Doshin So (pictured), a Zen monk, founded Shorinji Kempo in Japan after the Second World War but its origins trace to India almost 5000 years ago.

Legend says that Buddha was so impressed with it as an effective way of unifying the mind and body that he incorporated it into Buddhism.

From India, Buddhism was introduced to many countries, including China. In the monastery of Shaolin, Kempo became the main form of spiritual training so the monastery became famous for its fighting monks. The Government felt threatened by this and destroyed the temple forcing the monks to leave.

This made the monks feel that their duty was to teach Kempo to the oppressed masses, to protect them against bandits and corrupt officials. Many different styles were developed and kept alive by secret societies as practice was outlawed.

So Doshin based this martial art on techniques he had learnt while working in China as a special agent for the Japanese government during WWII. This brought him into contact with various secret Chinese societies, where he learnt different Chinese fighting arts. 

"Shorinji Kempo" is the Japanese reading for the Chinese characters "Shaolin Ji Chuan-fa", or fist-method of the Shaolin Temple, and does not refer to the Chinese martial art known as Shaolin Kung Fu in the West.

So Doshin chose the name Shorinji Kempo because he based his techniques on those of the Shaolin arts, as well as others, nowhere does he or any official of Shorinji Kempo claim that he created these techniques himself. 

After the War, Doshin So decided to try to develop the kind of people that would help to create a better society. He set up a Dojo where he reformed and refined his techniques and philosophies, establishing modern day Shorinji Kempo.

Shorinji Kempo comprises of 3 main aspects:

Creating a healthy body.
Creating a healthy mind.
Learning self defence.

Shorinji Kempo was developed as a form of education, rather than just a fighting martial art. Based on six guiding principles, it aims to develop the individual to make a more balanced human being, both physically and mentally.

One of the basic teachings is that its techniques should only be used for self defence. All Shorinji Kempo techniques concentrate on knowing specific pressure points. By delivering a counter attack to any of these correctly, an opponent can be immobilised without any permanent damage.

Shorinji Kempo is now one of the most popular single form of martial art in Japan and has over 1.5 million members taught in 24 countries world-wide.

Guiding Principles

Ken Zen Ichinyo - Body and Mind are the Same
The needs of both mind and body are addressed to ensure the overall development of its students.

Riki Ai Funi - Strength and Love Stand Together
Students learn the need for a balance between physical strength and compassion. Strength without love is violence; love without strength mere decoration.

Shushu Koju - Defence Before Attack
For both ethical and technical reasons, this is a basic characteristic.

Fusatsu Katsujin - Protect People Without Injury
It is very effective as a way of stopping violence, and has been designed so a practitioner can immobilize an opponent without causing injury.

Goju Ittai - Hard and Soft Work Only Together
Shorinji Kempo is made up of goho (hard) and juho (soft) techniques.  By learning to recognise the soft elements of goho and the hard elements of juho, the practitioner is able to unite the two.

Kumite Shutai - Pair Work is Fundamental
Shorinji Kempo can only be mastered through co-operative practice in pair form.


The self defence aspect of Shorinji Kempo is made up of both hard and soft.

Goho - Hard

Hard techniques are punches, kicks, blocks, i.e. techniques that use striking and blocking to defeat an opponent. Strikes are made to pressure points to give maximum effect with a minimum of permanent damage. 

Blocks are circular so that little strength is required and they are not static but include an evasive movement. A Shorinji Kempo block should not require any hand movement as you move out of the way of the incoming strike.

Juho - Soft

Soft techniques are throws, escapes, locks, pins, or techniques that involve grappling with an opponent. 

These techniques use principles rather than brute strength to make them effective, so factors such as leverage, pressure points, and human physiology are taken into account. They are similar to Aikido techniques in some way, but with fundamental differences.

The two systems of Goho and Juho are used hand in hand, creating an all round system of self defence based on technique rather than strength.

Practising in pairs is a basic part of learning Shorinji Kempo. When facing an attacker, the problems presented by a moving target such as timing and distance, are absolutely vital and cannot be learnt through solitary practice.


'Seiho' is another aspect of Shorinji Kempo. It is a therapeutic massage system used for thousands of years in the east. It is used on vital points of the body after training, in order to relax the muscles, and regulate circulation, promoting good health. They are also healing techniques, based on traditional Eastern medicine, acupressure and also techniques such as ressuscitation. These are not usually taught until higher levels.


As well as the physical techniques of Shorinji Kempo, there is training of the mind and the spirit, the aim is to develop well balanced individuals. This is done through the practice of Chinkon Meditation and the study of Kongo Zen philosophy, both of which are a part of each training session.