Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Okinawan Symbols and Karate

Okinawa's iconic symbol known as the Hidari Gomon, is used to symbolize Okinawan karate. It appears in our
 dojo in Mesa, Arizona, on our association’s patch and in many places in Japan. But what does it mean? 

When we stare at the Hidari Gomon, the Iconic Symbol of Okinawa for awhile, it may appear like there are two parts to this symbol. The white portion appears gives an impression of a bladed weapon, such as a shuriken, or star dart. Possibly, this has importance, but it is the dark, back ground color that is of significance.
Morning Exercise - pencil sketch by Soke Hausel

As we focus on the back ground  in the Hidari Gomon we see what appears to be three interactive tears known as tomoe. The tomoe (or swirls) known as mitsu tomoe (mitsudomoe) represent a separate part of the symbol. This is compared to life’s cycle with three integral parts that represent mankind, earth & sky which is at the heart of Shinto religion. The Hidari Gomon is also thought to represent valor, wisdom and benevolence.

Visitors from the Police DAV Karate
Team, northern India.
The tomoe are thought to have originated from magatama, or curved beads, which appeared in Japan during ancient times (~300-14,000 BC). Only two tomoe are used to produce the In/Yo or Chinese Yin/Yang symbol that represent opposites – an important concept in martial arts and karate. When we punch, one hand moves forward while the opposite withdrawals at an equal velocity.

The traditional In/Yo icon, also known
as the Yin/Yang symbol
Magatama were used in necklaces and offerings to the gods. They were carved from jasper, jade, agate or serpentinite and is thought by some researchers that these early necklaces were later replaced by the prayer beads used by Buddhist monks (~700-800 AD). The magatama are also found in early Korean archaeological sites and is found in many Korean symbols and icons. Originally, the Hidari Gomon was associated with the Shinto war deity known as Hachiman (god of warriors) and adopted by samurai as their traditional symbol. It also was adopted as the traditional symbol of Okinawa.

It is interesting to note that the Hidari Gomon shows up in the Gankyil, a symbol and ritual tool in Korean Buddhism. It appears in Bon, Himalayan Shamanisum and Tibetan Buddhism and represents primordial energy and the indivisibility of Buddhist teachings, philosophy and doctrine. The flag of the volcanic island Jeju Province of South Korea also incorporates the symbol.

Okinawan Flag (1869-1875)
The symbol appeared on the Okinawan (Ryukyu) flag from 1869 to 1875 (left). This flag was replaced by another flag from 1875-1879 in which the three tomoe had different colors (below). The three tomoe for this flag were said to represent the interplay of beauty, humanity and tenderness surrounded by white that represented purity.

The Okinawan Flag of today is different from the flag of the former Island Kingdom. Okinawa was absorbed by Japan; thus it now flies the Japanese flag. But the island kingdom also has its own Prefecture flag. The Okinawan Prefecture flag is distinguished by three circles.  The white ‘O’ inside a large red disc on the white field represents the perfecture’s initial letter. The inner small red disc stands for progress of Okinawa and the outer red circle represents the sea surrounding Okinawa. Conversely, the large red circle may represent the land of the rising sun (Japan) enclosing the Okinawa prefecture.

Okinawan Prefecture Flag
Another possibility for the Hidari Gomon is that the symbol represented the three 14th century principalities of Okinawa known as Hokuzan, Chuzan, and Nanzan. Personally, I like to think that it represents the three styles of karate created in Okinawa known as Shurite, Nahate and Tomarite.

There are several legends about the origin of the Hidari Gomon. At this past August’s Gassuku in East Canyon, Utah, the Utah Shorin-Kai provided members with a handout that included a some of these legends. One legend is interesting and will be summarized here.

Karate Air photo - Color pencil sketch by Soke Hausel
Most who practice Okinawan martial arts know that the Satsuma samurai of Japan invaded Okinawa in the early 17th century. At the time, some Okinawans were charged with the protection of the royal family of Okinawa. In one legend, it is said that the hidari gomon represents three tears. The tears being a symbol of “death before dishonor”. In this legend, it is said that one body guard was the last defender of the Okinawan King during the invasion by Japanese samurai during the 17th century. As samurai attacked the castle of the Okinawan king, his last remaining body guard fought to protect his king. Two samurai backed the body guard against a stair case. Being the last person between them and the king, he made one last effort and grabbed the two samurai at the top of the stairs, took them over the railing and dove into a boiling vat of oil below. Thus the three tomoe are thought to possibly represent the heads of the three men swirling in the boiling oil. The King and his family were spared by the remaining samurai and were moved to Japan. This story is apparently well-known in Okinawa and the three tears symbolize a sign of his loyalty and courage.

Our icon for Seiyo No Shorin-Ryu Karate Kobudo Kai also reflects this symbol as we recognize our heritage in Okinawa Karate. At the Arizona School of Traditional Karate we train in the Okinawan arts and also learn about the history and philosophy of karate. Our international organization, Seiyo Kai International promotes the study of traditional Okinawan Karate to all of our members.
Empty Hand - pencil sketch by Soke Hausel

Join us at our traditional Okinawan Dojo in Mesa, Arizona. We look forward to meeting you and making a new friend.


Come and join our karate family at Arizona School of Traditional Karate in Mesa. At the Arizona School of Traditional Karate members train in Shorin-Ryu Karate, Kobudo, Self-Defense, Jujutsu & Samurai Arts. You will learn about the history and traditions of Okinawa and Karate and learn a little Japanese. Our dojo also serves as the Hombu (world headquarters) for Seiyo No Shorin-Ryu Karate Kobudo Kai  taught by Soke Hausel. At the Arizona School of Traditional Karate in Mesa, you do not have to defend your pocket-book. We are traditional and our objective is to help you find your path.
Soke Hausel, retired as Professor of Budo at the University of Wyoming and moved to Arizona.
Each year he travels to Wyoming to teach MA clinics. In this photo at UW, Soke Hausel sits
in front with Tadashi Yamashita, Sensei, from Okinawa in 2003 after a special clinic taught by the famous
Okinawan Karate instructor.

In this 1996 photo at UW, Shihan Hausel (who was rokudan at the time)
 poses at martial arts clinic. World famous Dai-Soke Sacharnoski 
sits in front middle of group.

Yudansha training at the University of Texas in Dallas. 
Dai-Soke Sacharnoski and Soke Hausel (from the University of Wyoming)
 sit in front of group wearing white pants.

Soke Hausel training members of the Utah Shorin Kai at the Arizona Hombu dojo
Soke Hausel training Utah and Wyoming martial arts students and instructors at the Utah Shorin-Kai dojo in Murray, Utah show up and sign up - wear comfortable clothing, and we will start you that evening learning to protect yourself &family
You can learn more about the Arizona Hombu and our International Training Center in Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler, Arizona. Check out our Facebook page and see our blogs on 
Samurai Arts, 
Karate History,
Karate in Mesa
Martial Arts Training
Blog on Martial Arts

No comments:

Post a Comment