Although movies and magazines have skyrocketed the popularity of numerous arts, shorinji kempo remains a mystery to most people -- even martial arts enthusiasts. This in-depth look at the art will change all that.
Although martial arts movies and magazines have caused the popularity of numerous arts to skyrocket, shorinji kempo remains a mystery to most people. Even martial arts enthusiasts are frequently ignorant of shorinji kempo’s techniques and philosophy. And they are almost always astonished to learn that the style has accumulated some 1.5 million students in more than 3,000 dojo in 27 countries. A single group, headquartered in the town of Tadotsu on the island of Shikoku, Japan, regulates all that training and testing. However, with only 23 dojo in the United States and four in Canada, shorinji kempo is still an enigma to most Americans. This article will attempt to remedy that. The History of Shorinji Kempo Doshin So is the founder of shorinji kempo. Born in 1911 in a small mountain village high above the city of Okayama, Japan, he traveled to China at age 17 and lived there for more than a decade and a half as a special agent for the Japanese government. His work brought him into contact with several Chinese secret societies, and he learned the Chinese martial arts from instructors who had gone into hiding because of the Boxer Rebellion. After training extensively in Beijing with a Shaolin master named Wen Laoshi, Doshin So was permitted to succeed him as the 21st master of the Northern Shorinji Giwamonken School. He started with various kung fu techniques he had learned in China, then added moves of his own and melded it all together. He named his creation “shorinji kempo,” which translates as “Shaolin Temple fist method.” Doshin So returned to Japan in 1946 only to find his nation in a post-World War II state suffering from moral decay and dismal self-esteem. Because of his concern for his country and desire to end its mass depression, he began lecturing young people. When he failed to get his message across, he realized that words alone were not enough to modify minds. So he opened a dojo and began the task of rebuilding the character, morale and backbone of the Japanese people by using his shorinji kempo techniques as the bait to attract new students and as a vehicle to teach his message of Zen philosophy. In December 1951, Doshin So founded the Kongo Zen Sohonzan temple in Tadotsu with shorinji kempo as its main teaching; thus he was able to teach the art despite the Allies’ prohibition on martial arts training. Two years later, he created the Japan Shorinji Kempo Federation, and in 1974 he set up the World Shorinji Kempo Organization. In the 33 years that followed the founding of the art, he dedicated his life to developing young men and women into strong adults through his philosophical and physical teachings. He wrote a bestseller titled Shorinji Kempo: Philosophy and Techniques, and in 1975 it was abridged and reprinted in the United States as What Is Shorinji Kempo? In 1976, a movie was made about the life of Doshin So. It featured martial arts film star Sonny Chiba performing shorinji kempo techniques and playing the role of the founder. The film primarily dealt with Doshin So’s return to Japan after the war, the opening of his dojo and his rebuilding of his people. Unfortunately, when it was dubbed into English and released on video in the United States, it was sensationally retitled Killing Machine, thus misrepresenting virtually everything the founder stood for. In April 1980, Doshin So traveled to Shaolin Temple, where the Chinese priests welcomed him with a festive ceremony. A stone monument dedicated to him still stands in the courtyard of the temple. He returned to Japan, and on May 12, 1980 he died of heart disease. His daughter, Yuki So, then 22, decided to continue her father’s vision and serve as president of the World Shorinji Kempo Organization. Today, the system she oversees is used by police and military agencies in Japan and is recognized not only as a martial art and a religion, but also an entity that is committed to the betterment of society. Shorinji Kempo: A Complete Martial Art As a religion registered with the Japanese government, shorinji kempo seeks to follow in the ancient traditions espoused by the Shaolin monks — in short, unifying the mind and body through spiritual and physical development in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha. Because the art revolves around Zen meditation and Oriental medicine, it can offer students three main benefits: improved health, spiritual development and self-defense. The self-defense component stems from the shorinji kempo’s reliance on combinations of “soft” and “hard” techniques designed to allow a weaker defender to control a stronger attacker by dynamically applying the laws of physics. That makes it perfect for women, children and people of all ages. Its curriculum can be broken down into four basic parts:
- Goho, which refers primarily to punches, kicks, hammers (non-punching hand strikes) and slashes.
- Juho, which is composed of close-contact techniques, including releases, joint locks, reverses, throws and pins.
- Seiho, or Zen acu-therapy, which offers health promotion through the prevention of illness.
- Zazen, or seated meditation, which promotes spiritual and mental development through Zen Buddhism, ultimately fostering the ability to seek a solution to conflict without unduly harming others.