Shorinji Kempo was founded in 1947 by Doshin So, in Tadotsu (Shikoku, Japan). The founder trained in traditional Japanese martial arts (Kendo, Jodo, Aiki-jujutsu, etc.) as well as northern China Kempo (the japanese pronounciation of Ch'uan fa/kung fu) - in fact, at one point he was ordained as the master of one of the Kempo schools at the Shaolin Temple before returning to Japan post-war.
As such, Shorinji Kempo is a composite martial art of all of Doshin So's teachings. It incorporates striking methods (punches, kicks, etc.), all to Kyusho points (pressure-points), as well as locks, pins, takedowns and throws (also incorporating Kyusho, but also balance-breaking). A third section, Seiho, is a restricted form of Shiatsu acupressure massage, and is probably the only part of Shorinji Kempo your flatmates will thank you for practicing on them.
We train in pairs as an homage to the Shaolin way of training: your partner should not try to beat you, but help you develop yours skills over time. Many take their belt gradings together, and some have been grading together for over 20 years!
Though competition-style sparring does not exist in Shorinji Kempo, Randori does. In Randori again the emphasis is not on winning: it is on applying the techniques you have learned, showing your partner's open areas/weak points, etc. If one is better than the other, they should help the other to develop their skills more. Contact is light-moderate, but should not cause permanent injury.
Regarding one poster asking, "Are the techniques too dangerous for Kumite", yes and no. Applied properly Shorinji Kempo strikes are to temporarily incapacitate, not break bones or kill. We strike to weak points precisely so you don't have to use bone-crushing strength (as a consequence, girls can practice SK against men very effectively, as opposed to say, Boxing or Muay Thai). On the other hand, if you don't yield to a wristlock, you're going to get your wrist broken (one Sensei I heard of started after someone demonstrated a basic wristlock on him and he tried to stand up to it - he broke his arm in 3 places).
At a higher level, you throw your partner, but your partner throws himself - so as not to have their wrist/arm broken.
Regarding Shorinji Kempo bring a registered religion in Japan, as of 2005 that is no longer true - religions cannot be practiced in public buildings, so SK has 'de-registered'. 'Doin' (religious form of Dojo) still exist, though, and are run by Kongo Zen priests (the form of Zen which accompanies Shorinji Kempo).
All in all, it's a very complete martial art, with emphasis on a peaceful approach to combat (ie avoid it at all costs, but when inevitable, be able to defend yourself completely). As you can tell from the length of this post, I love it! I highly recommend it.
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