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!

The Four Methods of Training

In Shorinji Kempo there are four main methods of training.  You won’t usually see all of them in any one session, but if you progress past white belt then you’ll definitely get to experience them all.

So what are they?

Kihon (Basics)

This is what you see when you imagine a training montage in a cheesy film.  Perfecting your punch, or your kick, and practicing it over and over again until you can do it without thought.


Think of it like learning vocabulary in a foreign language.  You carefully memorise and practice each individual word, one at a time. Bear with me, this metaphor will start to make sense as we move on!

Basics are important because they underlie everything.  That’s why we practice them every session – from the most junior to the most senior, everyone benefits from improving their basics.

If you can get the “perfect punch” and the “perfect kick” into your muscle memory so that you can do them without having to consciously remember where to put all of your body parts, then you can easily put them together to make longer sequences.

Hokei (Set Patterns)

In hokei we practice particular set ups.  Rather than just a punch, this is “the attacker punches me in the head, so I dodge and block in this particular way and then counter attack using that particular strike”.

We do a lot of pairform work in Shorinji Kempo.  It’s rather difficult to practice your aim if you don’t have a partner, and how do you know your block is effective unless someone hits you?

Hokei is like learning to put the words together to make sentences and use them in response to something.  Now instead of saying “cat”, you can respond to the question “what is this” by saying “this is a cat”.

However, unless you know what context to use them in those words are pointless.  Which is where the next two methods of training come in.

Randori (Sparring)

Two (or more) people, fighting each other.  Neither knows what the other will do next.  The aim is to recognise what attack your partner is doing, defend yourself and counter attack successfully.  It can get messy.  It’s hard to use perfect technique in these conditions.

Usually as beginners we start off with limited randori – for example, we will be limited to one attack each rather than strings of strikes, or we will take turns attacking.  Sometimes we will use only the arms, or only the legs.

As we improve and learn more techniques, we get better at predicting our partner’s movements.  The rules start to drop away – now you can use any combination of strikes against your partner, and you can include grabs and throws too.  It rapidly becomes a challenge, but you learn a lot about reacting quickly, predicting movements, and where your weight needs to be to complete certain defences.

In the metaphor I’m building, randori would be free form conversation.  Perhaps when you are learning your conversation is limited to simple topics – think back to your school language lessons and how you would talk about your family.  Once you improve, and learn more words and grammar, you can talk about almost anything, and respond to any situation.

Embu (Choreographed Fight)

The last (but not least) of the methods of training is embu.  To create an embu, two people will work together to design a fight.  The fight must look authentic – that is, the techniques should flow from one to another without needing any odd twists or pauses to make them work.

If done correctly, an embu looks like the perfect randori match – each attack met by a defence and counter attack which flows well.  To create an embu requires attention to detail and a cooperative partnership where each person helps the other to perform to the best of their ability.

Here’s an example from 2014:

Embu is useful for learning how techniques string together.  During the design phase you quickly realise which things will not work – and if they don’t work here, they won’t work in randori or “real life” situations either.  Embu also allows you to practice techniques over and over, improving each time.

In the metaphor, the embu would be like writing an essay.  You have time to practice it, try out ideas and discard them, until you get to the perfect version of what you are writing.

A complete system

Each one of the four methods of training is important to developing in Shorinji Kempo.  Any one on its own is limited in the benefit it can bring, but if you regularly practice all four then you will learn more and improve faster.