The classic BBC TV series, Way of the Warrior’s episode on Shorinji Kempo just appeared online, and it still holds up today.

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The BBC seem to have complete access to the style to film this, which at the time they say had a million followers and was floating on that ‘cult’ borderline, and it’s a fascinating glimpse into the past. Shōrin-ji kempō means something like Shaolin Temple Fist Way, and was established in 1947 by Doshin So after his time as a spy in China, where he supposedly trained at the Shaolin Temple. I think, as the documentary makes out, that his main form of training at the Shaolin Temple consisted of looking at the famous painting (which is not that old at all) of Chinese and Indian monks fighting. Like all Kempo styles his art is probably an eclectic mix of all sorts of different martial arts he trained in. However, he appears to have used that painting as the inspiration for his whole martial art! The Shaolin origins made a great backstory, anyway.

The mural painting from the Shaolin Temple.

While this is only one type of Kempo from Japan, you can see a lot of the elements we talked about in our Heretics Podcast, History of Kempo and Jiujitsu episodes, that seem to be recurring themes:

  • The blending of marital arts and religion (in this case Buddhism)
  • Far right political views
  • A sense of freedom in where you get techniques from (absorb what is useful)
  • Helping fight crime as a kind of unofficial police force
  • A lot of sparring!

What is also interesting is that the film shows the widespread use of the original Shorinji Kempo logo – the Swastica – that they replaced for all branches in 2005 with the so-en (double circle).

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