View Full Version : Fun basics!!

18th February 2003, 08:35

Everybody who has been practicing Shorinjikempo for a while knows that the basics (kihon) are very, very important part of our art. The students attend hundreds of kihonsession doing techniques in the air with great trust that this will make the techniques sink in to their muscle memory.

But does this necessarily be the truth?

Many people think that if you repeat a move many times in the air it will make your reflexes better and make the technique sink in to the muscle memory. But my experience is that striking and kicking the air will do very, very little to better to your muscle memory or reflexes. Why? When you strike or kick the air there is no timing and your reflexes and muscle memory will not change at all. In modern martial arts there are plenty of equipment to deal with this problem. Heavy bags, double-end balls, focus pads, speed bags etc.

Why do not Shorinjikempo use these equipment more frequently instead of doing endless kihonsessions striking and kicking air?

Johan Frendin

Tripitaka of AA
18th February 2003, 10:28
Good question. Thought provoking as ever, Johan :)

My first thoughts were to cost of equipment, then the requirement for greater levels of supervision (to avoid injury to wrists, fingers, etc. through poor form) and time spent (getting the equipment out, wearing it, putting it away...).

These would be reasons why it is not perhaps used more often in a club environment. But of course, there is nothing to stop smaller groups from practising together with these aids. Perhaps when the class splits up to practise according to grade... or even individuals training at home.

One other aspect might be the "label" that goes with donning a uniform. People who put on Dogi, start to behave like Kenshi. In a similar way, it is possible that people who put on Boxing gloves and Do will lose their form and adapt to a preconceived notion of the required movement. In this case, I can see value in bringing out the gloves after the Kenshi have begun to absorb the basics. In this way, the differences can be studied and compared.

There is obvious value to training in protective gear, or learning to strike Bags, etc. Would others agree that it is something complementary to basic Kihon, but impractical as a replacement?

I always sound so conservative when radical ideas are offered. Perhaps it is because I never got far enough in the Shu-Ha-Ri cycle to think that any of my ideas for training might be any better than the ones that were already in place. Perhaps it is because I have a narrow mind.

tony leith
18th February 2003, 10:36
hi Johan

Another stimulating question.

I basically entirely agree - I personally prefer the bare minimimum of tan en practice in kihon. Not only is punching and kicking thin air pretty pointless for self defence purposes, I think a concentration on it to the exclusion of other elements actually obscures the point of such practice. Good form in punching and kicking is not making pretty shapes in the air, it's delivering sufficient impact energy to a particular atemi point on moving human body. Single form practice can't prepare you for that.

I think at least 2/3rds (and preferably more) of any kihon session should be given over to sotai practice. Kumite shutai is after all one of the six essential characteristics of SK, so it doesn't make sense to spend half a class ignoring this critical aspect of our practice.

In the club where I train we have the good fortune to have quite a lot of equipment - Thai pads, focus pads, coaching mitts (a recent acquisition which is basically a combined focus pad and boxing glove), as well as dos. We try to make fairly extensive use of this stuff. If there are dojos out there who don't have this kit, I would suggest at least trying to get hold of some Thai pads say - they're quite versatile, can be used for punching and kicking practice (albeit hitting them with a shin is easier than hitting them with the ball of the foot).

That's my tuppenceworth anyway

Tony leith

18th February 2003, 10:58
Johan is right to say that the best way to learn how to hit someone effectively is to practise on a real target. That's why boxers are such effective fighters, because they repeatedly practise hitting each other in the head. The downside of this is long term brain damage.
It's also true to say that people that have spent many hours punching the air may be surprised if they ever have to hit someone in a real situation, especially if that person has experience of being hit, and is not going to fall down in shock.

However the purpose of kihon is not only to train the body; probably more important is to train the mind. The idea is to train past the point of physical tiredness and still maintain zanshin: focus and intention. Hitting pads or a bag is useful, but a different element of training.

Indar Picton-Howell

tony leith
18th February 2003, 12:51
I take your point re. the value of kihon practice for mental discipline, but isn't it almost a truer reflection of kempo philosophy to be able to develop that level of concentration and focus while training with a partner? I agree that pads are not the be all and end all of kihon practice (though one benefit of using them is circumventing the necessity of inflixcting permanent damage on partners in learning how to hit things - if the partner holding the pad is active, you can also develop drills that get people to move in a kempo like manner rather than just punching and kicking hell out of things). I still think if there isn't continual reinforcement of the point of the exercise - i.e. the functional aim of the techniques - there is a risk of MA practice becoming so aestheticised as to be meaningless, and to practically become a dance form.

Tony leith

George Hyde
18th February 2003, 16:35
Hi All,

Originally posted by tony leith
I take your point re. the value of kihon practice for mental discipline, but isn't it almost a truer reflection of kempo philosophy to be able to develop that level of concentration and focus while training with a partner?

Yup - once you've learned how to stand up and throw a punch without falling over. In my view, the first aim of kihon is not to learn something new but to 'unlearn' what you think you already know. Once you've done that you'll be in a position to start learning something new.

True, we never see boxers practising from such stances, but we never see them using skipping ropes in a fight either. The benefits of the skipping rope go way beyond the cardiovascular and the efficacy of this practice is such that even the most advanced practitioners still use a rope as part of their ongoing training regime.

I'm often frustrated by this general insistence on practical applicability. Don't get me wrong - I believe that practicality is important but it shouldn't be applied as a filter to judge absolutely everything we do.

With regard to kihon from kaisoku, how many of us remember what a bunch of uncoordinated misfits we were when we first entered the dojo? I'd suggest that those of us that don't readily remember this have kihon practice from kaisoku chudan gamae to thank for it.

Of course, it may just be me, but IMHO if you're not learning anything from kihon, you're not doing it properly.


Gary Dolce
18th February 2003, 18:41

We don't do endless sessions punching and kicking (and blocking) single form, but we do spend some time each practice doing it. I believe it is an important part of practice, just like pair practice and work with do, mits, or bags.

I think there has to be balance in the way we practice. Pair form practice is important for learning distance, timing, etc. Single form practice punching, kicking, and blocking "air" is important for learning the fundamentals of basic movement. Praticing punching and kicking real targets (do, mits, or bags) is important for learning accuracy, balance, etc. All have a place in practice. I think it is an open question exactly what proportion of time should be spent on each activity, but I think that completely neglecting any one of these kinds of practice would not be a good thing. Spending most of the time in practice doing single form technique is probably not a good idea. But dropping it entirely doesn't seem like a good idea either.

I believe single form practice is a necessary step in learning how to punch or kick or block. But that learning process should never end. If you are doing countless reps and there is never any critical evaluation of how well you are doing them, then you may well be wasting your time. But I find that even people who have been practicing for years fall into bad habits. Often, it is during single form kihon practice that these habits are easiest to see and correct.

I think single form practice also has an important role in warming us up and preparing for safe pair practice. Starting right off with pair practice or even working with a bag sounds like a good way to get lots of injuries. Single form practice is also a good way to safely build endurance. Practicing in pairs so long and hard that you are ready to drop is another good way to get injured.

I concur with George's iritation with an over-emphasis on immediate practical application. Taking this argument to its logical extension, we should forget about everything and just do randori. Get rid of most of the hokei practice since it isn't very likely that someone will attack you from many of the more obscure ways we practice. Forget learning formal stances, etc. because in a real fight you are going to have to do things off-balance, from the wrong distance, etc. If all you really want is to learn how to fight, spend all your time fighting. The rest is a waste of time.

In my own practice, I try to learn something from everything we do. Sometimes, I do wonder about the practical applicability of certain techniques, exercises, etc., but I also accept that many things are still beyond my full understanding. But if my only concern was practical applicability, I would have quit Shorinji Kempo and looked for the local chapter of the Fight Club a long time ago.


tony leith
18th February 2003, 19:26
Re reading my earlier contributions and George and Gary's subsequent ripostes, I found myself nodding at what they said. I was probably guilty of charicaturing my own position somewhat for the sake of having a debate. There's a lot in kempo that I personally enjoy which may be of limited practical utility, or rather necessity - the great variety of juho techniques for example probably goes way beyond what would strictly be required for effective self defence, and I spend time on my own doing kata and tan en practice away from class. I entirely agree that you need to establish a firm foundation regarding basic hokei, and that single form practice is an indispensible element in getting there. I still stand by my preference for giving over as much time for sotai as tan en practice in kihon, though obviously if you have a class full of beginners the mix will have to be adjusted accordingly.

One thing that Gary said that I do take issue with is the argument that if we want to learn self defence, then we might as well exclusively practice randori. This might be true for those who are naturally talented fighters, but as somebody who spent much of his early kempo career being kicked round the dojo by such a person (Guy Wardrop, take a bow) I question whether it would be true for most people. The point about kempo in terms of self defence that the practice of hokei, including sotai practice, is that it enables more or less everybody to improve their self defence abilities, including those who are not natural athletes (and I would most definitely include myself in that category).

Last point (honest) is that for me the self defence aspect of kempo is more than pragmatically important. It's what underlies the logic of what we do, gives it rigour, and for me this is more compelling than pure aesthetics (though no question the people who really know what they're doing effortlessly combine the two).

Tony leith

Gary Dolce
18th February 2003, 21:02

Let me clarify something in my last post. The extreme view I described was just that - an extreme view for the purpose of discussion. I fully believe that Shorinji Kempo is an effective form of self-defense and that self-defense is one important reason for practicing. I was definitely not saying that randori is the only way to learn self-defense. What I was criticizing is the viewpoint that immediate practicality is the yardstick we must use to measure the usefullness of everything we do in practice.

The way we learn self-defense in Shorinji Kempo is a lengthy process of learning the basics and building off of them. It is very well suited to non-athletic types (I put myself in that category) and to people who really don't want to fight other people (I also put myself in that category). The purpose of parts of the learning process may not be immediately obvious, and in some cases, may not be the fastest path to becoming effective at self defense.

I am not a huge advocate of randori. It has its place in practice just like everything else, but I think many people put too much emphasis on it, and as I have said here before, I think competitive randori has no place in Shorinji Kempo.

However, if the only thing I cared about was practical self-defense and if my goal was to as quickly and efficiently as possible learn to fight my way out of any situation, I would do something that got me into as many real fights as possible with as many different kinds of fighters as possible and accept the punishment and injuries that go along with it.

That is not a reasonable or appealing approach for me, in part because self-defense is not my sole reason for practicing Shorinji Kempo. Likewise, I doubt that it is the sole reason that any of us discussing it here to practice it. So why always apply a practicality test to everything we do, especially when we can't be sure if we have the knowledge and experience to even know what is practical and what isn't?


Tripitaka of AA
19th February 2003, 04:11
I've missed Gary's posts recently. Many heads were nodding as we read his latest offerings... this man speaks with great wisdom. It makes it all the more worthwhile coming to this forum, when you get to see threads that people have actually thought about.

19th February 2003, 04:53

Great discussion!

I believe that it is very important to explore new areas of practicing Shorinjikempo. I do not think that solo (tanen) practice is useless but sometimes we tend to overdo things in Shorinjikempo. There are many ways to improve our goho wasa and solo (tanen) practice is one ot them but of course not the only one.

If I ask a shodan in Shorinjikempo if he can show me tenchiken 1-2 tanen or sotai form he/she immediately will do this with no hesitation at all. But if I ask him/her to show me how to apply these forms on a heavy bag or with focus pads (mitts) I am really sure that very few can give me an proper answer. Why? Because we do not practice in this way. But is it not true that if we tried to work more with modern equipment we will increase our knowledge about Shorinjikempo techniques over all?

Johan Frendin

19th February 2003, 08:27

In the sandan syllabus, one of the questions for the howa examination asks about 'the moral nature of dharma'. I think that the idea behind this is something like 'you get what you pay for'; (pay for by your own efforts, not financially).
I agree with Johan when he says that we should always critically examine our training methods. I don't think that Kaiso ever wanted to create a group of mindless automatons. However, the more I study, the more I realise that Kaiso's genius is in the way that Shorinji Kempo is structured. The longer you train, the more you realise how everything fits together like a huge jigsaw puzzle.
There is meaning in everything we do; as George says, if you don't benefit from kihon (or any aspect of training), then maybe you need to examine yourself before changing the methodology.

One of the most positive aspects of Shorinji Kempo is that Hombu are open minded about the use of new technology, i.e. the use of computer graphics to analyse how techniques work, or the introduction of protective headgear and kinteki protectors so that those who wish to can engage in randoori with a more realistic level of contact.

There is a buddhist principle that says something like 'absolute faith and absolute doubt': question everything, but also have faith in the generations of teachers who have developed Shorinji Kempo.

Indar Picton-Howell

tony leith
19th February 2003, 10:33
Thanks for the reminder that Honbu is in fact really quite open to adopting new training approaches (and even technology) - the fact that this tends to take some time isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it presumably means whatever they do try has been tried and tested.

I'm a firm believer that the kempo syllabus is the way that it is for a reason, and I'm inclined to trust the sense behind that reason because it's brought me this far apart from anything else. The structure embedded in kempo is what makes it open to anybody willing to apply themselves. We also have the good fortune to have access to instructors like Mizuno and Aosaka Sensei, as well as the senior technical staff in Japan, who appear to be continually refining and even redefining the body of knowledge that kempo comprises, in the light of practical experience as well as other considerations. I once heard Mori Sensei say that his approach to juho waza had been filtered through his experience of applying the techniques in a number of real life situations.

I would concede Gary's point that making a priori determinations of what is practical and what isn't would be presumptious if not dangerous. I am not suggesting that any individual kenshi should discard those elements of practice whose practical application is not immediately apparent - Kempo's value goes way beyond self defence - but I am sticking to my point that for me the 'would it/could it work' criterion is the single most important one to be applied to techniques (NB I am talking about within the scope of kempo waza, not my juho technique isn't working oh well I'll break his knee, and I am not saying that it is then only significant value).

I remember training in one of Mizuno Sensei's dojos, and my training partner kept pausing for dramatic effect before putting in ren han ko. This kept up for a few minutes, so I then hit him (not hard) in the next pause. I then felt a tremor in the force, and realised Sensei was watching - oo er I'm in trouble here, I thought (I paraphrase). 'You're dead' Sensei observed to my training partner - 'Keep doing that' was his comment to me. If we don't hold ourselves to this discipline I think it's easy for our practice to become lax and pointless, and I think when it does it loses most if not all of the spiritual/psychological benefits which are the real point of doing kempo.

Tony leith