Three symbols repeat on the cover of “The Can-Do Karate Kid.” They are the Liberty Bell, the muln or symbol for Okinawa, and the front view of a fist. Traditionally, in the martial arts, the fist is recognized as a symbol for the style of kempo also known as kenpo. It may look like a punch coming at you and a violent symbol. But there is more to it than that in this fist symbolism.
At my dojo, we train in kempo from Okinawa. The Dojo Kun featured in my “The Can-Do Karate Kid” children’s picture book comes to us from this martial arts tradition. That is the biggest reason for this fist symbolism on the cover of the book. When I see the symbol for old Okinawa and the fist together, I think “Okinawan kempo.” The old name for Okinawa is the Ryukyu Kingdom, and the name of our style is “Ryukyu kempo.”
As I said, there is more to the fist symbolism. This word for the fist in Japanese kanji is rolled hand. Yes, you can roll your hand up or ball your hand up in order to hit someone. But you also need to roll your hand up to grasp on to something. That includes grasping onto someone’s hand to help them up off the ground.
The same type of grasping motion of the rolling hand is used to grip onto many of our traditional weapons. And practitioners can apply it to use the weapon’s weight to make the technique more effective. This is easy to see for people who use the manji sai or sai. For advanced students, the grasping hand being rolled up is how we grip onto an opponent to apply wrist locks and armbars.
Kempo Fist Symbolism to Remember the Dojo Kun
There are many uses of the rolling hand but my favorite is how it is used to remind us to use the Dojo Kun before balling up our fist to strike. Imagine making a fist, first curling in your pinkie finger: that’s Dojo Kun #1, “Strive for a good moral character.” As you curl your ring finger, it’s a reminder of #2, “Keep an honest and sincere way.”
Middle finger is #3, “Cultivate perseverance or a will for striving.” Index finger as you roll it reminds you of #4, “Develop a respectful attitude.” The thumb locks it all in to make a strong fist with the well-timed reminder of #5, “Restrain my physical abilities through spiritual attainment.”
At that point you still have a choice. Does your striking someone fall in with the Dojo Kun? Did you already try applying the Dojo Kun to the situation at hand and is this your last resort? Or can you use that thumb and Dojo Kun #5 to just lock it all in and restrain that punch?
The kempo fist symbolism can be a hand punching. Or it can be a hand using self-restraint while showing the five digits, one for each of the Dojo Kun’s precepts. Martial artists with proper training have the choice of using their fists in either way. All of us, martial artists or not, have the responsibility of using our physical abilities in a morally sound way. And all of that is tied into the symbol of the fist on the cover of “The Can-Do Karate Kid.”