Becoming A Master – 守破離

The word Shuhari is originally a Japanese martial arts concept from Bushido that describes the stages leading to mastery in a given discipline, but it can also be applied in other fields and situations, such as the entertainment sector or in business. Let’s break it down.



The 3 stages of learning that lead to mastery

The word might look rather daunting, but it’s really quite simple when you take it apart. Just consider each kanji alone to get the idea.

This kanji has the meaning of ‘protect’ or ‘preserve’ and is most easily remembered with the verb 守る (まもる) – to protect. This part of Shuhari refers to ‘preserving the fundamentals’ of whatever discipline you are studying. Our first step to mastery then is found in respecting tradition and absorbing existing knowledge and practices. We don’t question our teacher or their methods, but instead heed their advice and do as instructed. Here’s a good summary in Japanese:


The central part of Shuhari means ‘break’ or ‘detach’ and makes up the word 破る (やぶる) – to break. You may also remember the kanji from the word 破壊 (はかい) which means ‘destruction’. Here we begin to break away from tradition, trying out new things and our own original techniques. In Japanese:


The last character, most commonly found in the word 離れる (はなれる) – to depart or separate. Also in the word 離す (はなす) – to release (something or someone). We are moving away from our instructor and forwards to forge our own path.


So the whole process amounts to first obeying the rules and copying, then breaking the rules and adding our own original touch, and finally creating our own rules and inventing something new.

Pretty neat, no? As the word has its roots in martial arts, the philosophical nature of the characters should come as no surprise. But take a second to think about it, and pretty much every discipline adheres to this process in some way or another. Fashion? Copy someone you think is cool, add your own touch, settle with a fashion sense unique to you. Business? Learn the ropes, then add your input, and finally re-define your field. Learning Japanese? Study the fundamentals, try creating new sentences and expressions (and make mistakes), settle with your own unique way of using the language upon mastering it. (Of course – this isn’t an excuse to use broken Japanese! I’m talking about creative use of the language within its linguistic bounds.)

The concept of Shuhari is inherent in the way we grow and learn new things. Mastery involves not just expertly using the tools and techniques given to you, but in shaping and redefining them to push the entire genre forward. As my Philosophy teacher George MacDonald Ross once very eloquently put it:

When students ask me what they need to do for a first, I say ‘surprise me’. One way they can surprise me is by criticising my module materials — which is an infallible way of giving evidence that they are thinking for themselves, and not merely passively following what I teach them. If they are sceptical as to whether I am serious about rewarding criticism of me, I tell them that if I were teaching them the martial arts rather than philosophy, I would consider myself a failure as a teacher if my students could not throw me from time to time after three years of tuition. I also add that I wrote some of my commentaries a long time ago, and I may have changed my mind since then. This gives them more of a licence to criticise me, and some of the best essays my students have produced have in fact given a sustained argument against my own interpretation of Kant. I can hardly ask for more than this as evidence of my students’ independent thinking, but I cannot help wondering how many other academics would mark their students up rather than down for disagreeing with them.

So don’t be afraid to break away and try something new and, once you’re ready, to define your own limits. Just make sure you learn those fundamentals first before you begin questioning them :).

Philosophy paper


9 Responses to Gakuu. Studying with Real Japanese

  1. Sabrina September 29, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    This is pretty cool! Right now I’m studying on Textfugu which is great! I belive Gakuu can be really helpul too. What I like most is that its for pre-intermediate to advanced level students. So you can’t say its the same thing over and over again… students can actually improve their knowledge here. Thank you very much for creating this site. Have a nice day :)

    • Gakuranman September 30, 2010 at 1:09 am #

      Hi Sabrina! Thank you for your comment :).

      That’s definitely our aim. I love Textfugu for beginners and really getting students a solid grounding in the language, but afterwards (and even while) studying the basics, it can really help to encounter raw Japanese material. You don’t have to understand everything at first, but feeling challenged and picking up little bits here and there that are extra to your learning the basics helps expand your mind. Let me know if you have any more questions! More demonstration material will be up soon! We are currently having a special launch sale price for early adopters, so check out the pricing page if interested :).

      • Sabrina September 30, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

        Thanks for your reply. :) Unfortunately I’m even still miles away from the intermediate level. But I’ll definetly return to Gakuu when I get to this point. Anyway, I’m looking forward to the extra demonstration material. :) Keep up the good work.

        • Gakuranman October 1, 2010 at 12:21 am #

          Sure thing :). Let me know if you have any other questions or suggestions for things you’d like to see on Gakuu!

  2. missingno15 October 1, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

    When I looked at this, I first thought to myself, “aw hell no, gakuranman is doing the same thing as koichi…even the website layout is similar”. But then I realized “it’s aimed at pre-intermediate to advanced level students” which is perfect for my situation right now because I now really want to excel way past beginner. So basically, Gakuu really complements Textfugu. Can’t wait for more lessons to see how this is gonna be like so I can decide if its worth getting.

    • Gakuranman October 1, 2010 at 7:37 pm #

      Hey there! Thanks for dropping by :). No way – Koichi and I are buds. I’ve always loved teaching the more advanced stuff so it worked out perfectly. I’ll be adding more stuff in the coming days, so please stay tuned!

      • Lee Aloy October 23, 2016 at 5:20 am #


        I am sorry to ask this silly question. Are you Japanese?
        am hoping to find a Japanese friends here please shot me an email:

  3. DumbOtaku (percent20) October 3, 2010 at 12:58 am #

    This is really cool. I am glad to see more online content going beyond just teaching hirigana and katakana. That is what I try to do on my blog, but with to little consistency. Glad to see an expert do it, btw already a signed-up paid member now. :)

    • Gakuranman October 3, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

      Glad to have you man! Look forward to hearing any suggestions you have for the site and future lessons :)

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