophical aspects of Taoism (TaoChia), like the TaoTeChing. Taoism also contains a lot of superstition and magic (TaoChiao). An analogy in Europe might be alchemy. -- EricHodges

Imagine how many Western programmers would feel were they to encounter a programming book entitled "The Christ-like Way To Code", in which certain programming practices, techniques, and tools (UnitTests) are deemed holy in God's eyes, and others (CeePlusPlus?) are deemed works of the Devil. (See ScripturalEvidenceForXp for some examples....) Non-Christian westerners would likely guffaw at such a book at consider it to be foolishness, if not outright Bullshit. Some Christians might embrace it, others might regard it as sacrilege (after all, there is no scriptural evidence regarding programming techniques whatsoever - one has to extrapolate scriptural quotes well beyond the sample region in order to divine any advice on programming). Someone from non-Western parts of the world (in particular where Christianity is a minority religion, and is frequently looked at as bizarre, foreign, or mystical) might view the book, rather than as religious teaching, as "western mysticism". Or maybe not.

Now imagine if such a book were written by a Chinese who has dabbled in Christianity, but clearly doesn't "grok" it; and the version of Christianity presented is a shoddy, superficial, trivialization of the religion - to the point of being a parody rather than a serious treatment of Christianity. Imagine how a Westerner - Christian or not - would regard that.

Many of the TaoOfWhatever? books are in this category - written by folks who have only a superficial understanding of Eastern thought but who enjoy trafficking in it (and other trappings of New Age mysticism) because they think it makes 'em sound like intellectuals.

That may explain the reactions of your Asian colleagues.
re: why we don't see such ideas as ChristianCoding? or other similar ideas.

As I see it, the reason eastern thought tends to get applied to a wider variety of disciplines than Christianity/western thought has more to do with Christianity being more dogmatic, while ZenBuddhism, for example, is more philosophical. Eastern religions are more focused on the discipline of ThePath?, therefore, are easier to apply to something such as programming.

And perhaps the cultures are yin and yang. Opposites each with a seed of the other, meshing together. Someone (too) deeply rooted in one will see the other side as alien and possibly either repulsive or intriguing.


This technique seems to require a deep trust between the student and the teacher, and a commitment to the learning process by the sponsor (e.g. the company).

Without such trust, the student would not be able to have a true "Shu" phase. During this phase, the student is vulnerable because they do not have a complete toolkit to meet the challenges they face in the real world, nor have they been given permission to adapt what they do have. The management must also be strongly committed. If the students have only been taught addition and subtraction, management should not expect them to extract cube roots and compute integrals!

Also, the culture plays a part. A teacher familiar with ShuHaRi, Yukiyoshi Takamura, observed (http://www.aikidojournal.com/articles/ajInterviews/YukiyoshiTakamura.asp)('BrokenLink' 2006-01-16) that Americans are by nature more skeptical and suspicious than Japanese. They don't just obediently follow their leader without question. But that creativity and free exchange of information between teacher and student can also be very rewarding. See http://www.advdojo.org/shuhari.html

I'm wondering if we can get by this to some extent by only teaching TechniqueFragments. -- AlistairCockburn
TheThreeExtremos lately seem to be recommending a ShuHaRi approach to XP: First, follow all the practices. Then, realize TheyreJustRules, and change them (i.e. break some of the original rules). Finally, you don't need to think about the rules anymore. -- GeorgePaci
Today, while my son Sean was teaching me how to cook his style of tortillas, I was endeavoring to describe these three stages of learning. My son (Cameron), announced that Americans shorted it to just Hit and Run :-) -- AlistairCockburn
Can't we speak of IshinDenShin? -- MarcoAbis


When I first wrote about shuhari, (http://www.aikidofaq.com/essays/tin/shuhari.html) little did I dream that I would see it applied to software development.

How ironic since at the time I was not only struggling with the concept as it applied to my own martial arts training, but also with how to become a good software practitioner. Perhaps now it's time to write a bit from both perspectives... this is rambling thought.. free and hopefully not too unwise :-).

The meta question I want to entertain.. in my surprise and shock over how that little essay has been picked up and run with in the agile community.. one I hope will shed some light on my own pleasant surprise at the wide dissemination of that essay outside of the intended audience (originally a small group of sword practitioners Iaidoists and Kendoists who populate a little known mail-exploder called Iaido-L [those Aikidoists stole it without permission but with my retroactive blessing :-)]):

Why does shuhari work, why does it apply so broadly and how does it manifest itself?

In the beginning, students or practitioners of most arts/sciences act freely but unwisely. Look at the code of a beginner. No structure, very ugly, bad practices... free but unwise. In the martial arts (kendo), from and for which I wrote that article that Alistair was kind enough to quote from in Agile Programming, this manifests as follows: beginners are very hard to fight... they don't do anything you expect them to do. They move freely, and randomly. Only by returning to very fundamental principles, can one uncover the faults (unwisdom) in their actions and defeat them.

As the beginner starts to learn, Shu gives them structure. It forces them to adhere to the basic principles: Coding: no gotos, Single entry single exit, Short understandable member function bodies and so on. Since the beginner knows very little, they can only progress by slavishly adhering to these principles. Again from the martial arts perspective, these beginners are quite easy to defeat, but they look a lot better. You can see the glimmerings of good action in their work.. however they are completely predictable, and pass up opportunities in order to continue to adhere to the fundamentals.

As the beginner gains experience, they naturally will wonder why?, how?, is there something better? Ha... the separation (much softer word than break) is the experimentation done around the principles... first straying only a little and then more and more as these ideas are tried against the reality of the world. In software? XP itself (against the infamous waterfall) is one example of this. An experiment in how to build software that is different from the 'classical' principles... the classical principles get the job done too, but overlook opportunities if adhered too strictly ... similarly XP as a set of rules for developing software gets the job done, but if adhered to slavishly, overlooks opportunities. The exploration of opportunities now that the practitioner is able to judge success or failure is Ha. Those who don't practice the martial arts may not be aware that just 'winning' is not enough. You must win well, as a result of your ability to control the opponent into your opportunities to strike. The awareness of this is what allows the martial arts practitioner to perform in the Ha stage... an understanding of good and bad, not right and wrong.

As the experiments of the Ha stage continue, bit by bit, the successes are incorporated into daily practice... we look for opportunities and use the patterns we have learned and tried out that closely fit those opportunities. This Ha/Ri stage is what makes an art the 'property' of the practitioner rather than the teacher or the community. Eventually, you are able to function freely and wisely. Unfettered by 'rules' adhering when appropriate and deviating when the opportunity suggests something better. Your practice is correct, so it's still recognizable, but it's no longer basic. In software construction, it's that ability to invent symbolism and abstractions that fit the problem... in process it's the ability to off-the-cuff a process that fits the environment. In the martial arts... it's improvisation...being effective and balanced even if your position has deviated from 'correct'. It's when your hitting doesn't look quite 'right' but it's good and gets there. It's being good irrespective of whether you are right or wrong. It's the constant expression of zanshin (continuing mind is poor translation of this word...worth another essay in itself) in your activity that leaves you always able to exploit, create and, as a last resort, respond. It's mastery.

-- Ron Fox
there is no scriptural evidence regarding programming techniques whatsoever. Not so: ScripturalEvidenceForXp.

Does this mean god operates at CmmLevelOne?? Obviously. Look at the sorry state of the world today. :)

It means god has no use for patterns. Except when being Human-Like
A practical approach, not Western or Eastern, looks at how humans learn, build upon and use knowledge: It is different from discarding the previous mode, but rather builds upon, adds and subtracts from, arriving finally at what one needs to know.

-- DonaldNoyes



See: ShuHaRiTiming, CookDing, ThreeStagesInJeetKuneDo

Mentioned in: PragmaticThinkingAndLearning

See also: FuzzyAndSymbolicLearning. Related to CapabilityMaturityModel/CapabilityMaturityModelForLiving

CategoryEasternThought CategoryKnowledge
CategoryLearningMethods

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