This essay was written by one of our students, Edina, for her blue belt grading. She shared some great insights into the topic and has kindly agreed for me to publish it here!
Shorinji Kempo is a discipline that develops individuals. ‘’Jiko kakuritsu’’, meaning ‘’self-establishment’’, refers to building strength of character. As such, the goal of Shorinji Kempo is not to train martial arts champions but to train stable and strong leaders, who will be an asset to society at large. This is achieved through increasing physical strength through regular training and increasing mental focus and self-understanding through meditation. Over time, as we become physically and mentally stronger and become more competent, we also develop greater self-confidence.
I see parallels between this aspect of Kempo philosopy and Carol Dweck’s theory of growth mindset, which proposes that people can develop qualities and reach their goals with effort, perseverance and drive, regardless of natural ability. This theory is based on neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to continue forming, strengthening and weakening neural connections throughout life. People who have a growth mindset use feedback and mistakes as opportunities to improve, while enjoying the process of learning, thus becoming more productive.
Kaiso [our founder] wisely said ‘’live half for your own happiness, half for the happiness of others’’. Therefore, to maintain the balance between self-interest and altruism that kenshi should strive for, ‘’jiko kakuritsu’’ is paired with ‘’jita kyoraku’’, which means ‘’self and others mutual enjoyment’’. In other words, our ‘’well-established selves’’ should strive to live in harmony with others’’.
A few weeks ago, Sensei Ben talked about us having to do more teaching as we progress in our training. He explained that if one day some of us have our own dojos, we will have to first ‘’establish ourselves’’, meaning we first have to show that we can do everything ourselves to earn the trust and respect of the kenshi [students]. Once we have established ourselves as the person in charge, then we can be less controlling and let others teach. This made me think about this concept of ‘’Jiko kakuritsu, jita kyoraku’’; first establishing ourselves as leaders and then living in harmony with others by giving them a chance to practice leading.
Reflecting on my own Kempo journey, I can see how Kempo has contributed to my development as an individual. When I first joined the dojo, a fellow kenshi jokingly described me as ‘’weedy’’, which was a fairly accurate description; I had the upper body strength of chicken, and the only exercise I did was walking. Over the years, I have got progressively stronger and can now do a 2-minute plank, 20 push ups, and a single pull up; it doesn’t sound like much but for me it’s great progress. I jog to work to improve my cardiovascular fitness and I bought a bike so I could cycle to Kempo and avoid public transport during the pandemic. Training Kempo has encouraged me to have a better work-life balance. Initially, I would often miss training because I would be working late, whereas now, on Wednesday, I ensure that I only plan work that I can reasonably do in 9 hours.
In conclusion, Jiko kakuritsu and jita kyoraku sum up how Shorinji Kempo develops individuals; by believing our own potential and improving ourselves, we can use our strengths to improve the lives of those around us for our mutual benefit
While I was having a clear-out this weekend, I found a single sheet of paper tucked amongst some leaflets and other papers from my first trip to Japan (and one and only visit to Shorinji Kempo headquarters), for a world taikai back in 2005.
It was an extract from a talk given by the founder of Shorinji Kempo, Doshin So, back in the 70s. I'm not totally sure home I came into possession, but re-reading it, I was struck by how relevant the words were to the current political climate. Against a renewed backdrop of isolationism, it’s a pertinent reminder that changing the world starts with the individual; that we must build up not just strength and resolve, but also consideration for others, in order to stand up to injustice.
Given I have no idea of its provenance, I can't comment on the copyright status of the text. So until someone tells me to take it down, the full text is replicated below. Enjoy.
Speech by the Founder at the Shorinji Kempo 30th Anniversary National Taikai (1977)
It truly gives me great pleasure that the Shorinji Kempo 30th Anniversary Taikai is being held here today on such a grand scale. After Japan having lost in World War II, I returned to Japan to start my life all over once again, together with many other Japanese people. I thought that we could work things out together by helping each other when I returned to Japan. However, Japan at that time was in a really terrible state. Some behaved like gangsters to other Japanese, or those from some of the victor nations committed many overbearing acts. Despite seeing such acts, nobody tried to help. Under such a situation I honestly felt regret about having to return to Japan.
Perseverance is not a passive idea. It doesn’t mean weathering or suffering through negative events happening to you or around you. Perseverance is active, it's striving, pushing through oppression, a burden, or unpleasant experience, towards a better resolution. It can also mean actively challenging or seeking change. To persevere is to work to improve the situation, despite resistance to that change.
In the same way that perseverance isn’t passive, it also isn’t directionless. It’s towards something, a maintaining of purpose despite obstacles. Simply surviving or abiding is not perseverance.
Tl;dr, training is how we condition ourselves for a real self-defence situation, and if you allow yourself to give up in training, that's what you'll condition yourself to do for real. The goal of effective training needs to be building up resilience, as well as skill.
In our world of instant gratification, it’s easy to give up when something gets difficult, to move on to the next “fun” thing. But in the end that results in only superficial experiences. You lose out on the real deep enjoyment and meaningful satisfaction that comes from losing yourself in an activity; pushing through the barrier of “trying” to the experience of “doing” that we sometimes call flow, or being in the zone, and that defines an activity (in the Japanese mindset) as a do. The catch is, that deeper engagement can only come through extensive practice, to the point where movements and actions become internalised enough that they become like a direct extension of your will. And that’s where the hard bit, the perseverance, comes in!
Ben is instructor at East London Shorinji Kempo. He has been practicing for 20 years and has reached the rank of 4th dan.
Shorinji kempo stances