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!
Shorinji kempo makes use of many different parts of the hand and arm for striking, some common to many martial arts, others are more characteristic to Shorinji Kempo (such as urate, a loose fingered ‘flicking’ movement used to sting rather than strike bluntly).
One of the key aspects of Shorinji kempo is that we aim to strike ‘weak-points’ on the opponent’s body to achieve maximum effect with minimum force, and so it is useful to understand the different tools at our disposal in doing so. Particular angles or surfaces of different body parts or hand positions will be more or less effective at striking different weak-points.
In this post, I’m going to focus particularly on the parts of the hand and arm that are used in hard strikes (goho). There are of course other parts of the hand/arm useful for blocking and in grappling (juho), and other parts of the body that can be used for striking and blocking too, all of which are subjects for another day. Hopefully it’s interesting to the casual reader to demonstrate the breadth of our system, and to experienced kenshi may provide some ideas to integrate into your own practice.
Of course striking weak-points in the wrong way, or even correctly but without proper control can be particularly dangerous, so I’m not going to go into much detail on how to apply each of these strikes here - to learn that you’ll have to go along to your local Shorinji kempo dojo and try it out there!
Akken (closed fist)
Chances are, if you’re reading this post you’ve heard about something called kata. It’s that long choreographed sequence of movements they do in karate? A bit like a dance? Good for demos but not very practical right?
Kata (型 or 形) is often translated as "form" or "pattern/mold", and applied to martial arts (or other traditional arts) describes a codified sequence of steps that should be performed. In martial arts that generally means a sequence of attacking and defending movements, usually for a solo practitioner.
"I don't like it because it's not practical", "there's no point to it", "it won't help on the street": those are some of the most common criticisms of kata I've heard (and read) over the years. They're all valid points of course, but really it comes down to how you train in kata that determines whether it's practical, meditative, or basically just dance.
In this post, I want to talk about kata and share some of the conclusions I’ve reached from my own reflection and research. Tl;dr I absolutely believe kata is an important part of balanced training, and not just something you dust off for demos every 6 months. Why? Because done right, it hones the basics: good form, balance, stance, timing, distance, speed; in a controlled and repeatable way.
Shorinji kempo kata
There are 14 official ‘empty hand’ kata in Shorinji kempo. There are also several unique kata for shakujo, nyoi and dokko (totaling 16 more, that I know of!), and which are a subject for a future post!
Several of the kata are direct single form (tanen) versions of full pair-form techniques (hokei). Ryuoken dai ichi (1) is the single-form of the basic technique kote nuki (ryuoken 2 and 3 are single-form versions of yori nuki, and ryote yori nuki respectively); byakurenken dai ichi is single-form tsubame gaeshi. To emphasise this difference, the forms are often referred to collectively by a different name in Shorinji kempo: tanen kihon hokei (single form basic techniques).
Stances are an important aspect of many traditional martial arts. They serve the purpose of setting up or inviting certain attacks (such as hasso gamae which invites an attack to the middle, or taiki gamae which presents an obvious opening to the head) and so form an integral part of many formal techniques. Many stances were developed from a need to appear intimidating or well prepared in front of a potential assailant, in an attempt to dissuade them from attacking (aiki gamae, manji gamae). In other cases, stances can serve to conceal one’s preparedness with an inconspicuous or more natural looking position (useful for de-escalating a situation while remaining ready if that fails) - such as midare or tate muso gamae.
Being a Japanese martial art, stances in Shorinji Kempo are also an important aspect of etiquette, and like much etiquette relating to potentially dangerous activities like martial arts, are founded in safety. Stances such as kesshu gamae show that the student is paying attention during instruction, and gassho (rei) signifies mutual respect between training partners before starting to practice.
There are 17 formal stances in Shorinji kempo, grouped into two families (Byakuren and Giwa) named for two of the Chinese schools from which Doshin So took much inspiration in founding his system.
Byakuren (8 stances)
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