3 Jan 2024

Rachel Louie: Kempo blackbelt

From Summer Times, 11:10 am on 3 January 2024

Blackbelt student Rachel Louie says the Japanese martial art of Shorinji Kempo not only helps her stay calm and solution-oriented, it also encourages empathy.

"You have to be first and foremost looking after yourself, but if you don't have a strong body and strong mind how can you then look after others?" she tells Anna Thomas.

Rachel Louie - a blackbelt in the martial art Kempo

Rachel Louie - a blackbelt in the martial art Kempo Photo: Shorinji Kempo

The aim of Shorinji Kempo - which has a philosophy of 'defend first, act second' - is to avoid fighting in the first place, Louie says, but students learn to defend themselves should they ever need to.

By targeting pressure points and employing accurate punching, pinning and arresting techniques, even someone of 5'2" like Louie can disable and prevent a larger person from attacking.

Louie, who is the highest-graded female Shorinji Kempo student in NZ, began studying the art form in 1997 while working in the Tokyo office of Air New Zealand.

Back in Auckland a few months later, she joined the local club there and has been doing it ever since.

While the moves involved in Shorinji Kempo may look complicated, Louie says beginners start at a really basic level.

"People look at the black belts and go 'oh, I'll never get to that' but we all started not knowing how to count in Japanese, not knowing the words for punch, kick and blockers. On day one that's what you learn, you learn the word for punch, you learn the word for block, and you then start to progress from there."

As well as being helpful for mental well-being she believes everyone should learn some form of self-defence.

"Shorinji Kempo is very good because you don't actually fight people, you don't go into competitions, you work with peers to learn how to do the technique, and train together to be able to get out of situations."

The programme, which was launched in Aotearoa back in 1974, is very structured and the exact same techniques and style are taught all around the world. Louie says you can turn up at any branch anywhere and be welcomed. 

In New Zealand, there are four schools in Auckland - North Shore, West Auckland, Central and East Auckland - and one each in Blenheim and New Plymouth. 

Louie says the reason Shorinji Kempo is not so well-known in New Zealand is because it's a not-for-profit martial art.

Instructors - such as her husband Darren at the North Shore branch - don't get paid and share the art form as a way of giving back to society. 

Although Shorinji Kempo isn't as famous as some other martial arts, it has a "really good community feel" that Louie would love more Kiwis to experience.

"It would be fantastic to get more clubs throughout the various cities," she says.