Without Reason, Inconsistent, Wasteful – Muri, Mura, Muda

Without Reason (Muri), Inconsistent (Mura) and a Man Without a Horse (Muda)

Principles (Ri) and Practice (Ji) are a dynamic pair of terms familiar in Buddhism, but also used in Budo. Ri is a principle, reason or truth—a higher order of understanding.  Ri comes from inspiration, intuition and inductive reasoning. This book is about Riron, or ‘Theory.’Muri Mura Muda - Ri Ji kanji definition

Ji is a concrete thing such as a particular technique or movement—it is a manifestation of Ri. Principles (Ri) of combat distilled from engagements and experience are transformed into concrete things such as the Kata you study, a particular technique, or stance. Both Principle (Ri) and Practice (Ji) are indispensable. You can have all the understanding in the world, but if you cannot apply it, then you are crippled. Conversely, having all the ability to do something, but having no idea what to do is equally crippling. Behind each and every technique is an underlying truth, principle or reason. If you find the Principle (Ri) it will make your technique stronger. By practicing technique, you may discover the truth behind it.

No Reason, Inconsistency, and Not Using Your Horse – Muri, Mura, and Muda

While training in Japan, one morning I was introduced to some terms that I had never heard before. While practicing Basics (Kihon) and Kata, Soke would look at me and say “Muda” or “Muri.” I questioned him about the terms, but he only gave a brief explanation. I think he wanted me training during the morning workout. With my curiosity piqued, I pinned him down after lunch and got an explanation of what turned out to be everyday expressions to the Japanese, but which opened new doors to my understanding of Karate.

In fact, these three words were probably a significant driver for me to pursue the research presented in this book. These three terms are used to describe different ways time and resources are wasted. They are even used in automobile production plants like Toyota to help streamline their operations, but they offer a very penetrating way to look at your martial art.

No Reason/No Principle – Muri

If you try to do something Without  Principle (Muri), you are trying to create result with no structure.Muri - definition and Kanji
As an example, trying to reproduce an exact copy of the Eiffel tower by nailing a bunch of 2×4’s together, would likely end up in failure. If you understood the concept of compressive loads of such a tall structure, and understood the limitations of 2×4’s, you might have a better chance of being successful. You would make larger beams from boards nailed together near the base to support the compressive load of the structure above. Alternatively, you could opt for a material that would better support these kinds of loads.

Doing something Without Reason (Muri) is like trying to create the maximum potential in a punch without understanding simple things like proper joint sequence, stance, hip rotation, or that you have to close your fist, etc. To force a result with No Reasoning (Muri) is ultimately wasteful, tiring, and totally dangerous against an experienced opponent, because he will find the Gaps (Suki) in your armor and exploit them.

Being unreasonable mentally and emotionally also leads to waste. Being unreasonable in letting go of baggage leads to all sorts of unhappiness. Being unreasonable in interactions with people by always trying to get what you want leads to alienation. You are missing the Principle (Ri) and trying to force a result (Ji).

Muri is a great concept because it suggests that you should look at your technique and examine it in several ways:

  • Is the technique beyond your current capabilities?
  • It allows you to search for the reason or principle behind the movement or technique.
  • If you understand the reasoning behind one technique, it may have wider application to others (using inductive reasoning).
  • By analyzing your failure you can find the principles behind your technique

When my Sensei says “Muri” to me now, I understand it means I haven’t found the principle or meaning behind it, or that it is currently beyond my capabilities. He has given me a gift, because he has pointed to the root of my problem—understanding the Principles or Reason (Ri) behind the technique.

Inconsistency – Mura

Mura can refer to an Inconsistent movement, action or way of thinking.Mura - Definition and Kanji

As an example, imagine thinking about eating ice cream when you are trying to deliver the hardest punch you can. This seemingly trivial example is used to illustrate that the mind and body are inconsistent. Other examples are hitting before you finish your step forward and separating the components of the body so they are not in synchronization.

Stepping forward with large upward and downward motion wastes time and detracts from your main purpose, which is to translate your body forward.  Punching hard with my right hand and weak with my left is Inconsistent (Mura). Acing your art class and not your math class is Mura. Telling someone you will meet them at 3:00 pm and not showing up until 4:00 pm is Mura.

Applying a principle using one technique and not another is a great example of Mura. The message here is to learn to be consistent in technique and application—to deliver a proper execution at any time and any place that you choose in the circumstances you find yourself in.

Not Using Your Pack Horse – Muda

Muda refers to doing things in excess of what is needed, which could involve time, energy, length of the movement, etc.Muda - definition and Kanji

It was only when my Sensei got a Japanese dictionary and showed me the characters that I understood its meaning. Muda literally means “No Pack Horse.” This does not necessarily mean that you do not have a horse, but that you have one and are not using it. It is like you are carrying a heavy bag on your shoulders while your horse walks beside you unburdened.

An example of Muda might be using a Shifting (Sabaki) motion that is too large.  When the opponent steps in with a punch, you step back too far to be able to counterattack quickly.

Muri, Mura and Muda give us a means to analyze our technique. Next time you are sweating in the Dojo and just cannot figure out what is wrong, ask yourself if it is Without Principle, Inconsistent or Where’s the horse?

Muri, Mura and Muda are ways that let you examine the practical application (Ji) in each and every technique, action and movement. It goes well beyond just your martial art. Wasting time and resources are important concerns for runners who want to make an efficient stride, and power skaters to increase the efficiency of their leg strokes. You can use these three concepts to analyze relationships in your life, how much you eat and why you fail at calculus.

The key is to search for the Principle (Ri) behind the technique. This entire text is about Ri. If you glimpse the Ox in one punch out of a thousand—work to make it two, then three. Reduce the inefficiencies and understand the principles and, as we will see, the ultimate journey ends with Ri-ai—a unification of principles.

Miyamoto Musashi had something to say about understanding the difference between Ri and Ji—and the truth that they are inseparable:

“…if popular ways are examined with the correct principles, it can be seen that those which lean toward the long sword, those that use the short sword as their principle, those which lean toward the strong or the weak, and those which are attuned to the overall picture or the fine details are all distorted and prejudiced.”

For my part, I tend to be a man with a horse who does not know how to use it.

Principle and Practice Are One – Ri Gi Ittai

In reality, Ri and Ji cannot survive without the other. Each is part of a dualistic pair with the other. One who has collapsed this duality and integrated both Principle and Practice has attained a high understanding of Budo. Ri Gi Ittai is one of a number of unifying principles in Budo.

Excerpted From: Budo Theory: Exploring Martial Arts Principles

by Richard Rowell