Shorinji Kempo

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This article is about the martial art Shorinji Kempo. It is not to be confused with The Shaolin Temple, Shōrinji-ryū, or Shōrinjiryū Kenkōkan Karate.
For Other schools of Kempo, see Kempo.
Shorinji Kempo
Kanji of Shorinji Kempo
Doshin So's Instruction.jpg
Doshin So (left) giving instructions
Focus Eclectic / Hybrid
Hardness Full Contact
Country of origin Japan Japan
Creator Doshin So
Famous practitioners Yuki Kondo, Sonny Chiba, Hiroyuki Sanada
Ancestor arts Byakuren-ken(Báilián Quán),
Giwa-ken(Yihe Quán),
Fusen-ryū Jūjutsu,
Hakkō-ryū Jūjutsu
Olympic sport No
Official website World Shorinji Kempo Organization(WSKO)
Shorinji Kempo Unity

Shorinji Kempo (少林寺拳法 shōrinji-kempō?, meaning "Shaolin Temple Fist Law") is a Japanese martial art equivalent of Shaolin Kungfu.[1] It was established in 1947 by Doshin So (宗 道臣 Sō Dōshin?), a Japanese martial artist and former military intelligence agent.[2]

Shorinji Kempo is a system of "self-defense and training" (護身錬鍛: goshin-rentan), "mental training" (精神修養: seishin-shūyō) and "promoting health" (健康増進: kenkō-zōshin), whose training methods are based on the concept that "spirit and body are not separable" (心身一如: shinshin-ichinyo) and that it is integral to "train both body and spirit" (拳禅一如: kenzen ichinyo).

Through employing a well organized technical training schedule (科目表: kamoku-hyō), Shorinji Kempo claims to help the practitioner "establish oneself" (自己確立: jiko-kakuritsu) and to promote "mutual comfort" (自他共楽: jita-kyōraku'). The philosophy and techniques of Shorinji Kempo are outlined in their handbook, (少林寺拳法教範: Shōrinji-kenpō-kyōhan).


The organization of Shorinji Kempo group is divided into 5 entities:

  • Religious entity (金剛禅総本山少林寺: Kongō-zen Sōhon-zan Shōrinji),
  • Foundation entity Shorinji Kempo Foundation Federation(一般財団法人少林寺拳法連盟: Ippan-zaidan-hōjin Shōrinji-kempō Renmei),
  • Educational entity Zenrin Gakuen College(学校法人禅林学園: Gakkō-hōjin Zenrin Gakuen),
  • Global entity World Shorinji Kempo Organization, WSKO (少林寺拳法世界連合: Shōrinji-kempō Sekai Rengō),
  • Intellectual property entity (Shorinji Kempo Unity).

The relationship between these 5 entities is very close because of the unique fusion of religion, budo and education. (source: web site of Shorinji Kempo Foundation Federation and Shorinji Kempo Kyohan written by Doshin So)


There are two sides of Shorinji Kempo which are believed to be true budō (武道) and educational system. As the latter, the organization is well known for their mental training institution as well as body training facilities dōjō (道場).[3]

The founder, Doshin So, wanted to establish not only an organization which incorporated mental and physical training but also wanted to educate Japanese people who had been completely demoralised by World War II/ Pacific Rim War. His aim was to defuse those who had lost their way and rebuild Japan for the future. It is said that he tried to teach Buddhist philosophy but no one followed him. Then he thought to follow Bodhidharma who was believed to be the originator of zen as the mental training and ekkin-gyō (易筋行) as the body training according to his book. Both of these are later to become the main training methods of Shorinji Kempo.

Technically, Shorinji Kempo has a whole set of defense techniques but the demonstration known as embu (演武) is the commonly demonstrated technique. The 'embu consists of 6 sections and each section includes a series of techniques which are either gōhō (剛法) or jūhō (柔法). During the embu, one person attacks and another person defends, they then swap roles and repeat the technique immediately. Each technique is known as hien (飛燕) or flying swallow which represents speed and smoothness of those techniques. The embu is occasionally performed wearing a black robe, called "hōi (法衣) at the beginning ceremony of annual taikai (大会) or convention.

The relationship between Shorinji Kempo and Song Shan Shaolin Temple[edit]

The mural painting in the Shaolin Monastery in which Doshin So took heavy influence from.

The name "Shōrinji" is a literal reading of the Chinese word "Shaolin Temple" from the Shaolin Monastery in Song Shan district (嵩山少林寺: Sūzan-shōrinji) in Henan Province (河南省) in China. Dōshin Sō claimed to have inherited the title of the 21st master of the Giwamon-ken (義和門拳) system (in Mandarin: Yihe Mén Quán) which is believed to have been used during the Boxer rebellion of 1899 to 1901

Also, Dōshin Sō was very much impressed to see paintings on the wall of Byakue-den (白衣殿) chapel at Shaolin Temple. The style of the Buddhist priests practicing the martial arts was very fresh and vital to him. He thought it was the origin of the existing martial arts techniques in China. (source: a book "Hiden Shorinji Kempo" 秘伝少林寺拳法「光文社」written by Doshin So, published by Kobun-sha Kappa Books)


Doshin So

Doshin Sō was born Michiomi Nakano, born in Okayama prefecture and spent his youth in northern China, first with his grandfather and then as an intelligence agent of the occupying Japanese Army to collect military information during the war. As part of his cover, he was posted to a Taoist school as an apprentice. There, Nakano met Chen Lian (陳 良), a Taoist priest and Báilián Mén Quán (Byakurenmon-ken). After some time, Chen introduced Nakano to Wen Taizong (文 太宗), a master in Yihe Mén Quán (Giwamon-ken). Wen would take in Nakano as his student at the Shaolin Temple, at Henan, and passed onto him the title of grandmaster in that quan fa.

In the final days of the Second World War, the Soviet Union broke its neutrality pact with Japan, declaring war. The Soviets invaded Manchuria on 9 August, and overran the Japanese in less than 11 days. The aftermath was appalling; Japanese casualties were tenfold than that of the Soviets; wounded Japanese soldiers were left to die while the army retreated who also abandoned Japanese civilians; and many Japanese civilians committed mass suicide. It was in this carnage that Dōshin Sō recognized and understood the "nature of the human being". According to his book, the nature and quality of the person is extremely important since politics, law, and day-to-day living are all conducted by human beings.

After returning to Japan, Sō thought of establishing a cram school for young people. He was stationed in the small town of Tadotsu, on Shikoku island, to teach Buddhist philosophy. He established Shorinji Kempo to take the concept of ken-zen ichinyo by following Bodhidharma and made use of techniques he had learned in China. (source: a book "Hi-den Shōrinji Kempō" (秘伝少林寺拳法) written by Dōshin Sō, published by Kobun-sha Kappa Books). This promotion and campaign was known as Kongō-zen undō (Kongo-zen - Diamond-zen campaign) and expanded Shorinji Kempo throughout Japan by his pupils. This campaign and concept was inherited by his daughter Yūki Sō (宗 由貴 Sō Yūki?) after his death in 1980 till present. After his death, Dōshin Sō is called "Kaiso" or founder and the grand master.


Shorinji Kempo is not a traditional form of budō nor is it a kind of sport.[4] It is said to be as a religious gyō among pupils. According to the Buddha's doctrine, the spirit and fleshly body are inseparable. By practicing Shorinji Kempo techniques and learning its philosophy, it is believed to develop a firm body like a pair of standing Vajradhara (金剛神: Kongō-shin or 金剛力士 Kongō-rikishi) and the never-give-up spirit of Bodhidharma (菩提達磨: Bodai-daruma).

Shorinji Kempo and zen[edit]

Shorinji Kempo incorporates zen for mental training. Techniques are mainly divided into 3 categories which are: gōhō (hard or positive system techniques such as thrusts, punches, hand strikes, and kicks); jūhō (soft or passive system techniques such as throws, joint manipulations, and grappling) and; seihō (correcting techniques such as spine adjustments and massage).

Doshin So in his book, What is Shorinji Kempo?, said that he pursued Bodhidharma for his revelations and the development of his fighting techniques (阿羅漢乃拳). He believed this to have originated in India some 5,000 years ago based on art work from there. He was inspired by seeing representations of this painted on the wall of Byakue-den chapel at Shaolin Temple.

Those who practice Kongō-zen are called pupils (門信徒) and those who practice Shorinji Kempo are called kenshi (拳士). Kenshi always salute with "gassho" the greeting commonly used among Buddhist pupils. The gassho-rei is also "gassho-gamae" stance, with both palms put together and raised in front of one's face.

1947 religious entity established
1948 "Nippon Hokuha Shorinji Kempo Society" established
1951 "Kongo Zen Sohonzan Shorinji" (金剛禅総本山少林寺) started
1956 educational entity established
1957 "All Japan Shorinji Kempo Federation" established
1963 "Shorinji Kempo Federation of Japan" formed as corporate entity
1972 "World Shorinji Kempo Organization" (WSKO) established
1980 Doshin So died
1992 "Shorinji Kempo Federation Foundation" formed as a foundation entity
1997 50th anniversary celebrations
2000 Shorinji Kempo Group organized
2002 Busen (Shorinji Kempo Budo Academy) High School opened
2003 Busen renamed as Zenrin Gakuen College
2003 New mark so-en and new logo of Shorinji Kempo designed
2005 Migration from manji to so-en
2007 60th annversary
2008 All Japan Junior High School Shorinji Kempo Federation formed
2009 Sekai-taikai (global convention) cancelled in Indonesia because of security concerns, but taikai held
2012 Doshin So's 100th Birthday Memorial Taikai, held in Yokohama Japan
2013 Shorinji Kempo World Taikai 2013, held in Osaka Japan
(source: w:ja:少林寺拳法, in Japanese)

Training system[edit]

Mental training: (3 methods)


Body training:

"Go-ho" (hard techniques, 8 methods and 3 traditions)

8 Go-ho technique methods:


3 Go-ho technique traditions:


"Ju-ho" (soft techniques, 10 methods)


"Sei-ho" (correcting methods of the body)




"Kamae" (stances)

"Byakuren" (白蓮) 8 stances:

byakuren-chudan-gamae or commonly called kaisoku-chudan-gamae

"Giwa" (義和) 9 stances:


"Fujin-ho" (body positions):

sei-tai-gamae (both kenshi facing in Byakuren-chudan-gamae)
tai-gamae (when one kenshi has a left-front stance, the other also takes a left-front stance)
hiraki-gamae (when one kenshi has a left-front stance, the other takes a right-front stance)

"Umpo-ho" (footwork):

"Tai-sabaki" (body movement)

"Ukemi" (breakfalls):


(source: Shorinji Kempo Kyohan)


Embu is a combination of hokei (organized patterns of goho and juho techniques) which has 6 sections. It is similar to "kata", except that two or more people participate. Embu is performed in the court, in the gym, at a Taikai or other ceremonial occasions. In these patterns one kenshi takes the part of attacker (kōsha 攻者) and one acts as defender (shusha 守者); they then change roles and repeat the technique. After the set form technique the kenshi perform ren-han-ko (連反攻: a series of offence after defence) which is a free form counter-attack which continues until the original attacker successfully blocks/parries and counters. The juho techniques are followed by katame (pinning techniques) or kime (finishing techniques with various hand strikes or kicks to nerve points).

Embu start with gassho-rei and are performed usually in kumi embu (performed by kenshis in pair), tandoku embu (performed by single kenshi) and dantai embu (performed by 6 or 8 kenshi in a group).

Initially, there was no regulation in performing embu. Nowadays, it is rated out of 5 (sometimes 3 at preliminary selection) judges having 60 points each for the 6 sections and 40 points each for other factors for comprehensiveness. The maximun possible total of 300 points can be achieved after eliminating the highest and the lowest scores when 5 judges are judging. Kumi-embu and dantai-embu are performed within a time limit of between one and a half to two minutes.

The most famous embu pair was Masuomi Nakano and Toshio Misaki whose embu was said to have impressed Doshin So.

(source: w:ja:少林寺拳法, in Japanese)


Earlier in Shorinji Kempo's history, was the Unyo-ho, a fighting competition. After many accidents during randori with no headgear, the organization required the wearing of headgear, body protectors, and groin guards. A system of limiting each kenshi to one role of defender or attacker was also introduced for safety. Rating is done by judging attacking points, defensive techniques and counter-attacks.

(source: w:ja:少林寺拳法, in Japanese and Shoriji Kempo Kyohan)


Currently (October 2013), Shorinji Kempo is practiced at 2,900 doin (道院 dojo with small altar) and branches in 33 countries world wide. The current group president Yuuki So, the daughter of Doshin So, has guided Shorinji Kempo so that it is very popular among women. Shorinji Kempo is practiced at doin private gym, public gym, conference room, athletic fields, parks, etc.

Doin is open to the public and there are also club activities in various enterprises, the public sector, schools, local sports organizations etc. and they are called branches or shibu (支部).

The British Shorinji Kempo Federation has split from the WSKO, in response to the WSKO's announcement on 3 March 2010 that it was dissolving the BSKF.[5][6] However, there still remains a British federation affiliated with the World Shorinji Kempo Organisation, namely the United Kingdom Shorinji Kempo Federation [UKSKF].[7]

The British Shorinji Kempo Federation applied to the UK's Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to register the trademark that it has used for 25 years. Shorinji Kempo Unity opposed the application, but the IPO found that SKU had not demonstrated genuine use of its registered trademark.[8] SKU appealed the decision. In the High Court, the appeal judge found that SKU had shown genuine use of its mark, but that the BSKF mark can be registered. In particular, Warren found that Shorinji kempo is a generic term, which simply describes a martial art, and even if this were not the case, there is no possibility of confusion of the BSKF's mark with the mark registered by SKU.[9]

Qualifications and dan (bukai and hokai)[edit]

There are two qualifications from 1st dan (1st grade black belt) in order to qualify the steps of body and spiritual training.

Examples of dan and corresponding hokai

  • 1st dan (sho-dan) -> Jun-kenshi
  • 2nd dan (ni-dan) -> Sho-kenshi
  • 3rd dan (san-dan) -> Chu-kenshi
  • 4th dan (yon-dan) -> Sei-kenshi
  • 5th dan (go-dan) -> Dai-kenshi

After having 1st, 2nd and 3rd dan (bukai qualifications), kenshi practicing at doin will automatically have Jun-kenshi, Sho-kenshi and Chu-kenshi (hokai qualifications) Those kenshi practicing at branches will have these corresponding hokai after joining the training at Shorinji Kempo headquarters in Tadotsu town in Kagawa prefecture in Japan.

From 1st through the 3rd degree, the examinations are held in each prefectural Shorinji Kempo organization headquarters. However, the special examination will be held only at its main headquarters in Tadotsu for the qualifications of 4th degree and above. Generally, 4th degree practitioners (yon-dan) and above are considered as teachers, but those ranking at the 5th degree (go-dan) and above are officially called sensei (先生: teacher). Kenshi who obtained 4th dan automatically obtain Sei-kenshi as well.

WSKO's qualifications and conditions are a little different from its Japanese domestic ones.

Arm emblem category colors:

  • Red: for doin kenshi
  • Blue: for shibu kenshi
  • Green: for Zenrin Gakuen College students
  • Purple: for WSKO kenshi

Arm emblem title colors: Gold: for master of doin" or "shibu, Silver: for master of doin or shibu with 5th dan or lower, Red: assistant teacher with 3rd dan or above

Also, there is a sokai qualification in Konzo-zen Sohonzan Shorinji the religious entity. Kenshi with 2nd dan and Sho-kenshi will study Kongo-zen's philosophy and submit an application form and thesis.

Shorinji Kempo Headquarters (honbu)[edit]

Headquartered in Tadotsu town, Kagawa prefecture (in Shikoku island) in Japan


  • Hondo (main dojo/hall)
  • Kodo (lecture hall)
  • Rensei-dojo (former 1st dojo)
  • Shokudo (dining room)
  • Daigan-toh (memorial tower)
  • Zenrin Gakuen (collegehouse)

The bones and ashes of Doshin So are buried behind the lecture hall


The swastika, called "manji" in Japanese, was originally the emblem for Shorinji Kempo, as it is used in Dharmic religions, as well as by many cultures around the world, for centuries. The swastika can either mean love (left-facing) and strength (right-facing) which symbolize Kongo-zen teaching.

However, given the Nazi connotations that the swastika carries, the WSKO had been using the character 拳 (ken), which means "fist", in the center of tate-manji (swastika guarded by shields) on the emblem or using nagare-manji which meant rounded swastika.

In 2005, the Shorinji Kempo Group has employed a new symbol for all the international Shorinji Kempo federations. The new mark is called so-en (double circle) and it is said that this is the extreme shape of two swastikas intertwined.

The so-en emblem is put on the training uniform (keikogi), belt (obi), and the hōi, a black robe worn by high-ranking practitioners during exhibitions.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Shorinji Kempo". Black Belt. 
  2. ^ "Gassho!". SHORINJI KEMPO UK. UK SHORINJI KEMPO Federation. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  3. ^ Michael Croucher, Dennis Waterman (Narrator) (1983). [1] (Television production). UK: BBC. 
  4. ^ "Shorinji Kempo". Black Belt. 
  5. ^ "News". BSKF. BSKF. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  6. ^ BSKF announcement
  7. ^ "What is Shorinji Kempo?". SHORINJI KEMPO UK. UK SHORINJI KEMPO Federation. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  9. ^ "Appeal Court Judgment". 
  • "Shorinji Kempo philosophy and techniques" by Doshin So, Published by Japan Publications, Inc. Tokyo Japan.
  • Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary, Kenkyusha Limited, Tokyo 1991, ISBN 4-7674-2015-6

External links[edit]

National federations[edit]