Note: This is the final Part in a series on the traditional Japanese educational (master/apprentice) framework, Shu Ha Ri, and it’s correlation with the study/practice of law. Part I can be found here. Part II can be found here.


Wikipedia describes it as “leave”, “separate” — transcendence — there are no techniques or proverbs, all moves are natural, without clinging to forms. (Ri) is composed of two parts, Bird and a phonetic part. It means “release,” “detach,” “to depart.”

Ri” is difficult to explain as it is not so much taught as it is arrived at. It is a state of execution that simply occurs after shu and ha have been internalized. It is the absorption of the kata (form) to such an advanced level that the outer shell of the kata ceases to exist. It is form without being conscious of form…

The level of technical execution associated with ri is realistically beyond the ability of many practitioners. Most people are simply incapable of reaching this, the most advanced level of expression of a ryu’s (school/system) potential…

– Y. Takamura , ‘Teaching and Shu-Ha-Ri,’ Aikido Journal 1986. Partially available online here.

In this stage, the student is no longer a student in the normal sense, but a practitioner. The practitioner must think originally and develop from background knowledge original thoughts about the art and test them against the reality of his or her background knowledge and conclusions as well as the demands of everyday life.(1) A person at this level has acquired every required technical skill, and has the knowledge and experience to match.

I’m not sure whether such a state exists concurrently in the practice of law. Ri seems to be an elusive destination within martial arts, I would imagine the same with the practice of law. Beyond that it is not a destination but rather seemingly a state of mind one achieves, after which, one folds back into the shu stage again. A constant, evolving spiral of development. Shoshin shogai – “A beginner’s mind for one’s whole life.”

(1) Iaido, Volume 7 number 2 #54 FEB 1995. Accessible here.

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