The Snake & The Flowers
From the early days of this dojo, my goal was to bring together the worlds of karate and graphic art. My martial arts training has infused me with a toughness that kept me going and disciplined when art got hard, and long before I was a teacher my career was in graphic design.
I teach like a designer. I understand how to group and present information; I see systems and patterns; I reverse engineer concepts pretty quickly. But I was never able to create an image for the dojo, a visual brand that felt genuine.
I knew that I did not want a standard business logo. Logos are boring. I wanted to create a symbol, a talisman that captured the spirit and energy of my karate practice. I want to explore the power of art and totemic symbols to inspire a community without the tacky, rigid structure of corporate logo design.
It takes a different mind to create artwork than it does to teach or to run a business. I found that space last year in San Diego, and carried it through in watercolors all year, a year that was about hard, uncomfortable growth and holding true to our values. It was the first year in a long time that I felt free and creative, able to pursue these ideas.
I began this design with a single sketch, and it continued to grow. Primal symbols balance each other in a design you can interpret in countless ways. The snake and the flowers: our fears and the practice we need to face them, transformation and the intentional cultivation of a new self, the cobra that shelters the buddha as he meditates towards enlightenment.
Miyagi-Do AND Cobra Kai, living in harmony.
This symbol acts as an identity for Fighting Chance Seattle, but it represents a much broader vision: the natural progression of my learning experiences in the “laboratory” of the dojo, how do we bring karate into the present day? What do we keep? What do we let go? What is the modern dojo method of teaching and training in karate?
These are ideas to explore in 2016 and beyond, when we launch Modern Dojo.
The Indian cobra is a complex creature. My first step was to understand it’s structure and get a sense of its movement. I want my drawings to feel alive, to feel natural, to show a light touch. This requires a thorough understanding of form. Some interesting points I took away from the study: the hood is part of the vertebrae, they flatten out, thus the snake goes from flat to triangular to round (and back) from head to tail; the “standing” cobra posture reflects the s-curve of neutral spine. Jason had the helpful suggestion to put the tail in front of the cobra to imply a meditative posture (as opposed to the tail behind which is more of an attack position).
The flower studies were from an archive of Japanese hereditary crests and from a book of woodblock prints. The framework of our training comes from a Japanese approach to martial arts and I wanted to reflect this in the illustration.
These studies are three-to-five inches wide. This was my first step at drawing out the symbol with an understanding of the snake structure. I use tracing paper at this stage to make minor modifications or play with contrast and color value. A very important design maxim I follow: if it doesn’t work in black and white, it doesn’t work. I wasn’t happy with how the flowers fit into the tighter sketch, so I did more studies.
The under drawing for the mock-up for the totem to be used for the t-shirt design. The cobra’s scales are a geometric pattern of repeating triangles mapped to the contours of the snake’s body (remember flat to triangle to round – this is reflected in how the hexagon scales are warped). By filling in patterns of these warped triangles I can create the hexagonal scales.
I still have a few more studies to do now that I’ve seen the full mock-up. I need to tighten the artwork a bit and add some contrast in the cobra, especially in the hood and the coil. The final artwork will be ready in-time for the team at The Foundry to print our shirts this month!