The Grading System
Like many of the other martial arts, Shōrinji Kempō has a system of grades and coloured belts to allow structured learning and to acknowledge achievement and understanding (though unlike many other martial arts, one coloured belt can cover multiple grades). Everyone starts at white belt (7th Kyū) and then is examined every time they wish to go up to the next grade. The seven novice grades are 7th Kyū (white belt); 6th, 5th & 4th Kyū (green belt); and 3rd, 2nd & 1st Kyū (brown belt).
To attain each of these grades a minimum number of training sessions must have been attended and the syllabus techniques for the desired grade must be learnt. Each grading will also require learning some of the philosophy of Shōrinji Kempō. Higher novice gradings demand the presentation of a rehearsed sequence of techniques performed with a partner (embu).
Grading exams are fairly relaxed at novice level, but become more serious the higher the grade. The gradings are performed by another Instructor (Sensei) and are usually carried out together with a group of people from both the Oxford dojo and others.
Having attained Shodan (1st Dan/black belt) it remains possible to continue grading since, 1st Dan is only the first non-novice grade. The chief instructors in Japan are 9th Dan!
The technique names in Shōrinji Kempō are all in Japanese. Although not easy to understand at a glance, picking up the basic Japanese commands is fairly easy. In training, our Sensei uses the Japanese names for the techniques and then usually repeats them in English.
The Japanese language instructions also allow for training to be conducted in a universally understood set of commands, aiding those who may not have mastered a country's native language. This means that you could train in other dojos while visiting foreign countries (we have also had our share of international kenshi). The Japanese does not pose a barrier to learning; it just makes everything sound far more impressive! Self-defence certainly doesn't sound boring with technique names such as "Kumade Zuki" or "Ryu Nage".
A full list of the Japanese vocabulary needed for the first few grades can be found here.
The syllabus structure for each Kyū grade is fairly similar. Some parts of the syllabus will build on previous grades, while others will be new.
Each grade will introduce some new stances (gamae), footwork (umpo ho), and basic attacks, defences & dodges. From these, the core techniques of the grade are built, usually consisting of defence-and-counters (in the case of an incoming punch/kick), or release-and-counters (in the case of being grabbed). The grades are set out so that as you advance, you'll be able to deal with more and more types of incoming attack.
Some of these basic movements and core techniques are then strung together into a long sequence or "standard form", which usually have around ten moves each. These are to help you get used to flowing from one technique to another. In higher grades, up to five of these standard forms are performed consecuitvely with a partner in a choreographed fight (embu).
In addition, part of each grading will be floor rolls (ukemi). Although perhaps not the most interesting part of the syllabus, these rolls often turn out to be the most useful in day-to-day life, especially if you prone to falling down the stairs, or off your bike.
Finally, each grade covers part of the philosophy of Shōrinji Kempō.