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So Doshin, Founder of Shorinji Kempo

A Brief History of
Shorinji Kempo

This brief history was taken from an official translation provided by the International Office of the World Shorinji Kempo Organization (WSKO).

The Founder's Early Life

Shorinji Kempo traces its origins more than five thousand years to ancient India. Though it experienced a long period of development in China, its present form is the result of Founder's genius. Doshin So was born in 1911, in Okayama Prefecture, the oldest son of a customs officer. Upon the death of his father, young So was sent to live with his grandfather, who was an employee of the Manchurian railroad. When he was only seventeen, however, his grandfather's death forced him to return to Japan under the patronage of his grandfather's friend Mitsuru Toyama, the founder of the ultrapatriotic Amur River Society. At that time, Japan was experiencing the the effects of worldwide depression and was as a result becoming involved in politics on the Asian mainland. In 1928, Doshin So returned to Manchuria, this time as a member of a secret organization. To facilitate his covert activities, he became a disciple of a Taoist priest who was also an executive of the Zai-jari secret society and a master of the Byakurenmonken, a branch of Kempo originating at the Shorinji. This was So's first contact with kempo, and though he began to practice it eagerly, in those days it was no more than a series of incoherent disorganized techniques.

The association of Chang Tso-lin, a Chinese warlord acting more or less as a client of the Japanese but proving too nationalistic for some of the officers of the Japanese Kwantung Army, who had him put out of the way, intensified Japanese meddling in Manchuria and China and accelerated their plans to revive the defunct Manchu (Ch'ing) Dynasty. In his role as a secret agent, So was forced to travel widely to gather information for his organization, and this gave him the opportunity to meet masters of Kempo of various kinds. As had been true of the Taoist priest under whom he had studied earlier, however, these men too knew only a handful of techniques that lacked any kind of organization. But trip to Peking brought young So into contact with the twentieth master of the North Shorinji Giwamonken School of Kempo, whose direct disciple he immediately became. Having resigned himself to the unhappy likelihood that he would be the last of the Kempo head masters, this elderly man was overjoyed at finding an enthusiastic and skillful young follower. In a ceremony at the Shorinji Temple in 1936, Doshin So was officially designated the successor of the leader of the north Shorinji school.

In 1945, when the Russian Army entered Manchuria, Doshin So managed to escape through the help of Chinese secret society members: he was finally repatriated in 1946. The grim state of affairs in postwar Japan impressed him with the need of a restoration of morality and national pride and the creation of an entirely new human image. Regarding the Dharma spirit and the practice of Kempo as means to achieve these ends, Doshin So completely revised, expanded, and systematized the many forms of Kempo he had learned in China and thus created Shorinji Kempo as it exists today.

The Founder's Motivation and Purpose for Starting Shorinji Kempo

On August 7, 1945, Soviet troops invaded Manchuria. At that time, Founder was living in a town called Suiyo, on the border of Eastern Manchuria. The Japanese Army retreated before the arrival of the Soviet troops, leaving only civilians, mostly women and children, to face the Russians. Founder managed to escape the town before the Soviets entered it, but he lived for about one year in Manchuria, under the Soviet occupation. During that period, he experienced many of the hardships and learned the sadness that comes to a defeated people. He saw the only justice was that of force; in other words: might makes right. People let a desire for personal profit and short-term interests take priority over ideals, honesty, religion, and virtue.

Based on those experiences, Founder realized that everything depends on the individual, and the results will be according to the quality of the individual. He got his first motto from those experiences: The people, the people, the people, everything depends on the quality of the people! (in Japanese, Hito! Hito! Hito! Subete wa hito no shitsu ni aru). It is up to the people who possess the qualities of courage and justice to make a better world and to teach others.

Founder returned to Japan in 1946, with the intention of establishing some kind of school to develop people who would possess the right qualities to work for a better world. On his return, he found the Japanese people confused and discouraged and lacking any sense of purpose. The strong took advantage of the weak and people were only interested trying to service and satisfy their own desires. The young people did not know which way to turn and had lost all hope for the future. Ancient values and virtues were discarded, but there was nothing to replace them. Young people were no longer interested in the virtues of the past, but had failed to find any real solutions to the problems of the present and had little concern for the future.

Founder decided to devote the remainder of his life to developing the kind of people who could help Japan regain the respect and trust of the world. He decided to depend on true Buddhism to achieve his purpose, but he also realized that it would do no good to go live in the mountains as a hermit. To develop people, he had to remain where the people lived their daily lives. He knew that people would not pay much attention to just preaching; he sought for something he could offer people that would attract and hold their interest, as well as benefit them.

One night, the Founder had a dream of a bearded Daruma, who was walking away from him and pointing with his finger. Founder tried to follow, but could not move and called out, asking Daruma to wait. He was awakened by the sound of his own voice. After thinking about the dream, Founder decided that Daruma was telling him to follow in his footsteps. Here was the solution to provide the action needed to attract people! Founder decided to teach Arahan no Ken (a martial art), which Daruma is said to have brought to China from India.

Founder build a 6-mat dojo behind his house in Tadotsu, Kagawa Prefecture, on the island of Shikoku. He called it Honzan. The Arahan no Ken, which Founder had studied in China, is different from budo. The purpose is not to kill, but to overcome one's self. The practice of the art develops both mind and the body, helping to create a well-balanced individual with the mental powers to solve life's problems and the strength to carry out the physical actions necessary. By teaching this Ken to young people and preaching the right philosophy to them, Founder would give them self-confidence, strength, and hope for the future. He organized the religion his philosophical teachings as a branch of Buddihism, and called it Kongo Zen.

Founder reformed and revised what he had studied in China, and backed it up with his theories and philosophy so that it became Shomon no Gyo. This was the beginning of today's Kongo Zen and Shorinji Kempo.

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