The Spirit Towel

by Stephen LaBounty (2007-09-25)

The spirit towel used in the LaBounty lineage of American Kenpo is one of function as well as tradition.

For over 40 years the motto of this lineage has been "Spirit, Honor, Discipline" taken from the Japanese words of "Seishin, Meiyo, Kiritsu" and used as a description of what should be ever-present on the practitioner's mind.

The Towel is used to bind wounds, protect injuries, wear as a headband or---its most common usage---to wipe the sweat from one's eyes, etc.

The proper way to fold the towel is to first have the Kanji face away from you so that the word "Spirit" is displayed to all present. Then take the left hand and fold one third of the towel to the inner center. This is known as the "Honor" side. After which, fold the right third of the towel to the inner center. This side is known as the "Discipline" side. Once this is done the towel is folded in half representing the Physical and Spiritual aspects of the Art. Some have likened this to the "Tiger and Dragon" symbols so common in Kenpo.

The towel is then placed underneath and then over the belt (Obi) so that the "Spirit" Kanji is visible from the front. It is customary to have the towel on the left side for men and the right side for women. Now the rules are simpler. Do not cover the knot with the towel. Always wear the towel to the front or side unless wearing as a head band. Use the towel freely as it was meant to be, but any blood should be washed immediately from it. This custom is so that the battle that brought the blood forth is to be forgotten and a new training is before you.

The ancient warriors used towels in this manner for cleaning tools, weapons, utensils. But they had a special towel for their battles. It was held in high esteem and accompanied them everywhere.

Just let the cloth remind you that all details matter and should be done with as much spirit as possible, and in honor to self, teacher, system, with the discipline of the strong and not of the lazy or weak.