Why is Shorinji Kempo like a plunger?

I know, it’s an odd question, but bear with me.

The humble sink plunger is in some ways the perfect metaphor for Shorinji Kempo.

You need to have one in the house, but you really hope you never have to use it.

Plumbing emergencies don’t usually come with a warning. When you need a plunger, you don’t want to have to go down to the shops to search one out. You want to be able to reach into the cupboard and pick one up.

Similarly, if you’re walking down the street and find yourself in a self defence situation, that is not the time to be thinking about finding a dojo and taking some lessons. You want to be able to reach into your brain and pull out the correct response, right now.

Of course, none of us want to encounter an emergency – either plumbing or self defence – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared.

It has a hard bit and a soft bit, and works best when both are present.

Have you ever had to use a plunger? Without the soft bit on the end, it’s just a stick. Without the stick, it’s hard to manipulate.

Shorinji Kempo is the same. We have goho and juho, but 99.9% of the techniques actually include elements of both, and work better when you use both principles.

Technique is more important than strength.

If you use a plunger wrong, nothing happens. Or worse, your plumbing problem deteriorates…

Similarly, plunging harder doesn’t make it work better. It only amplifies the technique you are using, whether that is good or bad.

Shorinji Kempo doesn’t rely on strength to overcome your opponent. Skill is more important. A small, “weak” girl can take down a large man using Shorinji Kempo techniques, if she knows what she is doing.

It takes practice.

If you’ve ever had the misfortune to need to use a plunger more than once, you probably found that the second time went much better than the first time. Maybe the first time you had to look up how to use one, and then you fiddled around for a while to get the angles right.

The second time, you remembered some of what you learnt before, and just got on with it.

We practice the basics of Kempo over and over again, building them into our muscle memory, so that when we need them they are there. No need to look things up or think too hard about the correct body motion to go with the block you want to do – it just happens.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you should go out, join a class, and practice using a plunger every week. Once or twice is probably enough for that. But I am suggesting that you should find a dojo and get some regular practice in Shorinji Kempo – before you need it to deal with a non-plumbing emergency!

Published by Nicola Higgins

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something* martial artist, Girlguiding Brownie and Ranger Leader, and actuary. She somehow also finds time to read, fuss her cat, and occasionally spends time with her husband. [* please note that "ten or more" is still something.]

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