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Mike Sadler of Bristol Shorinji Kempo

MIKE: This week I’ve come down to meet Mike Sadler at Bristol Shorinji Kempo, and he’s going to explain what that is. So Mike, how did you get into Martial Arts, how did you get here?

SADLER: Well, when I started university, I went to Southampton University, I had the intention to start a martial art because I wanted, primarily, to learn how to use my body, rather than anything specific like self-defence.

M: So you were quite keen to start something martial?

S: Yes. Looking back it could’ve been dancing, but martial arts it just seemed to fit.

M: Is that a regret?

S: Haha. No, I’m happy the way things worked out. But it did occur to me at that age to consider it.

M: Is this the first style you stepped in to, or was there something else in Southampton you started with?

S: Well Southampton University has a surprising number of martial arts, so I think by the time I left there were twelve or thirteen and when I arrived there, there were eight or nine, but they used to have demonstrations of each martial art, one after another. So I went to more demonstrations. They had Taekwondo, didn’t have Aikido in those days, two forms of Kung Fu, several karate’s and no Judo, but they covered quite a lot bases.

M: Big place then!

S: Exactly! And they had a beautiful Judo room for kids, with mats all over the floor.

M: But no Judo?

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S: But no Judo. It might have appeared later, but I’m struggling to remember. Basically, I looked at them all and decided which I liked the look of, and the two, to my untutored eye, which looked the most interesting were one of the Karates and Kempo, which I’d never heard of and I’m sure most of your audience haven’t.

M: Probably very true.

S: But the main difference were the instructors. So the Kung Fu instructor was very good, I’ve no doubt of that, but the first lesson I went to had things like eye gauges, and I thought, undoubtedly effective, but…

M: Not what you were looking for.

S: Yes, it’s just too strict. So the other one was taught by, well he was actually a student at the time, and he was very young, tirelessly shy, and everything he said about Kempo and the philosophy behind it just fitted much better with my moral views. So it’s all do not act to harm the aggressor, it’s trying to do the minimum you need to in any given situation to keep you or whoever you were trying to defend safe.

M: Is that against any level of attack that’s coming in and you try to block it nicely?

S: Yes. To be honest, everything’s down scaled as much as it can be while being effective. So for example there are some techniques which are variations of Jiu-jutsu techniques, which would’ve been like arm breaks, and there’s a different version which is just as effective but without breaking bones. So the general philosophy behind it comes from a Chinese saying: “To avoid rather than fight, to fight rather than hurt, to hurt rather than injure, to injure rather than maim, to maim rather than kill. For all life is precious and can’t be replaced”.

M: Great words to live by.
S: Yes. So eye gauges don’t come in.
M: And everyone gets to walk away.
S: Yes, everyone gets to walk away and it’s a better way to live.
M: Yeah. So you went straight into this, and have you done it ever since?

S: Yes. Technically there was a ten-month break when I was in Germany, but I still trained when I came back and turned up for seminars. But you had to be pretty much uninterrupted to learn more advanced skills.

M: And is that what took you into the art or was it the rules to live by, or the fitness element, or did you find something once you started training in the art that captured your interest?

S: The philosophy is probably the broader structure that kept me here, without that… If it were full contact competitions and so fourth…

M: You’d have probably moved on?

S: I’d probably have moved on. But the martial art itself is so broad that there’s always something else to learn, so even the first technique you learn as you walk through the door is relatively complicated; a joint reversal which is common enough in many martial arts, it’s on the white to yellow belt syllabus and I’m still learning stuff about it now, twenty-five years later.

M: So like any good martial artist, always learning and always reassessing?

S: Yeah, and the syllabus is extremely broad and there’s always something more to learn. You could regard that as a downside if you’re a finisher, or you can regard it as having infinite opportunities, no matter how old you get.

M: It’s always good to have something else to learn.

S: Yes. And I tend to take the natural approach.

M: Fantastic.

M: So, you started in Southampton as a student. When was it you decided you wanted to be an instructor and go down that path?

S: Earlier than I’d anticipated.
M: Oh really?
S: I’d just completed my black belt in 1997.
M: How long you had you been doing it by that point? S: Four years.
M: Ok, that’s pretty good.

S: I look back and think I’d barely even begun. I ended back in Bristol for work, and another black belt who was a couple of years ahead of me, also ended up back in Bristol at the same time. At the time, as first dans we weren’t qualified as teachers, but because two of us ended up in the same place, we decided to teach half the class each, which from my point of view taught me a lot and undoubtedly worked out better, for the first time I started teaching on my own, even though it was a few years later.

M: From each other as well.

S: Well exactly, you have to learn to work around each other. And just by analysing your own feelings of how that’s going on is… more turns up than you imagine. But to never undermine, or contradict, or talk over each other, you just end up learning to work together, which is part of the philosophy of Shorinji Kempo anyway; work in pairs. This is one of the aspects where competition can be very much controlled. Because all of us in the class are here to learn from each other and that doesn’t particularly matter about the grade difference. And if there’s anything that I know which could help them, even if it’s to do something to me, then I would teach it without hesitation, and like wise with each other.

M: So everyone gets some input.

S: Yeah, you can learn from anybody. Different people have different joints, they work differently, so if I’m trying to do it on someone completely new, their joints might be slightly different.

M: Stiff?

S: Yeah, stiff. I once worked with somebody who was, I’d say, triple jointed and had no nerve points at all.

M: Were they hyper-mobile?
S: Yeah, they just had none of the normal nerve points. M: That’s quite useful.

S: Basically impossible to do. But most people have some variation of that, possibly having the disadvantage of a high level of nerve points, so every joint hurts. I’m slightly larger and heavier to move, so when working with somebody else, I’d say move more, move slower to let me fall and that sort of thing.

If you always hold a few secrets back because you think you might need them in the next competition, then maybe you don’t…

M: Don’t fight to your full ability?

S: Yeah, you don’t explain all your weaknesses, because as far as I’m concerned, with my lot, I’d tell them all my weaknesses then expect them to tell each other, to help each other.

M: And explore those as mutual ways of teaching.

S: Yeah. And in the class you get into the habit of working in pairs, to try to get these things to work. They’re painful, you can’t just slam them on each other.

M: They need to have some understanding of how it works.

S: Yes. But also, part of the philosophy of the habit of working in pairs, is it becomes habit, so that you take a similar approach outside the dojo as well as inside.

M: Ok.

S: Something I have found is that my own thinking seems to be different, even from these guys. I went on management courses at work, and found my general approach was different. They did all these contrived games and you found that a lot of them seemed to take a hard line; ‘let’s win’ talk! Nonsense. I found that, because I chose Kempo, that my approach was not going in that direction, along with a small minority of people.

M: So you said you started in 97, is that how long this class has been going?

S: Yes and no. I started training in 93 and we started the university dojo in either 97 or the beginning of 98. It took a while for the university to let us in, they were never too keen on martial arts because we didn’t bring back trophies. I had to go for an interview in front of the committee. Broadly speaking, all the students there were very happy and welcoming, but the permanent member of the committee, you know, the traditional grizzled old man, gave and impassioned speech about how they don’t want martial arts.

M: Why?

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S: Just about trophies really. So I don’t think we were ever going to be on the same wavelength. But it did eventually get to the point where some people were getting too old for the university dojo. It was down in All Saints Road. And we’ve been training in Fitness For Less ever since.

M: I’d like to ask a bit about the style, as I don’t know much about it and I’m sure our viewers don’t either.

S: The name Shorinji Kempo. The second part is similar to Kung Fu; it’s referring to fighting style. The first part, is the Japanese translation of Shaolin. The origins of Shorinji Kempo are very much shrouded in mythology, but most of the Japanese martial arts have a link to China. Shorinji Kempo’s is much more recent. The founder of Shorinji Kempo studied in China between the wars, so he not only studied Japanese martial arts, he also studied Chinese martial arts, so the style is usually lighter than Okinawan styles, but that also depends on the instructor. But generally, the kicks and punches style is much lighter. It’s half way between some of the lighter Chinese styles and the heavier Japanese, but the modern styles have moved quite a lot.

M: Is it fairly balanced? From an outsider’s point of view it looks much more Japanese than Chinese.

S: The formalities are Japanese, and this is where my knowledge of Chinese martial arts is going to cost me. The Japanese have a certain way of categorising things, and I’m sure the Chinese do something similar, but the Japanese tend to rigidly analyse things and break them down, then categorise them, and in that aspect, in terms of the syllabus, you’ll see that.And obviously the language is Japanese. As we know the two countries don’t work that closely, but there still a connection between Sorinji Kempo in Japan and the Shaolin Temple, although the Shaolin Temple is no longer what it used to be.

M: Yes. On your website it talks about “the hard way”, “the soft way”, healing, philosophy and meditation. Is that your curriculum?

S: Yes, this is where Shorinji Kempo is quite different to a lot of martial arts. Shorinji Kempo has three physical sides and they translate to Juho, Goho and Seiho. Goho translates to hard side and Juho the soft side. The distinctions we use are that the hard side consists of kicks, punches, blocks anything with contact, whereas Juho, the soft side, is anything with persistent contact; throws, chokes, pressure and nerve point attacks.

Seiho is the third side; acupressure massage. That’s a long the same route as Shiatsu, so it’s using the same nerve points around the body, but for things like resuscitation, healing and resetting the muscles.

M: And you teach that in class?

S: Yes, but not every session. It’s one of those things that takes a sufficient amount of time, and two hours is too short, so we tend to do it most Fridays.

M: You’re also the secretary of the International Kempo Association.

S: Yes, so we’ve got an international grouping that we’re in, seven countries at the moment. Once a year we have a big seminar, this year it was in Bristol, next year it’s in Japan, last year was Spain.

M: Is most of that in Europe?

S: It is. There are six European countries: Ireland, Britain, Cheque Republic, Switzerland, Sicily, Spain and Japan.

M: So you have a set syllabus? Someone here could go out to Japan and train the same way?

S: Not quite, we’re working on a single set one. At the moment they’re all similar, they’ve all come from the same source, so to speak. Usually at international seminars there’s enough commonality not to worry about it.

M: Fantastic. So if I were a new student, just coming down to give this a go, is there anything I’d need to bring, and what could I expect in my first lesson?

S: Anything you can move in, is the criteria for wear. It doesn’t matter the level or the fitness. Train to your own level. If you have one arm, one leg you are more than welcome to come along. The whole point of Shorinji Kempo is that you’re developing as a person, so it doesn’t exactly matter where you start and where you finish.

M: So everyone gets something out of it? S: Yes.

M: Right, well I think that’s it. Thank you very much, it was an absolute pleasure.

S: Thank you for coming down.