Philosophy is a fundamental part of Kempo, and is required for every grading. Kempo can be thought of as the physical embodiment of Kongo Zen, a blend of Buddhism and Kaiso's insights, believing that the zenith of earthly achievement lies in the individual, and not as a list of achievements in the world, that being subject to fashion and opinion in a way which precludes a notion of true greatness. It is a reformulation of the heritage of ancient beliefs and etiquette for a modern world. Kempo aims to develop those who practise it into sound leaders who have the temperament to act with compassion and justice coupled with the strength to promote right and subdue wrong. By developing the individual, an ideal society can be brought about.
Kempo is non-competitive - we train to develop each other, not defeat each other. Techniques are designed to take away an attacker's will to fight, not to injury or damage him. Kempo is more than physical techniques, however; it describes a way of thinking and acting in harmony with justice and respect. It is about living half for oneself, and half for others.
The Dokun is a passage of text recited at every session, a statement of the principles and characteristics of our training. The full text is below:
- Rely on yourself and not on others. No one is as reliable as your own well-disciplined self.
- By committing evil you defile yourself. By avoiding evil you attain purity.
- In acquiring this art we pledge to honour our founder and not betray our masters, to respect our elders and not slight the young. As comrades, we pledge to help each other and to cooperate for the accomplishment of these teachings.
- We pledge to leave our past aside and devote ourselves to mastering the art as plainly and naively as infants.
- We pledge never to perform our art for selfish reasons, but for the benefit of all mankind.
- We are grateful that we are endowed with our souls from Dharma and our bodies from our parents. We determine to make every effort to return their blessings.
- We love our country and determine to better the welfare of our people.
- We love justice, respect humanity, observe courtesy, keep the peace and determine to be true and brave.
- We strive to master the art and discipline the body and soul. We love our comrades and help each other. We cooperate and endeavour to establish an ideal world.
Ken Zen Ichinyo - Mind and Body are not Separate
Fundamental in Kempo is that mind and body are not trained separately. Every session incorporates both physical training and philosophy, and every grading also demands understanding and competence in both. If either is neglected, the practitioner will fail to become a rounded human being. This characteristic may also be called "unity of ken and zen".
Riki Ai Funi - Strength and Love Stand Together
Students of Kempo learn the need for a balance between physical strength and compassion. Strength without love is violence; love without strength mere decoration. In order to make one's effect on the world both effective and meaningful, both are required.
Shushu Koju - Defend First, Attack After
Kempo is not a system for attacking and defeating. Using your knowledge of a martial art to hurt, intimidate or bully is wrong morally and legally. Defence gives a technical advantage over your attacker allowing you to exploit their weaknesses and the opportunities their attack provides. Moreover there are moral and legal reasons why you should not attack someone first. The aim always should be to prevent conflict, never to instigate it, and physical techniques are required as a last resort to diplomacy and common sense - never assume that your training allows you wantonly to rise to provocation in the belief that you will succeed in a fight.
Fusatsu Katsujin - Protect People Without Injury
Kempo is not designed to cause injury to yourself or your attacker. The self-defence techniques are designed to cause your attacker to lose his will to fight, without breaking bones or causing other kinds of damage, and ideally without even bruising. This is achieved through two fundamental processes: firstly we attack vital points, so our attacks do not need to convey crushing power; secondly Kempo recognizes the value in quick strikes rather than powerful strikes. Kempo is designed to protect yourself or others; not to judge and punish an attacker. Once you have done what is necessary to protect yourself, further action against your attacker is as wrong as their attack on you.
Goju Ittai - Hard and Soft (techniques) mutually complement
Kempo techniques may be classified as goho (hard) or juho (soft), each being relevant depending on the nature of the attack. Learning to combine them in a dynamic system creates a significantly more effective source for self-defence. Moreover, closer study shows that there are soft and hard elements in all techniques (think how this applies to techniques you know).
Kumite Shutai - Pair Work is Fundamental
Paired training teaches correct technique, control and compassion. No technique can be learnt without the assistance of a partner, as correct distance, timing and application cannot be learnt alone (note that in contrast the basics, kihon, can only be learnt individually). Light contact ensures realism while teaching control and maintaining safety. Regardless of differences in skill and experience, partners can always help each other and learn together because every person is different and presents new problems which can be turned into learning opportunities.
Kyakka Shoko - Reflect on yourself
Literally "shine the light where you stand", this relates to one's own preparation to train. Reflecting on oneself exposes one's character for assessment, helping to focus the path of self-improvement. Preparing yourself for training by observing simple practices (like removing one's shoes before entering the dojo) and courtesies (like gassho rei ) opens you up to learn more fulfillingly.
Gassho Rei - Respect others
Like many other martial arts, Kempo employs a policy of demonstrably endorsing mutual respect; we use gassho rei , joining of the palms in front of the face with elbows pointing outwards. We begin and end our interaction with the dojo and fellow kenshi with gassho rei . It may express our determination to train with a true spirit, or it may be a resolution to train with our partner in a way to benefit both. Subtleties aside, gassho rei represents our adherence to the ideals of Kempo.
Samu - Do not begrudge necessary work
The most obvious example of samu in the dojo is the cleaning of the floor before training. Notable is that this is not a drudge for the junior members: whoever is first at the dojo should set about this task. There is no level of seniority at which one should neglect the essential fundamentals of civilisation. We maintain tidiness out of respect for the place in which we train, and also in consideration of those with whom we train (no one likes dirty feet!).
Readiness to learn
Slovenly conduct does not make for productive training. There are various common-sense practices in Kempo for showing our readiness to learn: being on time for the session, affording respect to our fellow kenshi, trying to understand what our teachers tell us, keeping our training uniform (dogi) clean, standing in kesshu (hands clasped, left over right, resting just below the belt, with heels together and feet slightly turned out) when not in kamae (fighting stance), politeness, etc. The motivation stems from traditional Japanese etiquette, but this is not alien to a modern world - the dojo establishes a place for safe and useful training through the correct attitudes of its members. Observing these formalities helps discipline the mind to more easily accept the physical techniques; at the same time enjoyment is certainly not precluded by courtesy - training should always be enjoyable.
Firstly, establish goals. You won't get somewhere if you don't know where it is. It may be simple - to try to attend every session - or it may be more ambitious - to achieve shodan within three years. Whatever your goals, you should have some, in order that you have incentive to train and to overcome the difficulties you will encounter on the way.
Then follow the syllabus. It is devised as the best way to lead you through the techniques. There is no value in trying to master more advanced techniques if you do not know the basics. Your development is progressive; similarly the techniques you learn are progressive.
Master the basics. As above this will enable you to move on to more advanced techniques, but it also brings the benefit of making the movements naturalised. Before one can perform an effective sequence of attacks one must be comfortable in performing an individual attack, otherwise the rhythm and correct technique of the more elaborate movement will be lost in hesitation and lack of fluency.
Know the principles behind techniques. If you try to learn a technique purely by copying the movements of your sensei, you will find it fails on different people. The exact movements for each technique change depending on your partner, but the principles never change. By learning the principle together with the movements, you can adapt the precise movements according to your partner. This yields a much faster path for learning.
Practise movements repeatedly. Over time you will perform thousands of strikes and kicks. Each one builds the muscles needed for that movement, fixes in the unconscious mind the nature of the movement, and reinforces the intuition of form. A movement is not fully effective until you can deliver it correctly without having to think about it. By practising until movements are instinctive, your techniques will become truly fluid and beautiful.
Balance your training. Kempo is a means to develop the body and the mind, to teach self-defence techniques as well as instruct in how to avoid needing to use them. Bear in mind the concepts of ken zen ichinyo and riki ai funi , and try to avoid focusing on your strong areas. Do not avoid techniques you find difficult - see it as a motivation to practise them until you are successful.
Train sensibly. If you do not have much flexibility, don't persistently try to kick to head-height and end up with injuries. You should train according to your physical condition - it is not a competition for who is strongest or fittest or most flexible. At the same time, Kempo allied with exercise in your own time will help develop you in these areas. Remember that the ultimate aim is to develop you, not to find favourable comparison against everybody else.
Lastly, never give up. If you find a technique or a whole body of movements is difficult, think of how you found it the very first time. Every time you try something you will improve in some way - it may not be noticeable but it may contribute to a cumulative effect which suddenly results in a clear shift. Everybody who has trained in Kempo has found things difficult: what separates existing kenshi from resigned ones is that they persevered and overcame the difficulties. Additionally it is important to avoid long breaks in training: the cumulative nature of learning means that without the reinforcement of kihon the basics become fuzzy and forgotten.