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守破離 In The Open Water

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Shuhari (守破離 in Japanese) is a Japanese martial art concept. It succinctly describes the three stages of learning to mastery.

When I hear of open water swimmers doing new swims, swimming in new areas, taking swimming to different levels in terms of water temperature, conditions, distances and difficulties at increasingly older ages, I realize that these swimmers are following – in some fundamental ways – the concept of shuhari,” observes Steven Munatones.

Shu or 守 means to protect or obey traditional wisdom. This is the stage where swimmers learn the fundamentals of the sport, the proper tactics and techniques of swimming fast, further or more efficiently with the assistance of experienced coaches, trainers, crew members, pilots and logistical experts.

Ha or 破 means to detach or break away from tradition. This is the stage where swimmers look beyond what has been done before – like Lewis Pugh swimming at the North Pole, Jaimie Monahan accomplishing the Ice Sevens or Lynne Cox swimming across the Bering Strait or Chloë McCardel attempting a four-way solo crossing of the English Channel or leukemina survivor Maarten van der Weijden winning an Olympic gold medal – and extend or challenge themselves beyond what may be considered human limits.

Ri or 離 means to separate from the past. This is the last stage where swimmers achieve different goals of their own choosing.

Aikido master Endō Seishirō shihan explained, “It is known that, when we learn or train in something, we pass through the stages of shu, ha, and ri. These stages are explained as follows.

In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebears created. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation. Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be broken and discarded.

Finally, in ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws.”

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