Historical period

The ancient art of Shorinji Kempo has become widely known only in recent years, though it traces its origin to India of almost five thousand years ago. It has had a dynamic history of development. Many of the basic techniques are still observed, but the present form differs from the original Indian one. Through contact with Buddhism, transmission to different cultures, and assimilation of elements from other kinds of weaponless fighting, Shorinji Kempo has gradually and continuously developed its present form. Various stages in the cultural development of Man have necessitated the invention of weaponless combat techniques. All ancient civilizations produced them, some more elaborate and efficient than others. Depending on historical necessity, some atrophied and disappeared while others preserved coherent systems and survived over many centuries. In India, a very early form of kempo, as well as other weaponless self-defense methods, existed nearly five thousand years ago as is evidenced by extant wall painting and other remains of that period. By the time of the founding of Buddhism, Indian kempo had already been organized and formulated into a standardized art. It is said that Buddha, who practiced it. was so impressed with kempo as an effective method of unifying the mind and the body that kempo was incorporated into Buddhism. Its later development, however, was completely independent. Though Buddhism and military art may appear incongruous, the original teachings of Buddha emphasized the importance of strength as well as love in the active creation of an ideal world and the protection of the laws of Buddhis This is supported by the fact that images of certain goods of the Buddhist pantheon the two Guardian Deities, the Devas, and the Twelve Divine Generals – occur in kempo stances. Though Buddhism itself was transmitted to China, probably by the Later Han Dynasty (A.D. 25-220), it was many years later that kempo entered China. Though there are many theories a* to the exact date of the introduction of Buddhism into China. According to Buddhist tradition, this event occurred in A.D. 64 when the Emperor Ming Ti of the Later Han Dynasty sent envoys to India to obtain Buddhist sutras and images. But it is said that the form of Buddhism which entered at that time was quite different from (he original austere, anti-social Buddhism of India, which had been transformed by assimilation of various foreign cultural elements. Buddhism which took root in China emphasized salvation through faith and metaphysical speculation. Greater importance was placed on being admitted to paradise after death than on attaining perfection in this world. The traditional twenty-eighth patriarch of Buddhism. Daruma (Bodhidharma), despairing at the factionalism and loss of true faith in China attempted to transmit the true teaching of Buddha to China in the early sixth century. He is said to have walked from India to the court of Liang Wu Ti, king of one of the kingdoms established during the Six Dynasties Period and reputedly a great patron of Buddhism. But since Wu Ti’s Buddhism was a salvation list and formalistic, he did not understand Bodhidharma who preached meditation and intuitive insight. But many who were dis­satisfied with or had doubts concerning Buddhism of that day gathered around the patriarch. Expelled from the kingdom of Liang. however. Bodhidharma traveled to the kingdom of Wei and ultimately settled at Shorinji (Shaolin-ssu), a monastery on Hao-shan mountain near Loyang, in what is now Honan Province. The Buddhism taught at this monastery eventually came to be known as Ch’an, or Zen in its Japanese reading. From the very beginning, kempo was not considered merely a martial art but was put on the same level with zazen (seated meditation) as an ascetic practice and a method of clarifying precepts of the unity of mind and body. It was thought to be useful in counteracting bodily weakening caused by protracted zazen. Buddhism introduced to China by Bodhidharma valued zazen and kempo equally. Kempo was not invented by monks as a means of protecting temple property as is often mis­takenly held. Later, however, kempo proved more effective than zuzen, which it superseded to become the main spiritual training. Eventually, the Shorinji became famous, not as the headquarters of the Zen sect, but as a center of weaponless military art. However, during the early stages of its development, the kempo practiced at the Shorinji had no set. It was sometimes referred to as Nalo-jan and at other times as Arohan. In later years, it was called I-jinsin to distinguish it from zazen. Though many doubt the authenticity and accuracy of the Bodhidharma legend there is, some evidence to support many aspects of the story. For example, wall paintings that call still be seen at the Shaolin temple remains to portray dark-colored – perhaps Indian monks among the lighter-skinned Chinese monks practicing or teaching kempo. This seems to substantiate the belief that kempo was originally Indian. In addition, the fact that no other temple in China has a history and tradition of kempo indicates a possible connection with Bodhidharma, kempo indicates a possible connection with Bodhidharma. The kempo practiced at Shaolin was originally kept a close secret and was taught only to those who joined the Buddhist priesthood and entered the Shaolin monastery. The reason for this was that kempo was considered inseparable from Zen. In other words, it was not primarily a military art. Furthermore, since kempo was immensely effective, it was thought to be dangerous in the hands of evil persons or of those lacking knowledges of its true meaning. Later government persecutions and repeated burnings of the temple destroyed the Shorinji and dispersed the monks. During those times all weapons were banned, and the monks trained at the Shaolin felt it their duly to leach kempo to the oppressed masses as protection against both bandits and corrupt government officials. Gradually, therefore, kempo, minus its Zen elements, spread among the people in numerous parts of China. Not called by the name of the Shaolin at that time, kempo eventually took root in many areas and came to Ire known under various titles. The techniques were transmitted cither in fragments or one by one, hut the temple itself seems to have little connection with the after history of kempo. The Shaolin was destroyed by the Emperor Wu Ti. of the Northern Chou (A.D. 574) as a part of his anti-Buddhist policy. It was rebuilt during the Sui Dynasty (589- 618), but there is no evidence that kempo was ever practiced in the new and probably very different buildings. The number of monks at the Shaolin increased during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), and these men of the cloth supposedly were active in pulling down several rebellions; but there is no trace of their having resorted to kempo. Apparently, kempo vanished entirely from the site of its introduction into China to survive only among the people. From the latter part of the Sung (947 – 1279) until the Ch’ing Dynasty (1662 – 1912) kempo enjoyed what is sometimes called its golden age. During these centuries it almost became the national combat technique. Chinese records from the Sung period list many kempo experts. So numerous were these people among the anti-dynastic rebels that in the Yuan Dynasty (1279 – 1368) emperors followed a policy of banning the practice of kempo. For example, in the 1280s, 100,000 kempo men are recorded to have rebelled against the Yuan, a Mongol dynasty, in favor of a restoration of the purely Chinese Sung. In addition, in the 1620s a popular uprising in Szechwan Province toward the end of the Ming Dynasty was lead by kempo warriors. Kempo continued to be the nucleus of popular resistance until the Ch’ing. or Manchu Dynasty, which ended in the early twentieth century. This last imperial dynasty, like many of its predecessors, issued edicts against kempo, but despite failures and government suppression, this martial art never lost its vital strength. Though because of the strict Ch’ing edict of 1730, kempo seemed to vanish, or at any rate, to remain only in calisthenic form, various secret societies continued practicing. The im­perial Chinese government never recognized political parties or legitimate agencies of popular protest, and the secret societies had long served important self-defense and mutual-aid purpose on the political scene, especially during times of oppression. Many of them were united in and based upon some religious sect. but even more, used kempo as a rallying point. The societies almost always grew more active in the latter days of dynastic decline. The Boxer Rebellion of 1900 was the result of the activities of a number of secret societies including the Great Sword Society and the Red Spear Society who merged to form the Firsts of the Righteous Harmony or the so-called Boxers. Although the Boxers originally directed their hatred against the Ch’ing. in the late nineteenth century, as popular sentiment turned on the greedy foreign powers then preying on a weakened China, they shifted their rage to the colonials and became more or less pro-Ch’ing. The Empress Dowager and her advisors first supported the Boxers in their agitation; but later, when defeat became im­minent, she and the government turned against them. Without imperial support the Boxer Rebellion failed, and with its defeat came the utter elimination of kempo from the Chinese mainland. The Ch’ing government took effective steps to abolish the practice of the martial art in 1900. They closed down all training halls, executed leaders, and mercilessly eradicated kempo from China. Nor has kempo revived under the Communists, for at the All-China Martial Arts Tournament, held in Peking, in 1956, under the auspices of the People’s Republic of China, the only evidence of kempo’s having been part of the Chinese martial code was sonic exercises. The form of Chinese kempo thought to have been introduced into Japan during the Kamakura period (1192 – 1333) was in fact not a martial art but a set of calisthenics. Although later, after every rebellion or dynastic change in China, monks, patriots, and rebels seeking refuge in Japan brought with them various kinds of kempo which took root and grew into the Japanese martial arts as they exist today, kempo in its purest form was never among them. In the light of the close connection in earlier times between kempo and Zen, it seems strange that the self-defense art was not introduced to Japan with the religious philosophy. This did not happen because, after Chinese Zen split into northern and southern schools, doctrinal differences arose. The schism took place during the time of the fifth successor of Bodhidharma, Konin; and following it the southern school, the line that later entered Japan, taught that all men are born with a Buddha-nature and can, therefore, reach enlightenment intuitively without the benefit of a gradual process of ascetic training. For this reason, the southern school did not recognize kempo as a necessary technique for the attainment of a higher level of insight.