Ha is the next phase of the learning process. It means “break.” Here we find one of  celebration of conundrum.  If we invest tremendous time and effort into the mastery of form and technique suggested by shu, what then are we to make of a subsequent phase that insists that we “break” something.  Break the rules? I thought they were to be obeyed. And so they are. Unless, of course, you knowingly violate them for a greater purpose.

In the martial arts context ha suggests not so much a violation (breaking the rules) as an event that leads you to a deeper understanding of what the ultimate purpose of your activity is. A master craftsman stringing together a set of pearls must focus on each pearl as she sets them on a string. Each is important, and care must be used in setting the individual pearl in its place on the necklace. But certainly this is not the point of the action. The point is to create a thing of beauty that is meant to be worn and viewed with appreciation.

So in the dojo, my mechanical focus on the niceties of stance in the forms known as kata may make my performance technically correct but may also make it seem stilted, robotic, without the flow that gives a truly great kata performance its beauty and emotional resonance.

So, too, with writing. We need to exhibit care in how we write, but sometimes the larger purpose may dictate that we focus more on the end point than on the rules. So in a piece of fiction, I may create a sentence fragment for purposes of impact or rhythm. It’s a violation of the technical rules or writing. It’s an error that is often found in hundreds of student essays. And it’s wrong. The difference between the student errors and my use is that I know I’m breaking the rule (having experienced shu) and am doing it for a reason, while the students in question are simply making an error in grammar.

Ha is about making the music of writing. It’s about rhythm and pacing, the end process of practice and experience, of careful selection and thought that, despite the deliberation, comes alive at the performance. Ha is what you get when the rules and techniques of Shu fit on you like a second skin. At this point, the rules of writing are no longer something to be obeyed. They become part of you and part of what you do. Thus,  the elements of Shu no longer dictate to you–in a very Zen way, there is no  separation between the self and the conventions of writing.

Ha is what is involved at the moment when craft also becomes art.



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