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.

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

Goho

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.

Juho

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.

Half and Half

The founder of Shorinji Kempo, Doshin So, said:

Half for your own happiness, and half for the happiness of others.

半ばは自己の幸せを、半ばは他人の幸せを。

This is one of the ideals that we strive for in our practice. You can apply it in any situation, both in the dojo and outside.

Training with a partner? Make sure that you both get a turn to practice, and make sure all your attacks are convincing so that everyone gets good practice.

Leading a class? You get to choose the techniques, so pick ones that will help you – but also try to make sure you’re assigning things that will help your students learn.

Living with a partner or children? You’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice this principle!

It sounds simple. And it is.

But not all simple things are easy.

The order is important. Build yourself up before you help others. Just like when you’re in a plane and the oxygen masks drop – put on your own mask first before helping others, otherwise you become part of the problem.

But how do you know that you’ve built yourself enough that you can help others? I view it more as a ratcheting-up. Build yourself a little, help others a little, build yourself a little more, help others a little more. You are always a work in progress, so helping others will always be a work in progress. As long as it stays in progress and doesn’t stop, that’s fine.

There have been scientific studies done which show that helping other people actually makes you happier than having someone try to make you happy. Even if the other person is a complete stranger who you will never meet!

It’s hard to get the balance right sometimes. You strive to help other people, and forget that you need care too. You take time for yourself and then feel guilty about it so never actually relax. Or you focus on your own wants and needs and it doesn’t occur to you that others might need you to focus on them right now.

Nobody is perfect and real life is complicated. Nobody will get this right all of the time. All we can do is try our best.


As a side note, if you want to be Zen about it, is it even possible to do things for yourself?

A MASTER was asked the question, “What is the Way?” by a curious monk.

“It is right before your eyes,” said the master.

“Why do I not see it for myself?”

“Because you are thinking of yourself.”

“What about you: do you see it?”

“So long as you see double, saying I don’t and you do, and so on, your eyes are clouded,” said the master.

“When there is neither ‘I’ nor ‘You,’ can one see it?”

“When there is neither ‘I’ nor ‘You,’ who is the one that wants to see it?”

Zen Koan

Why study philosophy?

Why study philosophy?

In Shorinji Kempo, we study not only the physical aspects of martial arts, but the philosophy as well.  Why?  What is the point?  Surely if you want to learn to defend yourself it is sufficient to learn how to block punches, counter attack, and deal with being grabbed?

Well… no.

Part of self defence is knowing the physical side, yes – but you also need to know when it is appropriate to use the techniques, and even how to avoid needing to use them in the first place.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Example: I’m in a bar, and a rowdy person is really annoying me.  Do I:

  1. Throw the first punch – clearly they’re going to attack me soon so I should get in there first;
  2. Do nothing and ignore them – they’ll probably go away soon;
  3. Move away – better to avoid the situation if I can;
  4. Keep alert in case they attack, but try not to provoke them.

Answer?

Defence is primary, offence is secondary. Happomoku. Either 3 or 4 would work, depending on the circumstances. Substitute “annoying me” for “threatening me” and 1 perhaps becomes an option.

Another example: my neighbours are always playing loud music late at night. Do I:

  1. Report them to the police;
  2. Go round there and threaten them;
  3. Ignore it and hope they stop soon?

Answer: probably 1. It’s for the benefit of all mankind…

Of course, it’s not all about situations like this. The study of philosophy in and of itself can be beneficial. It widens the mind and helps us see other people’s points of view. It improves reasoning and critical thinking skills, allowing us to ask better questions when confronted with a situation.

Philosophy will also teach you how to learn better, which will benefit you in all parts of your life.

People often think that philosophy is all about dead Greeks sitting around debating the meaning of life, but some philosophy can be very practical and modern. For example, the Growth Mindset has been around for a long time in one form or another, but was modernised and popularised by Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University.

It says, essentially, that if you believe you can’t change – you’re either “good at something” or “bad at something” then you won’t even try to improve. Like a self-fulfilling prophesy you’ll constrain yourself to your expectations.

On the other hand if you believe that you can improve, you’ll put more effort in, seek help when needed, and ultimately prove yourself right – you will get better.

This is a great attitude to have when learning something new (like, for example, a martial art…). Every beginner who walks through the door has the potential to be great, to be a teacher one day. You just have to keep trying.

BSKF National Taikai

Recently, the British Shorinji Kempo Federation held a national taikai.

What’s a taikai?

It’s a lot of fun, that’s what it is. Literally translating as “big meeting”, a taikai is a competition.

In Shorinji Kempo, our competitions are not just about fighting. As well as sparring, we have embu competitions. An embu is a choreographed fight – you work with your partner (or group) to make it as perfect and realistic looking as possible, and then compete against other pairs to see who has designed and performed the best fight.

This year we had entries for single-form, pair-form, and group embu, which was fun to watch.

Of course, we do also have sparring competitions. This year we threw away the old, gendered categories in favour of a much more sensible Beginner-Intermediate-Advanced grouping.

I for one appreciated having a wider range of opponents to fight – I love to challenge myself.

Overall, it was an excellent day. Fun was had, and prizes were won. And of course afterwards we went to have some food and drink and relax with our friends.

Book Review: The History, Philosophy, and Gung Fu of Shaolin Ch’an

“It’s China, mom. Everybody knows kung fu. – Dre Parker, Karate Kid (2010)

That may or may not be true (my money’s on not), but in the West it can safely be said that barely anybody knows Kung Fu.

When I first started learning Shorinji Kempo, somebody told me that it was based on Shaolin Kung Fu – and in fact that the kanji 少林寺拳法 would be pronounced “Shaolin Kung Fu” by Chinese people. I confess I’ve not asked an actual Chinese person, but according to Google Translate it would be pronounced Shàolínsì quánfǎ, which sounds pretty similar to my untrained ear. Whether the arts are in any way related is a more difficult question, which I’m not going to try to answer right now.

In any case, I found myself interested in finding out more about Shaolin, and I came across this book.

The History, Philosophy, and Gung Fu of Shaolin Ch’an is a good description of what is contained in it. The book was written by Grandmasters of Shaolin who are currently living outside of China, in the West. They aim to cut through some of the misconceptions surrounding this school of Ch’an Buddhism.

Because that’s what it is – Buddhism, not a martial art.

Yes, they have fighting arts, but they consider themselves to be a sect of Buddhism, not a school for teaching fighting. The martial arts are for developing discipline and moving meditation, rather than for subduing enemies. Although I’m sure that in the past when monks were travelling alone around the country it came in handy to be able to fight off bandits.

The book is separated into three sections. The first is history and philosophy, and I found it fascinating.

Did you know, for example, that Shaolin requires all its students to study many disciplines – history, philosophy, science, maths, languages, and so on? Understanding the world and seeing it as it really is is fundamental to achieving enlightenment.

The disciple… asked: “Why is knowing that frogs sing important to a Shaolin? Of what use is such knowledge?”

”Ah,” said the master, smiling, “That is the essence of all knowledge. At what point does a good story replace truth? In what ways might good stories hide or distort truth? Truth builds on itself, like each brick in a house. Each depends on the ones beneath and beside it to provide support. If one brick is bad, how much weaker the structure? How many weak bricks can a house stand before a wall collapses?”

The historical requirements for being admitted as a student, and the rigorous training required once you were one, were far in excess of what you would see in any modern martial arts class. Can you imagine going to a 21st century martial arts class in the UK or America, and your first six months is nothing but standing in horse stance? I can’t imagine that we would retain many students!

The second part of the book was more focused on the martial aspects – the gung fu. It laid out the major styles and differences between them. I think it would be of more interest to someone who was currently studying one of the gung fu styles, where you could compare to what you were learning in class. It did also contain some advice about how to distinguish “real” Shaolin teachers from those who teach only parts of the path (the authors are very clear that other paths are valid and useful, but if you’re actively seeking Shaolin specifically, this is how to find it).

There was a small amount of commentary about relationships to other martial arts.

The proliferation of Okinawan and Japanese Karate systems reflects gung fu systems and styles that were their ancestors. Goju-ryu combines aspects of White Crane, Fu Jow (Tiger) and Choy Li Fut, while Funakoshi Gichin incorporated ch’in na and Choy Li Fut into his Shotokan system. (Miyagi Chojun points out in his Karate-do Gaisetsu that Goju-ryu developed from Chinese arts which came to Okinawa from Fukien Province in 1828.)

The Japanese Shorin style is a direct, though significantly altered, form of Shaolin which places tremendous emphasis on its 600+ two-person drills (”Shorin” is the Japanese pronunciation of “Shaolin” and it, too, is a Buddhist monastic order – usually called “Shorinji Kempo”). There is some controversy as to whether Shorinji Kempo was truly inspired by Shaolin, especially given the clear influence of Japanese arts upon the style. We can neither confirm nor disprove the origins of this style.

After slogging through the second part, the third section of the book was a welcome return to more philosophical topics. This time about the foundations of the Shaolin path, and integrating Shaolin Ch’an principles into your life and martial practices. The Shaolin path is not just about martial prowess – there are five main strands which in traditional schools are given equal weight: Integrity, Scholarship, Gung fu, Meditation, and Detachment. Detachment is perhaps the hardest for Western minds to get their heads around, but I found the description in the book to be the most succinct and helpful I’d come across on the topic: Do not possess that which you love, but allow it to be loved as long as is appropriate.

Overall, I would recommend this book to those who are interested in the history and philosophy of both martial arts and buddhism. And I encourage everyone to be interested in all topics – widen your mind and you might see something new and exciting.

Weak mind, weak fist. Strong mind, no need for fist. (Old Shaolin saying)

Do you have book recommendations? Let me know in the comments.

Leaders’ Seminar 2022

Shorinji Kempo classes in Bristol took a short break at the start of October while the instructors and senior students took part in a 6-day training seminar. We’re always seeking to improve so we can teach you better, more exciting things.

Morning training took place in the dojo. Our teachers included Sensei Maeda, a specialist in appo (AKA poking people in the really painful places), kappo (resuscitation), and seiho (restorative massage), who had flown all the way from Japan to teach us.

As well as international teachers, we also got the chance to train with senior students from other countries, including Indonesia and Switzerland.

The morning wasn’t the end of the excitement though. After a leisurely lunch, we made our way to the beach to work on our shakujo (6 foot stick) and nioi (short stick) techniques.

Oh, did I mention that we were in Cyprus?

The start of October is cold and wet. What better thing could you do than escape to a warmer climate… and hit your friends with big sticks?

We all learnt a lot during the week, and spent time strengthening our relationships with those from other clubs around the UK and internationally.

If you’re interested to find out what we learnt, why not sign up to a class and experience it first hand?

Film Review: Kung Pow! Enter the Fist

From the very first moments of this film you know what it is: a spoof of the martial arts genre. Also hilarious.

Master Pain, the extremely obvious villain of the film, is on the hunt for the one person who can defeat him – the chosen one. Alas, he finds him in his cradle. Killing the Chosen One’s family, Master Pain comes for the child.

Who has a surprising amount of martial arts skill for a child less than one year old.

The fight is (mostly) a draw, and so the child becomes a man.

The film gets more ridiculous from there.

The director, Steve Oedekerk, has taken a 1970s Kung Fu film, dubbed in new words, and spliced it with modern actors to create an entirely new experience.

Throughout, the film is scattered with little things to just tweak the senses. In the ancient Chinese village, one of the establishments is briefly Hooters – before the sign disappears so quickly you aren’t sure you even saw it. There is a small floating pyramid in the distance in another scene, and some extremely obvious product placement.

I’m pretty sure that if I watched it again I would see more examples that I missed the first time around.

Killing is wrong. And bad. There should be a new, stronger word for killing. Like badwrong, or badong. Yes, killing is badong. From this moment, I will stand for the opposite of killing: gnodab.

The Chosen One (Kung Pow!)

I thought my favourite scene was going to be the fight with the cow. It features a milk moustache, matrix-style slow-mo action, and more.

But then Mu-Shu-Fasa appeared. I won’t spoil that one for you, you’ll just have to watch the film.

The credits are also entertaining. Watch all the way to the end.

Suffice it to say that I highly recommend watching this film. But perhaps not in the company of anyone who takes martial arts films too seriously.