By Professor Kainoa Li
Professor Henry S. Okazaki taught that each corner of the Dojo held a certain significance and was there as a reminder to teach us something special. He had combined Japanese Judo & Jujitsu, Hawaiian Lua, and Chinese martial arts to create arguably the first truly culturally "Mixed Martial Art."
He also broke ground by teaching people of good character regardless of their ethnic, cultural, religious, or social differences. Amongst his students were pioneers like Sig Kufferath, Bing Fai Lau, Raymond Law, Wally Jay, Charles Kenn, my maternal grandfather and his two brothers, and my father's teachers Sam Luke Sr and David Nuuhiwa Sr.
He carried on techniques and cultural traditions from various influences and integrated them in his own unique fashion. One of these unique contributions was the assignment of an important Hawaiian principle to each corner of the Dojo.
1. LOVE & HARMONY: Only the first corner carries more then one word. This is because in Hawaiian culture the two concepts are so closely inter-twined as to be inseparable. Taken together in Hawaiian they are expressed as Pono A Me Ke Aloha. By freely sharing Aloha (love) with others and our environment we will almost magically find ourselves in Pono (harmony) with humanity and nature. When we feel this relaxed state of harmony, we find ourselves better able to love and be loved.
2. RESPECT: The second corner represents Hō'ihi (respect). As children we are taught to respect the rights and opinions of others and follow the guidance of our parents and teachers. As adults we tend to feel respect has to be earned. With maturity I have found that the child like view is healthier. By definition respect entails both the holding of others in "high regard" as well as "to refrain from interfering with." Inherent to true respect is a depth of humility; so to be true to our best selves we should uphold both definitions.
3. GENTLENESS: The third corner of the Dojo represents Mālie (gentleness). Gentleness is not just a compassionate virtue; it is a sound tactical strategy. If we are kind and gentle to all we meet then our chances of getting into an unwanted confrontation or physical altercation go way down. To "take the high road" as my grandfather liked to say is just plain common sense! In the gym it makes perfect sense to exhibit gentleness and self-control. Otherwise you will soon find yourself with no one to assist you in learning the martial arts! This is also true in life off the mat. If we are abusive to others who will assist us in learning the art of living?
4. AWARENESS: The fourth, and final corner represents 'Ike (awareness). My senior student Pat Campbell has always been fond of saying "awareness is survival." To the real dangers of serious threats in the streets and war zones of the world this is certainly true. It is also true in subtle ways such as listening to your body to maintain your health, keeping your mind sharp and active, knowing your heart so as not to allow anger or fear to destroy you from within, or molding your spirit to build your awareness of your relationship to your creator and all life around you. There is a saying in Hawaiian Lua: "Maka'ala No Ka 'Ike Papa Lua", which translates roughly into "Be aware of the second sight." We can have a 360 degree awareness of all the hidden knowledge of life if we are open to it.
Having awareness can also take you full circle through the four corners to ensure you are living in the moment with Love, Harmony, Respect, Gentleness, ...and Awareness.
What is perhaps most fascinating about the "Four Corners" is that few seem to remember them. There is nothing that pops up on a Google search and I have never seen them in any book. They are one of those special gems that are passed on quietly from teacher to student.
Professor Okazaki's concept dates back to the early twentieth century Hawaii. There were no computers or televisions and most teaching were passed personally. This was not only the Hawaiian way, it was also an integral part of how secret truths were communicated in Asian culture. What few teachings were written down were done in Kanji on scrolls. Without the legacy of people who went forth and continued to teach them, these words of wisdom might have been lost forever.
Uncle David Nuuhiwa certainly taught them to both my father and later to me. Professor Wally Jay passed them on to Sensei David Fairfield and Sensei Ron Beatty, who taught them to their students at Alameda High School. Olohe Charles Kenn and Professor Solomon Eli taught this to my Hawaiian Lua teacher Dr Dennis Eli. My father also remembers his first teachers Professor Sam Luke Sr. & Sam Luke Jr. passing this special knowledge on to their students at Punahou School.
My maternal grandfather knew them in a way that is somewhat humorous. If one of his grandchildren did something bad, he wouldn't just send you to a corner for a time out... He would send you to a SPECIFIC corner to learn the appropriate lesson!!!
Thanks to my grandfather, the lesson of the Four Corners of a room transformed my life. I was never able to look at ANY room the same way ever again. Every room became suddenly more interesting and I made it a habit to take notice of what occupied the space not just in martial arts schools, but in every room I visited. I came to realize that to have a space to make your own is a valued gift in the human experience.
Professor Kainoa Li