I think that setting any sort of standard or criteria by which to judge attainment of the ri stage is misguided.
Like enlightenment or "mastery", we bandy these terms about as if they had specific and concrete meanings. They do not. They are more meant as a finger pointing at the moon, as ways for us to guide our own practice. (Or to gently explain to white belts why they should shut up and do the technique the way they were taught.)
The shu-ha-ri concept is a philosophical division of form. It simply delineates the plain fact that the form is the proper way of doing things, whereas other times the form will hold us back. We don't literally "graduate" from one stage to the next across all our techniques, or even permanently. We might get it on one day and lose it the next. The three concepts are just putting a name to that phenomena.
This is well-recognized in other fields where different levels of competence or knowledge integration are used. Wikipedia uses the shu-ha-ri concept to explain the familiarization process with editing Wikipedia:
In the martial arts there is a concept of the road to mastery called shu ha ri that could be explained as:
- He/She who is a beginner, plays within the boundaries;
- He/She who is proficient, explores the boundaries;
- He/She who is an expert, creates the boundaries—or ignores them altogether.
While editing Wikipedia: beginners don't know (or are only starting to learn) the rules; intermediate users learn the rules; advanced users learn the spirit of the rules; finally, once users understand the spirit of the rules and principles, they can ignore them.
Further, the four stages of competence are recognized across many disciplines. I see a direct parallel to the shu-ha-ri concept, with the first stage of competence simply placed before even shu.
- Unconscious incompetence
- Conscious incompetence (akin to shu)
- Conscious competence (akin to ha)
- Unconscious competence (akin to ri)
To me, comparing the Japanese concept of form with Burch's model of competence stages plainly shows that these are not discrete states, and further that determining the state one is in requires knowledge of internal mental processes, making it difficult to say for sure which stage someone else is operating in. This would be the simplest way to tell if someone is operating at a high level: are they reacting naturally, casually, without thought or effort? Or are they executing techniques expertly and effectively, but with mental effort, consciously? We can't say with any certainty, but observing the smoothness and speed of their action can give hints.
(It is also important to remind ourselves that we move into and out of these stages fluidly: I go through months where I start hitting kouchigari without conscious thought, before losing it for another span of several months. I am forcibly reverted to conscious action.)