Shorinji Kempo’s Characteristics

shōrinji kempō no tokuchō

Shorinji Kempo is a martial art in which moral and ethics are an important part and there are six characteristics or basic principles that every practitioner should understand. Ken Zen ichinyo [拳禅一如] (unity of ken and zen), riki ai funi [力愛不二] (strength and love in harmony), shushu kōjū [守主攻従] (defense is primary, secondary attack), fusatsu katsujin [不殺活人] (not to kill but to help people), gōjū ittai [剛柔一体] (hard and soft is one), kumite shutai [組手主体] (training in pairs is essential).

Diagram over Shorinji Kempo's CharacteristicsIn Japanese this is called “shōrinji kempō no tokuchō” [少林寺拳法の特徴]. The principles are based on Zen Buddhist Philosophy (Kongo Zen) and reflects Shorinji Kempo and its character as a martial art. Ken zen ichinyo describes the method of training and riki ai funi describes the proper way to act and to live. Shushu kōjū and fusatsu katsujin explains the correct use of the techniques. Gōjū ittai and kumite shutai is characteristics for the training of techniques. Here is a brief explanation of these characteristics.

ken zen ichinyo
Ken zen ichinyo – unity of ken and zen

The first characteristic is “ken zen ichinyo” [拳禅一如]. Ken [拳] means fist and refers to the physical body and zen [禅] means spirit or mind. It aims to train our body and mind. Often one thinks of the mind and body as separate entities, but in reality it is not so. When something surprises us, the heart beats faster. If we get sick, it is not only the body reacts, but also our mind becomes depressed, and we have no desire to do anything. In this case, body and mind are inseparably linked. When we practice Shorinji Kempo, it is important to maintain the balance between physical and spiritual training.

Shorinji Kempo is not only a theory of mind, nor is there a way to achieve spiritual happiness through purely physical training. Training in Shorinji Kempo is a method to nourishing both body and mind by carefully examining oneself and finding opportunities in themselves.

riki ai funi
Riki ai funi – strength and love in harmony

The second characteristic is “riki ai funi” [力愛不二]. The idea is that no-one can live in happiness with only love and compassion, intellect and strength are also necessary. If you see others being beaten, your love and compassion may make you want to help them, but if you lack the courage, strength, or a way to take action, then you cannot help. On the other hand, strength without love and compassion is nothing more than violence. In order to overcome injustice or corruption, one must first have the ability to evaluate the good and the bad, then the knowledge of how to judge the situation and how to use one’s abilities and then the courage to stand up to meet the danger.

There is a saying that says: “Justice without strength is powerless. Strength without justice is violence.” As kenshi you should harmonize your strength and love, unite your intellect and your compassion, and then – using these as the foundation for your actions – you should make your own life a stable and happy one and actively contribute to peace and well-being of society.

shushu kōjū
Shushu kōjū – defense is primary, attack secondary

Shorinji Kempo third characteristic is “shushu kōjū” [守主攻従], which can be translated as “defense primary, attack secondary”. The technical methods of Shorinji Kempo are designed so that they begin to defend against attack and counter attack after protecting oneself. This is because Shorinji Kempo is based on the idea that it is a martial art that is to be used only to defend oneself against violence. Because of the moral reasons we should not mindlessly strike the first blow. There is also a technical reason, in that making one’s position impregnable allows one to seize the advantage that comes when your opponent makes the first move.

fusatsu katsujin
Fusatsu katsujin – not kill but help people

Shorinji Kempo’s fourth characteristic is “fusatsu katsujin” [不殺活人]. Shorinji Kempo’s techniques are not for killing or injuring people. They are for protect yourself, help others and improve people’s lives. Shorinji Kempo techniques are effective in causing intense pain that makes people lose the will to fight. This is achieved by attacking vital points identified by the meridians in oriental medicine. In addition, allowing rational use of tactics, technique and strength based on principles, allows you to get a large effect from small power. Shorinji Kempo aims to always help others and never to kill or injure anyone. Fusatsu katsujin is also important from the viewpoint of Shorinji Kempo as a gyō [行] to develop individuals.

gōjū ittai
Gōjū ittai – hard and soft is one

Shorinji Kempo’s fifth characteristic is “gōjū ittai”” [剛柔一体]. Gōhō [剛法] (hard methods) means tsuki [突き] (strikes), keri [蹴り] (kicks), uchi [打ち] (hammers), kiri [切り] (chops), kawashi [かわし] (evasions); etc. Jūhō [柔法] (soft methods) means shuhō [守法] (defence methods), nuki [抜き] (releases), gyaku waza [逆技] (joint reverses), nage waza [投技] (throwing techniques), and so on. Although gōhō and jūhō each one has its own elements complement and reinforce each other to become more efficient. This is what we call gōjū ittai of techniques. There are elements of jūhō within gōhō and elements of gōhō within jūhō, which we call gōjū ittai of application.

One can compare these two aspects to the relation between teeth and lips. Lips are soft, with no ability to bite through things or chew it as teeth can. However, with the teeth but without lips the food would drop out of the mouth and you could not eat anything. Only with the help of lips the teeth can achieve its purpose.

kumite shutai
Kumite shutai – training in pairs is primary

Shorinji Kempo’s sixth characteristic is “kumite shutai” [組手主体]. In Shorinji Kempo is training in pairs is the norm. This is to gain skills that a person cannot learn alone, such as maai [間合] (distance) and kyojitsu [虚実] in attack and defense and other situations that arise due to the opponent moving. Moreover, it is not just a matter of making oneself stronger, but to develop a co-operative spirit by working out together with others and become stronger together with friends and peers. By applying the techniques on each other and share the pain one discover nuanced approach to the speed and force of one’s current level. That’s the way that two people who train together can improve both their techniques and character.