This article is about the little known martial art of Shorini Kempo, which is also known as Shaolin Temple Boxing. This is an art which is a throwback to the days of the Shaolin temple, when the great Zen Master Bodidharma, taught his monks Kung Fu to protect themselves from robbers and bandits.
History And Nature Of The Art
Shorinji Kempo (which is literally translated as “Shaolin Temple Boxing”) is a Japanese martial art that was founded in 1947. After the proud Japanese people were defeated during World War ii, the country fell into difficult times and many Japanese were suffering from some degree of depression. The founder, Doshin So, who had lived in China for much of his life, had studied several types of Shaolin Kung Fu, and invented Shorinji Kempo as a spiritual art intended to bring hope to the Japanese people, and over time, to all mankind.
Doshin had originally tried to change Japanese society by using lectures for education, but found that no one wanted to attend. When he saw a painting of Bodhidharma, the famous Chinese philosopher and sage, he recalled that, by legend, Bodidharma developed Kung Fu and taught it to the monks at the Shaolin Temple, as part of their spiritual practice.
Shorinji Kempo is a striking, grappling and weapon-based martial art that incorporates elements and techniques of traditional martial arts of karate, judo, jujutsu, and aikido. There are presently well over a million students and practitioners of Shorinji Kempo in over 50 countries. Most of the schools are in Japan or Europe, with a few schools in the United States.
Zen meditation is an integral part of practice, and the techniques are always practiced in a cooperative, not competitive way. Meditation is part of the philosophy of the organization, and is also used to train the mind. Students’ fees are usually quite low, as the organization is set up as a non-profit. The purpose of their schools is to teach and spread the art and its moral and religious principles, and not to provide school instructors with the opportunity to make a living or even get rich living teaching the art.
In Japan, the headquarters dojo of the governing body, the World Shorinji Kempo Organization, has registered this martial art as a religion. The philosophy and principles taught focus on building character, in particular strength, courage, justice, and compassion.
Although various arts are incorporated in Shorinji Kempo, uniforms and belt kyu and dan ranks, titles such as sensei, shodan, nidan, godan, etc., mirror those used in Karate, except that black belts with ranks of nidan (2nd degree black belt) and above are allowed to wear a special uniform patterned after the robes of Buddhist monks.
The training emphasizes self-defense techniques, and strikes are delivered to vulnerable pressure points and vital areas in order to cause maximum pain and to temporarily incapacitate the opponent without causing serious or permanent physical injury.
There is also weapons training with the bokken.
If you watch high level practitioners in their exercises and sparring, you can see that the strikes, while very similar to those used in Karate, do have their own flavor which is easy to see, but hard to explain. One obvious thing that does stand out is that it is more common in Shorinji Kempo to practice using head, body, and groin protectors in sparring, which allow full power strikes to be practiced. Both the kicks and hand techniques have subtle variations and modifications which allow the practitioner to use them at different ranges and combine them into fast and effortless combinations.
The Practice Of Embu
Shorinji Kempo uses various training methods, including basic practice of movements, controlled sparring (called kumite), and one man and two man kata. “Embu” is a choreographed two man form where one practitioner will attack the other with full power and speed, but refrain from actual contact, while the other partner defends and counterattacks. The roles are then reversed. Embu is used both for training and for demonstration purposes.
Shorinji Kempo Advanced Techniques
Very fast front kicks to the groin are practiced as counterattacks which, when used with timing, can be tremendously effective in sparring or real combat, and can be delivered with speed and power at quite a short range. Also trained and often used is the technique of blocking and immediately counterattacking with the blocking hand or leg after a block or check.
Kicks emphasize the snap of the knee and are delivered at various angles in such a way as to allow them to be used at close range. Experts can kick the groin and punch the face simultaneously with great power. I have even seen experts demonstrate using a punch to the face, a kick to the groin and a joint lock simultaneously.
The art also emphasizes open hand flicking strikes with the fingertips to the eyes, a technique also used in Jeet Kune Do. This strike is extremely fast and does not risk injuring the practitioner’s hands because of the relaxed flicking motion.
There is also extensive practice of becoming aware of various cues when the opponent is just about to attack, and immediately striking him first or alternatively intercepting his strike and countering in one motion, similarly to how is done in Jeet Kune Do.
While karate originally included a lot of throws and joint locks, over the years these techniques were progressively eliminated, as they too often resulted in injuries. The same thing happened to Jujitsu, which evolved or some people say degenerated, into Judo. However, Shorinji Kempo includes a ton of joint locks and throws, which would be very dangerous except in practice if not for the cooperative spirit and intense discipline used.
The end result is a martial art that seems to look most like a combination of the hard, powerful strikes and blocks of karate with the flowing and flexible techniques of Aikido, along with a slight resemblance to jeet kune do.
Whether you like it or don’t like it, you will probably be somewhat fascinated by it if you see it.