It is more accurate to refer to the “Kenpo Crest”, but many practitioners of the art refer to it as the Crest patch, so I’ve used that terminology in the title of this article because it is familiar. The Crest is actually a composite of a variety of meaningful principles, some philosophical and some technical. Here we will give a breakdown of the different aspects and elements of the Crest and their meanings.
To make things easier, let’s start at the top: With the roof. The Crest is made up of an outer structure which includes a roof. The roof symbolizes shelter, protection, for the practitioners of the art. To me, this has at least a couple meanings. The Dojo has always felt like, to me, a refuge. It is a place to get away from the nonsense and focus on training and camaraderie. The other meaning of the roof is that the Art quite literally is protection; protection that stays with you; principles burned into muscle memory and neural-pathways of the brain. You get the idea.
The sides of this structure are curves, going in and out; kind of like an hour-glass. This is paying homage to the origins of the Art, coming from China. There was an old Chinese belief that you had to keep the bad spirits out, so when they try to get into this structure, they slip and slide down the sides and get scooped away.
The Executioner’s Axe
At the bottom of the structure, there is a shape of the blade of an axe, with the letter K in it (K for Kenpo). The axe represents excommunication if you misuse your Kenpo knowledge or skill, getting cut off from the system. This means you don’t use Kenpo to hurt people unnecessarily, only using it for self-defense.
The White Background
Inside of the structure, the background is white, making up most of the color of the inner part of the Crest. It makes up most of the color intentionally, because white represents the white belt, the rank of a beginner. It is said most people in the Art are white belts.
By GoShow [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The dragon at the top represents mastery of the Art, so he’s red; red signifying mastery. He also represents the mental or spiritual, something considered at a higher level than the physical, and this is why he’s above, at the top. The mind is always credited before the body in Kenpo. The mind is what makes the body move and makes it possible for you to do what you do in Kenpo. The mind leads and the body will follow
is an old Ed Parker saying.
As stated, the dragon is mostly red. However, he has traces of the other colors that represents the other levels of training in Kenpo; the belt ranks. This includes white, because no matter how high up you get in the system, you are always still a beginner. This is a common theme in the system, it opens the door for constant learning.
It should be noted that the Dragon is above the Tiger, looking down on him. We will discuss this next.
The Tiger is at the bottom of the Crest, he represents the physical; this is why he’s at the bottom, looking up at the Dragon, aspiring to reach that higher level of the mental and spiritual. He is also brown, representing the brown belt level at which you have good physical mastery of the Art but not enough understanding.
The circle in the middle has many meanings, so we will have to break it down. The circle itself represents the cycle of life or the circular nature of life; what comes around goes around, life and death, etc. It represents the flow of things. The circle is gray inside because this represents the gray matter of the brain; or the brain of the Kenpo system. This gray color also represents the Yin Yang symbol spinning, mixing both black and white and turning gray; to represent balance.
The circle also has dividing lines on it. It has the main lines of direction used in Kenpo. The 90 and 45 degree angles. So, it has long lines going up and down the circle, as well as left to right. In addition, there are short lines at the “corners”, representing the movement to 45 degree angles.
On the left side is Chinese writing that reads “Spirit of the Dragon and the Tiger”. On the right, the Chinese writing reads, “Kenpo Karate”. It should be noted here, because it is significant since the Chinese writing speaks to philosophical aspects of the Art, that Kenpo means Fist Law. Ken means fist and Po means law. Karate means Empty Hands. Translated together, Kenpo Karate means Law of the Fist and the Empty Hand. Thus, the standard Kenpo salute with the open hand over the fist.
So, just one final note about how this crest is used. It is often called a patch because, if you’ve been practicing Kenpo for awhile, you will end up putting the patch of the crest on your Gi, or uniform. It goes on the left breast of the Gi. The Universal Symbol, often called the Universal or Universal Patch or Universal Pattern, is put on the left shoulder. Name patch (with your last name on it, particularly if you are an instructor) is put above the Crest. The Flame patch (representing the 3 stages of learning and the Internationals) goes on the right breast. Various other patches are used; for instance, in my lineage, the Parker-Planas lineage, Huk Planas has his own Crest patch that is given to those who have tested and proven that they know the whole system. These are worn on the right shoulder.