Friday, June 15, 2012

Shorinji Kempo

Shorinji Kempo is a wholly Japanese striking art, unlike Karate whose origins lie in Okinawa prior to influence from the mainland. That said, the claims of pedigree of Shorinji border on the fantastical, claiming a wholly Chinese influence from no less an institute than the Shaolin temple and a lineage traceable back to Bodhidharma . This figure is of huge importance to East Asian martial traditions. He was an Indian Buddhist that introduced a form of his religion into China that would amalgamate with Taoism and later be transmitted to Japan and take the name Zen. He is also widely reported to have introduced the earliest systematized martial arts from his homeland into the Shaolin Temple in order to keep monks in good physical shape, his techniques being first understood as a system of calisthenics (this is not in fact true and originates from the Shaolin Temple itself who sought to legitimize their practices).

Though it is highly unlikely that these claims will ever be verified, nevertheless Shorinji Kempo does keep to the spirit of the romantic notions of the origins of East Asian fighting arts and preaches non-confrontation and a spiritual path along with combat techniques should all else fail. Shorinji is the Japanese term for Shaolin temple, while Kempo refers to an unarmed fighting method. These terms are rather lazily applied to give credence to a long history of the art, when in fact the techniques employed, despite the title, bear closer resemblance to the strikes of Karate, the locks of Aikido and the throws of Judo than strictly Chinese arts. The art was founded by Doshin So, a Japanese national that traveled through China in the period before the Second World War, learning Kempo. Upon his return he systematized the techniques that he learned and created Shorinji Kempo. While certain Japanese nationals did learn Chinese kung fu in the pre-war years, it should be considered that Japan pursued an aggressive foreign policy in mainland China from 1931 onwards, including the infamous Rape of Nanking. Distrust and mounting xenophobia on the part of the Chinese would make it seem unlikely that a direct transmission of historical, secret techniques would have been made to foreigners identified as colonizers, if indeed such combat methodologies were even still known. Reference to the histories of other arts suggests very strongly that Japan’s imperialistic intentions would have been more likely to drive fighting arts underground.

However, the overt acceptance and promotion of religious undertones is what separates Shorinji Kempo from other fighting arts, with a pronounced emphasis being placed on the spiritual aspects of training. That said, in typical Japanese fashion, the spiritual message is very confused and borrows widely from different religions to create a basic message that self-understanding leading to unity and brotherhood will save mankind. Central to the teaching is Kongo Zen, or Diamond Zen. This new form of Zen holds that reality as we perceive it is an invention of our imagination, along with morality, guilt, fear and so on. Man, instead, must gain knowledge of a deeper ideal where true morality and knowledge can be found. This essentially puts the responsibility of the development of mankind in the hand’s of man himself. As is common in Japan, there is a general uneasiness in trusting a deity, however supreme he may be, that is understood to be divorced from the individual.

Shorinji Kempo then is a reflection of Kongo Zen, a way of communicating and expressing the message understood through meditative practice. Physically this is achieved through the practice of pair work where each participant helps the other to better function, without either quelling the others individuality. In this manner strikes, kicks, locks and throws are all practiced with the intention of training not only the body for combat, but the mind and spirit in harmonizing with another. Shorinji Kempo was originally intended also to be non-competitive, though recent years have seen an increase in tournament fighting.

Though not touted as the most effective martial art for fighting, Shorinji Kempo is nevertheless concerned with both the protection of self and the protection of society. The combat doctrine is therefore mainly defensive in nature but potentially violent. If called upon to fight, the master of Shorinji Kempo will employ a series of techniques very similar in appearance to those of other methods popular in Japan: Aikido, Judo and Karate. In fact a strong point of this art is that it does not concentrate on one range only of combat, and employs kicks, punches, locks and throws. However, groundwork is lacking from the range of techniques employed.

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