What is a dojo?

Dojo is one of those Japanese words that martial artists use a lot and just kind of assume that everyone understands. But (oddly enough) not everyone is fluent in Japanese, so here’s a brief rundown!

What does dojo mean, literally?

Dojo (properly, dōjō or 道場) means “hall used for martial arts training”. It can also mean a place of Buddhist practice or meditation, but you won’t hear it used that way very often in a martial arts context.

The two kanji mean “way, journey, moral teachings” and “place, location”, so a dojo is a place where you train in the Way. Specifically in this case, the Martial Way (budō, 武道).

What really is a dojo?

All this literal translation is great, of course, but what does the word mean to actual martial artists? I asked a few for their thoughts.

Place of the way.

It’s the place that we train. But, we also use it to mean the people. As in “I’m going on a social with the dojo this weekend”.

It’s a group of people who have your back.

Great place to train. Honing your skills through practice with friends.

As you can see, it’s not all about the physical location. People feature heavily in these descriptions – and for good reason. Without the people, there really is no dojo, just an empty room.

Where can I find a Shorinji Kempo dojo?

If all this sounds like something you’d like to get involved in, you’re in luck! Bristol Shorinji Kempo dojo is always happy to have new members.

Click here to find our class times

If you don’t live in Bristol, don’t despair. You can find other Shorinji Kempo dojos in the UK by going to the British Shorinji Kempo Federation website, or visit the International Kempo Association to find our friends in other countries.

Click here to find a dojo in the UK

Click here to see our sister organisations in other countries

Best Ladies Martial Arts

If you’re looking for ladies martial arts, Bristol has you covered. Perhaps too covered, since the choice can be overwhelming. How do you know which option to choose?

First off, the obvious point:

There’s no such thing as “the best” martial art

There’s not even such as thing as “the best” martial art for tall people, short people, strong people, weak people, or any other category of person.

There is only “the best” martial art for YOU.

You are unlike any other person on this planet, and only you can decide which martial art you enjoy the most, find most effective, and want to learn.

If you don’t know which one to choose, pick one at random and try it out! If you don’t like it, try another.

Why should ladies learn martial arts?

As women, we face unique challenges when it comes to personal safety. From the threat of assault to harassment and intimidation, it’s important that we equip ourselves with the skills and confidence to defend ourselves. One effective way to do so is through martial arts training.

Not only that, but a good martial art will focus on both physical and mental development. You will develop inner strength, self confidence and compassion, helping you to deal with emotional and psychological challenges.

Punching and kicking can be a great stress-reliever! I always feel amazing after a good martial arts class.
Punching and kicking can be great stress-relievers!

What are some good martial arts for women?

As I mentioned, there is no “best”, but there are lots of options for “good”. First, consider what you want out of your class.

Do you want a full-body workout? You might enjoy Muay Thai or Taekwondo. Both are fast-paced and involve punching and kicking.

Are you more interested in self defence? BJJ for ground fighting or Krav Maga for practical real-life application might appeal to you.

Or maybe you want it all. You want a workout, but also some slower-paced technical details. You want practical self-defence, but also philosophy. I may be biased, but Shorinji Kempo sounds perfect for you.

Second, consider your environment. Do you want a mixed class or a ladies-only class? There are benefits to both, and a quick check of your local martial arts club’s website should tell you what options they offer.

Are there women’s martial arts in South Bristol?

It should go without saying that women are welcome at “normal” martial arts classes, but if you’re looking for a ladies-only or woman-led class, you might want to check out these options:

Bristol Shorinji Kempo Dojo – although all of our classes are mixed, we have a high proportion of women in the class, and 2/3 of classes are taught by a woman. Our classes are in Totterdown and Windmill Hill.

Bristol Wutan – there is a women’s kickboxing class in St. Werburghs, and several of the kung fu and tai chi classes are taught by a woman.

Stand Strong Academy have a women’s kickboxing class in Brislington.

If you’re willing to go a little further afield, there is a Ladies-only Karate class in Staple Hill.

With correct technique, a small woman can overcome a large man.
With correct technique, a small person can defend against a large person.

What’s the bottom line?

There are lots of martial arts in South Bristol, but if you’re looking for a well-rounded experience which will teach you self defence skills in a relaxed and welcoming environment, and you would prefer to be taught by a woman, Bristol Shorinji Kempo Dojo is well worth checking out!

Gestures of Respect in Martial Arts

When they first start a martial art, people often ask: “What is gassho?”, “What is rei?”, “When should I bow?”.

Like all things, the answer is not that simple, and parts of it are different depending on the martial art, but in this article I will give a brief summary of the options and explain the what, when, and how of gestures of respect in Shorinji Kempo.

What gestures of respect are used in martial arts?

All martial arts have a culture of respect, but the way they express that differs for cultural and historical reasons. I won’t get into the reasons too much, but here’s a brief summary.


Perhaps the best known example is from Japanese martial arts. Bowing is common in Japanese society and this has carried over into the martial arts. You can bow while sitting, standing, or kneeling, and it’s often accompanied by words such as “onegaishimasu”, which means “please (teach me)”.

Hand Salute

Another example, familiar to westerners from Kung Fu movies, is the Chinese hand salute. This is where your left hand is open and your right fist touches it.

Wai Khru

In Muay Thai, a pre-fight ritual called “Wai khru ram muay” is performed before tournament fights. It shows respect to the teachers, parents, and ancestors. A wai is a traditional Thai greeting involving pressing the palms together and bowing slightly.

Fist Bump

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu a fist bump is often used as a sign of respect between training partners.

Gasshō Rei

In Shorinji Kempo (and several other Japanese martial arts, especially those with Buddhist roots), gasshō rei is used. We usually say either “onegaishimasu” (please) or “arigatogozaimashita” (thank you) at the same time.

What does “gassho rei” mean?

Let’s start by defining the words, and then we can use them in context.

“Gasshō” (合掌) means “pressing one’s hands together”. It can also be used as a greeting in (usually buddhist) letters.

“Rei” (礼) means “salute or bow”, usually in the polite, thanking people sense of the word.

So, gasshō rei means to salute someone by pressing your hands together. Like this:

Two female martial arts students demonstrate respect before a demonstration.

How to pronounce “gassho rei”

Gassho is pronounced with a long “o” sound – that’s why you’ll sometimes see it written with a bar over the o. “Gash-oh”.

Rei is pronounced like the things that sunshine comes in. “Ray”.

So, together, gasshō rei is pronounced “gash-oh ray”.

How to do gassho rei

Stand with your feet together and your hands folded in front of you. Look at your partner, teacher, or whomever you are supposed to be respecting.

Raise your hands to shoulder height and press them together in front of your face. The tips of the fingers should be level with your eyes, but not obscuring your vision. Keep looking at your partner.

In Shorinji Kempo there is no bowing with gassho rei. Keep upright, because we are all equal and everybody is worthy of respect.

Afterwards, drop your hands back to fold in front of you.

When should I do gassho rei?

This is one of the parts that is different depending on the martial art. Generally speaking gestures of respect are done when entering and leaving the training hall, at the start and end of classes, when training with partners, or some combination of those things.

In Shorinji Kempo, we also use it during sparring – if your partner gets a good shot in, stop and perform gassho rei to thank them for the lesson.

During your first few classes, watch what everyone else does and copy along. Nobody will be upset if you get it wrong at first – we were all beginners once!

Is there more to it?

It is important to note that gassho rei is not just a physical action. Your mental attitude is also important, and should reflect your feelings of gratitude for the teaching you are receiving.

Kick-ass women

International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate women’s achievements and promote gender equality. In the world of martial arts, women have made significant contributions and have broken through barriers to pave the way for future generations. In this blog post, we will explore the history of women in martial arts, highlight some famous female martial artists in Japanese martial arts, and discuss the importance of promoting women’s participation in martial arts.

History of Women in Martial Arts

Picture of a female samurai from history.
Tomoe Gozen, Japanese martial artist

Throughout history, martial arts have been primarily dominated by men. However, women have always been a part of martial arts history, with examples dating back to ancient China and Japan.

For example, Tomoe Gozen (12th century) was a samurai warrior who fought alongside her husband, Minamoto no Yoshinaka, during the Genpei War. She was known for her archery and swordsmanship skills.

There were even entire groups of women, such as the Onna-bugeisha (12th-19th century). They were female warriors who practiced various martial arts, including archery, swordsmanship, and naginatajutsu. They were trained to defend their homes and families during times of war.

At various points in Japanese history, women practiced martial arts in secret due to cultural norms and societal expectations. In the 20th century, the status of women in martial arts began to change, and women began to participate in martial arts openly.

Famous Female Martial Artists in Japanese Martial Arts

  1. Junko Tabei: Tabei was the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. She was also an accomplished rock climber and a black belt in Kyokushin karate.
  2. Keiko Fukuda: Fukuda was the highest-ranking female judoka in history, achieving the rank of 10th dan. She was also the first woman to be awarded a 9th dan in judo.
  3. Ronda Rousey: Rousey is a former UFC bantamweight champion and an Olympic medalist in judo. She is also a black belt in judo and a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Why should women take part in Martial Arts?

Martial arts offer numerous benefits to both men and women, including improved physical fitness, increased confidence, and self-defense skills. However, many women still face barriers to participation in martial arts, such as gender stereotypes, lack of representation, and intimidation.

That is to say, it can be scary starting a martial art when you are a small woman and everyone else in the class is over 6 feet tall, male, and full of testosterone.

At Bristol Shorinji Kempo Dojo we have people of all sizes. Even our teachers come as a mis-matched pair; Sensei Mike is big and male, and Sensei Nicki is small and female. Some of our senior students fill the niche in between, so whatever your body type you’ll find someone who understands you in our classes.

Two martial artists practicing Shorinji Kempo at the Bristol Dojo.
Sensei Mike and Sensei Nicki demonstrating how being small is not a disadvantage.

Given the benefits that come from practicing a martial art, it is important that nobody feels excluded from trying it!


Women have made significant contributions to the world of martial arts, and their achievements should be celebrated and recognised. By highlighting the accomplishments of famous female martial artists in Japanese martial arts, we can inspire future generations of women to pursue their passions in martial arts.

It is essential to promote women’s participation in martial arts and create an inclusive and diverse community that benefits everyone.

On this International Women’s Day, let us celebrate the accomplishments of women in martial arts and continue to support women’s participation in all areas of life.

Parts of this blog post were drafted by ChatGPT.

Kempo, Kenpo, Kendo, …

For those not familiar with the Japanese language (which, let’s face it, is most westerners), it can be hard to keep straight the names of martial arts.

Is Kempo the same as Kenpo? What is the difference between Kenpo and Kendo? Is American Kempo the same as Shorinji Kempo?

Part of the problem is that there are only so many things you can sensibly call a martial art. “Kempo” (拳法) means “Fist Method”, so it is reasonable that several martial arts might have similar sounding names!

Kempo / Kenpo

Another confusion arises because Japanese is not written in roman script, so when you transliterate it into something westerners can read you encounter problems. Like n and m being (in some circumstances) the same letter, ん.

So yes, Kenpo and Kempo can be the same thing. If your friend tells you they are learning Shorinji Kenpo, it’s likely they are talking about the same thing as Shorinji Kempo.

The “Shorinji” part is important, though – Shorinji Kempo, Nippon Kempo, Okinawan Kempo, and American Kempo are all different.

Kenpo / Kendo

Japanese has several words which sound the same (to people not fluent in Japanese, that is – they themselves seem to have no problem telling them apart). So, ken (拳) means fist, but ken (剣) means sword.

Kempo 拳法 and kendo 剣道 are not the same thing.

(As a side note, the “do” in kendo is the same as the “do” in judo and aikido, and means “way” – so kendo is the “way of the sword”.)

(As another side note, this problem also occurs in martial arts instructions. For example “uchi”, which means both “inside” (内) and “strike” (打). Context is important for figuring out which is which!)

I’m still confused!


“The way of the sword”. A Japanese sword fighting style, usually practiced with bamboo swords and protective equipment. Not at all similar to the others listed here, except in name. [Kendo]

Shorinji Kempo

“Little forest temple fist method”. A Japanese (mostly) empty hand style (i.e. no weapons, at least in the lower grades). Contains both “goho” (the hard way) and “juho” (the soft way). This is what we teach at Bristol Shorinji Kempo Dojo, and you can read all about it here.

When kicking, the martial artist is firmly planted.
Goho, the hard way, consists of strikes and blocks.

Nippon Kempo

“Nippon” means “Japan”, so this is literally “Japanese Fist Method”. It’s usually practiced with protective equipment and includes strikes, throws and ground fighting. There is a heavier emphasis on full-contact sparring than in Shorinji Kempo, and sparring matches include throws as well as strikes. [Nippon Kempo]

Okinawan Kempo

A subset of Okinawan Karate styles. Often referred to as “kenpo karate” or “kempo karate”. Okinawa is an island chain to the south of Japan, which is considered to be the original home of Karate, and Okinawan Karate tends to be traditional, with emphasis on perfecting kata (single form practice) as a way of disciplining your mind and body. [Okinawan Kempo]

Okinawan kempo karate is famous from images of many people training together.
Karate training with Shinpan Gusukuma sensei at Shuri Castle c.1938, Okinawa PrefectureJapan.

American Kempo

Also, confusingly, often referred to as “kempo karate”, American Kempo is an umbrella term for several martial arts developed in Hawaii by mixing Okinawan, Chinese, Filipino and Japanese martial arts. There is quite a lot of variety in styles so I won’t try to describe them all, but they tend to be closer to karate than Shorinji Kempo. [American Kempo]


There’s a lot of Kempo going on in the world. I’m biased of course, but I believe that Shorinji Kempo is one of the better ones. If you want to learn more about it, sign up to our mailing list or come to a class!

Book review: The Tao is Silent

Raymond M Smullyan was a mathematical logician. Not the first thing you would think of when considering Eastern philosophy. He was also a magician, musician, Taoist and philosopher.

“The Tao is Silent”, first published in 1977, is a rambling, whimsical collection of short essays on Taoism. Each essay can be read on its own, and they range from half a page to a few pages long, so it’s a good book to have lying around for when you have five minutes to spare.

The book is divided into four parts: what is the Tao?, the Tao is good but not moral, the Tao is leisurely, and the Tao is a delightful paradox.

Sometimes there are quotes from zen texts, sometimes there are poems, but mostly it is prose, musing on life. The essay titles include such gems as “Does the Tao exist?”, “Yes, but does the Tao exist?”, “On selfishness”, ” Crazy philosophy and sensible philosophy”, and “Do you see the point?”.

Spoiler alert: if you do think you see the point, then you probably haven’t understood this book.

To see the point
Is to miss it completely!

Raymond M Smullyan, The Tao is Silent.

I would recommend this book to people who want to read for five minutes and then have that thought surface randomly in six weeks time to unexpectedly change their perspective on life.

How to fold a dogi

You’ve been coming to classes for a few weeks now, and you’re having a lot of fun. You take the plunge and buy a dogi – a martial arts training uniform.

You’re so proud of your bright, clean new clothes. They look great!

But… the first time you wash it, you realise that you have no idea how to keep it from crumpling when you fold it. When you bought it it came neatly packaged, and you can’t remember how it was arranged!

You try folding it like a shirt, but it has stiff lapels in all the wrong places and somehow it just doesn’t work. What now?

Never fear! There is always a way. Just like tying a belt, folding a dogi is one of the under-appreciated skills you learn in any martial arts class.

I’ll see you – and your neatly folded dogi – at the next class!

Film review: High Kick Girl!

High Kick Girl! is a 2009 film directed by Fuyuhiko Nishi.

Kei Tsuchiya is a high school student who is talented in karate. Her sensei, Yoshiaki Matsumura, has been refusing to promote her to black belt and she is bitter about it. She spends her days hunting black belts and fighting them to prove that she is strong.

One day she is approached by a secret society called The Destroyers and agrees to take their entrance test – beating up a group of expert martial artists – and join them.

Given their name, it will probably not surprise you that The Destroyers mostly wear black and turn out to be the baddies, who are using Kei to further an evil plot.

Things I loved

The philosophy! It is made very clear during the film that Karate is not for fighting with. It is for defending yourself and others. Generally speaking, those who attack first will lose the fight (although this doesn’t seem to apply when Kei is attacking random black belts at the start).

I won’t give it away, but the ending is also very philosophical.

I enjoyed the strong female lead. She is not at all interested in having a love interest – in fact it is never mentioned at all, which makes it different to a lot of female-led films. The closest she comes is saying she wants her sensei to notice her – but I’m pretty sure she’s talking about wanting a black belt, not his heart.

Things I hated

The slow-mo repeats. The first one or two were fun, but after the 20th time it got annoying. The whole film could have been maybe 40 minutes shorter without them. There was also quite a lot of soulful staring at the camera.

Miscellaneous thoughts

Given the film’s name, you won’t be surprised that there are a lot of kicks involved in the fights. The things she can do with her feet are very impressive. If a little implausible at times, as you will see if you watch the out-takes in the credits and see how many times she tried some of the moves.

The gender balance was interesting. In the “good” dojo, Kei seems to be the only girl. In fact, she seems to be the only teenager, in a class of adult men. Which is a little odd. On the other hand the “bad” dojo had a much more even gender split. The first person that Kei even slightly struggles to fight is a woman.

In general it’s an ok film, but I wouldn’t watch it again. The style is not a good fit for my tastes.

Promo cover of High Kick Girl! showing her flexibility.

Should you set New Year’s Resolutions?

At this time of year, almost everyone is thinking about their New Year’s Resolutions. Maybe you are too. Maybe you’ve read some articles about how to set good goals. You know your SMART from your OKR and you’re ready to start writing.

I’m going to argue that you shouldn’t.

What? No New Year’s Resolutions?

That’s right.

There’s a reason that I sometimes wish people a “Happy Arbitrary Division of Time Day” instead of a Happy New Year. Who decided that the year would “start” on 1 January?[1] Time is continuous, not discrete. In a way, every moment is the start of a new year.

If you tie your hopes to your NYR, several things happen:

  1. You put off starting until the new year. Why then? Why not now?
  2. You believe that to be successful you have to “do” your resolution for exactly one year. Not more, not less.
  3. You, along with around 90% of other people, give up on your resolution. Usually in late January.

So yes, I hate New Year’s Resolutions.

Mind you, I have nothing agains goals per se, I just don’t think they should be tied to an arbitrary date in the calendar, and they aren’t enough on their own. Instead, they should be carefully integrated into your life.

The missing piece

A typical internet list of how to achieve your goals would go something like:

  1. Decide what you want to do.
  2. Write it down. Probably mentioning SMART.
  3. Tell someone.
  4. Break your goal down. This is especially important for big goals.
  5. Plan your first step.
  6. Keep going.
  7. Celebrate.

Most people (or at least most people who fail at achieving their goals) skip steps 3-7. And yes, accountability and planning the first steps are important, but there are two major problems.

Know your WHY

Step 1 should be “Decide what you want to do and why“, because without knowing your why you have no incentive to keep trying when the going gets tough.

Goals vs. Plans

My other problem is step number 6. It’s not nearly specific enough. What on earth does “keep going” even look like? How do you know if you are doing enough?

Perhaps I over plan, but I believe that you need the whole road mapped out, at least as a rough sketch. How else are you going to know if your plan is achievable?

I’ll give you an example.

Say you want to learn to cook better. You decide that you want to cook one new recipe every week all year. You tell your partner (who, after all, is going to have to put up with this cooking!). The plan is already relatively broken down – one recipe a week doesn’t sound so bad, right? You plan your first step: in the January sales you’re going to buy a recipe book!

At first it goes well. You get your book. You cook a couple of meals. Then you have that week when you were going skiing and can’t cook anything, and the week after that your house is in chaos with all the unpacking and washing and catching up on work, and suddenly it’s February and you’ve only cooked two new meals.

Now you’ve missed your goal of cooking a new recipe every week, and you might as well give up.

If instead you looked at the whole year when you were planning, you would have realised that there would be weeks you weren’t going to cook. You would have framed your goal differently. Maybe you still want to cook 52 new recipes, but you’re going to do 5 per month rather than 1 per week. That gives you some flex for life events (and some spare capacity in case you miss the target one month).

How long is a year?

The trouble with planning in detail is that life happens. The longer you plan for, the more likely it is that something is going to change in your life that makes it impossible to complete your plan.

Obvious example: how many people had goals for 2020 that had to be abandoned in March?

The 12 Week Year is a book by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington which advocates splitting your year up into four smaller years. Your year is now only 12 weeks, which makes planning easier and ups the urgency on your tasks. There’s no putting it off or “catching up” later if you only have 12 weeks!

I’m not sure if you need to be that rigid with the number of weeks. 12 feels about right, but some goals won’t take that long, and some will take longer. As long as you set the period in advance and stick to it I think there is room to flex a little.

Tracking the outcome

It’s also important to keep track of how you are doing. This could be as simple as a calendar where you tick off the days you did certain things, or it could be a massive complex project database – it really depends on what you are doing and what you are comfortable using.

Tracking can come in two sorts – the effort you put in, and the outcomes you get.

Say for example my goal was to get new students for the dojo. I could plan to use social media posts and blogging to increase our online presence, and go round asking local cafes to put up flyers for us, among other things.

My prospective tracking options now are number of posts and blogs written, and number of places that flyers have been put. Retrospectively, I can track interactions with our social media presence, number of people who sign up for a trial lesson, and number of people who come back for more and become permanent students.

Once you know how much effort you’re putting in and what results you’re getting, it is easier to figure out what works and what doesn’t, meaning that your next set of plans will be better.

Your Goals and Plans

Are you setting New Year’s Resolutions this year? Or are you going to create Plans instead? Share them with the world – or don’t – but make sure you know how they integrate into your life, even when life throws you something unexpected.

[1] Turns out, possibly originally the Roman king Numa Pompilius, who decided to have the month named after Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, as the first month of the year, instead of the month named after Mars, the god of war. It went through some changes for a while before being brought back to 1 January by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.

More helpful vocab

In a previous post, I explained that we use a lot of Japanese in our classes – and why. It can be a little intimidating though, so I gave some words you’ll encounter a lot.

In that post, we covered class admin (start, stop, please, thank you, and so on), directions, and parts of the body.

This time, some more violent things that you will find in names of techniques. Some of them have two spellings/pronunciations, depending on context (sorry!).

Just like I said last time, don’t try to memorise them all at once, just use this list as a helpful reminder.

Pronunciation (spelling) – Meaning


Go-ho (goho) – the hard way (all the punches and kicks and blocks)

Zoo-key, or t-skii (zuki, or tsuki) – punch.

Ke-ree, or ge-ree (keri, or geri) – kick

Ooo-kay (uke) – block

Gi-ya-ku (gyaku) – literally reverse, but in context it usually means punch/kick/block with your back hand.

Jun (jun) – literally order (as in doing things in the right order), but in context it usually means punch/kick/block with your front hand.

So, you might have jun zuki jodan, a front punch to the head, or gyaku geri chudan, a back kick to the stomach.


Jew-ho (juho) – the soft way (all the eludes, throws, and pins)

Nu-key (nuki) – elude

Ki-ree (kiri) – cut

Ko-tey, or Go-tey (kote, or gote) – wrist

Ooo-day (ude) – arm

Ka-ta-may, or ga-ta-may (katame, or gatame) – pin

So, you could have kote nuki, a wrist elude, or kiri gote, a technique involving a cutting motion to the wrist.

Goho and Juho

Oo-chi (uchi) – inside (as in uchi uke zuki, or uchi kiri nuki)

So-toe (soto) – outside (as in soto uke zuki, or soto kiri nuki)

Oo-ra (ura) – backside (generally, a technique where you end up behind your partner)

O-mot-ey (omote) – front side (generally, a technique where you end up in front of your partner)

Oo-chi (uchi) – strike (as in uchi age zuki). Yes, I know that uchi appears twice in my list. I’m sorry. They are different words, they just look the same when you write them in roman lettering. Context is important!

Found any words you don’t understand? Let me know in the comments.