With the study of Tachi waza, Sensei plays a lot these days with the different meanings of the word “Ri”. As you know the japanese language being monotonic, one sound has always several meanings which gives this language a great variety of possible understanding and/or interpretations.
Depending on how you write it, the word “ri” has the meaning of 1. distance, keeping away or 2. truth, principle.
Understanding this ambivalent signification one can see that going through the sequence of Shu (learning) and Ha (understanding) one will reach the truth or distance himself from it. The truth in your Taijutsu comes only when by learning for a long time you are able to understand the hidden part of the waza.
Therefore, you begin to go away from the form to express the principle of it. One day in Japan one of the Shihan said that the waza is only to channel our understanding in order to develop the natural flow created by our ability to adapt our movements to the situation.
Now if we look at the other meaning of distance or keeping away, it can be understood positively or negatively. We know many teachers getting lost in the world of variation and having at the end no clue about the real (true) forms. As I often say, it is easy to tell the students to forget the form when you do not know it before. Remember, if you want to forget something, you first have to learn it! Those teachers have no Shu, no Ha and will never get close to the Ri. We can also see this “keeping way” or “distancing” as the result of a true Shu Ha Ri progression where your understanding distances itself from the dead form of the waza to bloom into another technical dimension, one that encompasses the connexion with everything around and within you.
To finish on this new approach given by the different meanings of those sounds, we have to be aware that there are other meanings for those three sounds (even for “ri”):
Shu: master, lord; kind, variety, species; actor, supporting post; tumor; hand (Te).
Ha: edge of a sword; leaf (like in happa); tooth (like in hadome); clique, faction, school.
Ri: official; clever; old measure; diarrhea; advantage, benefit, profit, interest; rustic, ill-mannered.
So Shu Ha Ri could also be to become the “clever master [manipulating] the edge of the sword” or in modern term to become a true swordmaster. Interestingly, this year’s theme is “Tachi Kumiuchi” and as Sensei said recently: “the true swordmasters were the Tachi Masters”.