Origin of the Shotokan Tiger

Gichin Funakoshi was a poet, when he signed his poems he used the pen name, “shoto”, which literally means “pine waves or waving pines”, and today is synonymous with the tiger symbol and Shotokan karate-do, but few people understand the relationship of shoto, to what is commonly called the “shotokan tiger.”

When Gichin Funakoshi was a young man, he enjoyed walking in solitude among the pine trees which surrounded his home town of Shuri. He would often walk up Mt.Torao and meditate among the pine trees under the stars and bright moon. Mt.Torao is a very narrow, heavily wooded mountain which, when viewed from a distance, resembles a tigers tail. The name “Torao” literally means “tigers tail”, and it is because of this that people think Funakoshi chose the tiger symbol. There is some skepticism behind this, however, as there is another story that explains why the tiger was used. It states that Funakoshi was asked to write the first book about karate. The man who asked him was an artist called Hoan Kosugi. It was decided if the book was written Kosugi would design the cover. In Japanese, “tora no maki” is an official document of an art. Funakoshi’s book would be “tora no maki” of Karate. “Tora” also means tiger.


In later life, Funakoshi explained that the cool breezes which blew among the pines on Mt.Torao made the trees whisper like waves breaking on the shore, thus, since he gained his greatest poetic inspirations while walking among the gently blowing pine trees, he chose the pen name of Shoto, “pine waves.”

The name SHOTOKAN was made up using Shoto, and the word Kan meaning house or school. Thus Shotokan means the house or school of the waving pines, but today is interpreted as the school or method of Funakoshi.

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