Symbolism and the Kenryukan Emblem

The unique configuration of the Kenryukan emblem is in reality a composite of a series of other symbols.

The Dragon

Of all the mystical creatures know to mankind, the dragon appears to be the most universal.  Dragons have been written or spoken about by cultures around the world on every continent except Antarctica.   According to myth, dragons can live in underground caves, lakes or in the clouds, in cold climates or hot, in other words anywhere and everywhere.

What dragons appear to have in common is their reptilian appearance and an ability to fly.  After that the symbolism diverges.  Some dragons have neither good nor evil attributes but embody the union of all the elements of life.  Others have taken on a completely evil aura therefore, they are to be feared and destroyed.  These dragons represent the unconscious or id of the human subconscious.  Yet, others have taken on the aspects of a benefactor, the harmonious blending of the ancient elements of earth, wind and fire.

The dragon (ryu in Japanese) in oriental mythology is a symbol of benevolence - a guardian of great strength whose altruism and knowledge is shared with those who enter its domain.  There is a common belief that those who come in contact with a dragon will receive a most wonderful gift, and that those who enter the Kenryukan will likewise come away with the gift of greater knowledge and realization of self - truly a gift.


Hachiman, the god of war and loyalty, is identified with the art of war and oddly the protector of humans from demons. For generations the Japanese have recognized Hachiman as the main source of power and inspiration in times of turmoil.  In the Japanese pantheon of gods Hachiman’s status matches that of the creator god, Zanagi.

Hachiman is depicted as a fierce warrior wearing a wheel of fire like a halo, which some see as the Wheel of Fate.  Additionally, the tomoe is prominently displayed on his shield.  Of interest is that Hachiman could appear to take on the appearance of a male or female.

The mark of Hachiman had developed into a symbol of great strength, knowledge, and military prowess.  As a result, the symbol can be found in various parts of Japan, from the Imperial Palace to the Hachiman Shrine in Kamakura and throughout the country.  Additionally, the symbol is common on Okinawa, the modern mane of the Ryukan Islands.   As such, some styles of karate-do have adopted the tomoe as part of their regalia.  Okinawa is not only the birth place of the originator of Shorinjiryu Karate-do but is also known as the incubator of karate, for generations. 

Three Waves

Another attribute of the mark is its interesting analogy to the unity of self.  Visually the three waves can easily be recognized as being separate yet unified.  Giving each of the three waves a designated name will help to clarify the allusion:  Karada, Kokoro and Ki; body, mind, and spirit.  Karate works on the body in order to tone it, but the body is not all for the spirit must also be developed—a will to continue, to carry on, a source of inner strength.  Finally, there is the third element, the mind.  Karate develops the mind and its ability to remain calm in the face of danger, to think clearly, to react quickly, to be in control, and to weigh alternatives.  When one realizes that karate is 20% physical and 80% mental the importance of the development of the mind, in relation to the body and spirit, becomes clear.

Triskelion Or Tomoe

The triskelion (in Greek) or more commonly known as the tomoe (Japanese) is an ancient symbol of historic and mythological significance being a symbol of nobility as well as a talisman for whirlwinds.  But, of greater significance is its association with Hachiman.

Vertical Fist

The vertical fist (tate-ken) is prominently displayed recognizing the Chinese origins of karate do and, more specifically, the Shaolin Temple.  This is where the legendary Bodhidaharma set into motion events that eventually led to the development of modern karate do.  It is also worth repeating that the Japanese spelling and pronunciation of Shaolin is Shorinji.

The Laurel

All three elements of the emblem-dragon, tomoe, and vertical fist-are surrounded by a green wreath.  The wreath or laurel is a symbol used to represent victory.  Dating from antiquity, the laurel has been placed upon the head of a champion, recognizing superiority in combat or sport.  The laurel was given to generals and soldiers who showed extraordinary valor.  Early emperors of Rome wore a military type of laurel made of gold to represent their rank. However, the use of the laurel has not lost its original symbolism-that of victory.

The Emblem

Taken as a complete unit, the emblem assumes a significance that is greater than the sum of its separate components.  Knowledge, strength, benevolence, discipline, tradition, and success are embodied within one system as represented by a single unified emblem.