Thwacking your way to higher consciousness in Seaside.

Striking Philosophy: Sensei Kazuki Arita refuses to make money from his martial art.

Through the double doors to the pagoda-style complex, past the floors of woven mats and thin, sliding walls, Sensei Kazuki Arita takes up a staff and holds it ceremoniously, straight up and down before him. He walks slowly and quietly behind lines of meditating students. They close their eyes and approximate the lotus position as closely as they can. In Japan, among the monks, some could expect a whack, but here the staff is used merely as a guide to correct posture. Well, there is one other use. At the end of the meditation, the sensei sneaks up on stage and, concealed by a curtain, startles students with a loud thwack against the floor.

Later, Arita says that startling effect is aimed at teaching students to keep their tranquility even under difficult circumstances. “Everyone is surprised, but this helps you learn to calm down the mind,” he says.

Shoes are forbidden in the classroom, so the hard tile chills the feet. On the stage opposite the entrance, intertwined black-and-white ovals representing power and love welcome all comers. The integrated Zen ceremony, the overriding emphasis on the philosophy, even the heavy use of Japanese in instruction all lend to its authentic feel. This art is not taught as a business, but as part of a mission to make the world a better place.

“I REFUSE TO BECOME A KILLER FOR SUCH PEOPLE. I REFUSE TO BE KILLED MEANINGLESSLY.”

Doshin So, called “Kaiso,” which means founder, started Shorinji Kempo after World War II as a reaction to the horrors of war. He saw how the state placed its interests above the good of the people. He resolved to create an art where students would gain not only the power but also the conviction to resist tyranny and war.

“There are those who seek to use war to increase their own power, and I will not assist them,” Doshin So once said, taking a stance against state violence, “I refuse to become a killer for such people. I refuse to be killed meaninglessly. I want to make very clear the intentions with which we should carry this through. I demand this both from myself and from all of you who are my students.”

The creed of Shorinji Kempo, read before and after the meditation, puts it another way: “We resolve to become men and women of true courage, who love justice, respect humanity, act with decorum and defend peace.”

This devotedly nonprofit organization bars its teachers from making a living from the classes. As student Mitsugu Mori says, “If you start making money, you’re going to start changing your philosophy.”

Arita teaches out of a lifetime love of teaching (he was a high school teacher in Japan for 25 years) and a belief in the art itself. The art rarely advertises, and has only three belt levels for adults: white, brown and black, representing the natural color changes a belt would go through after long use.

Students press their palms together and stand upright at the beginning of class. Nobody bows, because, as Sensei Arita says, the bow comes from the relationship of “king and slave. The bow is to show hierarchies, actually. [The upright salute] is to show respect to each other. In old Buddhism, people do this.”

The class begins with warm-ups and drills. The drills are slow at first to perfect form, and Arita chants, almost sings, the count. He introduces a new strike, a hooked punch to the vulnerable floating ribs, a strike that drives broken points into internal organs if done properly. His description of the proper form is painstaking, from the amount the fist is turned to the angle at the elbow.

After the initial instruction, practice stops and the sensei distributes a slip of paper to each student. This is the aforementioned creed and philosophy of Shorinji Kempo, and the entire class reads it aloud in unison. Then, the meditation begins. After a second reading of the creed and principles, the class sits again, this time before a chalkboard. Arita draws kanji characters, gives their Romanized pronunciation, and translates them in a lesson on proper technique in blocking. For those interested, it also constitutes an immersive lesson in the Japanese language.

The students rise and don padded breastplates for striking practice and some sparring. They throw full-force punches and kicks at one another, and later incorporate joint locks and throws. Finally, the class cools down with some stretching, salutes one another, and departs.

SHORINJI KEMPO takes place at the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Temple at 1155 Noche Buena St., Seaside. Classes are 7-9pm, Wednesday and Friday. Tuition is $45/month, plus a one-time $20 registration. E-mail Sensei Kazuki Arita at aritakazuki@hotmail.com, or visit www.geocities.com/shorinjikempo_monterey

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