View Full Version : How Academic Is Shorinji Kempo?

21st September 2002, 00:57
I have a question that has spun out of Steve Williams Sensei's thread on the breakdown of a lesson; specifically, how academically do you think of howa? In your branch, is it taught as a solid, textbook-like subject, or is it a less formal talk by the branch master during the course of the class? I'm drawn to this because of something that happened when I took sandan. Back in Britain, Mizuno Sensei once said that he didn't want people merely parroting large chunks of text out of the Fukudokuhon; rather, he would prefer that they demonstrate an understanding of the material by rewriting it in their own words. This means that it is very difficult, if not well-nigh impossible, to obtain 100% in the howa part of a grading. Here in Japan, however, where much schoolwork is rote memorisation, people who graded from anywhere between 1st to 3rd dan when I did would simply write down large chunks of information learned by heart from source texts (before the grading, my branch master even gave me a dozen stapled sheets with "model answers" on them). Of these, three people got the memorisation exactly right; no missing words, 100% regurgitation. And they were feted for it, by a round of applause, something that would be impossible under Mizuno Sensei's interpretation of how to apply the howa. So, how much rote memorisation, as opposed to own interpretation, do you think is appropriate in howa?
I guess this has turned into two questions, but I'd be interested to read other kenshi responses.

Gary Dolce
21st September 2002, 14:03

I think demonstrating understanding is more important than showing you can memorize. So, when I am grading written exams, I always ask students to put the lesson in their own words. But I also warn them that if they ever have to take a test at Hombu they had better be prepared to answer exactly as in the textbook. I also acknowledge that some people may not have the life experience needed to fully put into personal terms the essence of every one of the lessons (I put myself in that category).

I think one unfortunate by-product of the memorization approach is the student who can parrot test answers well but can't seem to put the ideas into practice. When it comes to understanding of the philosophy, I think the most important thing is how well the student demonstrates that understanding in the way they behave in class not just in what they say.


21st September 2002, 14:22
Dolce Sensei,
I agree with you 10%; my "problem" (if you like) is that too many Kenshi in Japan equate rote memorization with understanding. But that begs another question: How do you define "shu-ha-ri"? Thank you once again for your response.

Tripitaka of AA
21st September 2002, 20:34
Tony, you agree 10%?

;) I know you like your choice of words to be concise and well chosen, but isn't this a little too precise (or it could always be a typo - or not!)

21st September 2002, 22:48
It's a typo, David (AAgghhh!); try 100%.

Steve Williams
21st September 2002, 22:57
Tony Kehoe made a typo.......

Steve Williams
21st September 2002, 22:58
Pity not too many of your previous "bad typing kills" browse this forum......

I might just link to this one from the lounge ;)

Steve Williams
21st September 2002, 23:01
Oh by the way, I agree with Gary as well, but I agree 100% ;) ;) :D :D :p

22nd September 2002, 00:42
That's it, Steve, you're on my hit list, now. What's with the SHOUTING?!
"Saru mo ki kara ochiru, yo."

Steve Williams
22nd September 2002, 21:02
Well thats just another hit list I am on.... ;)

By the way.... THIS IS SHOUTING wheras This is just drawing attention to a point

Note the difference, the use of capitals...... another error Tony?? :D :D :p :p

22nd September 2002, 23:43
Sure sounds like shouting to me, but then I'm not at my best first thing in the morning. Emphasis is just like shouting, sometimes.
We are now suffering thread drift to the point of Gimball's Lock. What joy.

Tripitaka of AA
25th September 2002, 06:28
But seriously Tony,

Isn’t this one of those supply and demand kind of arrangements? The typical Kenshi in the UK is an adult, seeking fitness, self-defence techniques and curious about the “healthy mind” aspect. As I understand it, the typical Japanese Kenshi will be learning at an after-school club, or at a University. The fit, athletic young adults are there for the training and the physical challenge first and foremost. They haven’t had a chance to develop any profound thoughts on theology or philosophy as they’ve been subjected to intensive exam-based schooling since the beginning of Junior High School. The maturity required to explore concepts of Buddhism at anything beyond the surface is not expected from these young students. I’ve heard it said university graduates in Japan are only as mature as the average sixteen year-old in UK. The style of education, throughout the school curriculum, is based on fact-retention, learning-by-rote and passing regular tests. The free-form “individual development” style of education that was explored in the UK since the 1960’s is still too radical for the Japanese education system, which is gradually coming to accept that there is a need to develop individuality (while the UK has started coming the other way, returning to a strict National Curriculum, as a reaction to a perceived drop in standards of literacy, numeracy, etc.).

Having said that, it is clear that differences in the typical student would suggest that there might be differences in the methods of teaching. I got the impression that UK Kenshi were always keen to find out more about the philosophy and Kaiso’s teachings but would not feel comfortable learning to regurgitate Howa answers word for word. There was always a discreet yet palpable level of discomfort at having to recite the Dokun, lest it sounded too much like an orthodox religious prayer (until you got used to it!). Westerners generally have to be persuaded that there is a purpose behind any ritual, a summit to any mountain, a healthy yell at the end of any Chinkon and a healthy mind at the end of any training session. Perhaps Japanese Kenshi are just more able to ACCEPT.

My observations are second-hand (based in part on conversations with Yoriko, my Japanese wife). Other than that, I have no formal qualification to back up my thesis. Perhaps Tony can offer more of his first-hand experiences.

Tony, where do you train now? Is it with old wrinklies like us;)? Or with those young fit people who run around with so much energy that it just makes me want to reach for the remote-control and a box of donuts (if you can't beat them... just sit back and watch quietly:cool: ).

25th September 2002, 06:52
In the adult section of the Kokubunji Doin, the youngest student is 16, and the oldest is in his mid-60s. We also have a fair number of students from Meiji University training with us, so I guess we run the length of the course.
I still find rote memorisation pointless, though; it's how you interpret the facts that gives any philosophy its bite.

tony leith
25th September 2002, 12:56
Interesting discussion. While I'm uncomfortable with generalisation about entire national populations, it would be difficult to deny that your cultural context is bound to make a significant difference to how you approach Kempo philosophy.

I remember reading a translation of an Italian martial arts magazine which contained an interview with Kaiso. It was a long time ago, but as I remember the gist of it, Kaiso was saying that one of his intentions was to get Japanese people to build stronger horizontal relationships as opposed to hierarchical vertical ones. His experiences in Manchuria when apparently the Japanese military simply fled in the face of the Soviet advance, leaving the civilians to get on with it. His point that this would not happen where there were real bonds of community. He also was arguing that he wanted Japanese people to take more individual responsibility for their own lives and their relationships with others. This on ther face of it wouldn't seem to be compatible with rote learning of philosophy simply transmitted from a higher authority.

By contrast, maybe in the West what we need is reinforcing the sense of solidarity, responsibility, and discipline. I'm not saying that the point of Kempo here is to produce armies of collectivised drones (the Borg, anyone), but maybe just that we're aiming at the same kind of endpoint from the opposite direction. Don't know if this is making any sense, but I think the point about Kempo philosophy is that it's a philosophy of ethics in action. The moral dimension of our lives surely consists in how we actually behave towards others, not how we rationalise that behaviour.

Tony Leith

Tripitaka of AA
25th September 2002, 15:27
From another angle (draughted before Tony Leith's more sensible response);

Would you prefer your Howa lectures to be given as a series of riddles, like the old stories of the Zen Master sitting on a mountain top giving out wisdom with haiku-like brevity. Sometimes it is a worthwhile exercise, to force the student to work out the meaning for himself. It can be a little unsettling in the wrong environment, or when carried out without proper preparation. Kenshi who are shown step-by-step, rehearsed and drilled to be inch-perfect with their Tenchi-ken Dai Ichi, -Ni, -San, etc. may be unable to adapt to an unstructured and vague Howa lecture that has no obvious message.

I suspect also that the lack of English language printed material to cram from has influenced the way that Branch Masters teach the Howa, which in turn affects the way it is to be marked at Grading. If we could all read Japanese (or had complete sets of the Newsletters, etc), then maybe the philosophy grading papers would be a little more tightly marked.

I guess that you’re just getting the distilled essence of Kaiso’s teachings, in easily consumable portions, like Philosophy McNuggets. “4 Noble Truths or Noble 8-fold path, is that to have here or take-away”. This would be in line with the basic Christian Sunday School brain-washing (sorry, I meant to say “education”) where Bible stories are squeezed into tiny brains until they spill from every orifice, in the hope that the true meanings will become apparent as the child grows older. In other words, pack all your sandwiches at the beginning of the journey, to be eaten on the way, as and when required.

Gosh this philosophy lark is a real breeding ground for mixed metaphors and cliché catch-phrases. I wonder if I could get a few preworked answers for your questions Tony, just to save time.