Shorinji Kempo was founded 1947, in the small town of Tadotsu, situated on the island Shikoku in Japan. The founder was a man named Doshin So, but is often referred to as Kaiso, which means founder. Doshin So was born 1911 and spent a large amount of his youth with his paternal grandfather in Manchuria today’s Dongbei province in China). His grandfather was also famous for his Budo, especially Kendo, Sojutsu (spearmanship) and Jujutsu. Doshin’s grandfather taught him in martial art as often as he had time.
When Doshin was young he worked, from 1928 up to 1946 in some rounds, for the Japanese army in China. He travelled under cover as a monk together with a teacher named Chen Liang. This was the first contact with Buddhism for Doshin. Master Chen was also a teacher in Chinese martial arts and Doshin learned techniques from Master Chen as soon as it was time.
Later Doshin came in contact with Master Chens teacher, the famous Wen Taizong. Master Wen had in his youth been a monk in the Shaolin temple. With Master Chen’s introduction, Doshin got the possibility to become a direct pupil of Master Wen. During the fall of 1936, at a ceremony at the Shaolin temple, Doshin received recognition of master of the 21st generation in the Northern Shaolin Giwamon Ken.
After that he had lived on both sides of occupation, the Japanese occupation in China and the under the Soviet occupation of China, Doshin realised that it is not the nationality of a person that determines what type of person somebody is, but rather the quality of the individual.
After his experiences in China during the war, Doshin So felt that he wanted to teach his thoughts of the Way. He had come to the conclusion that the teaching that was most proper teaching on how to live your life was no other then the philosophy that Buddha had preached.
But Doshin So was very critical to the way that Buddhism was taught in Japan at this time. It centred more on performing ceremonies and chanting sutras, and get money from the people for performing these services. Doshin So believed that there was not a single Buddhist group or organisation at this time, that taught Buddhism in according to its original purpose.
He believed that the teaching of Buddha contained something that could give people both mental and physical peace. He wanted to teach people in this as he was convinced that it would help them.
But to get people to come and listen to his lectures wasn’t easy. The few that came didn’t stay for long. Kaiso realised that he must have something that could catch the people’s interest. This was something that he thought of for a long time.
One night he had a dream, he saw a bearded Daruma who said something to him and then rapidly went away. Doshin So tried to follow after him, but his leg was somehow to heavy to move and he shouted; “Wait!”, but Daruma disappeared. After he thought about what this dream really meant, suddenly Kaiso knew the answer.
After he thought about what this dream really meant, suddenly Kaiso knew the answer. He should teach martial arts, just as Daruma had done in the Shaolin temple in China. He organised the different techniques he had learnt to a system and taught it together with his philosophy. This was the beginning of Shorinji Kempo that was founded in October 1947.
1950 Shorinji Kempo was established as a religious organisation. One reason for this was that the American occupation rulings had forbidden anything that had any connection to Bushido after the war, but Shorinji Kempo had also always been taught with philosophical aims. In 1951 the organisation got an official recognition as the religious corporation Kongō Zen Sohōnzan Shōrinji 金剛禅総本山少林寺.
During the 50s the organisation started to spread and grow stronger, one started to have public demonstrations and Embu Taikai. During the 60s Shorinji Kempo appeared in national TV in different contexts. This made a significant increase in the popularity of Shorinji Kempo.
In 1956 the Nihon Shōrinji Bugei Senmon Gakkō 日本少林寺武芸専門学校 was founded, after changing name two times it became the school Zenrin Gakuen 禅林学園 that offers education in the spirit of Shorinji Kempo.
In 1963 the Shadan Hōjin Nihon Shōrinji Kempō Renmei 社団法人日本少林寺拳法連盟 (the Japanese Shorinji Kempo Federation Corporation) was established, which today officially is Zaidan Hōjin Shōrinji Kempō Renmei (財団法人少林寺拳法連盟 (Shorinji Kempo Federation Foundation).
In 1972 the Kokusai Shōrinji Kempō Renmei 国際少林寺拳法連盟 (International Shorinji Kempo Federation, ISKF) was founded. In 1974 the ISKF was replaced by the Shōrinji Kempō Sekai Rengō 少林寺拳法世界連合 (World Shorinji Kempo Organization, WSKO) in order to bind together federations for the various nations to which Shorinji Kempo had spread.
1980 Doshin died and his, at the time 24-year-old daughter Yuuki took over the leadership in the organisation.
In Japan and other cointries in Asia the tate manji was used as the symbol for Shorinji Kempo, in many countries in west on instead used the tate ken because the manji (卍) often was misunderstood. In oder to be able to have one and the same symbol in the whole world a new symbol, soen, started to be used from the 1st of April 2005 Shorinji Kempo.
Today (May 2009) Shorinji Kempo has spread to 34 countries outside of Japan, and continues to, slowly but steadily, grow.