History of the Martial Arts known as Shorinji Toraken Ryu Kempo Karate

Sho-rin-ji translates as "young forest temple" and denotes the system's birthplace, which is currently known as the Honan Province in China. It was here that the system began as a single art known as Chu'an Fa, which means “way of the fist”. Tora-ken (or "tiger fist") gives insight into the aggressive nature of the system, and symbolizes the systems philosophy of attacking first with overwhelming force when fighting cannot be avoided. Ryu (or "formalized martial tradition") denotes the system as a sect of martial philosophy.

The Shorinji Toraken Ryu system of fighting arts traces its origin to the former kingdom of Wei in Northern China, currently known as Honan (Henan) Province. Core development was through association with monks of the Sau-Lin Szu (Young or small Forest Temple). It began as an individual style of ancient Chinese Ch'uan Fa (Fist Way). The temple built on Hao-Shan Mountain (Shangshon, Song-Sham) in the Sung Mountains is the temple of origin of the father art or Ch'uan Fa. It is located on a mountain approximately 40 miles from the city of Lo-Yang, Imperial capital of the historical kingdom of Wei. This main temple appears to meet the criteria for the temple of origin. There were over 1000 temples in the general area. Many temples were reportedly burned during the Buddhist persecution in the 800's 1700's A.D., and then rebuilt. The temple, isolated from the mainstream of life at the time of the Mongolian invasion of China from the North, provided a place for peaceful monks, for whom the temple was built, to spend most of their lives in meditation. At this time Buddhism was the more dominate religion, in the northern Wei kingdom. The temple possibly could have been Taoist originally or a blend of the two religions, with one being dominant at the time. Taoism and Confucianism preceded Buddhism in China, lost favor, and then eventually Taoism regained its pre-eminent status. Buddhism used thoughts from both Taoism and Confucianism to gain foot hold in china.

Buddhism had been expanding to China slowly for several hundred years. In about 500 A.D., Bhodhidharma (Tamo) arrived in China. Chinese boxing existed in some form before Tamo. It was said that Tamo introduced exercises to strengthen the monks. Whether or not these "exercises" included fighting skills, is unknown. There was, in any case, a more organized system of fighting recognized around this period of time. The fighting system in this center of Buddhism became known as the Respectful Fist Method due to the Buddhist teachings. The Mongols were either in control of Northern China or were in the process of fighting for control for several hundred years. During the period of Mongolian invasion and control, the Yuan period from approximately 1279 to 1368, it is believed that a number of warlords went to this temple to hide from and form a resistance effect against the Mongols. This style was based on the five arts of the original five warlords. This art, organized by the warlords from their collective experience evolved into and became classified by the names of the five animals of Chinese temple boxing, from which all other boxing forms are thought to be devised from or influenced by. The major core of the fighting system was the five animal styles including the Dragon: using swift power and leaping, the Tiger: using the arms and hips in total body movement, the Leopard: leaping nimbly and moving on the ground with agility, the Snake: becoming fluid in body movement and striking with power and fluidity, and the Crane: moving arms and legs in gracefully executed sweeping movements.

Soji Yang, a warlord, was founder of this discipline. We believe this to be in 1377 A.D. The long staff, fist, and foot techniques were the basis of his personal system of fighting. The monks were peaceful. Their belief was of tolerance and therefore offered no resistance to the warlords. In return, the warriors coexisted peacefully with the monks. The warlords, after organizing a school of fighting arts, taught their methods to young men who also wished to resist the Mongols. The monks exerted their influence on the warriors through their teachings and manner of dress.

The Taoist and Buddhist monks traveled across China spreading their doctrine. As they traveled their hands were held in a prayful manner. The warrior monks began to travel with the peaceful monks for two reasons; one, to protect the more passive monks, and two, to use their avocation in society as a cover to spread their knowledge to force the hated Mongols out of China. When some of the monks began to fight with great ability, rumors began to spread that all of these monks were fierce warriors.

There were many secret societies at this time. The warrior monks, many who were members of a secret society developed the hand salute, hand over fist, as a variation of the praying hands of the peaceful monks. This continued to be the "greeting or salute" used today by this system. In 1644 the Manchu, (Qing) Ching Dynasty, wrested control of Northern China for the last time, using trickery coupled with military strength. Soji Yang's system was taught in China preceding and during this period by masters whose names and times are unknown. The style is believed to be related to the Pau Ch'uan and Long Tong Pei schools of those times. The ancient development of the art encompasses the Chinese Hand styles of Tang Su and Kong Su. The system was taken from China to Korea. Here, the Chinese Hand styles were combined with the native art of "Tye Kwan"; known for its jumping and kicking. This led to the formation of a somewhat strong system of self defense.

While the Chinese-Japanese (Sino-Nippon) war was being fought, Korea was used as a battleground for both the Japanese and Chinese. At this time, the Japanese yielding forms of Aiki Jutsu and power striking techniques of Okinawa Te were introduced to the Koreans, and assimilated into the art. As a result of combining and blending systems, this particular system, Shaolin Ji Tetsu Ken Ryu (Young Forest Temple Iron Fist System), gained techniques likened to the Korean art of Hapkido.

The system at this time in history is found in Yong Dong Po, Korea. This is located in South Eastern Korea, a part of Korea nearest Japan, the former Silla Kingdom of Korea. The Silla Kingdom (100 to 900 A. D.), by this time had been defeated and absorbed into the Koryo Dynasty (900 to 1400), which was absorbed later into the Yi Kingdom unifying Korea. The style was last found in Korea under the leadership of Soji Kooh C. Kim. In 1954 Soji Kooh C. Kim sought medical treatment in Japan, an option, at the time, not available in post war Korea. In Japan the system became known as Kooh Ha Shaolin Ji Tetsu Ken Ryu, one individual style of the ancient Chinese Ch'uan Fa (fist way) arts formed in ancient China. This then became the FATHER style of Kamishin Ryu.

The Japanese in 1922 established federations to provide registered diplomas of instruction. All fighting arts were divided into categories according to fighting methods such as Kara-Te, primarily strikes with hands and feet; Ju-jutsu, primarily throwing techniques; Kobudo, weapons techniques; and Kempo Jutsu, Sogo Budo or combined martial way). While in Japan, the system was arranged by fighting method in order to conform to Japanese customs. The style was defined by its laws (called Kami-Shin or Godly / Devine Heart) in format and referenced as "empty hand way", "fist way" (kenpo or kempo), and "aiki jutsu (jitsu)". It is a Sogo Budo or combined martial way.


* "Kempo" can be used to make reference to "combined arts" or "fist way".

* Kenpo is also used in Japan for "fist way".

* Korean for "fist way" is Kwon Do.

* Chinese for "fist way" is Quanfa or it's older form Ch'uan fa.

* Jitsu, is used to define the arts of gentleness / softness related to, or exactly like the ancient forms of Japanese Ju-jutsu (Ju-jitsu) / and "mechanics".


Even though the Japanese identified the art as empty hand (Kara Te), only arts of Okinawan origin are called "Karate". The Soji refused to combine his art with the existing Japanese Martial Arts. He instructed the style in a "closed dojo", retaining the aiki jutsu, fist, and foot forms. The name, now Shorinji Tetsu Kempo, reflected the fact that it was a composite system. This allowed acceptance by the All Japan Karate Way Federation and the All Japan Ancient fighting Way Federation.

When Master Kooh C. Kim knew he was dying, he summoned Albert C. Church, Jr., his former student of Shorinji Tetsuken Ryu (Shorinji Tetsu Kempo), to Japan. In Mishima Shi, Shizuoka-ken, Japan, Soji Kooh C. Kim (called Wang in Japanese) reunited with Albert Curtis Church, Jr. an American Serviceman with an extensive martial arts background. The reunion, in 1967, of master Kooh C. Kim and student Albert C. Church set the stage for the American connection to an ancient oriental martial art.

Soke Kooh C. Kim, in a surprise move, presented Master Church with the scroll of successor ship, representing nearly 600 years of succession. The reason being simply that Master Church was the only student continuing to instruct, (as he had been doing for sixteen years), in the manner by which Soji Kooh had personally instructed him when in Yong Dong Po, Korea. As a boy, Soke Church had studied Daito Ryu Aiki-jujutsu under Sagaru Yokohto, a student of Sokaku Takeda. Master Church remained in Japan for two years, working as a civil servant for the USA Army, while studying Hakko Ryu Jujitsu under founder Ryuno Okuyama. He also studied Soke Siyogo Kuniba's personal style of Iadio, Judo, and Jujitsu, along with Motobu Ha Shito Ryu under Soke Kuniba and Teruo Hayashi.

After review of the Shaolin Ji Tetsu Ken Ryu scroll of succession by Soke Kuniba, Church's personal system, (Kanda Ha) Kamishin Ryu, was sponsored for recognition in Japan. It is recognized as an art of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese origin. The Japanese authorities (The Nippon Karate Do Seishin Kai Committee Shihan), based on review of the succession papers by Soke Kuniba and his sponsorship of Master Church, would charter the art if two conditions were met. The first required Master Kuniba to provide Master Church with secondary accreditation as Soke of Shaolin Ji Tetsu Ken Ryu Karate Do, under the sponsorship of the Nippon Seishinkan Kokusei Sogo Budo Renmei, using the new title of Nippon Kobudo Kamishin Ryu (Japanese Ancient Martial Ways Devine Heart Style). A special certificate was presented to Master church confirming him as Soke of Nippon Kamishin Ryu at the grade of Hachidan. (Master Kooh had presented Church his last formal grade in Shaolin Ji Tetsu Ken Ryu of Kudan or 9th Dan). The second condition was the cross grading of Master Church to Godan and Shihan in the Motobu Ha Shitoh Ryu Nippon Kobudo Karate Seishin Kai. The certification was given by Teuro Hayashi, Hachidan and President of the Seishin Kai. In May, 1969, Master Church returned to the United States to begin the development of the art of Kamishin Ryu, continue propagating the art of Shorinji Tetsuken Ryu, and teach Motobu Ha Shito Ryu.

In 1970 Master Church organized the Nippon Kobudo Rengokai USA, with the approval of Master Siyogo Kuniba, his Japanese sponsor. Then in 1971 Kamishin Ryu, the SON art of Shaolin Ji Tetsu Ken Ryu was used by all Nippon Kobudo Rengokai USA schools in America and Japan to confer kyu and dan grades. This was to avoid confusion and add uniformity in grading students of the arts encompassed by the association headed by Master Church. The system, called Kamishin Ryu ("Godly Heart" or Devine Heart" style), was a composite of Church's various studies. In Japan, Kamishin Ryu was divided into Kamishin Ryu Karate Do, Kamishin Ryu Ju-Jutsu, Kamishin Ryu Kobudo, and Kamishin Ryu Kempo. His system included the Nippon Kobudo Rengo-Kai, the American Hapkido Karate Federation, and (according to one source), a composite form of the original art reflecting the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese components now known in Japan as Shorinji Tetsu Kempo.

Dr. James Ronald Cherry was chief instructor and examiner for Soke Church in all aspects of Soke Church's arts from 1975 to 1980. In 1980 Soke Church unfortunately passed away. After the death of Soke Church, Dr. Cherry, due to personal conflicts, formed the American Kempo-Karate Association and founded the system known as Shorinji Toraken Do Sogoken Do Kempo Jutsu. This is a composite art, steeped in the rich history of the oriental arts passed down through generations, as previously noted. It also includes knowledge gained by Dr. Cherry in his studies of other arts and systems.

James R. Cherry was born in Mooresville, N.C., May 19, 1947. His first involvement with the martial arts came in 1957 when he enrolled in a YMCA Judo class. He studied Judo for approximately three years. About 1960, he became interested in karate, after attending a demonstration. He sought out James Clements for instruction, a black belt in Shotokan Karate and a boxing instructor. Cherry studied twice weekly and most weekends with Sensei Clements in Statesville, N.C. Sensei Clements also traveled to Mooresville weekly to instruct Cherry privately. Sensei Clements, an excellent instructor, was trained in the orient. Sensei Clements' instruction was strictly for self defense, not tournament related. Cherry excelled under Sensei Clements. He became the first brown belt promoted by Clements in Shotokan Karate. He eventually received a Black Belt from sensei Clements.

In 1965, Cherry enrolled in Oak Ridge Military Institute in Oak Ridge, NC. He adapted well to military life. He attained the rank of Battalion Sergeant Major in two years, the only person in the history of the school to do so. The school was located about 150 miles from Cherry's martial arts instructor. This led him to seek out others to further his martial arts instruction. He located Tae In Yun, a sixth degree Black Belt in Chi Do Kwan Tae Kwon Do.They organized a bi-weekly class at Oak Ridge, taught by master Yun. Cherry also joined the American Karate Association with Master Instructor Chung Koo Kim, from New York City, a seventh degree Black Belt and guest instructor for master Yun. Cherry graduated from High School in 1967. Cherry studied pre-Pharmacy at Wingate College in Wingate, N.C., from 1967-1969. During this time he continued his training while serving as an assistant instructor under Masters Yun and Kim in Charlotte, N.C.

In Charlotte, Cherry met Takio Yamura, a master of many oriental weapons and other martial arts. He studied privately as the only student of Master Yamura in the United States for Kobudo (weapons arts) for two years. Study time involved two hours per day, six days per week.

In 1969, Cherry transferred to the Medical University of South Carolina, College of Pharmacy, at Charleston, S.C. For two years he continued working with area martial artists, while his studies were also continuing in Pharmacy. 1971 found Cherry entering the Army, completing his basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C. Orders followed sending him to Fort Devens, M.A., the stateside home base for the 10th Special Forces. While there, he met and trained with many excellent martial artists, many who were with the 10th Special Forces. Also, while at Fort Devens, Cherry met Al Hawksford, a practitioner of Tae Kwon Do and Chinese Temple martial arts. Cherry and Hawksford started a school off base.

Cherry was discharged from the Army in 1973. After returning to Pharmacy School in Charleston, SC., he graduated and was licensed to practice Pharmacy in 1975. He was presented Doctor of Pharmacy in 1982.

In Charleston, Cherry met Professor Albert C. Church, Jr., Grand Master of a comprehensive martial arts system inherited from an oriental, Kim C. Whang (Kooh C. Kim). Cherry soon became Professor Church's personal student. In 1975, he became the Chief Examiner for the Nippon Kobudo Rengo-Kai (NKR) and the American Hapkido Karate Federation (AHKF). During this time period, Professor Church became ill, thereby limiting his teaching to private instruction for just a few people. Dr. Cherry was delegated authority as Chief Instructor and Examiner, as well as acting Technical Advisor for all NKR and AHKF dojos in the field during Church's period of illness. During his time with Professor Church, Cherry taught all facets of the system Church inherited from Master Whang. Professor Church apparently recovered from his years of illness and began to teach again. To the dismay of all concerned, Professor church died the 23rd of June, 1980.

Following the unfortunate death of Professor Church, Cherry formed the American Kempo-Karate Association to enable him to continue to improve and pass on the knowledge he was given by his many instructors.

In 1982-85, Cherry was a civilian contractor teaching counter-terrorism and SWAT training at Fort Gordon, GA. and Bureau Public Service Institute, where law enforcement and military tactical teams come for training from all over the world. He has trained numerous government and law enforcement personnel in Unconventional Personal Combat (UPC), weapons, executive protection, and counter-terrorism techniques. His UPC course, for high risk personnel, is currently being offered to other martial artists on a seminar basis through AKKA. His ranks include but are not limited to: 10th degree Black Belt in Shorinji Toraken Do Kempo-Karate, Karate Do, Kempo, Jujitsu, and Kobudo; 7th degree Black Belt in Goju Jujitsu and Goju Karate Do; 5th degree Black Belt in Motobu-Ha-Shito-Ryu Karate Do, So Rim Sa Churl Kwon Do, Hapkido-Tang Soo Do, and Nippon Kamishin-Ryu Karate Do.

Dr. Cherry is a lifetime member of the American Society of Black Belts, the U. S. representative of the Italian Goju Federation, and the International Black Belt Federation. On March 18, 2000, Dr. Cherry (Soke) performed an Inheritor / Successorship ceremony transferring leadership of the Shorinji Toraken Ryu Arts and the American Kempo-Karate Association to Ray Ferrell (Kyoshi). This effectively makes Ray Ferrell (Kyoshi) the present Head of Family (Nidai Soke), second Generation Soke to the Toraken Ryu Arts. Mr. Ferrell has been Dr. Cherry's personal student since 1983. Mr. Ferrell's belt ranks include: 9th degree Black Belt in Shorinji Toraken Do Sogoken Do Kempo Jutsu, (the combined arts contained in the aforementioned system), 1st degree Black Belt in Goshin Do and Arnis, with training in Arnis under Remy Presas. He has training in Tai Chi, Chi Kung, Iron Palm, and traditional Chinese Medicine.


* This is believed to be the names and leaders of the system starting in China in order of oldest to current. One must remember this, in the old systems the history was usually passed by word of mouth. This at best, leaves some uncertainties until more recent times and documented histories:


* Yang, 1st Soji of System (personal system fist/foot/staff) Sau Lin Szu Chin Chen

* 1377 - Pa Ming Ch'uan (eight ram's head)

* Shaolin Szu Tang Su Dao "Pa Ming Ch'uan" (in association with the 5 animals styles of Tiger, Leopard, Crane, Snake, Dragon found in the Shaolin Szu)

* Head - 1679 - Yon Ho Chin in Honan (Henan) Province, China. System - now referred to as Sau Lin Szu Chen Chuan Fa

* Head - 1751 - Lee Ho Chin in Chekaing Province, China. System - same name as above.

* Head - 1814 - Lee Chi Kooh moved system from China to Ingei, Korea. System - now referred to as So Rim Sa Churl Kwan Do (Tang Soo Dua)

* Head - 1881 -Kin Chi Kooh from Yong Dong Po, Korea to Japan. System - Kooh Ha Shorinji Tetsuken Ryu of Shorinji Tetsu Kempo

* 1967 - Albert C. Church, Jr. System - Kamishin Ryu, Shorinji Tetsuken Ryu (Shorinji Tetsu Kempo), (Nippon Kobudo Rengo Kai)

* Dr. James Ronald Cherry. System - Shorinji Torakendo Sogo Kendo Kempo Jutsu, American Kempo-Karate Association.

* Ray Ferrell (Soke) Shorinji Toraken Ryu / President of the American Kempo-Karate Association


Note: Reference texts generally agree on dates, other facts, etc., but, there are differences, including the fact that inheritance years and birth years for each head family do not necessarily correspond. As more information about the system is learned and validated, the history of the system will be updated. To appreciate the rich and entangled history of the orient, and how it relates to this art and others, one should read it for oneself.

Sources of Information

A panorama of 5000 years: Korean History: Nahm, Andrew C., PhD; Hollym International Corp.
Atlas of the World: Fullard, Harold, MSc; Ottenheimer Publishers, Inc.
Chery, Dr. James Ronald, Soke
Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts: Draeger, Donn F. and Smith, Robert W.; Kodansha International
China, A Macro History: Huang, Ray; M. E. Sharpe, Inc.
China, A New History: Fairbank, John King; Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
China Yesterday and Today: Coye, Molly Joel and Livingston, Jon; Bantam
Dictionary of the Martial Arts: Frederic, Louis; Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc.
Korea, A Handbook of: Korean Overseas Information Service, Ministry of Culture and Information; Sambawa Printing Co., Ltd.
McKay, John, deceased, verbal history greatly appreciated
Rise and Splendor of the Chinese Empire: Grousset, Rene'; University of California Press
Spirit of Shaolin: Carradine, David; Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc.

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