The steps to mastery: imitate, break from tradition, innovate.

Shuhari is a classical martial arts concept first brought to our attention by the excellent Walking With the Tengu podcast. Here is their definition:

Shuhari (守破離): A theoretical framework for modeling the learning process. Could be translated as “protect, break, separate.”

shu (守) “protect”, “obey” — Describes the early stages of one’s martial training. This is the period where one is best off quietly absorbing all the lessons of one’s teacher without too many questions. Often characterized by rote memorization of physical technique.

ha (破) “detach”, “digress” — The stage where it becomes necessary for a student to “break” with the tradition of one’s prior learning process and begin to test, explore and attempt to “break” the techniques one has already absorbed/learned.

ri (離) “leave”, “separate” —The stage of mastery where one has learned what is useful, absorbed the teaching of one’s art, explored its limitations and has now set off on one’s own. Often characterized historically by a famous student setting off to start their own school/style of martial arts.

Classical Martial Arts Concepts – Walking With The Tengu

In summary, shuhari teaches us that there are three steps to mastery: first you imitate, then you break from tradition, then you innovate.

Interestingly, shuhari is a concept also employed in software development, as discussed by Martin Fowler.

Further study: