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Shorinji Kempo
by Richard Killion - Dragon Times #14

Establishment of Shorinji Kempo

In 1928, Doshin So, the founder (also refered to as Kaiso) travelled through China studying as he did so various forms of Chinese Kempo. Under the guidance of the head of the North Shorinji Giwamonken School of Kempo, Wen-Lanshi, he studied its techniques in great depth including the practice of embu, a kata-like form that requires two people to perform, and a hallmark of modern Shorinji Kempo. (Note that the word Shorinji is the Japanese pronounciation of Shaolin Temple Boxing.) In 1936, at a ceremony at the school, Doshin So became the official successor.

Experiencing the Russian Army's occupation of Manchuria, Kaiso concluded that the course of the world's events was not dependent on ideology, religion or nationalism, but on the quality of the individual person and of his or her actions. This conclusion strongly influenced the shaping of Shorinji Kempo and its philosophical base Returning to the devastation of postwar Japan he found the youth of his homeland discouraged, and with little if any sense of purpose. His great concern for their moral welfare and the future of his country caused him to devote his life to training young people with "courage, strength, mercy and a sense of justice," principles that in the fullness of time would find international acceptance.

He reformed and revised the martial art techniques that he had studied in China, and added to them his philosophical insights to create Shorinji Kempo. As both a training place and sanctorium he established the Shorinji Kempo honbu dojo on the Island of Shikoku, Kagawa Prefecture, in the town of Tadotsu. The original 12 square meter dojo behind his house in Tadotsu has grown over the years into a very substantial training facility, to where students from all over the world come to train.

Establishment in the USA

Rev. Yamamori Sensei:
In the 1950s Yamamori Sensei trained at the Kyoto Betsuin Dojo in Kyoto. Doshin So would come to Kyoto for two weeks each month to train Yamamori and his classmates. In 1968 Yamamori Sensei founded the first United States Shorinji Kempo dojo in Los Angeles, where he continues to teach today. Yamamori Sensei holds a 7th dan rank and is an ordained priest of Kongo-Zen.

Los Angeles Dojo:
Located in a large port city of the Pacific Rim, the Los Angeles dojo is comopolitan in outlook and attracts an international cross section of Shorinji Kempo students. Yamamori sensei is noted for his lectures as well as his teaching and both act as magnets for students travelling in America as well as visiting instructors from Japan, among them: Morikawa, Zeo Sensei; Arai Sensei; Misaki, Toshio Sensei; Goda, Kiyokazu Sensei; Yamazaki, Hiromichi Sensei; Miyoshi, Kenji Sensei; Kurata, Kenji Sensei; Akiyoshi, Yoshimi Sensei, and Bando, Kunio Sensei

Rev. Toshio Kuramoto Sensei:
In 1969, Kuramoto Sensei began studying Shorinji Kempo at the Koshigaya Doin in Koshigaya city in Saitama Prefecture, Japan. He had no previous martial arts training prior to joining Shorinji Kempo. He started training under Yamamori Sensei at the Los Angeles dojo in 1972. He holds a 6th dan rank and is an ordained priest of Kongo-Zen. He has recently established his own dojo in Hollywood, California.


The religious organization is called Sohonzan-Shorinji, and its sect is called Kongo Zen and is registered with the Japanese government. The martial art organization is officially called Shorinji Kempo Renmei.

There is also a world federation called the World Shorinji Kempo Organization WSKO - a federation of all Shorinji Kempo dojos around the world. Countries outside of Japan have national, and sometimes regional federations, where they periodically meet together as a group. The British Shorinji Kempo Federation, founded by Mizuno Sensei and Yoshida Sensei is a very active federation in Great Britain. Worldwide, there are about 1.4 million members at 3,000 dojos in 20 countries. In the United States, there are currently 27 dojos.

Philosophy of Kongo-Zen

The philosophy of Kongo-Zen comes from the word Kongo, which means diamond, and Zen, from the teachings of Boddharma, whose essential teaching was that the kingdom of heaven lies in the heart of man. Essentially, this is a belief of self-dependence, as can be seen in the Seiku (meditation). At the beginning of practice, the meditation, oath and creed are recited. At the Los Angeles dojo this is done in Japanese.

Meditation (Seiku)

I am my own refuge and source of strength. On whom may I rely if not myself? With a wisely disciplined self, I find a truly rare and precious fountain of strength. By doing evil, I contaminate myself. By not doing evil, I purify myself. Purity and impurity come from within, and others cannot purify my heart.

Oath (Seigan)

We pledge to follow the principles of Shorinji Kempo in practice and in daily life:

To affirm the founder.
To be honest with our teachers.
To respect those ahead of us.
To not disdain those behind us.
To give as well as receive help.
To cooperate, and to give ourselves to contributing to the Way.
We pledge to set aside our preoccupations in learning this art as if we were newborn children.
We pledge to use this art only to help people, never for our reputation or profit.

Creed (Shinjo)

Mindful that our spirit came from Dharma and our bodies from our parents, we acknowledge debts and express out gratitude by applying ourselves to the fullest.

We resolve ourselves to making the country worthy of love by improving the lives of its people.

We resolve to become men and women of true courage who love justice, foster peace, respect humanity, and act with decorum.

We strive to improve the world by practicing the principles of Kongo Zen, strengthening ourselves mentally and physically and sharing this purpose with others in mutual friendship, respect, and support.

The ultimate reality cannot be comprehended by human thought and Kongo-Zen does not recognize an invented reality that projects human's fears and needs. There is no need for humans to claim to be gods or profit from being intermediaries for gods. Praying to gods will not solve problems. Kongo-Zen states that problems are to be solved by man by acquiring more knowledge and becoming one with the spirit of Dharma.

There is the important Kongo-Zen concept of the Middle Path of Harmony. It states that extremes must be avoided. For an individual to recognize and attempt to solve the problems of the world it is necessary to have both a strong mind and a strong body. Ignoring one aspect would not make a completed human. Both the mental and the physical aspects of the world must be acknowledged and be in balance.

There also is a middle path relationship between the individual and society. There must be a middle path between selfishness and selflessness. Humans must realize their dependence on others, but preserve their individuality.

What is Shorinji Kempo

The spiritual teachings of Shorinji Kempo, are, of course, based on Kongo Zen principles.

It believes in balancing the spiritual aspects of the East with the material and scientific approach of the west.

There are four essential teachings of Shorinji Kempo, which will be briefly explained:

The Answer Lies in Man

The individual is responsible for his own welfare and happiness, and should not blame others and society for what befalls him. Training aims to produce responsible individuals who can relate to society in a meaningful and fruitful way.

The Unity of Ken and Zen

Ken refers to the body or action. Zen refers to the mind or composure. The mind and the body are inseparable. A troubled mind can lead to poor health, and, conversely, poor health can bring about a troubled mind. Both mind and body need to be cultivated for a complete individual.

The Unity of Strength and Love

The reality of life is that justice must be enforced by strength. Passive submission is not beneficial to anyone. Forgiveness, coming from love, must be supported by the power to punish. Shorinji Kempo uses strength for preservation of life, not for killing. Force is to be used as a final measure and only for the purpose of self -preservation.

Living Half for Oneself and Half for Others

Humans must think of the welfare of others as well as their own. One must not deprive others at the cost of the individual. While pursuing the benefits for oneself, one should also benefit others.


The symbol of Shorinji Kempo is an commonly seen Buddhist symbol of Indian origin, and great antiquity. In Japan it is used to denote a Buddhist temple, on maps and the symbol itself is displayed in and around the temples. The religious device is composed of four Ls at right angles to each other similar to, but not to be confused with the swastika used in Nazi Germany which is its mirror image. Another form of the Manji in Shorinji Kempo is two flowing lines within a circle, somewhat similar to a double yin-yang symbol. This modified symbol commonly used in Shorinji Kempo dojos in the West.


The hard aspect of Shorinji Kempo techniques called Goho consists of thrusts, and kicks. The soft aspect, called Juho, consists of twists, throws, eluding (releases), and pinning. There are over 600 of these techniques as well as 142 points located in the body that can cause pain or fainting when pressure is applied.

Training consists of a mutually cooperative effort between two persons in an experimental manner by receiving and applying these techniques. An embu is a planned two-person form that reinforces reflexes, distance judgement and overall techniques. There are standard embus, and also partners can create their own embu. No floor mats are used during practice. Most dojos have wooden floors.

Students (referred to as kenshi) greet each other with a gassho, with the palms of the hands held together at eye level. When listening to instruction, they stand at attention with the hands clasped in front of the body.

Goho-The Positive System

Shorinji Kempo techniques use the coordinated power of the entire body, especially the hips and shoulders. This is especially emphasized in hand thrusts. During warm-up, there is one particular training exercise, where the body motion used in hand thrusts are practiced while keeping the hands behind the body. While practicing this, the shoulder, knee, hip and overall body position is carefully checked.

Hand thrusts are varied and can be closed or open handed. There is also an eye strike (Mae Uchi) where the arm is relaxed and is whipped so that the fingers flick at the eyes.

The stances are not deep enough to prevent mobility in any direction. There are various hand positions that students can further vary with open hands and closed fists. The basic Chudan Gamae stance using both fists is somewhat similar to a boxer's hand position, except the lead fist is lower.

The footwork taught allows for mobility in any direction. Turning, stepping, sliding and leaping movements are used. When moving into an opponent the approach is not straight in but to the side. Dodges are also practiced in order to avoid attacks and are frequently combuned with blocks which are performed "inwards" or "outwards." Kicks are immediately withdrawn into a position from which the leg itself can be used to block an opponent's kick and then counterattack with yet another kick. Ukemi (rolls) are practiced and culminate with a standing or kneeling defensive position from which further defensive and/or counter-attacking techniques are launched.

Juho-The Passive System

The coordination of the power of the body, especially the hips, shoulders legs and positioning of the arms contributes to the effectiveness of the techniques. Releasing (eluding) grabs of either the hands, wrists or clothing are practiced. This can result in the opponent releasing his grip or can develop into a throw that simultaneously causes pain in the gripping hand and arm before the opponent reaches the ground. Once on the ground pins are used to increase pain, if needed, and to contain the opponent. After control is established, a coup de grace in the form of a hand thrust or kick is delivered.

There are a large number of eluding and throwing techniques and variations due to the the differences in the opponent's grab, the relative height and strength of the opponent and his reaction to your defense. The finer points in making a Juho technique more effective are not obvious to a casual observer, or even a student, unless the technique is directly experienced. A subtle shift in relative positioning of the hands, elbows, arms, hips, shoulders can create an unexpected magnitude increase of pain or an increase of throwing force.


Seiho is based on ancient methods used to regulate the body by application of pressure to various known points on the body. This relaxes the muscles and improves circulation. The most commonly used techniques are applying pressure to the muscles surrounding the spinal column and the neck muscles, as well as the pulling of the rib cage.


Zazen meditation is employed to cultivate cultivate proper breathing, increase mental awareness and concentration. Zazen is based on the concept of the mind-body unity and is important for ensuring a balanced human being. Appo and Kappo.

Kappo literally means "resuscitation." These are collections of techniques to revive a person who is unconscious. There are seven technical maneuvers available (according to the Honbu Manual, demonstrated by Bando Sensei) by which Kappo can be used to revive an unconscious person. Appo literally means "the technical application of the pressure points," is the collections of tecniques, called O-atsu waza (or technique used to paralyze an opponent by applying the correct amount of pressure onto the correct pressure- points of the body).

Appo can be used by a kenshi to defeat the offender by applying the correct pressure, even without applying strong power. Therefore, even the young children or women can defend themselves if they perform this technique. The knowledge of these pressure points originated from the Oriental medical practices of some 5000 years ago.


True teaching can be thought of as continuation of a culture. What is taught are not just the facts that can be recorded in a book but the human-to-human transmission of a way of doing.