In Shorinji Kempo there are four main methods of training. You won’t usually see all of them in any one session, but if you progress past white belt then you’ll definitely get to experience them all.
So what are they?
This is what you see when you imagine a training montage in a cheesy film. Perfecting your punch, or your kick, and practicing it over and over again until you can do it without thought.
Think of it like learning vocabulary in a foreign language. You carefully memorise and practice each individual word, one at a time. Bear with me, this metaphor will start to make sense as we move on!
Basics are important because they underlie everything. That’s why we practice them every session – from the most junior to the most senior, everyone benefits from improving their basics.
If you can get the “perfect punch” and the “perfect kick” into your muscle memory so that you can do them without having to consciously remember where to put all of your body parts, then you can easily put them together to make longer sequences.
Hokei (Set Patterns)
In hokei we practice particular set ups. Rather than just a punch, this is “the attacker punches me in the head, so I dodge and block in this particular way and then counter attack using that particular strike”.
We do a lot of pairform work in Shorinji Kempo. It’s rather difficult to practice your aim if you don’t have a partner, and how do you know your block is effective unless someone hits you?
Hokei is like learning to put the words together to make sentences and use them in response to something. Now instead of saying “cat”, you can respond to the question “what is this” by saying “this is a cat”.
However, unless you know what context to use them in those words are pointless. Which is where the next two methods of training come in.
Two (or more) people, fighting each other. Neither knows what the other will do next. The aim is to recognise what attack your partner is doing, defend yourself and counter attack successfully. It can get messy. It’s hard to use perfect technique in these conditions.
Usually as beginners we start off with limited randori – for example, we will be limited to one attack each rather than strings of strikes, or we will take turns attacking. Sometimes we will use only the arms, or only the legs.
As we improve and learn more techniques, we get better at predicting our partner’s movements. The rules start to drop away – now you can use any combination of strikes against your partner, and you can include grabs and throws too. It rapidly becomes a challenge, but you learn a lot about reacting quickly, predicting movements, and where your weight needs to be to complete certain defences.
In the metaphor I’m building, randori would be free form conversation. Perhaps when you are learning your conversation is limited to simple topics – think back to your school language lessons and how you would talk about your family. Once you improve, and learn more words and grammar, you can talk about almost anything, and respond to any situation.
Embu (Choreographed Fight)
The last (but not least) of the methods of training is embu. To create an embu, two people will work together to design a fight. The fight must look authentic – that is, the techniques should flow from one to another without needing any odd twists or pauses to make them work.
If done correctly, an embu looks like the perfect randori match – each attack met by a defence and counter attack which flows well. To create an embu requires attention to detail and a cooperative partnership where each person helps the other to perform to the best of their ability.
Here’s an example from 2014:
Embu is useful for learning how techniques string together. During the design phase you quickly realise which things will not work – and if they don’t work here, they won’t work in randori or “real life” situations either. Embu also allows you to practice techniques over and over, improving each time.
In the metaphor, the embu would be like writing an essay. You have time to practice it, try out ideas and discard them, until you get to the perfect version of what you are writing.
A complete system
Each one of the four methods of training is important to developing in Shorinji Kempo. Any one on its own is limited in the benefit it can bring, but if you regularly practice all four then you will learn more and improve faster.