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.

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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.

Three ways to keep exercise interesting

You know you should exercise more.  But the gym is so dull, right?  Pounding on the treadmill for half an hour, maybe do some reps on the strength machines?  Same routine each week.

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Bo-ring.

Here are some tips to keep it interesting.

1. Mix it up

We all know the saying.  Variety is the spice of life.  It’s clichéd because it’s true.

Change up your routine.  Don’t just go to the gym and run the treadmill.  Go outside and run through the woods.  If you run outside, don’t run the same route each time.  Maybe you prefer the spin class?  Go for a cycle instead.

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Instead of weights in the gym, try taking your two-year-old to the park and throwing them around a bit.  They’ll love the attention and your arms will get their workout.

If you like aerobics, or yoga, or boxercise or any of the other classes that are around, have a look around and see what else you can try.  Experiment a little – you never know what you might find.

Sure, it takes a little bit of brain power to figure out all the options, but that might not be such a bad thing.

2. Get your mind involved

The eastern philosophies all agree on this one – the mind and body are inextricably linked.  You can’t have a healthy body without a healthy mind, and you can’t have a healthy mind without a healthy body.

Find an exercise that stimulates your brain.

  • Running in a straight line is easy.  Try parkour.
  • Find an exercise that teaches you a skill – a martial art or a complex dance style, perhaps.
  • Run up a mountain (you’ll need to read a map to know where you’re going).

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I challenge you to think of your own ideas – leave them in the comments below!

3. Make it social

If you’re doing hardcore aerobic exercise, you won’t be able to talk, but that doesn’t mean it’s not great to have a friend.  Friends are invaluable for motivation and encouragement.  Seeing your friend sweating and groaning will make you feel better about how hard you’re finding it.

Don’t be afraid to show your effort either, because the same is true in reverse and you’ll be encouraging your friend.

Of course, not all exercise is hard aerobics.  If you’re learning a new skill, you and your friend can improve together, helping each other.  If you’re doing weights, your friend can offer encouragement and help set you up, and you can do the same for them.

And finally, shared effort demands shared rewards – a good excuse for a trip to the pub or your favourite coffee shop to have a chat!

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In keeping with point number three – if you enjoyed these tips, please share them with your friends!

How to behave in the dojo (without embarrasing yourself)

You’ve all done it. You turn up for the first time in a new place. It could be a new job or a new hobby, or just a bar that you’ve never been to before. You find yourself taking sidelong glances at other people.

Am I dressed right?

Is there something I should be doing?

What if I say the wrong thing?

The good news is that when joining a Shorinji Kempo club it’s possible to avoid all that uncertainty – or at least most of it – by doing a little research beforehand. All Kempo dojos across the country follow the same simple rules of behaviour, so even if you aren’t planning to join us in Bristol, this article can still help you.

Arriving

There is no need to buy a dogi (that’s the white pyjama things) straight away. Just wear sensible exercise clothes – loose fitting so you can move, and with trousers short enough that you won’t fall over the ends of them when you move. Make sure your clothes are clean. Nobody likes training with a smelly partner!

You’ll want to remove your jewellery, watches, and so on, and tie your hair back if it’s long. That’s for two reasons – if someone gets their fingers caught around something, it’ll hurt, and also you might break something. Glasses are fine though! We also prefer if your fingernails are short and clean, to reduce the risk of scratches and broken nails.

Take off your shoes and socks at the door. We train barefoot, and we don’t want to be treading on anything nasty that’s been tracked in from outside, so there’s no shoes in the dojo.

Gassho rei
Gassho rei

As you enter, pause just inside the door. Put all your things down and make gassho rei towards the front of the room. It feels a bit odd to start with, but once you’ve been coming a while it becomes a signal to your brain that you are now in the training space. You can leave all your worries outside and concentrate only on training. Sometimes in life that can be a relief!

If you have bags and things, put them neatly at the back of the dojo out of the way.

In The Session

The sensei (teacher) will stand at the front and shout – it’s spelled “seiretsu” but sounds more like “sir ritz!”. At this point people will run to line up.

Join the grid – try to line yourself up with other people in front and to the right. There’s no formal ordering, so you can stand where you like. Any time you’re standing – whether in the grid or just listening to sensei – try to stand in kesshu gamae. It makes it clear that you are paying attention.

Stand in kesshu gamae when listening to instructions or explanations.
Kesshu gamae

For your first session, I recommend being in the second row so you have someone to copy in front of you, but are close enough to see the sensei clearly. The person in the front corner has a few special jobs to do, so I’d avoid that spot until you’ve been a few times.

You’ll notice that there is a lot of gassho rei going on. Do this every time someone shouts “rei!”, and stop when someone says “naorei”. If you want to know more about the meaning of gassho rei and why we do that instead of bowing, read this article.

Most Kempo sessions start with warm up and basics, then move on to meditation, philosophy, and more complex techniques. No two sessions are ever identical, so for this bit you’ll have to copy what others are doing. The sensei will explain all the movements as the session progresses, but don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t understand.

At The End

The end of a Kempo session is similar to the start – everyone lines up, and there is lots of gassho rei. Just remember to rei whenever anyone shouts “rei” and you’ll be fine.

When you leave, carry your shoes and things to the door, pause and rei the front of the dojo like you did on the way in. You can put your shoes on again outside the door.

We hope you enjoyed your first session and we’ll see you again soon!

So Now You Know

Above all, don’t worry. Anyone who does Shorinji Kempo is very forgiving, and we all remember what it’s like to be new. If you do something wrong, someone will tell you, but nobody is going to blame you for not knowing the rules on your first session!

So, now that you know how to behave without embarrassing yourself, why not come along and try it out?

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What is gassho rei, and what is it for?

Have you ever watched a martial arts film where two little old Japanese masters need to fight to prove which is the best?

They enter the mats, bow, and get into a fighting stance.

Then they stare at each other.

Suddenly, just as you think nothing is going to happen, one of them bows to the other and walks off, defeated.

You won’t ever see that happen in Shorinji Kempo.

For several reasons, but the one I want to talk about here is the bowing.  We don’t bow to each other.  Instead, we use gassho rei.

What is this gassho rei thing then?

Stand upright and look the other person in the eye.

Press your hands together in front of you, about head height.  The tops of your fingers should be level with your eyes, and your fingers spread slightly.

Often, gassho rei is accompanied by words.  Before training, we say “onegaishimasu”, which is Japanese for “please” – as in, “please train with me”.

Afterwards, we say “arigato gozaimashita”, which is Japanese for “thank you very much”.

Don’t worry if you can’t figure out the pronunciation!  Come along and try it out a few times and you’ll soon get it right.

Ok, but what’s the point?

Bowing, especially in Japanese culture, is very rank-conscious.  That is to say, the deeper you bow, the more respect you are showing to the other person.  If a commoner met the emperor, the commoner would be grovelling on the floor while the emperor might, perhaps, nod his head a little.

Gassho rei is a gesture of mutual respect.

Everyone in the dojo is equal.  We all learn from each other – yes, even the sensei can learn from the newest beginner!  They may be learning different things (how to teach better rather than how to punch better, for example), but the opportunity for learning is still there.

That sounds pretty cool

If you want to learn a martial art where respect is given to all students regardless of rank, why not try Shorinji Kempo?

Beginners are always welcome, and your first session is free so there’s nothing to lose!

A successful IKA seminar in the Spanish Sun

Members of Bristol Shorinji Kempo Dojo attended the International Kempo Association seminar in Beasain, Spain. On the Saturday morning there was a demonstration for some of the local people – we had around 200-300 people in the audience, and we were even on the TV!

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The children’s class were impressive, both in size and in quality. It’s given us notions and we’re considering starting a children’s class in Bristol. Get in touch if you would be interested!

For the rest of the weekend, we trained hard. Some very good Kempo instruction was had by all, from the senior instructors of the IKA – Japanese, British, Spanish, and others.

Of course, training can only last so long, and there was plenty of time to enjoy chatting with people from all over the Kempo World, eat, drink, and enjoy the Spanish sun.

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Shorinji Kempo Goes Ape

Cardiff Dojo invited us to join them on a social event recently. We went to Go Ape and swung around in the trees. It was all very safe, with all the harnesses and safety instructions. But still… you’re quite high up. Not one for people who have a fear of heights. For those of us not cursed with that affliction, though, it was fun.

Afterwards we went for a meal at a local pub, and caught up on all the gossip.

BSKF Summer Camp

The British Shorinji Kempo Federation Summer Camp this year took place in Staffordshire.

The benefits of staying in the middle of nowhere included more time to be sociable in the evenings (and mornings, and lunchtimes), beautiful countryside surroundings, and the ability to go for a run first thing in the morning.

Some people did not consider that last one to be a benefit!

Some excellent training was had by all, including shakujo (staff weapon) training outdoors, open handed technical training with Sensei Mizuno (8th Dan) and the other senior instructors, meditation, and philosophy.

The Welsh Experiment II

After the success of the 2014 Welsh Experiment, Cardiff dojo repeated the experience this year. In 2014 we took our shakujo (6 foot staff weapons) to the Welsh mountains and used the natural dojo to practice – both shakujo and meditation – in the glorious sunshine.

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Alas, this year the weather did not cooperate, and instead of swinging our shakujo on a lovely sunny mountainside, we took part in such experiments as “who has the best waterproofs” and “how hard is it to hold on to a wet shakujo?”. We also took the wise decision to do the meditation portion of the event inside!

We did have a clear night though, which gave the opportunity for a little fun with glow sticks.

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It was a brilliant event, and we learnt a lot. I’d love to see it become less “experiment” and more established as part of the regular cycle of events which the BSKF run.