Coming together for violence and friendship

Last weekend Shorinji Kempo kenshi from all over the UK came to Bristol to train together.

Here we are proving that no matter how many people you put in a room, somehow there is always a gap that nobody is in.

Sensei Rob Villiers (6th Dan) and Sensei Richard Jarman (5th Dan) taught sessions on topics including juho randori, dantai embu, and the ever popular kihon.

Dan grades and kyu grades trained together, and proved once again that white belts have as much to contribute to a class as black belts.

After finishing off the afternoon with some techniques from our own grades’ syllabuses, we moved on to an important post-training event: curry! Alas, I was having too much fun to remember to take a photo, so you’ll have to use your imagination for that one.

It was good to see so many people there. We’re already looking forward to the next opportunity to meet up again.

What’s the point of embu?

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!

Annual Leaders Seminar, Cyprus 2018

Several of the club’s members attended this year’s Annual Leaders Seminar in Cyprus.  We spent six days training hard, but also relaxing well and eating a lot.

Mornings in the dojo gave us the opportunity to work on some of the more difficult principles and techniques.  We were ably instructed in this by  Mizuno Sensei and Imai Sensei, both of whom regularly astound us with the depth of their knowledge and ability.


After a long lunch (it’s too hot to train at lunch time of course), we spent our afternoons on the beach.  With shakujo you need a lot of space!

Of course, there was plenty of time for swimming and socialising, building our better world one friendship at a time.

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IKA Seminar 2018

The International Kempo Association annual training seminar 2018 was held in Bristol.  We were excited, but slightly nervous, to be hosting such a large event.  It is anticipated eagerly by members from all around the world, and we didn’t want to let them down!

Our hard work paid off, though, and everyone had a great time.

Pamphlet Cover

Our weekend began with a boat cruise along the river, stopping at some pubs and eating some stereotypically British fish and chips.

Saturday and Sunday were full days of training of course, and we loved every minute of it.  We were blessed with senior sensei from the UK, Japan, and Switzerland, along with many other sensei from around the world.  The quality of instruction was very high.



There was, of course, plenty of time for practice.  And more practice.

Philosophy is important in Shorinji Kempo, and we always make time for it.


On Saturday evening we partied hard.  Our venue – the zoo!  With a welcome drink in the aquarium, some time to wander around, and a three course meal, what more could we want?  A dance lesson of course!  Jive and Argentine Tango was the order of the day. Plus, not to forget Sensei Mizuno’s birthday cake!

We even had another party on Sunday night, for those who survived that long.  This time, a less formal affair, with a selection of West Country food and drink, and lots of sitting around chatting.

Through it all, we renewed old friendships, and formed new ones.  We talked to those from other countries, practiced our Kempo and our language skills, shared knowledge and insight, and above all, had fun.

This is still my favourite photo from the weekend though.


Book Review: Essential Anatomy for Healing and Martial Arts

This book is an excellent introduction to both Western and Eastern anatomy concepts. It is not excessively detailed, but gives a good grounding in both systems.

See this book on Goodreads

The book begins with a brief overview of Western anatomy (organs, muscle and nerve groupings), and Eastern concepts (meridians and acupoints, and how the flow of Qi changes throughout the day).  I doubt anyone who grew up in the west will learn anything from the Western section, except possibly some names for muscle groups.  The Eastern section was the one that fascinated me.

There are some diagrams of acupoints and tables of correspondences.  They show not only where the acupoints are, but what they can be used for and how they interact with each other.

At the end of the book are a chapter on healing (resuscitation and massage) and a chapter on martial arts (how to increase the effectiveness of your strikes). Those chapters, responsibly, come with warnings about learning from qualified teachers and not practicing without supervision.  The healing chapter includes some simple first aid which you can do on yourself.

I particularly enjoyed the diagrams of meridians and acupoints – named in Chinese, Korean, Japanese and English, as well as alphanumeric code. It was interesting connecting the dots, as it were, on the pressure points that we use in Shorinji Kempo – and seeing how many more there are that we don’t use (at least that I’ve seen so far!).

I would recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about Eastern medicine. Have a quick read through to get the lay of the land before going back to study the pages that interest you.  You can pick up a copy on Amazon.

The Forgotten Style: Moral Art!

This is a well thought out article, well worth a read.

The Tai Chi Notebook

This is a guest post written by Justin Ford  of Cup of Kick ( a great martial arts blog you might like to check out.

pexels-photo-724184.jpegClose your eyes. Now imagine the best student ever:  They are always on time. They always take notes.

They absolutely LOVE learning. They ask really thought provoking questions that lead to even more learning. They work hard, in class and outside of class.

Just keep thinking about how amazing they are. Are you ready to teach them?

Oh, but…I forgot to mention something. They have a couple of flaws: They are arrogant and egotistical.

They are always bragging and showing off. They never show respect. Heck, are their lips staying closed together when somebody else is teaching or talking? They tell lies and are hard to trust because of it. They really couldn’t care less about anybody other than themselves.

Not so perfect now…

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Book Review: A Brief History of the Martial Arts, by Jonathan Clements

32603294I found this book in the library, and I was drawn in by the contents page, which spans large swathes of history and seemed to be quite comprehensive.

The book is written by a “proper historian” – that is, it focuses on what the evidence actually says happened, rather than taking at face value the various myths and legends which have built up around almost all martial arts.  As it says:

This has often led me into frustrating dead ends and quagmires as paper trails go cold or evaporate into hearsay.  Many times, I have had to force myself to bear in mind a comment made by Stephen Turnbull, who has similarly struggled with the contradictions of martial arts history: “All invented traditions have a basis in fact, no matter how tenuously the links may be made between the developed tradition and recorded history.”

Many times, the author takes a martial arts origin story, compares it to the historical record and finds mismatches between them.  For example of the many arts whose stories start with the Shaolin Temple he says:

Tales of its warring monks form the opening paragraphs of many a martial art’s history. … But if we tell the story of the Shaolin Temple using actual historical documents, in the order those documents were produced, it takes literally centuries for the best-known and most-cited tales to appear.

The book begins in China, passes through Japan, Korea and Indonesia, before finally discussing the spread of martial arts in the West.

Of particular interest to me were the mentions of Shorinji Kempo.  I was gratified to see that most of the stories I had been told of the founding were supported by evidence. Given that our art is relatively young, this is less surprising than it could have been – after all, the founder So Doshin only died in 1980 and there are still people alive who knew him and trained with him.

I even learned some interesting new facts – such as the reason that Shorinji Kempo is technically a religion (Kongo Zen Buddhism), which is that at the time of founding martial arts were illegal under the US occupation of Japan.  Thus black belts are entitled to wear hoi (buddhist priests robes), and So Doshin explained to the authorities that his disciples’ worship involved a kind of ‘dance’.

Overall I found the book an interesting read.  The language is easy to follow and the stories are well curated.  It is, as the title indicates, only a brief history, but a detailed chronology is listed at the back, along with copious notes and suggestions for further reading.

I would recommend this book as a starting point for anyone who wants to know more about how martial arts developed over time.  You can find it on Amazon (or, as I did, in your local library).

Shu-Ha-Ri – The Martial Recipe

The concept of Shu Ha Ri is found in several martial arts. Here is a good explanation of what it means.

Zojo Dojo

In studying, practising and teaching karate, I have come across the concept of Shu Ha Ri a few times. Of course my mind latched right on to it, because it is a neat way to explain vast concepts. Anything that offers an elegant shorthand is basically catnip to the instructor-in-training. Of course, Karate by Jesse has already expanded on this concept, and it is a worthy read indeed. In writing this, I’d like to explore ways to understand Shu-ha-ri, both as a student and instructor. Let’s look at the concept and get down with some metaphors.

Shu – Keep | Obey | Protect

Anyone beginning their martial arts journey would be advised to stick to what their instructor offers. Of course, the value of this depends entirely on the instructor, but it is generally advised that for the first ten years (I know, a long time indeed), the budo…

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