This phrase, Shu Ha Ri, indicates that there are 3 phases in kendo, or when learning something.
Shu is a kanji for to protect, but in this case it means to "keep the teachings" as in "to keep the promise".
When you start learning something, you listen to your teacher.
You have to do what your teacher tells you to do in order to acquire the basics correctly.
You may want to go somewhere else and learn some more cool techniques or something.
If you do that in this phase, you will get confused and cannot acquire the correct basics.
That is why it is very important to CHOOSE the right teacher. It is also said that we should take more time to find the right teacher than actually start learning.
Ha is a kanji for "to break". Here it means to break the teachings you have acquired from your teacher and learn something new from other teachers.
It sounds bad, doesn't it?
Once you acquired the basics, you need to learn something different to improve yourself physically and mentally even more. I will explain this later in this article.
Ri is a kanji for to leave. You leave from what you have learned from your teachers and establish your own style. This is a state of independence.
Shu may be easy. This is the very beginning. You were born in a new world.
You are just like a newborn baby. You have to learn how to crawl, how to walk, how to grab and so on.
You have to learn very basics skills during this phase. Maybe it takes five to 10 years to have solid basics.
Ha is a phase that you meet all new people.
So in shu it is your family members to teach you these basic skills. Ha is like schools we go to.
You will have new society and new teachers. On top of what you have learned from your previous teachers, you learn new teachings from other people.
This is also a phase that you try your basic skills and new skills and improve them. It is like a trial and error phase.
This phase will last a long time. I have been doing kendo since 1980 but I am still in this phase.
Going back to basics and learning new skills and philosophies are the daily routine.
Ri is probably 7th dan and 8th dan level.
Based on what you have learnt, you establish your own style.
It doesn't mean that you can call your own style something other than kendo. Since I am not in the phase I don't know what it is like.
Maybe it is like you have your own way of doing things and it is okay because whatever you do is based on the basics and kendo philosophy.
Everyone admires you. You are great in kendo and as a person.
Maybe that is the Ri phase.
Hope the article helps.