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 … But if we tell the story of the Shaolin Temple using actual historical documents, in the order those documents were produced, it takes literally centuries for the best-known and most-cited tales to appear.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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BSKF Taikai 2017

The British Shorinji Kempo Federation held a taikai (competition) last Sunday.

Members of the federation performed embu, both individually (tanen), in groups (dantai) and in pairs (kumi).

Embu are choreographed fights and demonstrations, with participants being scored on technical accuracy, structure and flow, and spirit. Creating and performing an embu is an opportunity for students to learn which techniques flow well from one another, and to practice to a high standard.

The entrants were closely matched and at times it was not clear who the winners would be.

There was also a randori (sparring) competition. The participants, wearing body armour and helmets, fought to score points by using clear Shorinji Kempo techniques with good kiai and spirit. More points are scored for defensive techniques than for offence, in keeping with our emphasis on self defence.

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It was a good experience for all who took part, including some who had their first try at assisting with the judging.  I would encourage all Shorinji Kempo kenshi to take part in the next taikai!

Pumpkin Kempo

Halloween this year fell on a Tuesday, and since that is the day we train it seemed only right that we use the excuse to have some fun.

The experience began with a message from Sensei: please bring a pumpkin and an old white t-shirt to training.

Needless to say, we were curious what he had in store!


One important principle in Shorinji Kempo is to know what you are aiming at.  In this case, should we have been aiming at Mr Evil Pumpkin, or the kenshi holding it?

The pumpkins had a lot of use – as weights during warm-up, as targets during basics, and even as our “beautiful companion, hanging off one arm” as we learned how to do defences with only the one remaining arm we had.


Later in the session we put on our plain white t-shirts and learned defence against knives.  The knives in question were red pens, so you could tell how we were doing with the “not being stabbed” aim.

Word of advice: if you find yourself in a fight against someone with a knife, and they look even vaguely competent, give them what they want. Or run away.

We did ok when they were doing single attacks, but as soon as our training partners started to be more creative and awkward we found that our limited practice against weapons was not cutting it.

Pun intended.

Shorinji Kempo has a vast range of defences, against many things, but for the most part we practice without weapons.  Our philosophy is one of minimal harm to everyone, and weapons tend to escalate fights quickly.  We would rather calm the situation down.

After all, Miyamoto Musashi says that the ultimate aim of martial arts is not having to use them.

Cyprus Leaders’ Seminar

A few of our black belt students went recently to Cyprus for the annual Leader’s Seminar. 

For six days we trained. 

In the mornings we were in the dojo, with instruction from Mizuno Sensei, the chief instructor of the BSKF, and two guest instructors from Japan. 

In the afternoons, this was our dojo:

Or sometimes this:

And often this:

On one memorable occasion, our dojo was dedicated to Apollo:

It wasn’t all about the training, though. We also ate a lot of really good food, and spent time with kenshi from other parts of the UK, as well as from Spain, Switzerland, and other countries in the IKA

The leader’s seminar was an excellent experience, and I highly recommend attaining black belt purely so that you are eligible to go (although of course there are also other benefits to improving at a martial art!). 

Oh, and there were also cats. 

Book Review: Zen in the Martial Arts

This book is an old one that I purchased sometime in the early eighties. It is missing most of the front cover and the pages are yellow and some are loose from the spine. I really should not be a Cheap Charlie and buy a new book, but I love the smell and feel of […]

via Book Review-Zen In The Martial Arts By Joe Hyams — Edge of Humanity Magazine

BSKF Summer Camp 2017

Last weekend was the annual British Shorinji Kempo Federation Summer Camp.  This year it was held in Yorkshire, and it was excellent!

We arrived on Friday night for some socialising and settling in to our accommodation.  The “dormitory style” accommodation turned out to be large, well equipped tents – each one could hold up to 20 people, in four bed compartments (and yes, there were beds), and they had proper bathrooms with showers.  Easily the most luxurious tent I’ve ever slept in.

Gathering for an early morning run.

On both Saturday and Sunday mornings there was a run before breakfast, for those enthusiastic people who don’t think that 6 hours training is enough exercise for one day.

After breakfast we performed samu – that is, we cleaned the floor of the sports hall.  Samu has several purposes, including putting you in the right frame of mind for training, but the most important one here was that we wanted to run around barefoot – and others had been wearing shoes in the hall.  Many hands make light work, so soon we were ready for training to begin.

Summer Camp is always an excellent opportunity for training.  Many senior instructors mean that you can learn from the best.  Spending two whole days focusing on learning means that you don’t start forgetting so quickly, and you can take time to really learn techniques well.

Not to mention that training with people from all of the other dojo means that you experience a wider variety of body types and reactions than you get in your home dojo.

With a large open space available too, we did some training in shakujo – something that is difficult in some of our dojo because the ceilings are too low!

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Do not underestimate how tempted we all are by that green wall.  Keep an eye on Facebook for some entertaining photoshop moments.

On Saturday evening we had social time in our very own yurt – complete with a roaring fire (and marshmallows to melt on it!), snacks, drinks, music and lots of hilarity.


Summer Camp was an excellent way to spend a weekend.  If you didn’t make it this year, don’t worry – there is always next year.  Plus there are many similar events coming up in the months in between.

And if you think it sounds fun, but you’re not yet doing Shorinji Kempo – well, just come along and join us!

Five Common Misconceptions About Martial Arts

This is a good read, and worth the time. Do ten lessons make you a ninja?  Are all martial arts the same?

No dojo is the same as another, and each art is like a person, with its different strengths, weaknesses and appearance. And like people, the different martial arts have as much in common as they don’t. The problem is, most people who have never done a martial art like to draw conclusions about all of them based on facile and incomplete evidence.

Source: Five Common Misconceptions About Martial Arts

An introduction to Shorinji Kempo

Shorinji Kempo is a very eclectic martial art.  It has many elements which work together to build a whole which is better than the sum of its parts.

The first video shows one of our senseis (teachers) describing what we do at the start of a demonstration in 2013.

It’s all very well hearing about it, but what does it look like in practice?  Check out the second video to see a compilation of the demonstrations from the same event.

Like what you see?  Check out some more BSKF videos, browse this site, or simply come along to one of our classes and try us out!

Helpful Japanese Vocab

Like many martial arts, in Shorinji Kempo we have a lot of specialised vocabulary.  Much of our vocab is in Japanese.

This isn’t because we’re just being awkward.

As part of the International Kempo Association, we train with kenshi (students) from many countries.  We need one language to describe what we do, so that everyone can understand – and since the martial art was founded in Japan, it seems only fair that we standardise on Japanese.

However, it does mean that beginners can feel a little lost to start with.  To combat that, here is a list of helpful words – how they’re pronounced, how they’re spelled, and what they mean.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is quite long.  DO NOT try to memorise all of these words straight away!  You will pick them up as you go along.  This list is only intended to be a helpful reminder.

  • Pronunciation (spelling): meaning

Session Admin

  • Sen-say (sensei): teacher.
  • Ser-ritz (seiritsu): line up – the sensei will call this out.
  • Shoe-go (shugo): assemble – the person in the front right will shout this in response to seiritsu.  Line up in a grid with everyone else.
  • Ray (rei): make gassho rei.  We do this a lot.
  • Na-Ray (naore): stop making gassho rei.
  • On-e-guy-a-she-mass (onegai shimasu): please – as in, please train with me, please teach me, etc., usually paired with a rei.
  • Ari-gato-go-zai-i-mash-ta (arigato gozaimashita): thank you – as in, thank you for training with me, thank you for teaching me, etc., usually paired with a rei.
  • Kam-eye (kamae): take up stance.  This is usually said after the sensei has specified a stance.
  • Haj-i-may (hajime): start.  Don’t start doing anything until you hear this word.
  • Ya-may (yame): stop.  If you hear this, stop whatever you’re doing, as soon as possible, and pay attention to the sensei.

Directions to Move In

  • Hid-a-ree (hidari): left
  • Mi-gee (migi): right
  • My (mae): forward
  • A-toe (ato): backward

Bits of the Body

  • Joe-dan (jodan): head level
  • Choo-dan (chudan): middle level (usually solar plexus or side floating ribs)
  • Gay-dan (gedan): lower level (anything below the waist)
  • Kin-teki (kinteki): groin (literally, the golden target)

I hope you’ve found this list useful.  If you’ve heard a word and you’re not sure about it, why not leave a comment and I’ll tell you what it means!