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  1. #1
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    Default Open Letter to Hombu

    Gasshō!

    I have recently addressed a topic that I see as a fundamental and urgent problem in Shorinjikempo (and elsewhere) in an open letter to hombu.
    It is my hope that an open discussion on this can help get us closer to solve the problem and would especially like to hear from those directly concerned about their experiences, their treatment within Shorinjikempo, their thoughts on the topic!

    I will copy the letter into the next post and also attach it as PDF files for ease of spreading it around (it is in English and Japanese).
    Translations into other languages might also be a good idea …

    Kesshu,
    Jan Lipsius.
    Jan Lipsius
    少林寺拳法
    Shorinjikempo
    Humboldt University Berlin Branch

    "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind." Gandhi

  2. #2
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    Default The Letter

    Open letter to Hombu and all Kenshi
    by Jan Lipsius,
    Sandan Chukenshi, Fukushibucho Humboldt University Berlin Branch Germany

    During the first WSKO Online Seminar Official Class on June 19th, Kawashima- sensei reminded us what it means to be a kenshi in the words of Kaiso himself – to be a hero for and take care of our kohai, to act as their shield.
    Hopefully all of us try to do that, but looking at it from the other side I see one major problem that is stil too common in this day and age, even if there has been some occasional progress.
    I believe every kenshi around the world is familiar with this image: You go to a seminar, excited and ready to learn all you can from those heroes, those who came before you and have so much to teach. The instructors are lined up in front of the group and introduced, one by one. And one by one, all of them are men. Always. I have been practising Shorinji Kempo for over twenty years and I remember nary a female instructor at any of the seminars I have attended, nor at any of the clubs I have trained at.
    As a man myself, it would not be hard to simply take that as a given without a second thought. But if even I ask myself why this is and how it could be that there are so few female instructors – heroines – in Shorinji Kempo, how must it be for the many female kenshi around the world? Who do they look up to and think, „That could be me“?
    Kaiso said: „Give me leaders, not followers.“ But where are all the female leaders in Shorinji Kempo?
    Women are generally underrepresented in martial arts, as in many sports and in leadership positions elsewhere. But we have slowly come to realise, namely in recent years, that this is a major problem for a multitude of reasons, not just as role models for other women and girls.
    One of the most common arguments by those defending the male dominated status quo is that there are simply no qualified women for such leadership roles, though that more often than not has turned out to be false when examined more closely. How about Shorinji Kempo, then? I personally know many female kenshi of sandan rank or higher, most of whom have at least entertained the idea of becoming branch masters, while several have actually tried to open up branches themselves.
    All have failed or even given up. Why?
    The answer is quite simple, though it is an inconvenient truth to hear – a truth, nonetheless: They have been hindered in many ways, great or small, by those in power with the ability to stop them. They are told that they are not good enough or should only teach beginners, that right then is not the right time, or many other excuses.
    Those who say these things are men, often older men, grown up in a world where nobody gave a second thought to men holding all positions of power.
    These older men are often completely fine with letting the younger women do lots of work in the dojo, from handling paperwork to teaching classes and beyond, using their enthusiasm, ideas, and energy for the benefit of the group. Only when it comes to giving them actual power and status these men suddenly find a hundred problems and faults with that and them.
    Obviously, this cannot stand any longer. Especially in the days of campaigns like „Me too“ and „Time’s up“, that have shone a bright light on these inequities and the powers that keep them in place.
    So what do we do about this? We as kenshi, we as leaders? What does Hombu do about it, or WSKO?
    Every kenshi can choose to be an ally and personally support those women we know, namely those who try to become branch masters, of course. We can make our voices heard, challenging what is wrong.
    But unless those in positions of power do not open the way, there is little we ‚little kenshi‘ can do. However, I firmly believe that hombu, as the true heirs of Kaiso and the leaders devoting their lives to preserve and further his vision and mission, do have that power.
    It is no secret, and a great grief to all of us that Kaiso’s amazing message has been so slow to spread around the world and I cannot help but wonder if this isn’t at least part of the reason. If half of the population does not find themselves represented among the leadership in our great martial art and philosophy, if they cannot look and see heroines of their own to look up to, maybe they are also more reluctant to join, less likely to follow this path?
    Maybe it is harder for many men to understand why having a purely male leadership is such a problem. But it always helps to take the other perspective, that of women, namely those new or thinking of joining, especially younger ones. How often do they encounter behavior that goes unchecked and tolerated, but that a female leader would immediately recognise as inappropriate or worse?
    Like comments on looks or other aspects based on gender that many men do not realise are unwanted, uncalled for, or even offensive. Just imagine whether you would say the same to (another) man – if no, then it is probably not a good idea. Treating women differently, even if it is meant positively, can also lead to them feeling as not taken seriously or seen as lesser than. A striking example of that are gender based categories in embu taikai, or even rules that men are not allow to throw women. Anybody practising with women everyday knows that those are unnecessary distinctions. If there is worry about the health of a participant – male or female – they should be allowed to make the choice for themselves, not have others do that for them, based on their gender!
    While it is true that our second Shike is a woman, that does not mean that gender discrimination towards women in Shorinji Kempo does not exists to this day. The role of Shike is mainly seen as being passed on in Kaiso’s family – irrespective of gender – which most kenshi are not a part of.
    In the end, the image presenting itself to all (female) kenshi, every day, is that of that line-up of instructors, of examples to follow. All of them men.
    It is they who lead us in everyday practice, who stand in front of everyone else as examples, who are recognised as those to look up to and to follow – our heroes and heroines.
    Kaiso himself was a great advocate of abolishing any kind of discrimination. Therefore I do not believe that he would accept gender-based discrimination in this day and age, after all our societies have gone through recently!
    I have trained in other martial arts as well, often under female instructors every bit as capable as their male counterparts, sometimes more so.
    I have never had a problem with that and I have heard from many female practitioners how great it felt to them to see a woman at the top, at the head of the class, showing them that that could be them as well.
    This could be us too. This could be Shorinji Kempo in the 21st century, open and equal to everyone.
    Attached Files Attached Files
    Jan Lipsius
    少林寺拳法
    Shorinjikempo
    Humboldt University Berlin Branch

    "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind." Gandhi

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    Default

    PS: If anyone is interested in sharing their experiences and opinions on this topic, but doesn't want to do so publicly, I can offer to send it to me and I'll publish it anonymously!
    Even if You don't want it published at all, please feel free to contact me directly here, on Facebook, or per eMail. I will handle everything with the strictest confidentiality.

    JL
    Jan Lipsius
    少林寺拳法
    Shorinjikempo
    Humboldt University Berlin Branch

    "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind." Gandhi

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    Default Update and German version

    It seems that eBudo is not that popular as a discussion forum anymore.
    But I suppose it can still serve as an easily accessible archive, so I'll post an update, as well as attach the German translation of my letter. Others may follow (if someone's interested in making one, please let me know!) …

    So far the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with many kenshi expressing their support in this important issue, including a good number of branchmasters – and the Brazilian Federation!
    Unfortunately, I still haven't gotten a response from Japan, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time since the letter is circulating there. If they agree, I will post that here as well, of course.

    A number of brave women have also come forward with their own thoughts and experiences – including positive ones. I will list a few examples to illustrate the importance of this continued debate, leaving out names or occasions.

    - High-ranking female kenshi and experienced instructors have been criticised for leading junbi taiso, including making it "too hard", despite the level being exactly what male instructors taught. Some of them were even professionals in the field and thus arguably far more capable than their detractors (I believe this might fall under "mansplaining").
    - Many official materials put out by hombu and other sources take the male form as a given, like using he/his pronouns throughout the branchmaster manual, photos that show exclusively male kenshi – or women as mothers, holding small children, like in "This Is Shorinji Kempo".
    - Women being prevented from teaching and opening branches on the basis of not being big or strong enough to teach (male) kenshi. Comparing this to the first example makes it especially ridiculous. Also, I have to wonder whether the same has been told to smaller/slighter men …
    - Women at seminars being shunted aside, giving bad facilities, treated as an afterthought or a less important group.
    - Female instructors offering to teach at seminars, including areas they were professionally trained in, but the offers were rejected out of lack of interest.
    - Even high grade female kenshi being treated as 'just the wife' or like secretaries, despite their qualifications.
    - Men who opine that female kenshi passing higher grade exams means that the exams themselves have been devalued. I would personally add that such an opinion does not shine a great light on the examiners (usually exclusively men, again) – something that goes contrary to my personal experience, meaning that those who offer opinions like that do not necessarily think them through.

    I hope this discussion will continue, help some people to understand the importance of the issue, and one day effect some change!
    I also want to once more thank those who have offered support, who have given their thoughts and opinions, and especially those who have come forward with their own experiences! I know it must be hard, namely when it is such an ingrained culture we are facing.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Jan Lipsius
    少林寺拳法
    Shorinjikempo
    Humboldt University Berlin Branch

    "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind." Gandhi

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    Hi Jan,
    E-Budo is more of a historic archive and quiet backwater on the internet, now, but it is still a good repository for important messages. We do get a lot of visitors, though probably they are mainly 'bots and webcrawlers. You can get more human visitors by adding tags when you create a new thread. Those will appear when individuals do a search for Shorinjikempo topics, and could bring them to your message.

    That said, your point is well taken about the dearth of female leadership in your art; I'd say that it is a common condition in many other martial systems, too.
    Cady Goldfield

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    Default

    Yes, time's change … :-/
    Is there any way to tell if there are actual human page views?
    We're linking back to this thread from Facebook, eMails, etc., so people should be able to find it 'manually' …

    Quote Originally Posted by Cady Goldfield View Post
    That said, your point is well taken about the dearth of female leadership in your art; I'd say that it is a common condition in many other martial systems, too.
    I agree.
    I have just talked to a Western aikidoka who lived in Japan for a while and told me that similar customs prevail there, like women not being allowed to sit cross-legged or in any position with 'spread knees' …
    As I wrote in the original letter, I am sure the problem runs far deeper than just an inequity in the number of branchmaster in Shorinjikempo.
    Jan Lipsius
    少林寺拳法
    Shorinjikempo
    Humboldt University Berlin Branch

    "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind." Gandhi

  7. #7
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    Default

    Hello Jan,

    I have studied your letter and I congratulate you for writing it. I practice aikido, and have done so continuously since I was a student at Sussex University in 1966. We were just a group of students practicing a Japanese art, led by a (male) Japanese graduate student who acted as our instructor. There was no contact with the Hombu in Japan, but it was not until much later that I discovered the reason for this. I practiced in London and there was a good mix of male and female students, but the Japanese instructor was male.

    The instructor came to the UK after wandering around the world from Japan. He graduated from Takushoku University, which was regarded as 'right wing' (i.e., strictly traditional), where women knew their place. He attached himself to another instructor, named Chiba, who lived in London and had been 'dispatched' to England to teach aikido to the English, Welsh and Scottish, though he never made such distinctions. Aikido needs an 'uke' and 'tori' and his favorite 'uke' was Margaret, who was female. Of course there were female students in the UK association, but the gender mix seemed more equal than the situation that Jan describes in his mails. Chiba was very rough and actually surviving his lessons was thought to be a mark of pride, by the women as well as the men.

    Eventually, I began graduate studies at Harvard University and trained at an aikido dojo in Cambridge. Here again there was a male Japanese instructor and a good mix of male and female students. Genderwise, there was a pretty equal balance among the senior instructors.

    I came to Japan in 1980 and am now a senior instructor in the main dojo. I have had to surmount two hurdles. One was being a foreigner, though this was not special to aikido; I encountered this hurdle when I was taking the tests for riding a large motorcycle--I think the examiners needed to be sure that I was a human being. The other was that I was a high-ranking foreigner; in fact I had the most senior rank in the dojo and so was expected to preside at dan examinations. There were a number of female members in the lower dan ranks, but none above 2nd or 3rd dan. This will change, since I will promote as soon as I am able, but there is a waiting period, which becomes longer, the higher the dan rank.

    Finally, a useful book for explaining the more traditional aspects of Japanese culture: it is Above the Clouds: Status Culture of the Modern Japanese Nobility, by Takie Sugiyama Lebra.
    Peter Goldsbury,
    Forum Administrator,
    Hiroshima, Japan

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