Born in 1911 in Okayama prefecture, the eldest son of a customs officer, Doshin So was sent to live with his grandfather in Manchuria upon the death of his father. From the age of 18, he travelled extensively in China and studied many of the scattered remnants of Chinese kempo. In Beijing, Doshin So studied under Wen Laoshi, the 20th Master of the Northern Shorinji Giwamonken School. At a ceremony held at the Shaolin Temple in 1936, Doshin So became Wen-Laoshi’s direct successor, the 21st Master.
On the 9th of August 1945, Doshin So was in Eastern Manchuria when the Russian army broke their treaty with Japan and crossed the border. On the 15th of August, the war ended in Japan’s defeat. During the next year, under the occupying Russian army he experienced the misery and suffering of defeat in a foreign land, where the interests of nations had come before the claims of ideology, religion, and morals. Nations had fought, and victory went to the country best able to organise its people to defeat and kill others. The strongest ruled, and the defeated Japanese in Manchuria were on the wrong side of that rule.
Amidst this bitter reality, Doshin So found a lesson which shaped the principles of Shorinji Kempo. He realized that it was neither ideology, religious differences nor national policies which determine the course of events, but rather the character and the way of thinking of the people involved. He put words to this realisation saying, “The person! The person! Everything depends on the quality of the person”.
The defeat of Japan in the war brought about Doshin So’s repatriation and indirectly became the cause of the transmission of kempo to Japan. On his return, in June 1946, he found a people in turmoil, confused and lacking any hope or sense of purpose. Doshin So could see that they were lacking in morality and pride, so he set about teaching the arts he had learnt.
Though termed Shorinji Kempo (literally translated as ‘The Way of the Shaolin Temple Fist’), his art is not a collection of Chinese kempo, but rather a fusion and re-arrangement of all the martial disciplines studied by Doshin So in China and Japan. It is kempo re-examined and amplified by the addition of Zen Buddhist philosophy.
Doshin So founded Shorinji Kempo in Japan in 1948 and became known as ‘Kaiso’, which roughly translates as ‘founder’. Kaiso established Shorinji Kempo headquarters in Tadotsu, Kagawa Prefecture, on the island of Shikoku. In 1951 the Kongo Zen Sohonzan was established, with Shorinji Kempo as its main teaching. In 1953 he founded the Japan Shorinji Kempo Federation. By 1969 its membership had spread throughout Japan, and numbered over 300,000.