For many, learning Shorinji Kempo is predominantly about learning the physical techniques. However, an understanding of the philosophy on which the martial art is founded is essential. This is a brief introduction to the philosophy of Shorinji Kempo.

Kongo Zen (kongo = indestructible, hard as diamond) is Doshin So's original founding principle of Shorinji Kempo. He created the martial art that we practise today as a way of teaching moral philosophy - he required something that would attract and hold their interest, so he could teach them a way of life that may benefit others.

"The person, the person, the person! Everything depends on the quality of the person." - Doshin So (1911-1980)

This forms the core of the philosophy of Kongo Zen, the idea that everything depends on individuals. No matter how unjust the ruler or social system, a strong and compassionate individual can change the situation for the better. Conversely, even in the best social system, a selfish person can make others suffer. For this reason, Shorinji Kempo focuses on developing strong, dependable individuals who can positively affect society. The six primary characteristics of Shorinji Kempo are all designed with this purpose in mind, promoting strength, balance and compassion.

In addition to this short introduction, the Philosophy of Shorinji Kempo is concisely summarised by the Dokun, which is often recited during the training session.

The Six Characteristics of Shorinji Kempo

  1. Ken Zen Ichinyo
  2. Riki Ai Funi
  3. Shushu Koju
  4. Fusatsu Katsujin
  5. Goju Ittai
  6. Kumite Shutai

1. Ken Zen Ichinyo

An equivalent English expression to ken zen ichinyo would be 'unity of body and mind', or the Latin expression 'mens sana in corpore sano'. This philosophy expresses the idea that personal development is most effectively accomplished when physical training is undertaken alongside mental training.


Modern life isn't as hard as it was a few hundred years ago. Physical strength is probably not vital to your survival. People with crippling injuries or disabilities are cared for, and cured to some extent. On the other hand, depression and stress is common. A strong, healthy body can help fend of both these things. Conversely, a weak body is far more likely to succumb to illness and stress.

Few people wouldn't want to be physically stronger. Physical strength has obvious utility - carrying heavy shopping, opening recalcitrant jars and so on. Physical strength is an obvious message to other people that commands respect. Without it we are vulnerable to anyone stronger, and cannot defend ourselves effectively. This leads to fear, and makes it difficult to stand up for your principles in the face of adversity.

"Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate! Hate leads to suffering." - Yoda, Star Wars Episode 1

Very Zen principle there. Improved physical strength often translates to some extent into improved self-confidence. Training should therefore aim to improve physical fitness, and this goal is obviously reflected in the taiso and kihon exercises included in each session. During each session we repeat basic motions such as punching, kicking and blocking many times over. This repetition is designed to familiarise your body with the motions required for Shorinji Kempo, making them natural, efficient and reflexive.


"Ipsa scientia potestas est (Knowledge is power)" - Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

Does physical strength really have much to do with success in the modern world? Surely education is more important. Today, success is generally defined more by mental ability than physical ability. Someone willing to stay alert and exercise a little intelligence can probably avoid most physical confrontations.

"Ignorance can be cured, but stupidity is often fatal" - Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)

Ignorance is defined as a lack of knowledge. Stupidity is the refusal to learn. Everyone starts their life ignorant, and everyone has the ability to learn. The difference between ignorance and stupidity is simply the decision not to learn. Everyone is guilty of occasional stupidity, ignoring our Sensei's advice because we're too tired or confused, or too stubborn. But don't make a habit of it. Stupid people rarely accomplish anything worthwhile.

Your mind needs training just as much as the body. Exercise your mind. Think about the technique you are practising, try to avoid just 'going through the motions'. You must engage your mind to train effectively. Break each technique down into its component principles, try to figure out how it works. Think about what strategies you might employ to use the technique. Read about your philosophy over the months before your next grading, not the night before.

Unity of body and mind

To be truly strong a person must be strong in mind and body. People will do what they want to do, and if you do not have the strength of body and mind to enforce your opinions you will be ignored. The points listed above illustrate one of the dangers of trying to label things. People will label themselves as one thing or another. People will often think 'I am physically strong but not very smart', or 'I am intelligent but not very strong'. These ways of thinking are dangerous. It is easy to avoid the philosophical teachings if you think 'I'm no good at that stuff', or fall into the trap of thinking 'I'm too weak for the physical stuff', or too old, or slow, or it's too much effort, and stop going to sessions. Everything in Shorinji Kempo is there for a purpose. If you don't do the things you don't like, you will develop weaknesses.

Besides simply balancing your training, ken zen ichinyo has the deeper meaning of directing your training towards the integration of body and mind. By way of illustration, consider a situation where someone is attacking you, and you need to defend yourself. How much time so you have to think about what to do? A second or two? Less? It takes time to think about something, to decide on the best course of action. Time you won't have. All you have, in the immediacy of a physical confrontation, is what your body is trained to do, and what it will do reflexively. How can you make sure your body will do the right thing?

Your training in the dojo is what prepares your body for self-defence. It is here that body and mind are integrated, because here you have time to think about things. You have time to decide what is the appropriate reaction to a punch to the head, and teach your body to respond appropriately. You practise blocking, moving and striking over and over, until it is a natural motion for your body to perform. Reflexes are modified to what the mind wants. When uchi uke zuki is as natural as flinching, that is what you will do when someone tries to punch you in the head. In an instant of danger, training is what allows your body to do what your mind wants it to do, without conscious thought. This is how body and mind are unified.

2. Riki Ai Funi

This philosophy asserts the need for control wherever there is power. Shorinji Kempo is designed to build strong individuals, but is also necessary that these people are also just, able to use their strength for the benefit of society and not just themselves. Riki ai funi could be translated as 'strength should never be separated from compassion'.

"It is right that what is just should be obeyed; it is necessary that what is strongest should be obeyed. Justice without might is helpless; might without justice is tyrannical." - Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

In general terms, we can define strength as the capacity to act, and compassion the intention to do 'good' actions. Riki ai funi states that we must have strength and compassion. If we do not have sufficient strength, our impact upon the world in which we live will be insignificant, no matter how enlightened we may be. On the other hand, if do not know how we should use our strength, our impact on the world is uncontrolled. We may by chance improve the world, but it is equally likely we will make it worse.

"Who knows what delicate wonders have died out of the world for lack of the strength to survive?" - General Han, Enter the Dragon.

The first characteristic of Shorinji Kempo (ken zen ichinyo, or the unity of body and mind) describes how we may increase our strength, through training in Shorinji Kempo. Strength is defined as the ability to affect the world around us, in whatever fashion we choose. Strength may be physical or mental, or even spiritual, financial or political. An imbalance in our strengths weakens them all - for example, a crippling illness will affect our ability to use our intellectual strength if we cannot communicate effectively. Compassion may be defined as an awareness of the desires of other people and acting with due regard for them. To be truly compassionate, you should always consider what impact your actions may have on other people, and try to avoid doing things that will hurt them.

Riki ai funi is closely linked to the first characteristic, adding the need for control. The power to influence makes you responsible. As you increase your strength through your training, you must also increase your ability to control yourself, and learn how you should use your strength. Thought and self-examination is important, because we cannot rely on other people to tell us what is right. This does not mean you should ignore everyone else, 'No man is an island unto himself' - you cannot have all the answers. It means we should think about what people are saying and if they have any ulterior motives for doing so.

History is littered with examples of people who have affected the world for the worse. But they are capable of little on their own. Hitler could not have killed millions of people on his own; he acted through the people who followed him. They followed because following is easier than leading, and because they did not question his motives until it was too late. When his motives became clear, there was no easy way to get rid of him.

"Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism - how passionately I hate them!" - Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

History teaches us that the strong will always have power over the weak; we can only ensure that as many people as possible have strength and compassion. This is the underlying philosophy and purpose behind Shorinji Kempo.

3. Shushu Koju

Shushu koju means 'Defence comes before attack'.

All Kempo techniques are based on the idea of defence first, with a following counter-attack if necessary. They all begin with a block or evasion before striking or pinning - this is for both moral and technical reasons. From a moral standpoint, Shorinji Kempo teaches that you should never initiate an attack, no matter what the provocation. This is linked to the principles of budo - kenshi should try to prevent violence wherever possible, not add to the problem. Fighting should only be a last resort.

From a technical point also, techniques based on defence and counter-attack have an advantage. Watching any experienced fighters, you will notice that they spend long periods of time doing very little, circling each other and waiting for an opening. The first attack is usually easily evaded or countered, unless the opponent is distracted or disadvantaged in some way - this makes the first attack very dangerous. While you are in a strong stance you can easily defend yourself, but as soon as you move to make an attack your stance is weakened, and at that point you are vulnerable.

It is safer to wait in stance, for your attacker to make a move. It is important to remember that your sole purpose is to protect yourself, if your opponent decides you are too difficult to attack, then so much the better.

Of course, there may be situations where you have to make the first move. Shorinji Kempo was not only devised for self-defence and self-improvement, but also to help and protect others. If someone else is attacked you should intervene in some way - otherwise, what use is your training? But Shorinji Kempo is not a license to kill - you should also bear in mind the principle of fusatsu katsujin - use the minimum degree of force required at all times.

4. Fusatsu Katsujin

Fusatsu katsujin means to 'help people without killing'.

This is an important concept in Shorinji Kempo, as martial arts should not be used for the purpose of hurting others. In a situation where you or someone you know is in danger, it may be necessary to fight to protect yourselves; however Shorinji Kempo is designed so that, properly trained, kenshi can immobilise an opponent without causing serious or lasting injury.

This means that you should use techniques appropriate to the situation - if someone is drunk and takes a swing at you, you should not then break their arm. This does not mean you shouldn't take any action - Shorinji Kempo is no use to anyone unless you use it; it simply means that you should not use excessive force. If you were attacked by someone wielding a knife then perhaps a more forceful response would be justified. On the other hand, a violent response may not always be needed. Your mere presence may be enough to dissuade an attack, or you may be able to talk your opponent out of fighting.

Techniques in Shorinji Kempo can be effective without use of excessive force for two reasons. The first is the use of vital points, or keimyaku hiko. You could cause a great deal of damage to an opponent before disabling them if you do not strike to a vital point; if you strike a blow to a vital point at the correct angle, much less force can be used to achieve the same goal. This can be because hitting the vital point causes a lot of pain, or it can be due to some involuntary physical response, such as winding after a strike to suigetsu.

The other reason is that knowledge of human anatomy and physical principles are used to make techniques more effective. Throwing someone to the floor may be difficult or even impossible using brute force - if your opponent is bigger and stronger, this will not work. However, using pressure to a vital point may force them to the floor, or bringing them off balance or applying gyaku waza will make it easier, because their strength doesn't help them.

Sayings popular in other martial arts such as 'ikken hissatsu' ('instant death with a single blow') are not appropriate in normal civilian life. Shorinji Kempo is an art of self-defence, and it is unlikely in the extreme that it will ever be necessary to kill to protect yourself or others. More appropriate is 'ikken tasho', meaning 'one fist helps many people out of danger'. This is one of the aims of Shorinji Kempo and the philosophy of Kongo Zen, that kenshi should be able to contribute in a positive manner to the society in which they live. Ikken tasho expresses the useful application of Shorinji Kempo to help others, rather than to hurt them.

The meaning of fusatsu katsujin is then to use violence only when necessary, and to use the minimum amount of force required. In this way kenshi may help to better society and to improve themselves.

5. Goju Ittai

Goju ittai can be translated as 'hardness and softness form one body'. The technical practise of Shorinji Kempo is divided up into three main areas – goho, juho and seiho. Goho refers to ‘hard’ techniques, those involving striking in some way. This includes punching and kicking, blocks and parries. Juho refers to the ‘soft’ techniques, used to control an opponent. These include releases from grabs and holds, joint-reversal techniques, throws and pins. Seiho is the third branch of techniques used for healing, incorporating restorative massage, resuscitation and bone setting.

"If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." - Abraham Maslow (1908-1970)

The philosophy of goju ittai is that the two branches of controlling techniques should be employed together, given equal status in training. Goho and juho should not be viewed as separate branches of techniques, as elements of both can be found in any technique. Often before releasing an arm or wrist from our opponent’s grasp we will strike to distract and weaken our opponent, taking their attention away from what we are about to do. Without this distraction, they may be able to resist and continue their attack. Conversely, goho by itself can be a very messy and difficult way of subduing an opponent. Using juho techniques allows you to control your opponent quickly and easily, without causing serious injury. Juho is inherently more controlled than goho, with the feedback gained through continuous contact with your opponent. However, the speed and suddenness of goho techniques makes them a valuable tool in defence and counter-attack.

Goju ittai also implies a more general philosophy of balance in training. You should spend equal amounts of time practising juho as you do goho, and you should practise equally on both sides. This allows you to react quickly and easily to any situation in self-defence. You may well find that your opponent attacks you on your weaker side – unless you practise equally this will be a major vulnerability. Of course, if you can fight on both sides then you can take advantage of their weaknesses.

Balanced training also allows you to respond in the most effective manner when you are attacked. If your opponent has trained as a boxer for example, they will probably try to punch you, and responding in the same fashion only allows them to use their training to their advantage.

If your opponent favours punching, you should extend your distance and kick him, using the greater reach of your legs to your advantage. Conversely, if they try to grab and wrestle you to the ground, it is probably not a good idea to respond in kind. Using striking techniques puts them at a disadvantage. If they try to kick you, moving in close to them will make it very difficult for them to kick, while you will be able to use hand techniques or juho techniques to control them.

"Gentleness overcomes hardness. Hardness crushes gentleness" - Chinese saying

Using hard and soft techniques together will give you an enormous advantage over your opponent. Whenever you focus your training on one aspect you are simultaneously creating a weakness that can be exploited. Goju ittai means creating strength in diversity, and by training in many different aspects you will minimise the opportunities you create for your opponent.

6. Kumite Shutai

Kumite shutai means 'training in pairs is fundamental'. Training in Shorinji Kempo emphasises practise in pairs for all belt grades. Paired practise has many technical advantages, but also encourages mutual cooperation.

Individual training does have a place in Shorinji Kempo - kihon, or basic techniques, are usually practised individually. Kihon teaches the basic movements which comprise Shorinji Kempo techniques, not just goho but also juho. Practising individually allows the student to learn the basic movements without the timing constraints imposed by training with a partner. Correct form can be developed more easily without the complications inherent with paired practise.

The reason why Shorinji Kempo emphasises paired training is that any application of Shorinji Kempo will inevitably involve someone else. Correct form does not necessarily guarantee that your techniques will be effective against a given opponent, you must adapt your techniques to suit their disposition. Single form practise requires you to strike as if you were facing an opponent of equal size - obviously, facing a real opponent this may not be the case. If you do not adjust your aim, you may hit the wrong point or miss completely.

Training in pairs gives you the opportunity to practise adjusting your techniques to suit different opponents. Size is not the only factor that complicates fighting an opponent. Paired practise also helps you to react to the way an opponent will move - your target will not be static. They may attempt to evade your attack, or the vital point you are aiming for may be covered, or you may not be at the correct distance. These factors are essentially random, and cannot be anticipated or prepared for in single-form practise - only practising with a partner can give you experience in dealing with these uncertainties.

Practising techniques with a partner allows you to benefit from their experience and vice-versa. With a different viewpoint, they may be able to see what you are doing wrong when you cannot. Equally, teaching someone else how to execute a technique requires you to examine in detail exactly what the technique entails, and the principles behind it.

Shorinji Kempo encourages mutual cooperation through training in pairs. Students of Shorinji Kempo (kenshi) will progress far more quickly if they cooperate with their partners, and this encourages cooperative habits outside of the dojo as well as within. This method of training teaches compassion alongside learning new techniques. Kenshi learn at first hand how painful and damaging each technique can be, and what effect it can have on their partner. Equally important is control, the ability to apply only the required level of force required to control an opponent. Shorinji Kempo techniques are meant to be painful, that is how it is possible to control an opponent without seriously injuring them. However, if you apply too little force the technique will not work; too much and you will injure your partner. This sort of precision can only be learnt through practise with a partner. These factors become all the more important outside of the dojo. Kenshi must know when and why to use Shorinji Kempo, how much force is necessary and what effect it is likely to have on their opponent.