Shuhari: The Secret to Mastering Anything

Learning something new can be daunting. Whether it's a new skill for work or a new hobby, you stand to face some level of frustration. That's where learning models like Shuhari can be useful. 

While its origins are in Japanese martial arts, the concept of shuhari has been popularized among agile software development circles by developers like Martin Fowler and Alistair Cockburn, and abstracted even more broadly to learning in general.

What is Shuhari?

Shuhari is a concept of mastery and learning borrowed from the Japanese martial arts form aikido; it describes the three stages of mastery that one passes through to gain knowledge. Knowing where you are in the journey to mastery can help you understand what kind of learning you'll benefit from the most.

Shu (守) "protect", "obey"-traditional wisdom: The beginning stage is focused solely on learning fundamentals through repetition. You repeat the basic forms until you form muscle memory. In the shu stage, you're not concerned with any underlying theory of the practice.

Ha (破) "detach", "digress"-breaking with tradition: Once you've mastered the basic forms and can begin to innovate. You might branch out and learn from other masters. Having an understanding of the underlying theory, you might incorporate methods and variations from outside sources into your own practice. 

Ri (離) "leave", "separate"-transcendence: In the final stage of mastery, you can depart from forms altogether and proceed however your mind desires. Your learning no longer comes from other people, but your own practice. When you've reached the ri stage, you are, in essence, expanding the discipline.

Understanding where you land on the shuhari spectrum can make the learning process both easier and less daunting-and it isn't just for developers and martial artists. You can see how a learning model like this can be applied across all sorts of disciplines, practices, and creative techniques. 

A new violin student begins by learning a specific song, then scales and music theory, before moving on to compose their own work. Chefs and home cooks will practice a recipe until it's second nature, and then begin to improvise and iterate. 

Most disciplines can be learned this way. In many cases, what we view as genius or talent are simply the result of a shuhari approach, especially in creative practices. Allowing yourself patience and tailoring your learning to the right stage will ultimately make the road to mastery much more enjoyable.

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