Before I try to answer this question, it might be useful if I first define embu.  It’s not something that a lot of people have come across before.

An embu, in essence, is a choreographed fight.  A pair of students (usually a pair, anyway) will design the fight to look as realistic as possible, and they’ll practice and practice until it’s perfect.  It’s like a cross between dancing and martial arts, I guess, but that makes it sound fluffy and non-violent.  A proper embu is anything but fluffy.

I’ve seen embu where I was genuinely afraid that one of the participants would get hurt… and somehow they never do.

You can see examples of embu here, here, or here.

So what’s the point?

There are a few things going on here.  Firstly, and most obviously, practicing techniques again and again means you get better at them.  Some of that will carry over into other techniques, which aren’t in the embu.  For example, your posture and general attitude, and the strength of your kiai will improve.

Working with a partner will improve both of you faster than either of you working alone.  Each person has different strengths, and as long as you help each other rather than competing you will learn from your partner even as they learn from you.

The process of building the embu in the first place will also teach you a lot.  You’ll learn which techniques flow on from one another, where your weight has to be in order to make a move possible, and which sequences are just never likely to happen in practice.

And, while Shorinji Kempo is not hugely competitive, we do have embu competitions.  This is an opportunity to take what you’ve been practicing and perform it under pressure.  You have a time limit (both upper and lower), you have people watching your every move, checking how good you are.  You have to push past any nerves you may have and concentrate – a useful skill in almost all walks of life!

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