About the patch
Members of Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan have, like many martial arts organizations, a
distinctive patch which is worn on our uniforms. One the many tasks beginning
students are charged with is learning what the patch is about. The following was
written by one Grace Bluhm, and provides insight into the meaning of the
Not being able to read Japanese, most of us have wondered what the patch
actually said until this essay surfaced. Lacking any other translation, we joked
that it was Japanese for This 'stuff' hurts. We now know better, thanks
to Ms. Bluhm, but it's still a good working translation.
Hanshi Nakazato Shugoro, 10th dan, designed the Shorin Ryu Shorinkan patch. It
has many fascinating details with symbolic meanings derived from their origin.
As one first glances at the patch he will notice, in the Romanji alphabet, the
words Shorin Ryu Shorinkan. Shorin Ryu is the style of karate that is
represented by the patch. The history of this style dates back hundreds of years
and is noted to have lineage to Tode Sakugawa, the father of karate, who lived
from 1762 to 1843. He and other great masters of this style blended the Chinese
martial arts with the native Okinawan art of Te to form karate, or the
“art of the empty hand”. Two of Tode’s teachers were Takahara and Kusanku.
Takahara is believed to be the first to explain the principles of do, the
“way” or the “path”. These principles or attributes are: “ijo” means the way,
which is compassion, humility and love; “katsu” means the law, which is complete
understanding of the kata techniques and their application; and “fo”, a serious
dedication to the art which must be understood not only in practice but also in
Kusanku was the Chinese diplomatic emissary who traveled to Okinawa and
instructed Tode after the death of Takahara. Kusanku greatly contributed several
katas in the Shorin Ryu style. Shorin Ryu means “small forest style” and
is renowned for its quick hand movements and beautiful stances.
Shorinkan means the academies of Shorin belonging to that association.
Shorin Ryu Shorinkan is headed by Grand Master Hanshi Nakazato Shugoro and
includes only those who are association members. The hierarchy is intricate and
proper etiquette and protocol must be adhered.
The next prominent detail noticed is beautiful Japanese writing, called kanji,
on the lower half of the patch. This elegant calligraphy is the handiwork of
Nakazato Sensei himself.
Kanji is a form of writing that is inspired by, if not copied from, the Chinese
system of writing. The large kanji on the top reads Shorin Kan and the
smaller kanji on the bottom reads Shorin Ryu. The first two kanji are
Shorin which means “small forest”. “Sho” means small and “rin” means grove
of trees or forest. The last kanji in Shorinkan is the word Kan. Some
translated “Kan” as “public building”, or “open republic building”. It is
thought of as a place of understanding and embodiment. In the second line Shorin
is repeated and the third kanji is Ryu. “Ryu” is short for ryuha
which means “system”, or “individual”. Therefore, Shorin Ryu is the small forest
system of karate. Thus the name of the style is written in both Romanji and
Japanese on the patch.
Yet the most preeminent detail of the patch is the oriental style structure in
the center. Herein lies the heart and intricate symbolism of Shorin Ryu karate.
This structure is called the Shurei No Mon. It is the second of six gates
at the Shuri Castle in Naha, Okinawa. The gate is located at Shurijo. Shuri
can be translated as “capital”, while jo translates to castle. To further
understand the significance of this gate we must delve into the history of the
The Ryuku Kingdom built the Shuri Castle in the 1300s. The architecture of the
palace has a strong Chinese influence as the Okinawan was a vassal state of
China. In 1428, King Sho Hashi moved the government to Shuri and expanded the
castle making into the “castle of castles”. It remained the palace until the
Japanese takeover in 1879. Many portions of the castle have been destroyed and
rebuilt, up to five times throughout history, but the essence and spirit of the
castle have remained intact. Now to the second gate belonging to the Shuri
Castle, the Shurei No Mon.
The Shurei No Mon was used to welcome the procession of the Chinese ambassador
to Okinawa and the palace. The characters on the gates say ”Shurei no kuni”
which means “the country which respects the protocol” or another translation of
that time is “Okinawa wants to obey the Chinese Emperor forever”. Another source
claims that Shurei no kuni is the name the Chinese called Okinawa and translate
it to mean “the nation which keeps the peace”. “Shurei” can be translated to
mean respect, courtesy, protocol, or etiquette and “kuni” means country. “No” is
a particle which is a possessive marker. It indicates ownership or attribution.
But the real question is: What significance does this have to the art of Shorin
Ryu karate? Here we draw on the deep influence of the Chinese culture on the art
of karate throughout the centuries. Without going into too much detail, we must
realize the significance of the Okinawan island as a trading society, and the
fact that Okinawans had intricate ties with Chinese. This is paralleled by the
fact that most of the Shorin Ryu lineage Masters also shared and studied with
Masters from China. Thus the ties between the Okinawans and the Chinese were
greatly respected. Also, the Royalty in Okinawa were the first ones to have the
right to learn and practice karate. Therefore all karate training was done at or
around the castle. Perhaps this is why Hanshi Nakazato chose the Shurei No Mon
as the symbol on the Shorin Ryu patch.
Other less prominent details, with no less importance, are the color and shape
of the patch. The patch is yellow. This is the royal color of China and Okinawa.
Yellow is also the color of light which is significant to show us the way or
path of the Shorin Ryu style. The circular shape is unending, as is the study of
karate. There is always a new perspective to every movement in karate and the
mind must stay open to continuous learning.
Shorin Ryu is rich in etiquette and protocol as was the old Ryuku kingdom. From
the first day you put on a gi, you are taught respect for the dojo and your dojo
mates. We learn to be humble and considerate of each other and strong in
intestinal fortitude. We hold in esteem those who have gone before us and
patiently wait for the opportunity to be taught the art of Shorin Ryu karate.
Therefore, we can now look on the Shorin Ryu patch with a renewed admiration of
the design Hanshi Nakazato made. As we delve into the symbolic meaning of the
details and their origin, we merely begin to understand Shorin Ryu Karate.