Bristol Shorinji Kempo: Indoor Martial Art Training Returns

Following the official British Shorinji Kempo Federation (BSKF) guidance for returning to usual training practices, indoor training has resumed, with the group meeting twice per week. 

No longer weather dependent, the Bristol Shorinji Kempo Dojo has resumed indoor training sessions. This means back to formalities, in-class meditations, philosophy teaching and one less excuse to skip training when it’s raining outside. 

While we wait for the world to continue to open up slowly and safely, our indoor classes are limited to six people per session, so please book your slot if you’d like to come along. 

Training schedule 

Tuesday 6.30pm-7.30pmOutdoor training This hour-long, outdoor session offers the perfect winddown from a day of work. Includes a warm-up, stretching and basics training as well as a chance to focus on developing your Kempo technique through feedback and critique. 
Thursday 12.30pm-1pmOnline training This super quick and sweaty session focuses less on the details of your form and performance but encourages you to practice some of the basics in a fast-paced kempo style workout. 
Friday 7pm-9pm
Saturday 10am-12:30pm
Indoor trainingOffering a more formal variety of outdoor training, these longer indoor sessions include the additional philosophy and meditation teachings. 

About Bristol Shorinji Kempo 

Shorinji Kempo is a Japanese martial art that teaches a complete range of self-defence techniques from punches and kicks to throws and locks, a form of shiatsu massage [seiho], seated meditation and philosophy. 

The Bristol Shorinji Kempo Dojo meets for outdoor training once a week in Arnos Court Park, just off the Bath Road in South Bristol, on Tuesday at 6.30 pm. Indoor training takes place at the Totterdown Methodist Church on Fridays at 7pm and Saturday mornings at 10am.

As well as in-person training, the group meets online on Thursday’s at 12.30 pm for fitness Kempo – a 30-minute class designed to move your body and work up a sweat. 

All new members are welcome, from white belts to black, and we always offer your first session completely free. 

We hope to see you soon, 

Bristol Shorinji Kempo 

The Importance of Target Practice in Martial Arts

Hitting, kicking or blocking a real target is important. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? After more than a year of contact-free Shorinji Kempo training, we’re thrilled to be able to re-introduce an element of physical contact into our sessions – for several reasons. 

Following the official British Shorinji Kempo Federation (BSKF) guidance for returning to usual training practices, we’re now allowed to use pads in our sessions. Our outdoor classes now offer the chance to practice hitting and kicking a real, physical thing (as opposed to the air in front of our faces)!

Improving aim, speed and accuracy

Having a proper target to practice with is crucial across all forms of martial arts. There’s a big difference in the way a punch to the air feels compared to a pad (or person)… 

By using pads, we’re getting used to the feeling of hitting something and improving our accuracy, speed and aim – all three of which are crucial components when hoping to progress in Shorinji Kempo. 

On top of helping to improve technique, using pads in martial arts also helps to better engage the muscles being used. This improves the quality of the training (in terms of exercise) and helps to build the strength that is crucial for maintaining good form in other areas of practice. 

Hand-eye coordination can be something that we all struggle with from time to time and it’s actually something that correlates with our overall physical wellbeing. Regular pad training is thought to help increase hand-eye coordination skills, which eventually leads to faster reflexes, improved reaction times, and even improved overall physical coordination. 

Pad work: promoting COVID secure Shorinji Kempo practice 

Aside from being great for practice, the pads mean that we’re also able to continue to train safely. All pad work is carried out in bubbles of six, with masks worn for that portion of the session, and each member of the dojo is responsible for their own pad to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. We also offer wipes, disinfectant and hand sanitiser, as usual, to clean up at the start and end of each practice!

All other training, including warm-up, basics practice and cool-down is carried out socially distanced. Of course, there’s no obligation to take part in the pad work portion of the sessions if you’d rather wait until you’re more comfortable doing so! 

About Bristol Shorinji Kempo 

Shorinji Kempo is a Japanese martial art that teaches a complete range of self-defence techniques from punches and kicks to throws and locks, a form of shiatsu massage [seiho], seated meditation and philosophy. 

The Bristol Shorinji Kempo Dojo meets twice per week in Arnos Court Park, just off the Bath Road in South Bristol, on Tuesday at 6.30 pm and Saturday at 11 am. 

As well as in-person training, the group meets online on Thursday’s at 12.30 pm and Friday at 6 pm for fitness Kempo – a 30-minute class designed to move your body and work up a sweat. 

All new members are welcome, from white belts to black, and we always offer your first session completely free. Either book online or simply turn up!

We hope to see you soon, 

Bristol Shorinji Kempo 

Bristol Shorinji Kempo: Outdoor Martial Art Training Returns

The last year or so has been weird, to say the least. And one of the things we’ve really missed at the Bristol Shorinji Kempo Dojo is training in person. 

Our zoom classes have been great, of course, but there are obviously a few aspects of martial art training that work, well, better in the presence of others. 

It’s one of the many reasons we’re so happy to be able to meet up again to train. Even with social distancing in place and the occasional cold weather (it’s still only April, but summer is coming), there’s something so great about 3D faces. 

And actually, if you’re thinking of trying Shorinji Kempo for the first time ever, this might be the best time to get stuck in. Why? Let’s take a look at some of the many benefits of practising Shorinji Kempo and why there’s no better time to get involved.

A Change of Scenery 

Most of our team (in fact, possibly all of us) are working from home. For lots of people, this means the same space to work, eat, relax, socialise, read and so on. By popping out for an hour of Kempo training, we’re able to give our minds a little bit of much-needed relief from the same old. Fresh air and Vitamin D work wonders for your general wellbeing and can be hugely beneficial to your mental health. 

Plus, if you’ve been sitting down inside all day, there’s nothing your body needs more than to get up and move about. By walking or cycling to the park for Kempo, you’re already working your body enough to start to prevent that stiff, achy neck we all know too well – that’s before training has even begun!

Don’t even get us started on the working-from-home screen time… Kempo gives your poor eyes a break.

Proper Practise – Without Being Hit

We always take care when practising Goho techniques. However, if you’re a beginner, we understand that an attack coming towards you can feel a tiny bit unnerving. If this is you, social distancing is the perfect excuse! Think of it this way: it’s more likely you’ll successfully dodge an attack if you’re two metres away from your attacker. By the time we’re able to practise properly on each other again, even the newest beginners will be an expert at blocking punches!

Healthy Mind, Healthy Body

All in all, we’re thrilled to make the most of training outside for our mental and physical wellbeing. From unwinding after a long day of work calls in the living room, to stretching our legs after back to back meetings, getting to the park for an hour or so works wonders and we’d really recommend giving it a try. 

We’re always happy to see new faces at our sessions, either online or in-person and the first class you attend is always free. You can either book through the website, or get in touch with us first via email if you prefer!

30 minutes Fitness Kempo (online)

These sessions focus on moving your body, running through some of the basic moves with a bit of extra jumping around and stretching thrown in for good measure. Book for either Thursday at 12.30pm or Friday at 6pm – or both!

60 minutes Technical Kempo (outdoors)

Our longer sessions give you a chance to practice and refine some of your Shorinji Kempo skills – think 15 minutes to warm up and run through a couple of basics followed by some more in-depth explanations of each movement. Book for either Tuesday at 6.30pm or Saturday at 11am – or both!

For outdoor training, head to Arnos Court Park on the Bath Road and find us in the top right corner next to the bike track. 

See you soon, 

Bristol Shorinji Kempo

Seiho in the time of Covid

If you read my previous post on Juho, you’ll know that some things in Shorinji Kempo require a little bit of… adjustment, in these non-touchy-feely pandemic times.

Seiho is another one of those things.

Seiho is the system of pressure point massage, joint manipulation, and other healing techniques which is taught as part of Shorinji Kempo. This obviously requires a little bit of physical contact!

Shoulder seiho is always popular with people who work in offices!

Fortunately there are a number of things you can do to yourself, using various props, to at least approximate the feeling.

(Here’s the obvious disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or other medical professional. If you have actual injuries, seiho will not help you – go see someone who can treat you properly!)

For this lesson, you will need:

  • A massage ball (or tennis ball, or lacrosse ball, or similar)
  • A stick (a broom handle is about the right thickness)

First, do some exercise. This will work better if you’re nice and warmed up to start with.

Have you done that?

Good, ok – now we can get to the fun part. Take your ball and sit on it.

Specifically, I want you to put it under one of your buttocks. Say you’ve gone for the right side first. Supporting your weight with your hands, put your right ankle on top of your left knee – you should now have three support legs. You can use these to control the pressure on the ball.

Now roll it around until you find a spot that feels tight, and just sit there for a bit. You can wiggle and bounce slowly if it feels good to you. What you’re doing here is putting pressure on a “knot” in your muscles, to work it out and relax everything.

Don’t worry if this is a little bit painful (although obviously use your common sense on the level of pain that is “good”!). It will get better the more your muscles relax. Generally, the harder your ball, the more pressure you’ll get and the more painful it will be to start with. If you’re really tight, start off with a softer ball.

Spend a few minutes here, really take your time and roll out all those muscles.

Now switch sides and repeat.

You can use this principle for almost any muscle in your body, so if you’ve got one that is tight or achey, go ahead and play around.

Everybody happy?

Excellent. Let’s move on to the stick. This one, I have to admit I stole learned from youtube – Tom Merrick of Bodyweight Warrior to be precise. But it’s a good one, so I want to share! He explains it very well, so if you’re confused by my description go watch his video.

For this one, we’re working on the calf muscles. These get tight in a lot of people, so it’s a good one to know.

Basically, kneel down with the stick behind the back of your knees. You’ll be working the stick slowly down towards your ankles, working the muscle as you go.

The first time I did this, I couldn’t kneel down properly because it hurt so much! Just put on as much pressure as you can take, and it will improve with time.

There are many more things you can do for “self-seiho”. Don’t be afraid to search youtube for good ideas or to experiment.

Keep active!

Book Review: Principles and Concepts for Martial Arts

This book, by Sylvain Galibert, is aimed mainly at grapplers, but contains concepts useful to those who prefer punching too.

Principles are ideas which lead to success.

Principles and Concepts for Martial Arts, Sylvain Galibert

Galibert begins by defining what a principle is, and swiftly moves on to what is essentially a reference list of principles he’s noticed and how/why they are useful. He says himself in the foreword that if you’ve been around martial arts for any length of time you’re unlikely to find anything truly new or groundbreaking in the book.

That is true, but at the same time having them all clearly explained and laid out next to each other, with examples, does make it easier somehow.

I did find that, not being a judoka or BJJ practitioner, many of the examples were unfamiliar, but a quick youtube search usually solved that problem.

Principles and Concepts of Martial Arts can be found on Amazon, among other places.

This book isn’t one to sit and read all in one go, like you would a novel. It’s more of a thinking book. Read a section, and then spend some time thinking about how that principle applies to techniques that you know. Think about how applying this principle could work for you, with your particular body type and martial art.

We have plenty of time for thinking at the moment, with dojo training suspended due to Covid-19. Don’t waste the time!

“The Prisoner” as Zen

The Prisoner” was a 1967 TV show in which an unnamed man resigns from a non-specific job, and is immediately kidnapped and placed in “The Village”. Various people try to break his mind and extract information from him, while he tries to escape.

My thesis is that the entire thing is one huge Zen koan.

Firstly, we have the fact that the man is never named. Who is he? The search for self and non-self is one of the key themes of Zen practice.

The whole program is scattered with snippets of wisdom, such as this one:

Sign: Questions are a burden to others; answers a prison for oneself.

Zen themes flow throughout the show. Fear, honesty, the illusion of life.

Labour Exchange Manager: You’re afraid of death.
Number Six: I’m afraid of nothing.
Labour Exchange Manager: You’re afraid of yourself. You are aware of that? Good, you are honest. That is of use here.

“A”: What are you going to do with your freedom?
Number Six: Go fishing.
“A”: Perhaps you’re fishing now.

Number Six even makes a version of the Bodhisattva vow, to liberate all sentient beings.

Number Two: Do you still think you can escape, Number Six?
Number Six: I’m going to do better than that.
Number Two: Oh?
Number Six: Going to escape, come back.
Number Two: Come back?
Number Six: Escape, come back, wipe this place off the face of the Earth, obliterate it and you with it.

However, Number Six is constantly striving to escape. His striving is a form of attachment, he is attached to the idea of leaving the village. Perhaps this is why it takes him so long.

Indeed, does he ever truly escape?

My favourite quote, however, is the following:

Number Six: Who is Number One?
Number Two: You are Number Six.

I was reminded of it the other day when I came across this actual Zen koan:

A monk named Hui Ch’ao asked Fa Yen, “Hui Ch’ao asks the teacher, what is Buddha?”.

Fa Yen said, “You are Hui Ch’ao.”

Juho in the time of Covid

Juho is the part of Shorinji Kempo which is all about grabbing people. Covid, as we all know, is about not grabbing people. So is it possible to teach juho at the moment? Should we even try?

I believe we should try. Shorinji Kempo is a complete system, and it feels incomplete without all of the bits. After all, they’re there for a reason.

But how?

I can’t touch you, so I can’t demonstrate the grab, or the release, or the throw. Sure, we can do single form practice – ryuo ken dai ichi springs to mind – but that kata only makes sense if you already know what is going on. What if I have a complete beginner who wants to learn?

If it’s at all possible, encourage your new starters to come with someone from their family or bubble. They can touch each other, and with a certain amount of description and experimentation, they should be able to achieve understanding.

Videos can also be useful, to give an overview of what it’s supposed to look like with a partner.

Of course, that’s not always (or even often) possible. For single people, and in places with no video equipment, some kind of teaching aid is required.

I built myself a hand.

Not chopped off a real person, I promise.

With my hand, I can demonstrate how what I do changes the angle at which they are able to hold on, making them bend their wrist or loosen the grip.

Of course, the hands are only half the story in kote nuki. Body movement and foot movement are also important.

When you can’t be within 2 metres of each other, the range on the foot movement is hard to imagine.

Enter the severed feet!

Ok, by “severed feet” I meant “slippers”. But still!

Each of these elements on their own makes little sense, but if you can do them all, and combine them in your head, it’s possible to reach enlightenment.

What about you? If you’re a Shorinji Kempo kenshi, judoka, aikido practitioner, or anyone else who uses grabbing and grappling in their martial art, I want to hear your tips and suggestions for how to continue learning and teaching in the current time.

Film Review: Martial Arts of Shaolin

Martial Arts of Shaolin is a 1986 film about Zhi Ming, who is training at the Northern Shaolin Temple. One day, he discovers that the magistrate who killed his parents has come out of hiding…

Available on Amazon

I really enjoyed this film. It’s not heavy on plot, and the dubbing is atrocious, but the fight scenes are long, complex, and suitably entertaining. The choreography was beautiful.

Plus, the inevitable love interest was suitably violent, being a young lady whose parents were also killed by the magistrate, and who was also out for revenge. It was good to see a female who was not helpless.

Really, though, by the sounds of it the magistrate definitely had it coming!

Some highlights that I found particularly fun:

  • fighting over a paintbrush
  • “vegetable” buns served to monks
  • dressing as sheep
  • fighting on the Great Wall of China (it’s possible this is a requirement for any martial arts film set in China)
  • how to attack a beard

Plus, is feeding a bird a sin? We must preserve life, and the bird will die if we do not feed it. But the worm is also a living being…

Overall, I’d say this would be a fun film to watch with some martial-arts-inclined friends, as long as none of them were particularly fussy about historical accuracy.

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!

Review: The Shaolin Kid

The Shaolin Kid (AKA A Boy in China) is a 2012 documentary about an American boy named Andre. As a young child he was diagnosed as being extremely hyperactive – the treatment prescribed was lots of exercise.

Credit: IMDB

After seeing a Jackie Chan film when he was three years old, he got interested in Kung Fu, and his parents enrolled him in classes. He thrived, and when he was eight he had the chance to go to China and study in Shaolin and later Beijing.

The documentary is about the challenges he faced on his journey.

To be honest, I found the whole thing quite disjointed and hard to follow. There were a lot of training montages interspersed with interviews with his parents and teachers, but there didn’t seem to be much in the way of structure. It just jumps in with the parents explaining how hard it was to be separated without explaining what was going on.

Another example; in Shaolin, Westerners are not usually allowed to stay in the dorms with the Chinese students and train with them – it was never explained why Andre was allowed to.

The confusion aside, the documentary has a lot of interesting points. I enjoyed the training montages, because they showed the wide range of things the children were learning – not just one style of wushu but several, and also strength, flexibility and stamina. They also spend time on academics as well as cleaning and other chores.

It was also clear that discipline was a strong driving force at the school. It looked hard work – and occasionally painful.

I was interested in the fundamental difference in attitude between Western parents and Chinese parents. In the West, parents often expect their children to be constantly progressing. In China, if you’re not good enough, you go back to the basics class; perfection is required before you can move on.

The documentary makers were at great pains to make sure we know that all this was the child’s choice – not being pushed on him by the parents, but fully supported by them.

That attitude seems to have paid off – Andre is now eighteen and still practicing various Chinese martial arts. He competes with the US National Team, and has over 200 gold medals.

You can see a recent interview with him on You Tube, which also contains some clips from the documentary. The full documentary is available on Amazon (to buy*, or free on Prime), and also to buy in various places around the internet.

*Affiliate link. If you buy it we’ll make a small commission.