Founder of the modern martial art of Shorinji Kempo
Born in Okayama, Japan in the year 1911, Doshin So was the eldest son of a customs officer. In his childhood and teenage years he became well acquainted with loss. Following the death of his father, Doshin So went to live with his grandfather in Manchuria. When Doshin So reached the age of seventeen, his grandfather passed away, leaving him in the care of Mitsuru Toyama, founder of the Amur River Society, also known as the Black Dragons, a secretive nationalist group thought to have been involved in espionage.
As a young man, Doshin So travelled around China studying Kempo, a martial art which was dying out as fewer and fewer people practiced it. Eventually, while residing in Beijing, Doshin So became the student of Wen Laoshi, the 20th master of the North Shorinji Giwamonken School of Kempo. Wen Laoshi had resigned himself to the probability that he would be the last master of his style, and was delighted by his new student's enthusiasm for learning the art.
In 1936, Doshin So became the 21st master of the North Shorinji Giwamonken School at a ceremony held at the Shaolin Temple.
He returned to Manchuria, and was present there in 1945, when the region was invaded by the Russian army. With the aid of his contacts in the local secret societies, he escaped the conflict, returning in 1946.
It was at this time that Doshin So made the observations which would form the basis of Shorinji Kempo.
He saw that people would resort to violence in the name of greed, and that governments would make war in order to further national interests. Believing that bloodshed should never be used as a means of achieving such trivial goals, Doshin So began to wonder what could be done to prevent the kind of violence and oppression he has witnessed in Manchuria.
From these considerations, Doshin So determined:
Hito! Hito! Hito! Subete wa hito no shitsu ni aru.
Translated, this means "People! People! People! Everything depends upon the goodness of people."
Doshin So returned to Japan in order to found a style of martial art which could enable him to spread this philosophy and develop qualities in his students which would allow them to contribute to the creation of a better society.
Constructing a dojo behing his house, Doshin So began teaching the techniques which he had learned throughout his life. He incorporated elements of Buddhism into his lessons, encouraging his students to meditate and consider ways in which they could benefit all of humanity and promote peace between people.
From this single Japanese dojo, Shorinji Kempo has spread across the world. While it is not as well known as karate, judo or tae kwon do, it is succeeding in spreading the founder's message to people of all races, nationalities and walks of life. Doshin So died in 1980, but his legacy lives on, promoting peace and understanding through a martial art still firmly rooted in its philosophical and spiritual origins.