Year of the Dragon - This new year is the ‘Year of the Dragon’ on the Chinese Zodiac system or ‘Shengxiao.’ The Shengxiao is based on the Chinese lunar calendar which designates an animal for each year in a repeating 12-year cycle. Other animals in the Chinese Zodiac are the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Each has their own traits and symbolisms.
The Dragon or ‘Long’ is a revered and iconic symbol affecting different aspects of Chinese life. Dragons are considered protectors that guard sacred places, treasures, and sometimes even individuals. The Chinese dragon is often seen as harmoniously balancing the opposite forces of yin and yang. This embodies the concept of balance and unity in Chinese philosophy. Dragons also are integral to ‘Feng Shui’, the Chinese practice of harmonizing one's surroundings to enhance well-being.
‘Long’ imagery is used to attract positive energy, and the placement of dragon symbols is carefully considered in Chinese architecture and design. The Dragon is also a symbol of good fortune, success, and prosperity and the belief in the dragon's positive influence has led to its widespread use in celebrations and festivals.
Dragons of Okinawa - With centuries of trade and influence from different areas of the world, Okinawa has a rich heritage that combines its own unique culture with that from outside of its borders. This is reflected in the traditions and philosophies of the Dragons of Okinawa. Okinawan Dragons or ‘Ryu’ are generally seen as kind and protective beings which guard the land, sea, and people. Some Okinawan legends depict the Ryu watching over important sites or serving as protectors of specific regions. Ryu are also symbols of power, authority, and good fortune. Emperors and high-ranking officials have historically connected themselves with Dragon imagery to signify their authority and divine connection.
Okinawan folklore includes tales of these mythical creatures as wise beings which often emphasize the importance of living in harmony with nature and the spiritual world, and imparting valuable life lessons. Okinawan culture also places emphasis on harmony and balance, drawing influences from Chinese and Japanese philosophies related to Dragons. The Okinawan ‘Shisa’ is a popular mythological creature in Okinawan culture that resembles a lion-dog. These are often placed in pairs to guard against evil spirits. Some interpretations link the
In Uechi-Ryu Karate the Ryu represents an influence of swiftness and unpredictability in technique and strategy. Some of the movements of this classic art are also drawn from Dragon Kung Fu and emphasize generating striking power using the whole body in a serpent-like manner.
Dragons of Thailand - In Thai mythology, the dragon-like creature is known as the ‘Naga.’ The Naga holds significant importance in Thai culture, and it is associated with various legends, traits, and philosophies. The Naga is often considered the guardian of water sources, such as rivers and lakes. These creatures are believed to reside in bodies of water and have the power to control rainfall and ensure abundant water for consumption and agriculture.
In Buddhism, which plays an important role in Thai culture, Nagas are mentioned in various scriptures. According to Buddhist mythology, the Naga ‘Mucalinda’ protected the Buddha from a storm by coiling around him and providing shelter with its hood. Thai dragons are also considered protective beings. Temples and important sites in Thailand often feature Naga sculptures or depictions as a symbol of spiritual protection. Nagas are celebrated in various Thai festivals. One notable event is the Naga Fireballs festival, which takes place along the Mekong River. During this festival, mysterious glowing fireballs are said to rise from the water, believed by locals to be the breath of the Naga.
Muay Thai kickboxing also incorporates an emphasis on striking power and using the whole body to maximize the speed and impact of each technique. Thai culture influences an idea that striking power is derived from both the natural and spirit world.
Dragons of Brazil - Brazilian culture does not have a well-defined dragon-like creature comparable to the Eastern dragons. However, Brazilian folklore is rich with various mythical beings and creatures inspired by indigenous beliefs, African traditions, and European influences. Similar to the themes seen in the Naga of Thai mythology, Brazilian mythical beings often have a strong connection to nature. They are portrayed as guardians of the environment. One is the ‘Boitatá’, a serpent-like creature that is often associated with fire. According to legend, the Boitatá protects the forests and rivers, and its fiery gaze can punish those who harm the environment.
Drawing from the European influence, Dragons are legendary creatures deeply embedded in the folklore and mythology of European cultures. In many European traditions Dragons or ‘Dragao’ are scaly, fire breathing, flying creatures who bring evil and chaos. They are often depicted as hostile creatures that terrorize villages and demand sacrifices. European Dragon myths frequently involve heroic journeys where knights or heroes embark on quests to slay Dragons. These stories emphasize bravery, chivalry, and the triumph of good over evil. The challenges posed by Dragons in these myths often test the character and virtues of the heroes and highlight the importance of courage, honor, and selflessness.
The movements and strategies of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu are often compared to an anaconda as they are very serpentine and constricting. These are generally accepted traits of the Dragon, too.
So, happy New Year and may 2024 bring you health, happiness, and great year for your martial arts journey in the spirit of the DRAGON!