While it may seem like an oxymoron, the traditional arts have always been evolving and changing. Indeed, to try to stifle that change is not only harmful, it’s also not traditional!
“Times change, the world changes, and obviously the martial arts must change too.” – Gichin Funakoshi
“Karate changes every few years. This change happens because a teacher will continue to learn and add his personality to the teachings. There is an old saying that likens karate to a pond. In order for the pond to live, it must have fresh water. It must have streams that feed and replenish the pond. Without fresh water the pond becomes stagnant and dies. If a martial arts teacher does not learn new ideas and new methods, then his karate will die. It will stagnate, become boring, and die of unnatural causes.” – Choshin Chibana
The process through which karate is supposed to evolve is called “Shuhari” and the term is made up of three chracters (守破離).
Shu: The meaning of this character is “to obey”. In martial arts, this stage would be the learning of the fundamentals. 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 imitating”.
Ha: The meaning of “Ha” is “to diverge” or to “break away”. A martial artist at 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 innovating”.
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 – it is now uniquely theirs. Essentially this stage is “learning by inventing”. The martial artist who has reached the “Ri” stage for a given method will encourage their students to copy their teachings (Shu) and the whole process begins again.
As I see it, one of the biggest problems facing karate today is the abandoning of the Shuhari process. I would suggest to you that in many cases “Shuhari” has been replaced with “Shu-Shu-Shu”, with any minor change being viewed as a form of heresy. This is not good for karate, it is not in-keeping with what the past masters themselves did, and it is not in line with traditional practises.
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