Taiso - Warm-up

The first part the session is the warm-up. It aims to mobilise the major joints of the body (elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, etc.), warm up muscles, and then stretch key areas in preparation for training. As in the rest of your training you should train according to your condition: experience of taiso will teach you how far to go in stretches and if there are any areas you should focus on away from the dojo, perhaps at home or perhaps before the start of the session. It will help your general fitness, but if that's all you want you are better off going running, swimming or to the gym. Shorinji Kempo sessions are not ad hoc fitness circuits!

It is important to know what you are stretching when you do taiso. If you cannot feel a stretch ask someone - it may be that you are doing it wrong (you may, on the other hand, be extremely flexible in that regard!). Stretches should never be painful - if it is painful, reduce the stretch. You want to find the balance between comfort and discomfort: comfort implies nothing is being stretched; pain implies something is being damaged.

Ideally you should be relaxed while stretching, rather than fighting against your body, although this is easier said than done. One way that will help this is to control your breathing (chosoku) as you stretch - take slow deep breaths and by concentrating on that you can do away with much of the tension in the muscles.

There is some debate about the merits of various kinds of stretches, but what is generally agreed is that cold stretches (with no warm-up preceding them) are a waste of time, and will probably do more damage than good. When applying stretches you learn in Shorinji Kempo at home (for instance), always spend a few minutes warming up first.

Kihon - Basics

After the warm-up comes basic training, kihon. This will typically take the form of single strikes, punches, kicks, blocks, building up into combinations and pair form training (hokei), and sometimes randori (sparring). Do not take lightly the importance of kihon in developing your technical ability. You will not master a combination before you have mastered all its components. By reinforcing the simple movements every session you will come to perform them instinctively.

There are eight suggested kinds of basics which will serve as a foundation for development and achievement in Shorinji Kempo. These are:

Kiai: the expression of spirit at the moment of an attack. It begins as a shout, but practice remodels it into a sound emanating from the navel, a physical expression of the mental focus in an attack. Note how sportsmen like tennis players use kiai to add power to their strokes.

Chosoku: controlled breathing. Breathing control and mental control are not distinct. Panicked feelings induce erratic breathing; lack of breath creates anxiety and stress. Practise keeping your breathing controlled and steady when training and the strength (jitsu) of your position will be upheld.

Happo moku: alertness. Literally "looking eight ways", this is coupled with zanshin, eye contact. Practise keeping eye contact throughout a technique, and use your peripheral vision to see the attack and your target for counter attack. Remember that in a real situation an attacker will probably not attack you from directly in front. Note also that changing your focus of vision alerts your opponent to your intentions.

Sokui ho: foot placement. This refers to the modification of stances in order to prepare an attack or to allow a counter attack. For example with open-hipped kicks like mawashi geri or sokuto geri the supporting foot should turn so that the heel faces the target. Note that the direction of the foot largely determines the direction in which the leg can bend.

Umpo ho: footwork. This is movement, light-footedness. Good balance and movement is essential - observation of boxing matches will show that the winner invariably looks lighter on his feet. Muhammed Ali is a fine example. Things to consider are: keeping the eye level constant, beginning the movement with the body and not the feet, and falling into a movement rather than pushing off the opposite foot.

Tai gamae: stances. There are various stances in Shorinji Kempo to facilitate practice or to provide a lure for an opponent. Mastering them all is necessary for applying techniques.

Tai sabaki: body movement. It is useful when evading an attack not to simply run away, as this means that there is no scope for a counter attack. By keeping the feet where they are and simply moving the target area of the attack, the option of counter attack comes readily.

Kobo yoki: tools for attack/defence. Different parts of the body (usually the arm, hand and foot) are used for different purposes. For example the ball of the foot (toes pulled back) is used for a straight kick (keri komi), but a kick to the side (say sokuto geri) uses the side of the foot.

Chinkon - Meditation

In Britain, we hold chinkon after kihon; however in Japan and at major events chinkon is the first part of training. We say seiku (the meditation) and seigan (the oath) and then sit down for a few minutes' quiet meditation. After this we say the final part of the dokun, shinjo (the creed), and then follows howa (philosophy - this may from time to time be replaced with seiho).

Chinkon is that part of the session which is explicitly given to the spiritual development of Shorinji Kempo (although this is not to say that one should neglect one's mind for the rest of the time!), the zen in ken zen ichinyo. It is an opportunity to clarify the mind through meditation, aided by controlled breathing (chosoku).

Chinkon is performed in the half-lotus position (cross-legged, left foot resting on right calf, back straight, hands lightly clasped in the lap), or simply cross-legged if it is too difficult. For howa afterwards, you should sit in seiza (kneeling) until your instructor says "ansa", at which point you may sit more comfortably.

Waza - Techniques

The last part of the session is dedicated to grade techniques. Usually you will be instructed in techniques appropriate to your grade; however this is no set rule and sometimes everyone will do the same technique, at least at the start. This is important, as often techniques from earlier grades are left to fade from memory, so it is useful to reinforce them when possible. Waza is the ideal time to pick up the subtleties and details of techniques.