Spiritual confrontation

Published

Joe Mclean gets spiritual as he learns to fight with body and soul with the Kempo club

rgb jonathan nicholson kempoNot all martial arts are the same you know  — take it from me, I now have personal experience. They may sound alike and even dress the same, but they are fundamentally different.

Upon my arrival at the exercise studio in the Stevenson building, I was greeted with a wholly friendly and enthusiastic welcome from the secretary Andrew Moffat and fellow members of the Shorinji Kempo club. From the offset I was beginning to realise that not all martial arts are alike. As I entered the class I was asked to remove my shoes and socks. This was faux pas number one, and I was already feeling like I had broken some ancient Japanese protocol. So I dutifully obliged — when in Rome, or Tokyo in this case.

So, what is Shorinji Kempo, I hear you cry! It is a Japanese martial art which has been going for over sixty years. Literally translated it means ‘Shaolin Temple Fist System’. They are broken down into various sections.

Firstly, like all sports, there is the warm-up (Junbi Taiso in Japanese). But unlike any other warm-ups I have witnessed, I was intrigued to hear as they limbered up all of the instructions and responses being spoken in Japanese. Then it struck me, as I watched everyone in the class, it was like a little piece of Japan right here in Glasgow. It was like being transported to the inner sanctum of a holy temple. Quite what they would have made of me texting on my mobile, I do not know, but I’m sure it would have been frowned upon.

After warming up they move on to basic training (Kihon). The class work on the basic principles of how to stand and move; to deliver punches and kicks; how to evade attacks and; how to deliver counter attacks. The training involves recognised martial arts moves such as blocks, punches and kicks, along with grappling attacks, throws and pins.

Then the class splits up into their grade groups for technical training (Waza). Students progress through a series of ranks — the belt system is ordered yellow, green, blue, brown and black. During this section of the class students train the techniques — usually defences against specific attacks — appropriate to their grade.

Unlike other martial arts, Shorinji Kempo also involves meditation and philosophy (Chinkon-gyo and Howa). During most classes, there will be a few minutes of seated meditation practice. This is nothing mystical — it’s simply a breathing control exercise. It also reinforces the point that Shorinji Kempo is trying to train the mind and body together.

Sensei Tony Leith, who has over twenty years  of experience, explained to me that most martial arts were founded with the intention of being more than just fighting systems, but many have lost their philosophical and spiritual perspective over time, mainly due to being westernised. He stressed that Shorinji Kempo actively strives to maintain its spiritual roots, and participants need to demonstrate an understanding of the philosophy in order to pass each of the various belt gradings.

The club works on the principles of self-defence and building a healthy mind as well as body. It is the mix of working on a healthy mind and body that Sensei Leith explains drew him to this fascinating sport. It teaches effective self-defence without inflicting permanent injury on an opponent. The point is to prevent somebody doing harm to others, not to do harm to them. But towards the end of the class he demonstrated a few advanced moves that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a James Bond movie. It involved applying pressure to vital points across the body in order to subdue an attacker — as much as it is spiritual it can also be very useful.

By joining the GUSKC you will have a great opportunity to meet new people, improve your fitness and learn practical self-defence. Training will make you physically fitter, while improving flexibility and mobility. It is also great training for the mind. Meditation practice teaches that if you can control your breathing in a stressful situation, you can control yourself. And for students this can be a great tool for use in anything from exams to self-defence.

The club has been active for over 25 years. They regularly travel to both national and international events and have close links to their sister club, based at Hokkaido University, Japan. In 2007 they paid a visit to the Hokkaido club, a visit which also incorporated the 60th anniversary celebrations at the Budokan in Tokyo and a training seminar at the World Shorinji Kempo HQ on the island of Shikoku. Co-operation is an important ideal when training in Shorinji Kempo, so it’s no surprise to learn that they are a fun, enthusiastic and friendly club.

For more information, contact [email protected] or  drop into a training session at the Stevenson Building.