Training sessions in the dojo are the heart and soul of Shorinji Kempo. Sessions are a mix of low-impact fitness training, flexibility exercises, mass group technique practices, small group training, meditation, philosophy, massage and sparring. Most sessions are two hours long and lead to a heightened sense of awareness, energy and focus! Although most practitioners (kenshi) who have been coming for a while buy their own Shorinji outfits (or do-gis as they ought to be called), all you need to start off with is a t-shirt and some loose-fitting trousers or shorts. You'll have the chance to buy any gear shortly after you sign up.
We currently meet Sundays 3-5 pm and Mondays 8.15-10 pm in the martial arts dojo, and Thursdays 8.15-10pm in the GLD Studio at the Iffley Road Sports Centre. We're a pretty unthreatening lot, but if you're feeling nervous why not come with friends?
Shorinji Kempo is based on technique, skill and timing as a means to gain control over an adversary; superhuman strength and fitness are not required by any means.
To help our fitness, we clear our minds and warm ourselves up for each session. Most nights we start with a bit of jogging, star jumps and similar exercises you probably remember from school... nothing intense though, so you won't have to dread each session.
While no move yet devised for Shorinji Kempo involves the splits, improving your overall flexibility definitely helps one's balance, grace and co-ordination when working to master the techniques of Shorinji Kempo. Don't worry about your personal level of flexibility, it will improve over time, and in the case of certain medical conditions, training/grading methods can be adjusted to suit your physical capabilities.
Group technique practices
Even the most fundamental techniques in Shorinji Kempo take a lifetime to master properly; so trainees of all ages can benefit from whole group training. Don't be discouraged by the 'en masse', stereotypical training style - this only comprises a fraction of each session. Even the most basic punches and locks are made up of several levels of subtlety that go unseen to the untrained eye, each of which enables one to perform their techniques more efficiently and with greater confidence.
Small group tuition
In order to look at specific disciplines and techniques relevant to individuals we tend to divide parts of each session by grade in order to work in smaller, more specialised groups, with a number of the senior belts supervising or giving instruction.
Meditation helps us to concentrate our efforts and ensures we come to our training focused and in a right mind.
Almost uniquely among the oriental martial arts, Shorinji Kempo is as much a philosophy as it is a form of exercise or self-defence. Kempo recognises that our thoughts and our actions are inextricably linked. 'Strength' and 'Morals' are powerless by themselves, but ideal when united symbiotically.
Massage (aka. Seiho)
Many of the techniques of Shorinji Kempo involve the use of pressure points in an opponent to deflect attacks or inflict temporary, disabling pain. Many of these same pressure points can be used to relieve pain and tension when pressure is applied in a different way, following the same principles as Shiatsu massage. We practise these from time to time, perhaps after a particularly heavy sparring session! Yet another good reason to bring a friend or partner to a Shorinji Kempo training session.
Sparring (aka. Randori)
Although training is non-competitive and non-confrontational, the best way to practise timing and test one's technique is through one-to-one sparring. This doesn't mean getting beaten up by someone twice your size, but rather being able to discover your own ability while learning from a friend's. It's a fun part of training and can be practiced once you are familiar with pair-work.
In fact, one senior instructor has said "the closer the friend, the better the randori."
Eventually, this skill can be transferred to pre-rehearsed sparring (embu), a central, and impressive feature of Shorinji Kempo. This involves two (or more) people sparring with a pre-determined sequence of techniques, with a minimal number of improvised attacks. This can look particularly impressive.